Choosing a Handgun

Attacker with a knife an man drawing his concealed pistol

Tip: A few decades ago the FBI did a study and found that a handgun that weighs over 35 ounces becomes a drag on the pants after a few hours. Perhaps concealed carry handgun permit holders should consider 26 ounces as a reasonable top end.

We must be formidable individuals in order to deter crime. Many decades ago, Casare Baccaria forwarded the notion that punishment should be so severe it outweighs any possible gain from crime. While the criminal justice system has been bent and broken, in personal defense this is certainly one answer. When you choose a handgun, the overriding concern is reliability. How this is determined is by reputation and legitimate testing. As many of you realize, there are newsstand magazines that have never met a gun they did not like. There are others that may state that the gun gave a few problems but eventually it may prove to be a good choice.

There are proven handguns that have endured tremendous military and police testing. SIG went through a 700,000 round trail and will soon arm every soldier, sailor, airman and police officer in France. SIG also survived a test involving 19 handguns and 228,000 rounds of ammunition to become the standard issue of the Ohio State Patrol.

A similar path was followed by Texas in adopting its SIG model. Glock was adopted by the FBI after a rigorous course, and the Springfield FBI Bureau Model 1911 was adopted as their FBI SWAT pistol. CZ has passed similar European testing and the Beretta has passed U.S. Army trails. They are certainly a good place to start.

You must make a realistic assessment of the training program you are willing to undertake. Training will consume more time, energy, and funds than the initial handgun purchase. If you are not willing to invest the time and effort to master a self-loader, the revolver is a reasonable choice. After all, we would not keep a Harley Davidson in the garage that we had not ridden… just in case we might need to get somewhere in a hurry in the future, would we? If you are willing to go to the range once a month and fire 50 rounds, and engage in dry fire exercise often, then the self-loader has appeal.

The self-loader is flat and easily concealed. For home defense, size doesn’t matter as much. Choosing an action type has been covered in these pages before. However, if you are willing to master the double-action first-shot pistol or the cocked-and-locked 1911, you must put forth the time and effort.

I think one of the best choices for the average defense shooter is a SIG with the DAK trigger. This double-action-only trigger allows the shooter to feel confident in the safety of the handgun, but at the same time, it offers good hit probability for those who practice. For personal defense engagement ranges this handgun—my version is the SIG P239—is plenty accurate. My SIG P239 is chamber for .40 caliber S&W. For some reason, perhaps spring technology; this .40 doesn’t kick as much as some in the weight class. It is usually loaded with the SIG Elite hollow point. I carry it in a Galco Stow and Go. This is simple workmanlike gear and every effective.

There is nothing wrong with the snub nose .38 Special for those who practice. The Smith and Wesson 442 is carried as a backup by many of my most experienced friends. Mine rides with me at all times and sometimes as the only handgun. I have two; one is a backup for the backup—just in case. The humpback design makes for comfortable shooting and the action is very smooth. Use light loads, such as the Winchester 158-grain RNL for practice. Mine is loaded with Winchester Silvertip at the moment.

The Glock is a popular handgun that I consider a baseline. It is affordable and worth the extra effort to obtain over a cheaper gun. On the other hand, if a pistol costs more than the Glock, then it should have advantages that justify the extra expense. So, the Glock is in the position of being a capable handgun in the hands of a shooter who is in the process of becoming a good shot, while a truly good shot, will also find the Glock suits his needs. There are more accurate handguns, and there are handguns I like better. If I were to have to run into a shop, pick up and load a pistol, and expect it to save it my life—it would be a Glock.

Choose a handgun based on your own experience and likely training time. Don’t choose a handgun to be like the other guy—even if you admire the gun or the person. Don’t carry the handgun expected of you. Make a choice that fits you as an individual. The more you are willing to practice, the more you may drift toward a superior handgun. And the more you practice, the more formidable you will be with any handgun.

Which handgun or handguns do you carry for self-defense? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. I carry a Springfield XDM-9, one in the pipe, plus 18 , in a Crossbreed, Or a Sig 227, in a Galco Miami shoulder holster.

  2. 1911 gov. I carry it concealed in a crossdraw iwb. I’ve stood with cop’s and carried on conversations with them and they were never the wiser. Carrying concealed is less about the weapon tnan how you carry yourself.

  3. I carry a Walther M1 PPX 9mm (I have two of them) for my edc and there is one ready if needed at the house (stored properly of course).

    I know there are issues with drag from the weight of a full sized handgun – but I find that with a quality, heavyweight leather belt, Kydex IWB holster and kydex mag holders, there are no issues with size or weight.

    Dressed properly, you can conceal almost any sized handgun. I have in my PPX:
    a weight of 36 oz with 1 in the pipe and 16 in the mag
    consistent trigger pull of 6.5 pounds (ALWAYS)
    A fast draw with a custom kydex holster …

    That way – if I need it I have it, plus 2 extra mags with hollowpoints gives me more than enough of a first line defense if I ever (God Forbid) need it

    1. I have the same pistol and is is smooth and reliable but most people these days won’t carry a full size pistol like this because of all the smaller less expensive models out there.

    1. Helen, I think you’re missing the point. This article was not a spelling/grammar test. I believe most folks knew what the point was. Lighten up, it’s Christmas time. Merry Christmas to you!

  4. The author oversimplifies Beccaria. There were actually three interdependent principles: severity, certainty, and speed. Even the most severe punishment is virtually useless if it gets inflicted only rarely or takes too long to occur. A world in which most potential victims will put a .22 in your leg is more deterrent than one in which one victim out of 100,000 will blow your brains out while the other 99,999 give you money.

  5. I carried a .380 Ruger LCP 2 for “Self Defense”. Great gun, very concealable, great trigger (single action). Now the problem…While at a Supermarket in a nice part of town a man was gunned down just outside the front doors while I was checking out with my 9 yr old daughter. People were still coming in and out with children. No one knew where the shooter was! So, I told my daughter to get down and stay at the register while I went to the doors to potentially stop any aggressor from entering. My .380 had never felt so small. I envisioned my self defense gun defending just me or my family from an aggressor. Now I had to protect a large number of defenseless people, many not aware of what was even going on. I could have run out the back with my daughter in reality but not could not have lived with myself if I did. My point is after this experience I now carry a S&W 40 caliber 15 shot or a S&W .45 Shield for “Self Defense” . So unless you can walk away from dozens of unarmed innocent people carry something you are going to be comfortable with if the unexpected happens. FYI…The shooter in this case shot himself and died in his car a short distance from the incident but I did not know this until after the police arrived.

  6. I started carrying with a Sig P239 , like the author, but in .357 Sig. I recently upgraded to a Sig P229 Carry model in .357 Sig. I originally purchased the P239 because it was a single stack and so I assumed easier to conceal. What I have learned is that the difference between concealing the P239 and the p229 is unnoticable, at least for me. The increased capacity going from 7 to 12 rounds per magazine is the real selling point for me. I like to have a crimson trace laser on my concealed carry guns, for low light and those instances where rapid shots might be needed.

    I also carry a Sig P938 when I need deep concealment. Works well in summer time when I might just be wearing shorts and t-shirts.

  7. My caliber of choice is the 45 acp. I have found the HK45C to most suitable for me. I practice with it twice per month. Loaded with 230 grain hydra shocks. Honestly it is heavier than what most people would be willing to carry, but after carrying it for a year, I am used to it. Nothing else feels right in my hand other than my 45C. It eats any ammo I feed it flawlessly. I have put nearly 4000 rounds through it from various manufacturers. I trust it with my life.

    1. I agree with you on the 45 ACP. Handicapped with age , 77 years old now, I simply can’t shoot one accurately anymore. Years ago I had one with me for 20 years. Still have a Springfield RO, but it’s depressing when I see my group size. Age and injures have taken it’s toll on me, especially my right shoulder. But I still believe the 45 ACP is best for many of us.

  8. “A few decades ago the FBI did a study and found that a handgun that weighs over 35 ounces becomes a drag on the pants after a few hours.”

    Was that a handgun weighing a total of 35 ounces with a full ammunition load in or 35 ounces unloaded? Big difference.

  9. I have 3 I carry, depending on circumstances. my primary for regular use is a 20 oz (unloaded) Charter Bulldog in 44 special, if I need to wear clothing that makes regular carry impractical, I carry an American Derringer chambered in .44 mag, with .44 special loads in a wallet holster. and if I am going to be in a dangerous area, where an altercation is not only possible, but likely, I carry my Officers size 1911 in 45 auto with several extra mags, and I just deal with the weight. because if I ever had to draw down, there is nothing I would rather have than a 1911

  10. The byline on this article is Dave Dolbee’s, but the bio at the bottom is that of Bob Campbell. So, who wrote it?

  11. I started out with a Beretta PX4 Compact .40 but after some time and competition I shot a friends CZ. I was so impressed with it’s accuracy and controllability, now I carry and compete with a CZ P-01 and I keep it at bedside when I take it off. The transition from Beretta to CZ was easy with the decocker models and I’m so glad I did.

    1. The CZ’s, or at least most of the newer ones have lowered the bore of the barrel by 1/8″ in relationship to the frame by modifying the way the frame & slide are fit together. The recoil is the same but the upward angle of the recoil is less allowing faster recovery from shot to shot. the recoil approaches recoiling straight back. Feeding has also been flawless with everything I’ve put thru it so far. I love that feature.
      I think there might be another manufacturer who also has a similar design. but can’t recall the name.

  12. Everyone should choose a CC pistol based on their individual needs. I always take longer than most anyone making a choice about anything that important. As always I usually end up making a compromise(s) of some sort.
    I wanted something with enough weight which helped w/recoil. Since I’m much older now, I decided on the CZ-07 in 9mm. Mostly because I’m not nearly as strong as I was in my 50s. The 15 round magazine adds weight along with the extra capacity over a single stack magazine. I added a Crimson Trace been laser on the Picatinny rail. Point & shoot has become more natural now. Sight alignment is difficult w/trifocals. The laser avoids that problem. It also allows me to practice my pointing skills. I have small hands & with the 3 inserts that came with it, the smallest one fit my needs perfectly.
    I spent many hours online reading customer reviews, plus watching YouTube videos which allowed me to feel like I was going to make the perfect purchase for my needs. The only downside is minimal since the added weight is only 6.5 ounces for 15 rounds of 124 grain bullets.
    I purchased it for $440.00 which included shipping & 3 magazines. Didn’t even have to pay taxes since it was purchased out of state.
    My other CC pistol was a Model 39-2 S&W which also had a de-cocker mechanism.

  13. My suggestion would be the EAA Windicator in 2 inch and 30 ounces . Small in size but strong enuff to handle 357 Magnum loads as well as the 38 Special. I have one and like it alot and its fairly accurate !

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