One of the most common questions people ask is “Which gun is best for concealed carry?” The answer? “It depends.” There is no single, perfect concealed carry gun. Probably not what you wanted to hear, right? But it’s true.
When selecting the “best” concealed carry gun, there are a number of important considerations to address and balance before making a final purchase decision. Below we’ll explore some of the most important topics to consider and balance when choosing a concealed carry handgun.
So let’s take a look at the four most important criteria you should consider when selecting a concealed carry handgun.
- Size and weight
With nearly as many firearms manufacturers as there are firearms, you can find a good handgun on just about any budget. Some manufacturers only produce high-end, expensive guns, but most sell handguns at a variety of price points. Just remember, the old adage, “You get what you pay for” holds true when it comes to purchasing a firearm.
But don’t despair, there are many reasonably priced handguns, produced by reputable manufacturers, that more than adequately meet the need for concealed carry. I recommend staying away from “off brand” handguns selling for under $200, but you can find a pretty decent handgun for around $300 to $400. Of course, the sky’s the limit. If you’re looking for a small frame pocket pistol that’s incredibly lightweight, such as the Rohrbaugh R9 Stealth Elite, you’ll be looking at price tag of roughly $1,200.
If you carry concealed for self defense, reliability is something you don’t want to sacrifice. While “off brand” handguns are by no means garbage, reliability can be “hit or miss” – no pun intended. You never want to purchase a concealed carry handgun that is not backed by a strong brand or that does not have a track record of reliability.
Most reputable firearms manufacturers will offer a lifetime warranty on their guns. However, just as all handguns are not the same, warranty programs will also differ between manufacturers, resulting in different experiences.
When you purchase a handgun from a reputable manufacturer, you’re most likely going to receive a gun that isn’t going to break. But if it does, you can rest assured it will be replaced or repaired. Finding replacement parts for an off brand gun can be challenging. What at the onset may seem like a minor repair, may turn into a lost investment if replacement parts aren’t available.
You also need to be aware that it’s easier to find aftermarket add ons and accessories from the more popular firearm manufacturers. When purchasing night sights, holsters, grips, tac lights, etc. for your handgun, it’s always better to purchase these items from the same manufacturer as your firearm. Using “one size fits all” accessories, produced by off brand manufacturers, is not as good as buying accessories that were designed specifically for your make and model of handgun.
Some of the top manufacturers of conceal carry handguns include:
- Smith & Wesson
- Sig Sauer
- Heckler & Koch (H&K)
- Springfield Armory, Inc.
- FN Herstal (FN)
If you want a reliable firearm, start with the names that are proven.
While some calibers are arguably better than others, there’s not one best caliber for concealed carry. Ultimately, you need to figure out which caliber is best for you. Identifying a caliber will also go a long way to assisting in the process of selecting your concealed carry firearm.
An important consideration when choosing a caliber is the cost of ammo. The cost of ammunition varies based on caliber. If you plan on training with your gun on a routine basis, you’ll want to factor in the cost of ammunition when deciding which concealed carry handgun to purchase. If the cost of ammo or availability prohibits you from training routinely, you may want to consider purchasing a gun in a less expensive caliber.
Certain types of handguns require premium ammunition. Purchasing premium ammunition on a regular basis can add additional cost to owning, using and maintaining your firearm. Purchasing a firearm that requires premium ammo is like purchasing a car that only runs on premium gasoline.
Caliber also impacts recoil (even though it’s only part of the equation). The larger the caliber, the more pressure required to propel the bullet, and consequently the greater the recoil. Recoil is an important consideration when purchasing a self defense gun. In a defensive situation, managing recoil is essential to staying on target for follow-up shots. If you can’t manage your gun, you’re depending on one shot to stop your assailant, which is a less than ideal scenario.
Handgun caliber also influences magazine or cylinder capacity. The greater your magazine or cylinder capacity, the more rounds you’re going to be able to get off during a defensive situation. How many rounds you decide to carry is really up to you; however, if you’re considering a smaller, more manageable gun, you will be able to carry more rounds with a smaller caliber.
A difficulty that arises in selecting the correct caliber is that the discussion of caliber is often convoluted with rumor, opinion, and misconception. Without jumping into a full on analysis of ballistics, I want to present some of the most popular concealed calibers used by concealed carry guns and how they compare to one another.
- .45 ACP
- .380 ACP
- .38 Spc
- .40 S&W
- .357 Magnum
9mm vs .45 caliber
One of the oldest debates and heated conversations in the firearms community is over the 9mm and .45 caliber. Which one is better? With modern advances in ammunition design and production, the ballistic and performance differences between the 9mm and .45 round are minimal. Both the 9mm and .45 caliber perform exceptionally well for concealed carry as a self defense caliber.
If you think you need to carry around a .45 caliber because it has more stopping power, think again. The deciding factor on the ability for you to deter a threat is not stopping power, rather shot placement. A well placed shot from a 9mm will stop an assailant. Personal preference will play a lot in determining which handgun caliber is ideal for you. Neither the 9mm or .45 caliber has a total advantage over the other.
The 9mm is often considered the caliber of choice for law enforcement agencies and concealed carriers. Handguns in this caliber tend to carry more rounds than their larger caliber counterparts and recoil is minimal. The 9mm offers a healthy balance between stopping power, recoil and manageability. It also offers an almost endless array of handgun options to choose from. Ammunition for 9mm caliber guns is readily available and affordable. You really can’t go wrong with the 9mm caliber for concealed carry.
The .45 ACP is often cited as a favorite amongst gun enthusiasts everywhere. It was formerly used as the round of choice for the US Military (for nearly a decade), and is somewhat modeled from the famous .45 Colt — another legendary piece of firearms history. Suffice to say, the .45 ACP’s reputation is (mostly) deserved. It’s the easiest ‘big’ bullet to shoot properly (the recoil is very manageable), and it’s also the only one which can be reasonably concealed. The .45 ACP does have reduced ammo capacity, though, along with a stopping power that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However, high quality .45 ACP hollowpoint rounds will put a stop to just about anything (or anyone) trying to hurt you. It’s one of the best defensive rounds available today.
The .22LR is one of the smaller calibers used for concealed carry and historically has not been the caliber of choice for self defense. It can stop an attacker, but it takes far more shots than large caliber weapons. Notwithstanding, the .22LR shouldn’t be ruled out as an effective caliber for self defense. Due to its smaller size and lack of recoil, the .22LR excels in usability allowing for greater accuracy and follow-up shots. Compared to larger calibers, .22LR ammo is relatively inexpensive which encourages people to shoot more often whereby improving their accuracy and shooting skills.
Really just a shorter 9mm, the .380 ACP is found in a lot of concealed carry guns — for good reason. The .380 ACP boasts a light recoil, and requires less magazine space than other calibers. Anything the .380 lacks in ‘stopping power’, a quality hollowpoint will easily make up for. After all, stopping threats is more than just caliber. The .380 ACP isn’t as common as 9mm, so the rounds can be a bit more expensive. But — it’s not exactly rare, either. A good .380 supplier isn’t tough to find, but they might want a couple extra dollars.
The .38 Special is a tried and true cartridge, having been the standard choice for many police agencies for over 60 years. Police have largely moved on to other calibers, but the .38 Special is still a deservedly popular self-defense caliber. Recoil is light, and when paired with good hollowpoints, the .38 special is always up to the task. Unfortunately, if you choose this caliber, your firearms options are basically limited to revolvers. This means you’re going to be stuck with just five or six shots at a time — not ideal for defense situations. Snubnose revolvers are very popular concealed carries and they accept the .38 Special, but they can be difficult for beginners to shoot well.
Originally invented for FBI use, the .40 S&W was made by shortening a 10mm cartridge and slightly reducing its powder charge. The result was a bullet larger than a 9mm that could still fit in a 9mm cartridge. Since its invention, the .40 S&W has been a popular concealed carry caliber for its availability and performance. The ammunition at this caliber is a little more expensive, and recoil is a bit sharper, but many people point to the .40 S&W as the best of both worlds. Big performance, without the need for a giant pistol. For many people, you just can’t do better than a .40 S&W for concealed carry applications.
The .357 Magnum is a caliber of legend, there’s no doubt about that. Since being created by fitting a bit more powder into the case of a .38-44 or .38HV, the .357 Magnum quickly gained popularity with law enforcement and outdoorsmen. Today, it’s a hugely popular defensive option. The .357 adds 400 feet per second and 150 foot-pounds muzzle energy over the .38 Special, meaning that it can even be used for hunting small and medium game. Because the .357 Magnum is a revolver round, magazine capacity is limited. In addition, it’s not the easiest round for novice shooters due to its intense recoil. As a service carry, the .357 Magnum is a great choice. As a concealed carry, it may not be ideal.
There’s a lot to love about the 10mm caliber, with just a few odd drawbacks. Full power 10mm loads exceed the .357 Magnum in force and energy, making this a great gun for personal defense and handgun hunting. Unfortunately, finding a compact pistol for this round can be difficult. Handguns in general don’t carry much ‘stopping power’, and the 10mm caliber is no exception, despite being an effective and versatile concealed carry solution.
Size and Weight
For many people, size and weight of a handgun is a hugely important factor when deciding on a concealed carry weapon. Obviously, a smaller gun is easier to conceal — no surprises there. But, the size and weight of a handgun is going to greatly impact how it performs. And in a self-defense situation, you surely want a handgun that performs as expected.
In general, size is a determining factor in the recoil of a gun. As a rule of thumb: the larger the gun, the more intense the recoil will be.
As well, the larger your gun is, the heavier it will be. If you’re looking for an everyday concealed carry, you’ll want a gun that can be comfortably and practically concealed. If the gun is heavy, bulky, or uncomfortable, your concealed carry will turn into a chore and, thus, is more likely to be left at home than taken on the go.
As for size, it also impacts how a gun feels in your hand. You want to choose a gun that feels good and natural in your hand. You shouldn’t need to reach or stretch for the trigger when the gun is in your hand — if this is the case, you should consider a different gun. Depending on your situation and location, a variety of gun sizes can be reasonably considered concealed carry firearms.
Lastly, think about steel vs polymer. Steel guns will be heavier, but it will also absorb more recoil than a polymer weapon.
Another critical part of choosing a handgun is the gun’s function.
To determine the ideal handgun for your concealed carry solution, it’s important to understand the basic mechanics of handguns in general. You should familiarize yourself with terms like double action, single action, semi-automatic, etc.
To begin, we can look at revolvers vs. semi-automatics, both of which can be great choices for concealed carry guns.
Revolvers are very easy to operate and are not particularly susceptible to feeding or extracting malfunctions. They don’t require magazines and for this reason, can be appealing to those who have tactile difficulty racking semi-automatic slides. Revolver calibers are also varied and the guns themselves can be very economically priced.
Unfortunately, revolvers are a low capacity option and can have very strong recoil. Semi automatics are designed to bear some of the gun’s recoil, making for a ‘lighter’ shooting experience.
Now…single action or double action?
In double action handguns, the trigger performs two actions: cocking and releasing the hammer. This means the double action trigger does require more pressure to fire a round.
For some, that’s an advantage. It requires the shooter to take more deliberate and conscious action when pulling the trigger, potentially keeping the shooter from accidentally firing a round in a high-stress situation. In some cases, double action handguns can be manually cocked, allowing the shooter to fire practically in single-action mode.
Single action handgun triggers require light, sharp pulls without much pressure. These guns are often carried in a mode called ‘cocked and locked,’ wherein the hammer is pulled back, but the weapon’s safety is also engaged. This is a perfectly safe way to carry a gun, but it does require the shooter to go through more extensive training. In a high stress situation, turning off the safety can be a hangup in high-stress situations.
Lastly, you should consider the idea of ‘striker fired’ pistols. This is an increasingly common type of gun being produced today. It refers to a type of pistol wherein the action consists of a spring-loaded striker instead of a hammer. They are technically categorized as double action, but the trigger pull is very light and requires little pressure.