Personal Defense Pistol Selection

Given the number of active shooter situations that have occurred in recent weeks, I felt that it might be appropriate to repost this article. If you have a carry permit and don’t carry your pistol, WAKE UP!! The absolute worst feeling in the world has to be NEEDING YOUR GUN and NOT HAVING YOUR GUN. I’d much rather HAVE IT and NOT NEED IT.

Picking a handgun for personal defense is exactly that: a personal choice. What I like, you may not. What an expert marksman and experienced pistoleer (civilian) may think is necessary may be completely different than that of a combat veteran. I’m not going to attempt to tell you what you need in this article. I’ll share with you what some other folks’ selections were; what mine are; and what I believe should be considered when making such a choice. If you agree or disagree with me, either way it’s a good thing. At least you are thinking about your choice from an objective (and subjective) point of view and making conscious positive choices rather than buying based on sales hype or what you saw an actor carrying in a movie.

Now I should mention right off that I recently had a discussion with numerous officers about the desirability of a pistol versus a revolver for personal defense use. I have nothing against revolvers and used to carry one as a back-up and off-duty gun for several years. For me, though, the ability to carry a small pistol with 10+ rounds of 9mm ammo was easier and more convenient than carrying a snub-nose revolver holding 5 shots of .38Special ammo and a speed loader with five more rounds. Pure and simple (for me), the decision to carry a pistol instead of a revolver was based on the relative stopping power of the ammunition choices (9mm vs. .38Spl) and the fact that I could get double the round count in the pistol. So, the fact that this article focuses on pistols and not revolvers shouldn’t be taken as a statement that revolvers are inadequate or undesirable. It’s simply a statement that FOR ME revolvers aren’t a reasonable choice.

Given that we’ve already brought up caliber, I guess we should get inot that a bit more. What is a good caliber to have a defensive pistol in? While you can find whole forests’ worth of paper devoted to the argument about .45ACP vs. 9mm (or 10mm; or .40S&W; or .357Sig)… the reality is this: ANY caliber gun ON YOUR PERSON is better than the caliber of weapon you left in your glove compartment or safe because it was too big to carry. While I prefer to carry a defensive pistol in a larger caliber, I would be happy with a pocket pistol in .25ACP if that was all I had available. Typically, even the smallest gun I carry is in 9mm though. I consider the following calibers acceptable for defensive pistols:

  • .380ACP
  • .40S&W
  • .357Sig
  • .45GAP
  • 9mm
  • 10mm
  • .45ACP

That’s my preferred list in order of my preference, bottom to top. In other words, my favorite is the .45ACP, working down to the .380ACP. Now I know a great many readers will disagree with the order I’ve put them in – and the arguments are more than valid. Yes, the .40S&W is an excellent cartridge. Yes, the .357Sig and .45GAP cartridges are good to go. BUT… to my way of thinking, they are relatively new. I mean, the 9mm and .45ACP cartridges are both over 100 years old. We have them figured out. We know how they work. Even the 10mm round is 35+ years old. The rest of the list is younger than me… except the .380ACP. Given that so many experienced shooters seem to feel that the 9mm is an under-powered round, why would we want to carry what is essentially a down-loaded 9mm? I consider the .380ACP a minimally acceptable defense cartridge. If you HAVE to go that small, then so be it. But again… I don’t see the sense in carrying a .380ACP when pistols of comparable size and cost are available in 9mm or .40S&W.

.45ACP left; .40S&W middle; 9mm on the right.
Which is right for you?

So, once you’ve picked a caliber, what else is there? Functionality, capacity, size, sights, etc.

Anyone who has read my writing for more than a couple of months knows that I’m a fan of the Government Model 1911 style pistol and all Glocks. That’s not to say that I don’t like the Beretta, SigArms, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Steyr (they look really cool) or others… I just PREFER the 1911 or a Glock.

Speaking of SigArms: I know a retired Navy Special Warfare Combat Craft Crewman who swears by the Sig P226. It’s his pistol of preference. Oddly enough, I also know a former Navy Seal who also prefers the Sig P226. For several years in the late 1980s I carried a Sig P226 as my duty weapon and I was quite satisfied. In fact, at that time, it was my dream pistol. In the early nineties I switched agencies and was issued a Beretta 92F. I prefer the Sig. Above both, I prefer the Glock 19. Why? Because when you compare the Glock 19 to the Sig P226 or the Beretta 92F, what you find out is this:

The Glock 19 is 2/3 the overall size of both other pistols
The Glock 19 holds the same number of rounds as both other pistols
The Glock 19 weighs less than both other pistols
The Glock 19 has the same OR LONGER sight radius (distance between sights) as both other pistols
The Glock 19 has fewer parts than both other pistols (which means less to break)

Those are MY reasons for preferring the Glock 19 over those two popular pistols. That said, if you’re a shooter who prefers a double-action / single-action shooting system, the Glock isn’t for you. If you want a manual safety on your pistol, the Glock isn’t for you. If you want a decocking lever on your pistol, the Glock isn’t for you.

Do you want night sights on your gun? More than 80% of law enforcement shootings occur during hours of darkness, or in settings of reduced light. Night sights are important for cops (and soldiers). What about civilians protecting themselves, their families or their homes? Again, it’s a personal choice. Once you’ve decided on a caliber, size (barrel length), functionality, and sight preferences, I’d recommend you go to the local range and see if you can handle / rent / shoot the weapons you have to choose from. Something else to consider is how much time you have to train. I don’t recommend single-action-only weapons (like the Government Model .45) for those who will shoot, at most, once each year. The single-aciton-only pistol is something I’d trust to an accomplished shooter, or someone who can go to the range four (or more) times each year. It takes practice to handle this weapon safely and you want all of your mechanical skills to be second-nature. That takes quite a bit of shooting.

So, when you decide to select your personal defense weapon, take a look around. Read. Get educated about options. Talk to your friends who shoot. Remember that everyone’s opinion is exactly that: their opinion; and it’s based on what they like or don’t like (just like mine). Decide for yourself. Try different pistols out. Make your choice; practice with it; confirm it. If you change your mind, change pistols. Practice. Confirm. Eventually you will find that pistol which you just feel right with.

 

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