HOT TOPIC: Concealed Carry Handguns

I want to talk about concealed carry handguns.  A topic of hot debate among CCW license holders.  Everyone certainly has their opinions, and I’ll give you mine!  However, my perspective comes from 30 years of daily concealed carry of a handgun   I started carrying a concealed handgun shortly after my 21st birthday. That is the earliest age in Shasta County you can apply for a concealed weapon license. I carried a concealed handgun on a daily basis as a private citizen for 10 years until I became a law-enforcement officer 20 years ago.  My daily carrying of a concealed handgun has continued over the past 20 years as a cop. My perspective also comes from the real world experience of having been involved in a lethal force encounter. Additionally, I have been an instructor teaching both private citizens and law-enforcement officers how to effectively use their handgun to defend their lives for over 25 years. I mention this background because this experience brings a rich perspective that most do not have. Not to say that I have all the answers, but I believe I can intelligently discuss the topic!

Things to Keep In Mind

Keep in mind that as we start our journey on the discussion of concealed carry handguns, issues, such as, gender, body size, occupation, how you dress, climate, and a multitude of other factors come into play.  I’ll let you know right up front that I come from the perspective that you should carry the largest framed, highest capacity, major caliber, and most reliable handgun possible. I came to think of it this way many years ago. Put yourself in a deadly force scenario where you have a reasonable fear for your life.  Let”s imagine someone like Charlie Manson, with a large butcher knife, about 15 feet away from you and he wants to take your head off.  Now, sitting on a table in front of you are two handguns.  One is a very concealable, small, lightweight, thin, 6 round .380 semi-automatic. You can pick the brand because there are lots of them!  The other handgun is a compact, 10 round 9mm or .40 handgun.  Not quite as small, thin, or as light.  OK, back to the question, Charlie is coming for you, which handgun do you pick up?  I believe most of us if you’re smart, would pick up the slightly larger handgun.  In this life and death situation, the larger handgun provides a more powerful cartridge, more ammunition, more accuracy, more control, and a greater overall likelihood that you will be able to stop the attacker before he harms or kills you.

What about Small Caliber Guns?

The thought process of actually thinking about having to use the handgun in a self-defense situation has to lead me away from very small sub caliber handguns.  I believe this thought process has guided me well in selecting the handgun that I carry concealed for my personal safety. With this being said, it is not quite as simple as discussing carrying a small pocket 380 versus a full-size government model 1911 handgun. There is a host of compact handguns that are very concealable, but fire a major caliber cartridge, hold more rounds, have excellent sights, and will serve you very well in a life or death situation.

Let’s Talk About Revolvers…

At this point, let me spend a minute and talk about revolvers. So far I have only discussed the semi automatic handgun. This is deliberate. When comparing the revolver to the semi automatic, the revolver is left in the dust. The most popular concealed carry revolver is a double action, lightweight, five shot, 2-inch barrel, 38 special revolver. This handgun, when contrasted with a similar sized semi automatic, comes up on the short end of the stick. The semi automatic will be easier to shoot, can be fired more rapidly, will generally be more accurate, have better sights, and will generally hold more ammunition. The semi automatic handgun is definitely my recommendation for most concealed carry situations. So, why even consider a revolver? Well, as in all things, there are often two sides of the coin. The main advantage of the revolver is that it is extremely reliable and simple to operate. If a concealed carrier, due to age, physical disability, or other factors, cannot effectively manipulate the slide, magazine release button or safeties found on some semi automatic handguns, then they may be a good candidate for a revolver. Even more experienced and capable concealed carriers gravitate to the revolver because of its extreme reliability and simplicity of operation. This thought process definitely has merit and I would not argue that point.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this discussion, I have been teaching firearms in self-defense classes for over 25 years. In this time frame, I have trained thousands of individuals in the use of a handgun for self-defense. I have consistently observed that individuals with these small, lightweight revolvers are less accurate in their shooting, slower getting multiple rounds on the target, and also don’t enjoy the recoil generated by these handguns.


So, with all this being said, I recommend a semi automatic handgun with at least a 9mm caliber. The 380 is very popular but is lacking in effectiveness.  Where the real debate starts is which brand?  I will avoid, as much as possible, the Ford versus Chevy type debate!  At the start of this blog I mentioned that everybody has their opinions. I will try and base mine on facts!

My Favorite Handgun

Personally, my favorite handgun brand is Glock. I have gravitated to them over the years for several reasons. First and foremost is they are extremely reliable. In my vast shooting experience that spans many years of firearms training, including achieving a classification of “master” in the United States practical shooting association, I have fired hundreds of thousands of rounds through Glock handguns. I can literally count on my hands the number of malfunctions I have had with a Glock.  Furthermore, when there have been malfunctions, often times it can be traced to a problem with the ammunition or the shooter.  By the way, I am certified as a gunsmith and armor and that was the first lesson we learned in school.  When trying to diagnose a problem with a firearm, the ammunition is the first suspect, then the handgun is examined for proper maintenance, and then shooter induced errors are examined and finally with those issues eliminated, you can begin to suspect a problem with the firearm itself. I see people criticizing certain handguns with respect to their reliability, but the reality may be a problem with hand loaded ammunition or improper shooting techniques that cause malfunctions.

Second, I want a handgun that is simple to operate in stressful situations.  As I have gotten older I really value simplicity. I have carried single action semi automatic pistols, cocked and locked, over the years. However, one thing that has been impressed upon me, having been in a lethal force encounter, is that fine motor skills and higher level thought process goes out the window. In other words, I truly value a handgun that I can draw and shoot without having to manipulate a safety or other features on the handgun to make it go bang!  Again, the Glock handgun really shines in this regard.

Third, I want a handgun that I can control. I want to be able to put multiple accurate rounds into a threat in a minimum amount of time. This is the principal reason why I have also gravitated to the 9 mm cartridge. As I stated earlier, in my opinion, the 380 is just too anemic. However, on the flip side, I have also gravitated away from the .40 and .45 caliber handguns because of the issue of control. I can confidently and easily shoot these calibers, however, based on extensive range training and real world experience, I have come to the conclusion that I can more rapidly and accurately put rounds into the threat with the 9 mm cartridge. With proper ammunition, the 9 mm cartridge is effective at stopping an adversary. The FBI recently did an extensive study on this issue and their conclusion was to move the agency back to the 9 mm cartridge.

Is It Concealable?

Lastly, I want a handgun that I can conceal. I put this issue last because the previously mentioned issues are more important to me. If a handgun is not reliable it is a boat anchor. If it is so complicated that you may neglect to take the safety off in a stressful situation, then again it is useless. If you cannot rapidly put multiple rounds into the threat with a major caliber cartridge, then again I believe you are behind the eight ball. So with that being said, I specifically like Glock models 43, 26, and 19. In varying degrees, these handguns are very concealable, depending upon some of the issues we mentioned at the start of this blog.  Including, gender, age, occupation, and climate. For example, here in Northern California, there is a huge difference between January and July with respect to heat. In January you are wearing a coat which makes concealment much easier as opposed to July where you have as little clothing on as possible!

My Every Day Carry

Every day I carry, as a back up firearm, a concealed a Glock model 26 9mm handgun. This handgun is a major caliber (9mm), holds 11 rounds, has excellent sights, is very accurate, is very controllable in a multi round scenario, super reliable, and very importantly is simple to use.  When off duty, the vast majority of the time, I carry concealed a Glock model 19 which is a compact 9 mm handgun holding 16 rounds of ammunition. This is an extremely accurate and fast handling handgun.

In a previous blog, I talked about concealed carry methods. This is an extremely important sidebar aspect of this discussion. With a good holster, you can effectively conceal a larger handgun.

So, it’s not all about Glock’s. Especially here in California with the roster of approved guns, some excellent Glock models are not available for sale to the general public. There are other handguns that stand out as excellent choices for concealed carry and self-defense. Over the years I’ve seen many handguns in my classes at the shooting range, both good and bad.  From my experience, I would also consider the Smith & Wesson shield series handgun, the Springfield Armory XD series handgun and the Sig Sauer P320 series handgun. These have the qualities I recommend in a self-defense concealed carry handgun.  They must be reliable, easy to use, controllable and effective.

So, the bottom line? 

For me, I choose function over form. Meaning I will carry the smallest and most concealable handgun that I can apply the concepts we have discussed here. Whatever I carry must be extremely reliable, simple to use, fire a major caliber cartridge, and be controllable. I want to be able to put multiple rounds accurately into the threat in a short period of time from about 7 yards away.

So, these are my thoughts on a concealed carry handgun. Keep in mind that the focus of this blog has been on the handgun itself. I want to point out that a more significant issue with respect to self-defense is in fact you!  I believe it was Jeff Cooper that coined the phrase many years ago, “your mind is the weapon, a handgun is only a tool.”  This is so true!  All of this discussion about the concealed carry handgun and being able to effectively put multiple rounds into a threat in a short period of time is really dependent upon you!  Have you received quality firearms instruction from an instructor who has an extensive background in teaching firearms, has real world experience and teaches real world techniques?  Do you practice with your self-defense concealed carry handgun on a regular basis?  Do you practice good situational awareness? Have you thought about and are you prepared to de-escalate and disengage from a threatening situation if you can safely do so?  Ultimately, these factors are more important than the handgun you choose!


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