Picking the right defensive handgun is important. Find the best concealed carry pistol for your needs and lifestyle by going through this simple checklist.

What do you need to consider to find the best concealed carry pistol:

No matter which category of pistol you’re thinking of, there are dozens of option that might qualify as the best concealed carry pistol for you. The recent growth of the firearms industry and the number of people who’ve decided firearms ownership is a good idea have driven the industry to continue to refine their offerings. There’s never been a better time to purchase a gun over the counter that features everything you want.

You might think you've found the best concealed carry pistol out there, but until you've gone over every square inch and test-fired it you won't know for certain.
You might think you’ve found the best concealed carry pistol out there, but until you’ve gone over every square inch and test-fired it you won’t know for certain.

That said, never buy a gun without operating every control to make sure it’s comfortable for you. Check the location of the magazine release, location and direction the safety operates, and trigger and slide operation to make certain they work well for you. If the shop won’t let you do this, you’re in the wrong shop.

While it’s nice to own different kinds of guns, consider the potential problems if one gun you shoot a lot has an entirely different operating system from the one you’re considering. Some safeties are pushed down to disengage, others are pushed up. Some magazine releases are a button and some are a paddle. Issues like this can make a perfectly fine pistol problematic for someone used to a different system.

Here’s a quick checklist to work through to find the best concealed carry pistol for your needs and lifestyle.

Size

The size of a defensive pistol depends on the lifestyle, clothing habits and determination of the user. Single-stack guns have a thinner profile and are easier to hide, but the added magazine capacity of double stacks certainly has merit. Consider how you dress, both summer and winter. Look into holster options. Low production guns might be cool, but they have limited carry options. Finally, consider that a larger pistol with a longer sight radius is easier to shoot, but it’s also harder to hide.

Weight

It’s been my observation as an instructor that most people feel burdened by a gun heavier than about 20 ounces, and some by anything over 16 ounces. This limits choices to single-stack guns, but if you’re determined and don’t mind the weight, larger guns certainly are easier to shoot well and have more magazine capacity. Figure out what you like.


The Best Concealed Carry Knowledge You’ll Find:


Triggers

The most important issue in shooting a pistol well is manipulation of the trigger. While it’s possible to shoot a gun accurately with a poor trigger, it’s certainly irritating. Double-action triggers are safer than any other trigger system because the hammer spring is not compressed during the normal carry method, but many will struggle with accuracy in double action. Single- or two-stage triggers, like the triggers on 1911-style guns, are easiest to manipulate, but they require a high degree of safety awareness. Modern striker-fired triggers strike a medium with easier control, as well as enough travel and resistance to allow the gun to forego a manually operated safety.

Safeties

While double-actions have safeties, their function is more useful for competition use and de-cocking than ordinary carry. Some striker-fired guns have the option of a manually operated safety. Single-action semi-autos almost universally have a manual safety because the only reasonable carry method is with the hammer cocked and the safety engaged. The location of that safety and its direction of operation can be an issue if the user has extensive experience with a gun that operates in a different fashion. If you’re used to a gun without a manual safety, you should spend a lot of range time disengaging and reengaging it. Safety operation, both off and on, should be a conditioned response that happens without conscious thought.

Ease Of Operation

The best concealed carry pistol is one you can operate competently, no matter the circumstances.
The best concealed carry pistol is one you can operate competently, no matter the circumstances.

As an instructor, there have been dozens of times when a student came for training or certification with a gun they simply didn’t have the hand strength to operate the slide. Even if you have strong hands, some guns are simply easier to operate than others and, under certain circumstances, this can be a factor in success. Hand strength also applies to trigger management, especially with double actions. Test the trigger before purchase while watching the sights to assure you can manage it without excessive movement.

Capacity

Magazine capacity is a big issue. Obviously, you can never have too many rounds should bad things happen, but big magazine capacity means size and weight — and both are a detriment to daily, comfortable carry. I carry a smaller gun with lower capacity because I can’t remember a single web report or armed citizen story that involved the defender needing to reload. It happens, but mostly it happens in Hollywood.

Caliber

There’s no doubt that a big hole in the front of your gun looks impressive. There’s also no doubt that a lot of people carry a gun they can’t shoot accurately because of recoil anticipation. Size and weight play a lot into defensive carry choices, and a light and small gun in a heavy caliber is more than most can handle. While you can’t try a gun at the gun shop, you may be able to test fire the gun you’re thinking of at a commercial range.

If you can’t shoot it accurately, it’s not the right choice for defensive carry because you’re responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun. A well-placed shot with a smaller caliber is more effective than a miss with a big magnum, and the stray bullet that misses can ruin your life.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Shooter’s Guide 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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