We take it for granted that higher capacity pistols are the most logical choice for concealed carry, but are they really the best option for the majority of armed citizens?

Do you really need a higher capacity pistol for concealed carry?

  • For armed citizens, slim and light concealed carry pieces make more sense than carrying a full-sized, high-capacity handgun.
  • Smaller semi-automatics can be more difficult to truly master, given they are inherently more difficult to control shot to shot.
  • Women need to take into consideration how prepared they are to correct common malfunctions of semi-automatic pistols.
  • Revolvers clear away many of the technical hurdles of concealed carry firearms, but at the expense of capacity.
  • Overall, the revolver’s capacity is sufficient for the majority of self-defense situations and is an easy-to-carry and operate handgun.

Unlike police, civilians never intentionally move toward an assailant. In most cases, by the time deadly force becomes an unwanted option, the civilian has retreated. Civilians very rarely confront multiple assailants, and most of our encounters are at less than 3 yards, with 2.3 being the average number of shots fired. Our defensive firearm requirements are completely different from the needs of a sworn police officer, whose job is to intervene against criminal activity rather than simply defend against it. So why do so many citizens choose to arm themselves with higher capacity handguns that are more suited to police work than to their daily lives and requirements for personal defense?

Those of us who make the commitment to be capable of defending ourselves, rather than relying on society and hoping for the best, almost always choose a handgun as our primary choice. This is because carrying a handgun makes more sense than toting a tactical shotgun or carbine.

We know this choice is a compromise. A shotgun or rifle is almost always more effective in a fight than a handgun. We choose the handgun because we balance the threat against the convenience. Police carry handguns rather than shotguns or carbines for the same reasons.

Since our needs are different than the needs of sworn officers, doesn’t it make sense for civilians to arm themselves with firearms that match their needs rather than the needs of police officers?

Concealed Carry Capacity

In our shooting classes, we advocate our students choose firearms more in line with their lifestyles and the possible situations they might face. We don’t advocate carrying large-capacity, full-sized firearms, unless the person is exposed to a very high risk. We recommend our students choose a firearm that will interfere less with their daily lives, but is still up to the potential threats they may face.

In recent years, there have been several excellent choices in slim, concealable semi-auto carry guns. Guns like the S&W Shield and Springfield XDs offer a smaller and less burdensome choice.

They come in the same calibers as their larger, double-stack, service counterparts, with a reduction of about half the magazine capacity. They’re reliable, and have similar triggers and sights as their larger counterparts. They’re harder to shoot well, but far easier to conceal and more comfortable to carry.

But for many of our female students, operating the slide of the compact semi-autos is a difficult task. In a situation where a malfunction occurs, it would be a daunting task for them to get the gun cleared and running again during a life threatening situation.

Modern semi-autos are very reliable, but they do malfunction for various reasons, and under pressure individuals without extensive training can have trouble getting the gun going again. Let’s face it: Most civilians train very little. Having said that, these guns are very good and offer a viable option with power, concealability, and capability for a fast reload.

The smaller subcompacts are probably the smallest compromise of size and power. For women and others with weak hands, their small size can make them even more difficult to operate.

The standard chambering of .380 is generally considered borderline, but when concealability is the primary issue, they’re very good. Again, they generally have a capacity of six or seven shots and can be quickly reloaded.

Our number one choice — and the gun both my wife and I carry — is a compact five-shot revolver.

The modern five-shot, compact revolver is lightweight, sometimes weighing less than a loaded spare magazine for a full-size gun. Guns that are unobtrusive are more likely to be with you, and guns that carry like a boat anchor are more likely to be left at home.

A .25 ACP in your hand is more effective than a .44 magnum at home. Small guns are much easier to conceal than big ones, and the five-shot revolver is only slightly harder to conceal than the subcompact .380s.

Concealed Carry Capacity

The modern compact revolver is quite accurate out to 10 yards, 3 yards beyond the distance considered critical when facing an assailant who doesn’t have a gun. Remember, the average self-defense shooting confrontation occurs at less than 3 yards. Adding a laser sighting device aids in accuracy, and 70 percent of all defensive shooting situations happen in low-light conditions.

While there are more powerful firearms available, modern defensive ammunition in .38 Special +P and .357 Magnum are viable stoppers. Compact revolvers are among the most reliable repeating firearms in history, and if a round doesn’t fire, you simply pull the trigger again.

I doubt there are many who read this who have more experience in daily carry of a firearm than Chris Cerino. You may know Chris from Top Shot, or from Gun Talk and Guns and Gear on TV.

Chris has spent his entire adult life as a sworn officer, park ranger, police officer, and Federal Air Marshal and Air Marshal Trainer. Chris’ life has been spent carrying a gun and assessing threats.

He’s spent the last 12 years of his life teaching other law officers, military, and civilians how to shoot. His everyday carry gun is a S&W 642 five-shot .38 Special revolver.

In writing this, there’s no doubt there are many who’ll scoff and say five or six shots from a small mid-caliber revolver or semi-automatic is hardly sufficient to stop a determined assailant, and that only a large-caliber, large-capacity semi-auto is a reliable defense firearm. Few of those would argue a shotgun wouldn’t do a better job than the handgun, but of course it isn’t convenient to carry a shotgun everywhere.

Police officers, whose lives are on the line every day, are willing to compromise and carry a double-stack full-sized semi-auto instead of a shotgun or carbine. Doesn’t it make sense for an ordinary citizen who lives a peaceful life to compromise down to a smaller, less obtrusive gun with less magazine capacity?

Editor’s Note: This article is from Gun Digest Guide To Concealed Carry Handguns.


Gun Digest Guide To Concealed Carry Handguns

Author and certified firearms instructor Dick Jones answers your questions:

  • Revolver versus semi-auto
  • Full-size or compact
  • Best calibers
  • Holster and sight options
  • Training tips
  • Issues specific to women

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