“So what’s the best concealed carry gun?”
That may be the question that we get asked the most often here at the Next Level Armory shop by someone looking to start carrying a personal protection firearm for the first time. Of course, common sense should tell you there isn’t a one-size-fits-all concealed carry gun. So, instead of directing someone to a specific gun, we’ll instead give folks a few things to consider when trying to determine their next purchase.
There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to a concealed carry gun and it can be overwhelming. We always recommend renting or borrowing firearms and trying them out before you buy. If possible, do so a few times. You’ll probably find your first impressions will change over time as you grow accustomed to shooting them.
Type of Firearm
Generally this comes down to a (snub-nose) revolver and a semi-automatic compact or subcompact pistol, which both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Revolvers are typically viewed as the more reliable of the two.
While they are still subject to failures just like any mechanical device, there are far few things that can go wrong with the operation of a revolver. Failures to feed, failures to extract, failures to eject, stovepipes – none of these phrases have any meaning at all with a high quality revolver in your hand. Further reliability comes from the fact that unlike a semi-automatic firearm, a revolver’s operation does not depend on the successful firing of a round in order to cycle. A misfire or “dud” round will stop a semi-automatic handgun cold, but with a revolver all one needs to do is pull the trigger again to turn the cylinder and (hopefully) keep shooting.
So after reading that it may seem like anyone would be crazy to carry a semi-automatic pistol for defense. Of course semi-automatic pistols have been widely used successfully for the better part of the 21st century, and are standard issue for nearly every military in the world. A good quality, well-maintained semi-auto pistol can be every bit as reliable as any revolver.
Pistols also come with their own set of advantages. Vertical orientation of ammunition allows for a slim profile. Even the smallest single-stack pistols can typically hold at least seven or eight, and double stack configurations can carry twice as many as a revolver (if you’re not sure what single or double stack refers to, check out this primer on concealed carry firearms features and terms). Because they use magazines, pistols are much easier (faster) to reload, especially under stress.
Studies show that most firearm engagements happen quickly, with just a few rounds being fired. Yet, studies also show that there is a growing trend towards group robberies and home invasions. If your carry firearm will also serve as a home defense weapon, having the ability to fire 10, 12, or 15 rounds without having to reload puts any shooter at a huge advantage.
The Winner Is
Neither, of course. Revolvers provide ultimate reliability yet are limited in capacity. A slim profile makes semi-autos more attractive for concealed carry, and some can nearly triple the ammo capacity of a revolver. Those who may have difficulty racking the slide or loading a magazine on a semi-automatic can easily open and close the cylinder of a revolver and operate a smooth and light double-action trigger of a quality revolver. The simplicity of a revolver may also count for something depending on how much a user plans to practice and familiarize themselves with the firearm. We obviously advocate for ongoing and thorough training, but that’s just not realistic in some cases. If your firearm ever might be needed by someone in your household who’s less practiced and proficient, easier operation may be a critical consideration.
Firearm Weight and Dimensions
The next thing to consider is size. It needs to be sized appropriately, not only for your body type, but something that feels comfortable in your hands, and also the types of activities that you normally be doing while carrying it. If it is too large or too heavy, you’ll be more apt to “forget” your firearm when leaving the house, which obviously defeats the purpose.
What is important to remember is that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Someone who’s 6’7 and north of 300 pounds can potentially conceal a full-sized pistol comfortably. Someone 5’5 and 120 pounds doesn’t have that luxury. The size of your hands can also make a difference in which size and model of firearm will be most comfortable. We could write an entire separate article just on finding the right sized pistol. There are a lot of variables that are individual-specific.
The Caliber Conversation
There have been countless articles and studies done comparing different calibers. The ultimate goal of your concealed carry handgun is to stop an assailant (or assailants) from doing harm to you or your loved ones. Make no mistake, if that can’t be accomplished through intimidation then as a last resort your firearm must be capable of causing enough physical trauma to your attacker to incapacitate them before either they can finish their attack or you run out of ammunition. Caliber choice will greatly affect your firearm’s ability to do this, and obviously the bigger and faster the bullet, the more damage potential it has.
Does that mean should run out and buy a snub-nosed .44 Magnum? Definitely not. Bigger isn’t always better. Larger calibers come with increased recoil, making follow-up shots more difficult, especially from smaller handguns. Ask any expert, and they’ll tell you that the ability to accurately put rounds on target trumps power every time when it comes to handguns. That .44 won’t help you at all if you can’t hit anything with it. You’ll also get fewer shots with larger calibers. Power, cost, magazine capacity and “shoot-ability” are all factors you’ll also want to consider.
Popular Revolver Calibers
If you choose a revolver, .357 magnum and .38 Special are two of the most popular options. .357 Magnum is the more powerful and versatile of the two. It’s also more expensive, but one advantage is that most revolvers chambered for .357 can safely fire .38 special as well. This allows the shooter to the majority of their training with the cheaper .38 special. The downside is that .357 magnum revolvers need to be built to stronger tolerances, meaning a heavier gun that may be less pleasant to carry for some. Comparatively, .38 Special is much easier to shoot due to its lower recoil, and revolvers chambered in .38 Special are usually lighter. In the past, .38 Special has been thought of as “under-powered”, but as long as modern defensive ammunition is used, it is a perfectly capable choice.
Popular Pistol Calibers
While there are dozens of options, the vast majority of semi-auto pistols on today’s market are available chambered for 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP. Our team members have a lot of experience with all three rounds, including in the line of duty, and consensus differs. All are capable defense rounds that strike some balance between capacity and ballistic effectiveness. This goes back to our strong recommendation of trying both before making a decision. Some pistols can even be configured to shoot multiple calibers simply by swapping barrels, making the decision over one caliber less stressful.
We couldn’t talk about concealed carry cartridges and not include the .380 Auto, as many of the so-called “micro” or “pocket” pistols are chambered in this caliber. Our own opinion is that the drop-off in ballistic performance of the .380 is not worth the minimal reduction in size and weight. Also, many make the mistake of thinking that these micro pistols are easy to shoot, when in fact they can require much more training to be proficient with. Yet, one thing that can’t be argued is that having something is always better than nothing. When you need it most, a small gun in the hand beats a big one in the safe.
As always, there’s no 100% correct answer here. We generally recommend people start by looking at a carry pistol in 9mm, or .38 Special if they’re considering a revolver. We believe these to be the best balance between capacity, wound-potential, and “shoot-ability” from a smaller platform for most people. Modern self defense ammunition in both of these rounds are quite formidable and up to the task. Furthermore, they are not cost-prohibitive to train with, and found practically anywhere ammo is sold.
Training is More Important Than Any Other Factor
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter what you carry if you aren’t properly trained and don’t continually practice. You’ll be far better off in a defense situation by buying a $300 firearm and spending another $700 on ammunition and ongoing training, rather than buying a $1,000 wonder gun that you’re not proficient with.
In summary, there are a lot of things to consider when looking for a new concealed carry firearm, and everyone has their opinion on what is best. Unfortunately, that opinion is often based upon what fits them the best. The only true way to determine the ideal concealed carry gun for you is to try different ones to see which one best meets your needs. If you’re on the hunt for your first concealed carry firearm, come see us at Next Level Armory. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will be happy to help you make the right decision.
As always, be safe, be prepared, and BE MISSION READY!