Choosing a Concealed Carry Gun

By Suzanne Wiley

Every year at SHOT Show, a new gotta-have-it concealed carry gun is revealed. Last year it was the SIG P365 and the year before that, it was the Colt Cobra revolver. This year (so far,) we have the Mossberg MC1SC. There is always something bigger and better—or smaller and better—that you can’t wait to get your hands on. And more and more, the popular guns are the smaller ones made for concealed carry.

There are 17.25 million Americans who have a license or permit to carry a firearm.
There are 17.25 million concealed carry permit holders in the U.S.

It has only been since 2016 that all 50 states have allowed carrying a firearm. During Obama’s presidency, the amount of people who obtained their concealed carry permits increased by 256%! Now there are 17.25 million Americans who have a license or permit to carry a firearm. And that’s not even a definitive number because 14 states allow people to carry (in various forms) without a permit or license.

Allowing citizens to carry a firearm reduces murders, rapes and aggravated assaults. John Lott Jr., a leading firearms researcher writes, “When states passed concealed carry laws during the 19 years we studied (1977 to 1955,) the number of multiple-victim public shootings declined by 84% and deaths from these shootings plummeted on average by 90%”

More and more people are realizing they alone are responsible for their safety. A firearm is the most effective tool to stop someone from doing harm to you or your loved ones. A gun truly does equal the playing field. This and many other reasons are why Americans are buying firearms in record numbers.

And now it’s your turn…

So, you’ve decided to join the millions exercising their God-given right to defend themselves and want your first CCW pistol but since there are hundreds of firearms to choose from, you may not know where to start. Don’t worry, I feel ya. I know exactly how daunting picking out a new carry gun is. How do you choose the right handgun for concealed carry? Fortunately, there are enough experienced people in the industry that we’ve been able to pretty much nail down a formula for how to choose the right handgun.

There are a lot of things to consider when searching for The One—caliber, concealability, price, reliability, fit and feel, and reputation. Some of these are more important than others. Reputations aren’t always fair. If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably read jokes about the Hi-Point. However, I was helping a friend with a concealed carry licensing class and a younger woman there qualified with a 9mm Hi-Point. I chatted her up about what she thought about it and she said she loved it. It worked flawlessly and she was killer accurate with it. Don’t always believe what you read.

. A firearm is the most efficient tool to stop someone from doing harm to you or your loved ones. More people than ever are carrying firearms for protection.
Shootability, reliability and fit and feel are important factors when shopping for a CCW.

I’ll let you in on a little insider secret—those who talk smack the loudest usually have never laid their hands on the firearm they complain about. Until you know from your handgunown experience, ignore the naysayers.

Before we dive in, I need to mention you will need to decide between a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver. Both have their pros and cons and I’ve carried both. The main differences—when talking about using it for concealed carry (there are A LOT of differences)—is that a semiauto can hold more rounds and is quicker to reload (if you aren’t a professional shooter,) while a revolver is more reliable, which is critical when the adrenaline is pumping.

Some people will tell you one choice is wrong, but I don’t believe in that (and those same people will tell me I’m wrong.) Try both and pick the one you like better.

Now, let’s get into it…

The Best Caliber for Concealed Carry

I’m not here to get in any caliber war. I’ve carried a .45 ACP, a .38 Special, a .22 LR and currently carry a .380. I poo-poo the people who try to tell me my caliber choices are wrong or bad. That’s no one’s business. Do certain calibers have more “stopping power” than others? Sure, but since I advocate for beginners to start out with what they feel most comfortable, I’d rather you carry something rather than nothing. If that’s a .22, then by all means, carry a .22.

Before I get completely bludgeoned, the minimum caliber recommended for concealed carry is a .380. The most popular carry caliber is 9mm. People also carry .40 S&W, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, 10mm and .38 Special.

Caliber considerations include the size of the gun, the price of ammo and the science behind the energy of that round. A larger caliber in a smaller gun isn’t going to be the bee’s knees to shoot. If you don’t enjoy shooting it, you aren’t going to train regularly, and you may end up not being able to work it properly when it comes time.

Certain caliber ammo is more expensive. For example, .38 Super is double the price of a box of .45 ACP, while a box of practice 9mm ammo is less than $10.

Concealability

Many put lights and lasers on their CCW for fast target identification and acquisition.
Many put lights and lasers on their CCW for fast target identification and acquisition.

Concealability is how easy and comfortable the gun is to conceal and carry on your body. Wardrobe and lifestyle considerations dictate what size firearm is practical for your every day carry. If you wear a uniform or tighter clothing, a full-sized semiauto—without a cover garment—would be challenging to keep concealed.

Price

We all have a budget and guns come in all types. Don’t let a gun’s price tag give you preconceived notions about its reliability. There are many manufacturers that are damn proud of themselves and firearms priced for regular folk can be just as good as the super high-end stuff.

Reliability

This is first and foremost the most important consideration when picking out a concealed carry gun. Read reviews and ask around at the gun range to find out if people have good experience with the guns you are interested in.

Fit and Feel

Fit and feel is nearly as important as reliability. You must be comfortable shooting your firearm. You must be good at it. It must be easy to operate. Fit and feel is personal and the only way you’ll figure out which ones feel good in your hand is by trying them. Most ranges will have guns for rent and I highly recommend trying before buying.

Reputation

The Kimber Micro Bel Air .380 is a work of art with teal frame and mirror-finished stainless steel slide and smooth white grips
I currently carry a Kimber Micro .380.

“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving.” -William Shakespeare

Sometimes reputations are true, sometimes not. To check up on a gun’s reputation, ask around, read forums and reviews. There are a lot of firearm brands that have certain reputations that aren’t deserving. Remember, there are a lot of keyboard commandos out there. Get your own experience behind the trigger before joining them.

Once you start asking around, you’ll get so many conflicting opinions that it may start to feel like no matter what your choice is, it’s the “wrong” one. I’ve been criticized for carrying a gun ‘too big for a girl,’ a 1911, carrying too small a caliber, not buying a GLOCK and wanting an external safety. Just remember what opinions are like…

Misadventures in Searching for The One

I’ve been carrying for nearly 15 years now and have had my ups and downs with my gun choices. Let my mistakes be lessons for you.

Not Trying Before Buying

A huge fan of Smith & Wesson’s firearms, I was super excited when they introduced the Bodyguard series in 2010. I had my eye on the .38 revolver and at a really good price point, I didn’t have to wait very long until I was able to purchase one. The trigger was especially nice for a double-action revolver, it felt great in my hand but boy that thing sure was snappy. The polymer grip frame was not helpful in absorbing any recoil and the snubbie 1.9-inch barrel made the Bodyguard feel more like a magnum than a .38. The day I planned to really break it in, I couldn’t even get through an entire box of ammo without needing a band-aid. I ended up selling it after a few months of owning it, knowing that even though it was a good gun and I loved a lot of its features, I just wasn’t going to practice with it as often as I should and decided to continue my CCW search.

Gun Sell Regret

The NAA .22 LR mini revolver is small enough to be completely concealed when held in your palm. .
An NAA .22 LR mini revolver. Photo from Ammoland.

One year, I was given an NAA mini revolver as a birthday gift. I took that thing everywhere with me (where legal.) It was the most concealable firearm I’ve ever owned. Over that, it was a heck of a lot of fun to shoot. It was a .22 Long Rifle, it only held five rounds and was a bitch to reload, but I practiced with it a lot and became extremely proficient in hitting vital areas at close ranges. I felt confident that if I ever did have to use it, I’d at least be able to dump the five rounds and have a chance to run. I continued to keep it as my back-up “truck gun” until I sold it in a pinch. I regret that sale to this day.

Size Does Matter

The .45 kind of fell into my lap. My Kimber Ultra Carry II was part of an unexpected inheritance and out of quite a lot of guns, the Kimber and I really took to each other. I passed my first concealed carry class with that gun. Though compact, its bulk was still burdensome for me to carry. When a gun isn’t comfortable and is difficult to wear every day, you’ll stop carrying it. This isn’t just a waste of your money, you’re risking your life.

Taking it for a Test Drive

Once, when I was shopping for a new carry gun, I had a friend who was selling her Bersa Thunder .380 with pink Crimson Trace lasergrips and offered to give me the “friend price.” I took it to the range and I gotta tell ya, that little gun was accurate as all get out…when I could get it to run. Seconds matter and a bad guy isn’t going to wait for me to tap-rack-bang. I passed on the Bersa and kept shopping.

This brings us to my current set-up. Right now, I carry a Kimber Micro .380 Bel Air because well, it’s a work of art and it’s the 1911-style I originally learned how to shoot pistols on. I don’t regret the purchase necessarily, just that I probably made my decision a little prematurely. Soon after, Kimber released the Kimber Micro Bel Air model in 9mm, and GLOCK introduced the 43. At $800, the Micro blew my gun money for a while and I’m not willing to trade it in just yet. The .380 has to do for now.

Through my search for the best concealed carry, I’ve experienced successes and failures in caliber, concealability, price, reliability, and fit and feel. It’s been a journey I know isn’t over…the SIG Sauer P365 is an attractive piece and SHOT Show 2019 starts next week, so you never know…

Do you have questions for me about picking out a concealed carry gun? If you are an experienced concealed carrier, what advice would you give beginners? Leave your tips, questions and rants in the comment section.

For more of our concealed carry series, read the following articles:

 

Carrying Concealed—the Next Steps: The First Time Carrying Concealed in Public

3 Things to Consider Before You Conceal Carry