Concealed Carry Guns – Best Handgun

The G42 is getting a lot of love, but I fear it is distracting 9mm carriers away from the best caliber they could choose. Photo: Glock

Over the past couple of months, the internet has been flooded with chatter about two new guns in particular: the Remington R51 and the Glock 42. The first was celebrated at its release but has met with terrible reviews of the production models in the hands of its intended audience. The second was originally met with great dismay and disappointment but has been almost universally praised since it hit the streets and, most importantly, the ranges. In addition to these two guns, Kahr Arms and Springfield Armory released slim-profile guns (the CT9 and the XD-S 4?, respectively) that are vying for attention as the most excellent new concealed carry option. Meanwhile, everyone has an opinion about what the “perfect” personal-defense gun would be like.

The manufacturers are in a tough spot: they’ve got last year’s trends, their competition, the engineers, their existing model lines and, last and often least, their customers all driving their next projects. Who will produce the unicorn gun that is engineered for efficiency in defensive situations, gets everyone excited, and is delivered on time, fairly priced and works reliably? Which is the, “Best Handgun?” I don’t know … but I say “Good luck!” to everyone who is trying.I have seen what I consider to be good trends from both the manufacturers and the marketplace that encompass three major themes when it comes to self-defense guns.

concealed carry pistols

I am currently using the XD-S 4? 9mm as my everyday carry. I have been very impressed with it. Photo: author

BIGGER IS NOT BETTER: CARRYABILITY

When it comes to the best self defense handgun for concealed carry, neither the gun itself nor the round being loaded into it need to be the stuff of 1980s action movies or 1970s police dramas. The days of the .45 ACP and the Magnum revolver being the image of defensive handguns are gone. The new crop of first-time gun owners, the number of women obtaining concealed-carry permits, and the incredible amount of information and education available to the gun-buying public can all be credited with establishing the 9mm as the most preferred personal defense caliber and the increased interest in mid-sized and compact single-stack firearms. The person who carries regularly today is very likely not a life-long gun enthusiast. They may only own one gun for a specific purpose: personal defense. They aren’t shooting on the weekends with their family, they aren’t hunters, and they aren’t willing to wear a tan vest every day or otherwise dress around their gun. They want something with a high degree of what I call carryability, and slim 9mms are very carryable.


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FIT IS PARAMOUNT: SHOOTABILITY OF CONCEAL CARRY HANDGUNS

Manufacturers are realizing that their guns need to fit as many types of hands as possible. Thankfully, the ego-driven days of “any gun will do, if you will do” have also passed. While that sentiment may be fundamentally true, if we get to pick the gun we’ll be using days, months or even years in advance (and those seeking out CCW permits and training do!) of our defensive shooting, we should pick a gun that fits our hand well. That means two things: smaller grips that will accommodate both small and large hands, and modular grips that can be quickly and easily adjusted to a more perfect fit for everyone.

Having taught thousands of students in thousands of classes, I can assure you that when it comes to holding a gun intuitively, small grips can be held by large hands much more easily than small hands can manage a large gun. Manufacturers have been responding not only with single-stack designs, but also with less girth in the area of the grip that is held between the thumb and index finger of the strong hand and with deeper in-cuts at the top of the back of the grip area. The XD and M&P firearms exemplify these traits and tend to fit more people well because of them. Fit is the primary driver of shootability. If a gun doesn’t fit a person’s hand well, they will not be able to shoot it intuitively or naturally. Their shooting will be forced and mechanical, which means their efficiency will suffer.

concealed carry handguns

Unfortunately, my Glock 26L custom started having reliability issues last year because the slide was damaged. The gun wouldn’t lock open anymore on an empty mag, so I retired it. Now I’m on a quest for the perfect single stack with the same number of rounds. Photo: author

There is no replacement for reliability from the best handgun

People are making excuses for their guns less and less often … and this is critical. If a gun isn’t reliable, you shouldn’t be carrying it for personal defense. With my students, I often make the comparison between guns and cars. People generally need their cars everyday. People rely on their cars to get them to work, to move their families around, and to meet their obligations. Cars must be reliable and functional. You may want a 1968 Corvette Stingray, but if you live in New Hampshire and have a family of four, there is no way you will have that car as your primary vehicle.

Thankfully, we don’t need our guns every day, but that means people can buy and carry eccentric choices that they “like,” and they’ll probably never have to confront their illogical fetish-driven decision. But as I mentioned earlier, fewer and fewer people carrying guns for self-defense are gun collectors today. They aren’t looking for something to impress their friends with during Open Carry Day at Cracker Barrel or to post cool pictures of on Instagram… they just want a reliable tool they can have at the ready to protect themselves and their families with.

Tell me again why S&W took a huge leap backward with the Shield model by putting a hard-to-use manual safety lever on it? Photo: Smith & Wesson

GOOD OR GREAT CONCEALED CARRY HANDGUNS DESIGNS

A plethora of firearm designs do a good job of meeting the needs of those interested in personal defense. There are a handful that I consider great choices. For years, I’ve consistently recommended three to those looking for an efficient defensive handgun: Glock, M&P, and the Springfield XD series. All those brands have entered the single-stack arena in the last couple of years. Most people agree that Glock missed the mark by going .380 instead of 9mm. As much as people love the M&P Shield, I think that their inclusion of an almost-impossible-to-use-efficiently manual safety was a fail. Springfield faltered with an early recall of the 9mm XD-S, but has now rallied to offer what I think is the best single stack from the three major manufacturers of modern striker-fired defensive handguns: the XD-S 4? model. I think the trend will continue and we’ll see more great options for those looking for guns with the right combination of reliability, shootability and carryability.

MY PERFECT SELF-DEFENSIVE CARRY GUN

Who’s going to come out with the perfect defensive carry gun? What will it look like? When will it get here? I don’t know, but if I get to vote, here’s what I want:

To date, exactly zero manufacturers have asked to ship defensive guns with our I.C.E. Claw Sights… maybe someday? Photo: author

  • 10+1 round single-stack 9mm defensive pistol
  • Striker fired
  • No manual safety (outside of trigger block and possibly a grip safety)
  • Low bore height relative to hand
  • 4- to 5-inch barrel
  • Magazine must extend beyond mag well and not contact hand during standard firing with proper grip
  • Large ejection port
  • Non-sloped stock sights with wide rear notch (.180) and square painted front (.140) … I.C.E. Claws perhaps?
  • Trigger pull around five pounds
  • First shot trigger travel of .4-.6 inch, little over-travel and relatively short reset
  • Ambidextrous mag release (or easily switchable by user)
  • Aggressive rear slide serrations
  • Rounded front of trigger guard
  • Tapered leading edge of slide at muzzle
  • Simple take-down and minimal number of fieldstripped parts

I think that would be a nice package. If any manufacturers print this out and give it to the engineers, do me a favor and mention me in the credits, after you make sure it is actually reliable … with Winchester Defender ammunition. Also please don’t announce it until it is actually ready. Maybe we could do a chopped grip 7+1 I.C.E. Limited Edition for those who choose center-line carry?

That would be cool.

Good luck!

Discussion
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29 Responses to “Concealed Carry Guns – Best Handgun”
  1. Randy Whitworth

    Thanks for the discussion. I presently carry a ruger .380 LCP and am looking to upgrade in frame size and cal. Have been looking at the Springfield XD-S 4 in the .45 cal., but might consider the 9mm now. It would be a little easier on recoil.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Fitzgerald

    Rob,
    First off let me say I love your instructional video’s! Second, where can I find, or what model of the claw would fit my Springfield XDM 3.8″ .45 ACP?

    Reply
  3. William Smith

    Rob, nicely done, however I need to disagree with you on a few points. First, 9mm rounds are higher velocity rounds that lack the put down power of a .40 or a .45. 2ndly the purpose of a defensive weapon is to disable your attacker and not be some fad caliber. Each caliber has its purpose, and for self defense, that is without question a larger caliber. Lastly, as someone who has “practical experience” meaning having used side arms in combat, I can tell you first hand a 9mm round is too high velocity. They tend to punch through and the assailant, given the adrenalin rush may NOT realize they have been hit, and thus the TYPICAL through and through wound, unless it strikes vitals WILL NOT disable. Larger caliber rounds are slower, they tend to not go through their target, and because the round is larger and heavier, the entrance wound is much larger. As proof, many tactical operators are going back to the .45 caliber weapons for this very reason.

    Reply
    • Wolf

      Not sure If you’ve done any research on 9mm lately, they’ve been loading them lately with performance near that of .40SW. Not a 9mm fanboy, I carry a G30S myself.

      Reply
    • Brent

      It seems you are referring to the 9mm in combat operations. This is the case due to the fact the Military is not allowed to use hollow points in combat the Hague Convention in 1899. If you use modern hollow point designs, the 9mm is a very effective caliber if you hit your target where you intend. The 9mm is gaining in popularity because of that, the recommendations of some outstanding instructors and the fact that the 9mm is so much cheaper to train and shoot with. Also doesn’t hurt that the FBI is moving back to the 9mm over the .40 S&W. They have even listed in their report that with modern hollow point and bullet technology, the 9mm is very effective. I do not feel undergunned with a 9mm handgun. It allows me to train and shoot more as well as it being cheaper to shoot. The recoil is far less, especially in the small compact carry pistols many of us carry. This allows for a much more enjoyable experience during an extended range session and it allows for quicker follow up shots.

      Reply
    • Ron S.

      Your points are well taken- they have been standard fare for a long time. “Shoot the largest caliber you can reliably control and get hits with”. And the rationale of “larger round – larger entry wound” and “slower heavier round less likely to over penetrate” . All conventional wisdom. Which I would imagine is why the SEAL Teams are abandoning the .45 and going to 9MM (Glock, no less.) and why police agencies across the country are giving up on .40S&W and going back to 9MM. Good hits, fast, with a 9MM beat the heck out of good fast misses with a .45 ACP. Things change. And modern high performance 9MM rounds are performing just as well as larger heavier slower rounds in study after study. Things change.

      Reply
  4. higginska63

    I’m a novice so excuse my question. Why do you recommend 9mm 10+1 when I keep reading that 9mm is not sufficient to stop an offender? Is it the 10+1 that helps to overcome that?

    Reply
    • cst

      The 10 + 1 was what Rob chose as one feature of many if he were able to design his ideal conceal carry handgun. When comparing the 9mm to other acceptable defensive caliber rounds (45 acp, 40, 38) the difference in wounding capacity is negligible. Then compare similar sized guns in the various calibers and the one chambered in 9mm will almost always have a larger capacity. Whatever we are carrying for personal defense we need to allocate time and money to train. Again, if you look at the list of acceptable defensive calibers the 9mm is readily available and at a significantly lower price per round than the others listed. Finally, the lower felt recoil of the 9mm round allows for a higher volume of fire. If you check out the following PDN video on 9mm vs 40 Rob goes into much greater detail: http://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/9mm-vs-40-caliber-000715/

      Reply
    • WmASowell

      I thought for years that having a larger caliber round would be better because that is what I was taught. In actually and through experience, it is the placement of the rounds not the size of the round that truly makes the difference.

      Reply
  5. Richard

    I recommend the Sig Sauer P938 (9mm) Scorpion for those who are allowed to purchase and carry it. Though I changed the grips to the Hogue (made for this pistol) which allows a better grip for those of us with larger hands, it is still easily concealable and light.

    Reply
    • cjennings6781

      I do not think there is a worse defensive carry gun. Yes I have one. Its there for when I want to show people why not listen to the guy behind the counter when it comes to defensive carry. As a bug gun, I use it once in a while for an IDPA match as its shoots great and has an awesome trigger.

      Reply
  6. Ernest

    I went with ruger LC9S its its compact and easy to hide. The only draw back is it takes a bit to getting used to how to shoot it I like it.

    Reply
  7. Don Morris

    My EDC is a smith and Wesson M&P shield chambered in .40. Since I purchased it, I have put at least 600 rds. down range without a single problem . I love this weapon. We also own the shield in 9mm among others. Also an awesome firearm. I would recommend either one highly to new shooters and experienced alike.

    Reply
  8. Joe Incardona

    I rotate through three different carry guns depending upon dress. If I need to pocket carry, The Ruger LCP is my go to… it is reliable and delivers effective rounds on target. The mags are so small that I easily carry two back up mags in my weak side pocket. For IWB carry, I find single stack 9mm’s to be the most practical. After experiencing the Nano and the Shield, I find myself always reaching for my Walther PPS or my Sig P938. Two very different pistols, that require slightly different training routines. Both are good choices for AIWB carry. Both are best holstered with your thumb resting upon the rear of the slide. On the PPS, you can feel the movement of the exposed striker if the trigger is moving rearward during re-holstering. When re-holstering the P938, place on safe and put your thumb on the hammer as a matter of habit.

    Reply
  9. bill c

    I use Ruger 1911 for home and Glock 30 gen 4 in .45 for concealed carry. Want stopping power. .45 dumps most of energy, especially with 185 grain self defense ammo. Feel more comfortable with slower, hard hitting round. Too m

    Reply
  10. Shawn

    Rob, you mentioned the manual safety on the shield was a mistake/step back, I agree, they now offer it without a manual safety. How do you feel the shield (no safety) compares to the xds?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Shawn. Both guns have a proven track record for reliability and meet the other criteria for a good personal defense handgun. So it really boils down to which gun best fits your hand and personal preference.

      Reply
  11. R. Jacobs

    Rob,
    What do you think of the Kahr P45? I have been carrying one for 5+ years with no issues. The other carry piece is a Detonics MK VI it just happens to fit the same Hume iWB rig. I am old school having grown up with the 45 and carried one everyday and understand the 9mm. I was involved with the initial testing of the various 9’s and just could not get around the utter reliability of the 4 control 1911’s we used during the tests.
    When the wife and I go out to the symphony I carry two High Standard 22WMR derringers. Very flat and fit my pants watch pocket very neatly, nasty little buggers up close.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      The Kahr falls into that Double Action Only category which would fall into that second tier of defensive handguns. The negatives of the DAO guns is a longer and heavier trigger pull which affect efficiency as well as deviation control. Most DAO guns also have a higher bore axis which degrades recoil control. The type of defensive handgun that I recommend and would classify as “preferred” is one from the Modern Striker Fired category (Glock, Springfield Armory XD line, Smith & Wesson MP line without manual safeties). As for caliber, I recommend 9mm over the other calibers for personal defense. When looking at it as a whole, the 9mm is the ideal combination of capacity, less felt recoil, cost and the difference in wounding capacity is negligible when compared to other acceptable defensive calibers. Check out these PDN links for more information on defensive handgun selection.
      https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/advantage-of-striker-fired-pistols-000737/ < https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/advantage-of-striker-fired-pistols-000737/>
      https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/article/the-best-self-defense-handgun-for-concealed-carry/ < https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/article/the-best-self-defense-handgun-for-concealed-carry/>

      Reply
      • Paul Mooter

        Yes, I was a nube when I was looking for guns and settled on the S&W M&P Shield 9mm which unfortunately has the safety. I never engage it so I don’t ‘think’ it’s going to be an issue, but I also don’t carry a round in the camber….just not comfortable with doing that yet. And I’ve told myself if I do carry it loaded I’ll use the safety….so I’m kind of in a quandary…as it’s a struggle to disengage the safety as I have a bit of arthritis in my thumbs. So for me, today, I don’t use the safety and just practice drawing and cocking as often as I can so I burn that routine into my brain. But after reading a lot of stuff I’m now ‘thinking’ of selling this one and getting the 2.0 version without the safety. Funny…kind of thinking this gun thing is like getting tattoos….once you get one you want more!

        Reply
  12. Bobby Mason

    I think I will stay with my Ruger 9MM ..Love it …I have had a lot of handguns but I like it best…

    Reply
  13. Richard

    Thanks for the great discussion. I am carrying the Beretta PX4 Storm compact .40 – 12 rds, but can use the large mags from the fulls size Storm. As a larger person 6’4″ 250, most anything I can conceal. As a DA/SA pistol that presents need for more training. I do like the DA for the first shot. The safety on the slide needs familiarization and training. I also have a Sig 2002 pro 9mm [of course no safety] that carries easily.
    Your thoughts and comments would be welcome.

    Reply
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  15. Randall Beavers

    Personally, I’ve been carrying a Glock model 22. It’s been serving me well. I choose the .40 caliber because, in my opinion, it’s not too big or too small. I think if about 85% of LEO’s carry them, they must be a good choice. The question one should ask themselves about which is the best CCW is; which reliable handgun can I shoot the best? It doesn’t matter how pretty it is or what other people think about it. All that matters is can I depend on it, and can I run the gun well in a stressful situation!

    Train well,
    Randy

    Reply