What are the best guns for concealed carry? Sounds like a good question to start an argument.
The truth is there is no perfect gun. Every firearm is a compromise offering certain benefits at the costs of others. Yet, I am frequently asked my opinion on what gun someone should buy, or at least consider, for carrying.
Generally, I try to find out a little more information about the person’s situation and their experience with guns. Sometimes there will be a wild card thrown in, such as a significant known risk from a criminal enterprise or ex-spouse. Almost always, cost is a consideration.
So, with all of these variables, how does one pick which guns are best?
Based on my experience and the collective experience of the shooting community, there are certain guns and brands that I remove from consideration on this due to known reliability problems or high cost.
Some of you are going to hate my choices while others will agree with some or even all of them. Just keep in mind that each person who chooses to carry a gun for self defense has very specific needs. Just because these guns work for me doesn’t mean there aren’t other great choices out there.
Glock 19 – For a great, all-around concealed carry handgun, it is hard to beat the Glock 19. It is compact enough for most people to conceal in an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, yet is still large enough to fight with. I’ve always felt well-armed when carrying a 19.
The model 19 is chambered in 9mm and holds 15 rounds in the standard magazine. For an identically sized pistol in .40 S&W, take a look at the Glock 23.
Another option for the Glock fan is the subcompact 26. Also chambered in 9mm, this pistol is more compact than the 19 with a shorter barrel and grip. There are a lot of people who prefer this pistol to the larger 19, but I am not one of them. However, it is still a good choice if you absolutely need to cut the size down.
Springfield XD-S – Springfield Armory’s XD-S line of pistols are great for concealed carry. They are thin, offer reasonable firepower and are just as reliable as most modern polymer pistols. Initially, the XD-S was offered only in .45 ACP, but they were introduced in 9mm this year.
For me, I prefer the 9mm XD-S, but I’m certain that there are a lot of .45 fans who would opt for the bigger bore version. The guns are only 1” wide, which makes them fairly easy for concealed carry.
Smith & Wesson M&P Compact – These pistols are the compact versions of the larger M&P handguns. They have many of the same features including the interchangeable palm swell grips for adjusting gun to hand fit. The M&P Compact pistols are very reliable and offer considerable firepower in a small package: 12 rounds of 9mm, 10 rounds of .40 S&W/ .357 SIG or eight rounds of .45 ACP.
Smith & Wesson “Hammerless” J-frame – It would be hard to discuss concealed carry firearms and not mention the J-frame line of Smith & Wesson revolvers. The guns are called hammerless because the hammer is completely shrouded by the frame. This helps prevent any problems during a draw from concealment.
These handguns are most frequently seen as five shot .38 Special and .357 Magnum revolvers, though other calibers are available. I own a model 642 and have no hesitations in carrying that gun anywhere. If I was buying a new J-frame today, I’d like pick the 340PD or M&P 340 due to their improved sights.
Beretta Nano – The Beretta Nano is a more recent introduction to the defensive handgun world, yet it has quickly earned its way onto this list. It is a thin, subcompact 9mm pistol with no external controls to snag on clothing during a draw. In many ways, it is a modern version of the hammerless revolver. It carries six rounds in the standard magazine, and an eight-round mag is also available.
Ruger LCR – This hammerless revolver has proven to be a reliable, and affordable, revolver that is easy to conceal in a pocket or IWB holster. Out of the box, I have found this revolver to have one of the best triggers for a small revolver.
The LCR can be had in .38 Special (+P rated), .357 Magnum, .22 LR and .22 WMR. For my own needs, I would pick the .38 or .357 version and carry .38 ammo in it – probably the Speer 135 grain Gold Dot-Short Barrel +P or CorBon DPX +P. However, for someone with physical impairments, the .22 Magnum or even .22 LR could be viable options.
Kahr PM9 – The Kahr PM9 is a single stack 9mm pistol that is very light and thin. With a flush fitting magazine, the pistol holds 6+1 rounds and is +P rated. An extended magazine, which I prefer, holds seven rounds.
The gun is double action only, with a smooth trigger pull. The pull is longer than any of the striker fired guns, and is more akin to a revolver.
For the budget conscious, the CM9 is a Kahr pistol of the same size, but with a few steps down in certain features such as the type of rifling in the barrel. The CM9 retails for about $250 less than the PM9 and is every bit as reliable in my experience.
There are several other guns that bear consideration, but for various reasons didn’t make the A-list. These are:
Bersa BP9 – I like this gun a lot, but I haven’t had the Bersa BP9 long enough to place it into the “best” category. But, it is definitely worthy of consideration.
SIG Sauer P238/P938 – These guns are nice shooters and feel good in the hand. However, they are also single action, 1911-style pistols that are to be carried cocked-and-locked. That method of carry is perfectly safe, but based on my experience, it takes more training to get a new shooter to the same level of proficiency with these guns as compared to the top guns I listed. If you are willing to train, or already run a 1911, you might really like these guns.
Charter Arms Off Duty – This is another hammerless 38 Special revolver like the S&W J-frame above. In some ways I like the Off Duty better than my 642, but the trigger is not quite as nice and the ejector needs just a little exercise before it is ready to go. It is a viable alternative, but one that needs about 200 rounds on the range before it smooths out.
So, what are your top choices for concealed carry handguns?