Gun Digest

Concealed Carry Calibers: Pros and Cons

One gun chambered for the .40 S&W is the Sig Sauer P224, a compact little pistol that makes a superb defensive tool.
One gun chambered for the .40 S&W is the Sig Sauer P224, a compact little pistol that makes a superb defensive tool.

Probably the most commonly asked question among people looking for a defensive handgun and trying to decide which one to buy is “Which one is the best?”

The truth is, there is no such thing. The best gun and caliber combination will be what appeals to and fulfills an individual’s needs and capabilities, and of course, budget.

Here's a look at the pros and cons of three popular concealed carry calibers—9mm, 40 S&W and .45 ACP.


The 9mm is one of the most popular personal defense calibers on the landscape, and so many firearms are chambered for the round—big and small—that one can hardly count them. Ammunition has advanced over the years and there are many loads in various bullet weights ranging from 115 to 147 grains. It has plenty of energy, though the frontal mass is not as impressive as that of the .40- and .45-caliber loads.

Pros: Ammunition can be found just about anywhere in a variety of loads, from FMJs to hollowpoints and frangibles. It is accurate, with moderate recoil in all but the smallest, lightweight pistols, and there is less chance of over-penetration. The round offers a great balance between attacker-stopping power and it’s ability to be fired and easily controlled in a smaller to moderate-sized handgun, which is why this caliber is so popular.

Cons: Some shooters believe the 9mm is a bit on the light side for serious defensive work, and with lighter bullets there have been concerns about failure to penetrate through heavy, layered clothing or to stop a crazed, determined attacker.

.40 S&W

A cartridge that quickly became a winner is the .40 S&W, and it quickly proved itself as a fight stopper. Police agencies all over the map have adopted it for good reason, so it’s definitely a good choice for use by private citizens as well. I like the Remington Golden Saber 165-grain round best, but ammunition is offered with 135-, 155-, 180- and 200-grain bullets, too.

Pros: It moves a major class bullet out of the pipe at over 1,000 fps and hits like a hammer. Just about everybody makes a gun for this cartridge, including a couple of revolver makers.

Cons: It has a sharp recoil that may be tough to manage for some people, especially in smaller framed handguns.

.45 ACP

The .45 ACP is arguably king of the street calibers, and it has been winning close-quarters fights and military battles for more than a century. There are soldiers, cops and Texas Rangers who swear by it, along with legions of armed citizens who are still topside today because they had a .45 and used it. I prefer a 185-grain JHP and 230-grain FMJ rounds, stacked alternately in the magazine.

Pros: A variety of ammunition is available, and you can find it just about anywhere. Of even more importance in this day and age is it is affordable. Recoil is easily manageable in most guns, and a center-of-mass hit can body slam an attacker.

Cons: None that I can think of except where recoil in a smaller framed semi-auto might be too aggressive for some shooters. The slightly larger frame size of some .45s can also create more challenges to concealing without creating any imprint from beneath a shirt.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from the June 30, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine

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