When I entered law enforcement in 1976, selecting a sidearm for off-duty carry was simple: You purchased a .38 Special revolver with a 2" barrel from either Colt or Smith & Wesson (S&W). If you were a gunslinger, as we called those who were a little too into guns, you bought a 3" .38 or a Colt 1911-style .45. The truth is, I wanted to be a heavy hitter, but I went along with the rest and purchased a 2" Security Industries Police Pocket Magnum (PPM) because it was a J-frame size gun that launched .357 magnum rounds. This was my way of splitting the difference. The gun was ahead of its time, and since it wasn't a Smith or Colt, people convinced me it was junk. I wish I had that gun now; it's probably worth a few bucks.
In those days, cops who carried the snubby were fond of saying, If I can t do it in five (or six), I probably can't do it. Well, I have news for all of you who still think this way: You probably won't do it in five! Many people assume they won't miss. The harsh reality: You probably will miss, and it's also very possible you won't incapacitate your opponent with one or two rounds.
Let s take this a step further and place you in a likely shooting scenario. The need to shoot has been established, so you fire a few rapid shots that miss (after all, he was moving, you were moving and things happen). You follow up with two more that hit the suspect, but they don t hit vital areas, so the attack continues. You fire a couple more rounds, and now you are out of ammo. Did those rounds work? Did you shoot well enough to save your own life? Has the fact that you selected a small, light, easy-to-carry gun hindered your performance when you needed it most?
I used to carry a neat little pocket-size .25-caliber auto pistol. My thought was that if I needed it, it would be at very close range, and the gun was easy to carry. No real thought went into why I was actually carrying it or what I hoped to accomplish if I needed it. It just felt comforting to have in my pocket.
I also never gave any real thought to the fact I might be protecting more than just myself if things went wrong. Until one evening when I was sitting in a restaurant with my wife and three small children. I had the little auto in the pocket of my coat, which was hanging on the back of my chair. I was helping my wife cut the food for one of my kids when I heard the front door of the small restaurant open I looked up and saw a man entering with a rifle.
As it turned out, the gun was an old flintlock and the man was taking it to the antique store above the restaurant, but in the few moments before I realized what was really happening, a number of thoughts went through my head. The first thing was that my weapon was not readily available. In my effort to make it easy to carry, I had left it out of easy reach. I also realized the gun I was carrying would not get the job done because it had only six rounds. Additionally, those rounds were not powerful enough to stop the armed aggressor before he could have harmed the ones I love. Nope, I would not have been an active participant in my family s rescue. It made me seriously rethink why I was carrying a concealed handgun.
This is the primary question everyone needs to ask themselves when they select a concealed-carry handgun: Why am I carrying it? If you plan to use it as a backup gun to a full-size combat pistol, used only as a close-quarter, last-ditch weapon in the event the full-size gun fails or runs dry, a small pocket gun may suffice maybe. But if you will use the gun as a primary-carry gun for plainclothes work or off-duty, you want a handful of gun. To my way of thinking, the proper concealed-carry handgun needs to actually fill the hand of the person shooting it. The three lower fingers not only hold the gun, they also help control muzzle flip. If you fire multiple rounds in quick succession, you need the whole hand to help keep the gun on target. Why would you want to hinder recoil control to make a gun a little easier to carry?
A number of guns remain compact enough to carry and conceal on a daily basis but still offer a handful of grip. The gun that comes immediately to mind is the original Kahr K-9 and K-40 pistols. If you want a lighter gun, the polymer-framed P-9 and P-40 are basically the same size with a hand-filling grip. Other good choices that fall into this same thin, but reasonable length grip category include the S&W 3913 and 908 pistols, the SIG-Sauer 239 and 225, as well as various compact 1911-style pistols from Kimber and Springfield Armory.
If your hand is large enough to utilize the wider grip of a double-stack, high-capacity pistol, it s hard to beat the Glock 19. This 15-shot 9mm is one of my personal favorites, but if you want a larger caliber, the Glock 23 in .40-caliber S&W, or the Glock 30 and 36 in .45 ACP, will work. Other similar models include the SIG 228 and 229, the S&W 4013 TSW, the Heckler & Koch USP-C and P-2000 pistols and the new Kimber KPD line.
Revolvers are by no means a poor choice. The simplicity of the revolver makes it appealing to many people, and if you have difficulty working the slide on a semi-auto pistol due to hand or arm strength, then the revolver is the right choice for you. Furthermore, it might make the best choice for backup or deep concealment where you may have to fire the gun from or through a coat pocket, or carry it in the mud, sludge and water in an ankle holster. The S&W J-frame series of revolvers are proven, as are the Colt D frames, such as the Detective Special, Cobra, Agent and Diamondback models. These Colts are now out of production, but so many were made through the years that finding a used version will not prove difficult. Ruger s SP-101 snub revolvers are some of the best currently made, and while their all-steel construction makes them heavier than other similar models, they are built like a tank and will stand up to many rounds of practice.
This leads me to an important consideration for any gun selected for defense: If the gun is so light that it s painful to shoot, you will certainly be reluctant to practice with it, and without regular, meaningful practice, how can you expect to perform well in a gunfight luck?
Anyway, once you ve selected the gun, match it with a quality holster, belt and magazine or speed-loader pouch. Concealed carry is a system that encompasses all of these things. Don t fall into the trap of buying a top-of-the-line gun and holster, and then try to hang it on the cute little leather weave belt that came with your khaki Dockers. The gun must stay in the same place through daily activity and movement so that when you reach for it in a crisis situation, the gun s grip will remain right where you need it without fail.
Think About It
If you totally disagree with what I have said in this article, so be it, but at least take away the need to think hard about why you carry a concealed handgun and what you want to accomplish with it if you must draw it to defend your life or the lives of people you care about. Once you have a clear understanding of your needs, select accordingly. Please take into account what might be on the line when you draw the gun and decide if that cute, small, light, easy-to-carry, if I can t do it in five, I probably can t do it gun is really the right one for you.