Not all guns are created equal. If you have made the decision to carry concealed, and get a choice in what you carry, you should select a pistol that will give you the most possible advantages.
The advantages could be inherent to the design, such as superior reliability, a simple manual of arms, or high capacity, or could be intangibles such as high popularity or issuance making quality holsters, parts, magazines and support easier to come by.
There is an old saying, “any gun will do if you will do,” and that might be true, but you can make the “doing” a lot simpler by starting out with the right tool.
Criteria For a Good Concealed Handgun
Before we get to the list, we’ll delve briefly into what criteria constitutes selection for a good carry gun. Most of these criteria are completely objective, such as mechanical reliability, capacity, and availability of parts and support equipment, but others reflect choices that the user may have to make depending on their objective.
For instance, a smaller handgun is easier to conceal, but too small leaves you with a pocket gun that is suboptimal for fighting. Depending on the user’s requirements, though, a pocket or deep concealment gun may be the only thing they can carry.
The reverse may also be true: depending on the environment and attire, concealing even a full size pistol with a weapon-mounted light may be of little difficulty.
The list of selection criteria below will be universal to any handgun, fullsize to subcompact, so before reading on, consider what your personal objective is: an “all-seasons” gun that can do everything well at a modest size will look far different than a gun intended to be carried in a business-dress non-permissive environment where any detection at all could spell job loss or possible legal consequences. Without any more preamble, read on.
Bar-none, the most important factor in selection. If the pistol is not extremely reliable in all conditions, all of its other attributes count for nothing. This biggest part of this is choosing a gun from a high quality manufacturer, even if you have to buy used. Assuming that the gun is a compact or larger, most offerings from top-tier manufacturers are very reliable in most any environment if given even a little care and halfway decent ammunition.
Note that when talking about subcompact and pocket pistols, they are generally less reliable, ounce for ounce, than their larger cousins of the same make or model. This is due to several factors, not the least of which being that a greatly abbreviated operating cycle and less-than-ideal ergonomics add up to more chances for things to go wrong.
This does not mean that they are not up to the task of a daily-carry or backup gun, only that one should pay closer attention to preventative maintenance, and careful testing to ensure they are reliable when shooting with only one hand, and using the chosen defensive ammunition.
To determine reliability, try to find examples of the gun being used in high numbers, such as issued to a major law-enforcement or government agency. A greater sample size will betray any inherent mechanical flaws more readily than a sample of one or two people you know who rarely shoot it or do not run it hard.
Local and national level trainers are great sources of info for this, as they will see lots of the same guns used by many different students, and will as a rule see similar issues, if present, reoccur. A pronouncement of “flawless reliability” after shooting 400 rounds through a pistol over the course of a year is not a vote of any confidence.
For the purposes of a primary carry gun, select a cartridge no smaller than 9mm Para. Some experts believe that .380 ACP is the minimum acceptable primary round for defense, but I would advocate it only for use in a backup or deep concealment piece. The 9mm has the most benefits across the most situations, including adequate terminal performance, greater capacity and mild recoil.
These factors are even more valuable when one considers you will probably be carrying a compact or smaller class of pistol, where the recoil and reduced capacity of larger cartridges is even more detrimental. Ultimately, any modern service cartridge (9mm, .38 Spl., .357 Mag., .40 S&W, .45ACP) is adequate to the task of self defense. If you cannot stand the thought of the 9mm, fine. But do not delude yourself into thinking anything larger will produce substantially better results.
You should however relegate anything smaller than a .380 ACP to pocket or deep-concealment guns only, and even then, be sure there is no better option. When utilizing cartridges like the .32 ACP, .25 ACP or .22LR even excellent hits may not produce reliable results in the target. Exercise caution before choosing even a tiny gun chambered in one of these diminutive cartridges.
If you are looking for a do-it-all pistol for carry, you will not go far wrong by choosing a compact-sized gun. Handguns in this class allow a full grip, or very close to it, for excellent control, have more than adequate capacity, and are still easily concealed inside-the-waistband (IWB) in most environments. They remain the most popular, and obvious, choice for concealed carry.
If you are willing to dress around the gun and can stand more discomfort, a fullsize gun is also a viable option. A good belt and holster will spell the difference between comfort and torture here. Likewise, if you need the gun to fit in a pocket or on your ankle, you will be forced to go down into a subcompact or even smaller, depending on objective and your attire: pockets in a pair of dress slacks are not as generous as those in a pair of casual shorts, for instance.
Think carefully about your requirements, and be sure to choose the “most” gun you can conceal for the task. Very small guns are not easy to shoot well in ideal circumstances, and are typically chambered in less-than-optimal calibers. They are also difficult to draw in a hurry from a deep concealment location such as an ankle holster. If in doubt, get a compact.
Besides time, ammunition is your life-saving resource in a fight. When one considers the fact that, statistically, you will be facing multiple attackers, who will require multiple shots, and then account for misses, suddenly a six or seven shot gun does not seem so appealing. While it is also true, statistically, that the average conflict a civilian will involved in is over in three rounds fired, I would not advocate you bet your life or the life of your loved ones to those statistics. If you were going to trust in those statistics, you needn’t carry a gun at all.
Choose a gun that has a standard capacity of eight rounds or greater. This will allow nine when carried “+1”- a round in the chamber with a fully loaded magazine locked in. A gun of lesser capacity may serve fine if that fateful day comes, but remember this maxim: “You can never have too much ammo onboard in a fight for your life.” If you decide to carry a low-capacity gun, be doubly sure to have additional magazines (or speedloaders, for a revolver) close at hand.
Availability of Parts and Support
This is not the most crucial consideration, but logistics matter. The ease with which you can find parts, accessories and service for your pistol will have an impact on how much you can do with it over the life of the gun.
If you choose the latest, greatest Russian wonderpistol chambered in 8.28x22mm RZK, you can bet you are going to have a rough time getting ammo, magazines, and holsters, to say nothing of the hoops you’ll jump through to get parts and service for it in the event of breakage. That was an extreme (and made-up) example, but can apply to domestic and common European designs as well: obsolete or unpopular pistols will have little to no aftermarket support, or minimal factory servicing available.
If you must rely on laborious searching for factory magazine and parts, and expensive custom work for holsters, you are wasting time and money that could be spent on training and practice.
I am of the opinion that there are usually few good reasons to choose a rare or exotic gun over a more common, mature design: most of the time it boils down to Special Snowflake Syndrome- the need to be “different.” Novelty is fine, but wait to get a rare gun for a hobby piece when time and resources allow, not for your primary concealed carry gun.
The Top 5 Concealed Carry Guns
Presented in no particular order, these guns have been chosen based on the criteria above, and with foremost consideration given to them being good fighting tools.
Glock 19 – Generation 3, 4, or 5
The ubiquitous Glock 19 is a perennial favorite for a reason. Consisting of the ideal combination of shootability, concealable size, 15+1 capacity and dead-hard reliability, the Glock deserves a place in every stable. Aftermarket enhancements are nearly limitless, and well within the skills of the average owner to install themselves.
Despite the current craze of extensive customization and personalization the stock G19 is acceptable in every regard save one: standard sights are plastic, and vulnerable to breakage or being knocked off the gun entirely. Consider an upgrade to factory or aftermarket steel sights mandatory in such a case.
The Gen. 5 G19 in particular benefits from several worthy upgrades, including an improved barrel, ambidextrous slide release, and a flared magazine well for easier reloading at speed. One thing to keep in mind with the newer Gen. 4 and 5 Glocks over legacy models is that quite a few legacy aftermarket parts are not compatible with the newer variants. Be sure to check compatibility before buying any enhancements.
Smith & Wesson M&P9c
Currently Glock’s most strident competitor, the American M&P series offers much the same as the Glock in way of performance and reliability, with nearly as much aftermarket support. It has steel sights stock, unlike the G19, and the M&P also has the added perk, for some, of being available from the factory with frame-located manual safety. 1911 users or those who simply desire a safety will be right at home here.
A note on the size here, the M&P9c is smaller than the Glock 19, though not quite small enough for ankle or pocket carry, and has a correspondingly smaller magazine capacity of 12+1. It remains a very good shooter, and if one desires a small gun that can shoot as well as a larger model it is fine choice.
The M&P series guns are not quite as simple to work on as Glocks, and magazines are somewhat more expensive, but among striker guns it is second only to Glock in popularity and as an issued handgun for police departments, ensuring access to service and parts almost anywhere.
Beretta Px4 Storm Compact
This entry is a sleeper that is no doubt raising eyebrows even now. Introduced in 2004, it is still a relatively unknown pistol in the U.S., but one that has benefitted from extensive development and refinement by Beretta.
The Px4 is one of the only modern compact, lightweight choices for a carry DA/SA pistol. One recent example was subjected to a brutal 50,000 round endurance test by legendary double-action guru Ernest Langdon, and aside from a locking block breakage about halfway through (which, it must be noted, did not stop the gun) it suffered only a handful of malfunctions.
The Px4 features ambidextrous safety/decocker levers and slide releases stock, as well as interchangeable backstraps and an excellent factory trigger. Nevertheless, it also has a surprising amount of user customization available: a variety of different sights, and control options are affordable and available direct from the factory or aftermarket, with such options as low profile controls, a “G” conversion that converts the slide mounted manual safety into a decock-only lever, and components to safely lighten the trigger pull.
A great, lightweight, easy to shoot pistol for those who want a DA/SA gun, and do not want to give up the compact footprint.
A slimmed, slicked and single-stack pistol based off Sig’s long-running P220/P226 service pistols. The P239 was designed to be a concealable handgun that would serve users of its larger siblings well as a backup or deep-concealment gun, being much slimmer, having a significantly smoothed slide, and scalloped controls for the task.
8+1 capacity is adequate, and it is extremely reliable and an excellent shooter compared to even a fullsize pistol, allowing those who are fluent with a DA/SA gun to shoot to their maximum potential. It is however an alloy framed gun and heavier than its polymer competition.
A large variety of models are available from the factory, with a variant to suit every taste or objective, and there are several aftermarket sight options. Sig is a preeminent manufacturer in the U.S. and still the choice of several major government agencies and police departments.
If you like Glocks, and want one that is small, slim and suitable for ankle or even pocket carry, the Glock 42 will fit the bill. This is Glock’s single-stack .380 ACP offering, and despite the reputation of most guns in its class, a very capable and reliable shooter.
So small and light as to be nearly forgotten, this is one of the few pistols in the backup gun class that can still shoot as well as its larger cousins, thanks to its acceptable trigger and decent sights. Like its larger brethren, the stock sights are plastic, and fragile. Consider a sight upgrade mandatory.
In a market full of truly tiny backup guns, there are few that possess the ruggedness and reliability that the Glock 42 brings to the table. Easy to run and easy to shoot, it is a natural companion to a larger Glock or anyone who carries a striker-fired pistol.
As shooters, we live in a time of abundance. There are dozens of quality pistols for any given task, and they hail from all corners of the globe. Analysis paralysis is real, and without the experience to sort the wheat from the chaff, one may wind up with a less than ideal choice.
Using this list as your guide and nothing else, you are guaranteed to take home a dependable, effective pistol, and one that will serve you well for years to come.
What do you think about the choices on the list? Is your favorite on there or did it get left off? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!