Choosing a Defensive Handgun
There are so many choices today of quality defensive handguns. So many different brands that come in different sizes and various calibers it can be difficult to choose what is right for you. So I wanted to give you some ideas coming from my perspective for whatever that is worth.
The Fanboy Mentality
Ok let’s be real here the gun community definitely has its fanboy’s for a lack of a better term. Those who are Glock fans for example many of them won’t even consider another type of handgun. Not to pick on the Glock fans because every brand has that certain following just some crazier than others.
I am a big 1911 fan and I absolutely love shooting them and working on them. I shoot them extremely well typically but with that said a 1911 is no longer my choice for a defensive handgun for a couple of different reasons which I will get into later on still they are my favorite and being the traditionalist I am think they should be chambered in .45ACP even though I have fired some pretty sweet 1911’s in other calibers.
In today’s world people flock towards the internet for suggestions on what people like but spend a little time on social media forums concerning firearms and you will find many are just arrogant and downright nasty to people a lot of times. People ask for help or suggestions and get criticized for it. If they are criticized for asking then they get flooded with the fanboys. I have seen many times someone as asked about which handgun would be someone’s choice between 3 or 4 different ones. Inevitably some idiot decides to throw something in the mix that the person didn’t if ask about. A lot of times peoples have researched certain guns and tried different guns to get to those few that fit their taste and budget.
Brands of Defensive Pistols
The number of brands are vast and include Beretta, Colt, Dan Wesson, FN, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Kel-Tec, Ruger, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson Springfield Armory, Walther as well as some others. If I would to cover all the brands and options I would be writing a book so I am going to touch on ones I have the most experience with and some of the most popular and types all in one shot.
What should you look for in a defensive pistol?
Many ask this question and wonder what they should get; hopefully this will help clear up some of the fog rather than add to it.
· Thumb Safeties – Many experts say that a thumb safety is a waste on a defensive pistol and I used to adamantly disagree until I was taking one of my advanced pistol instructor classes. I was doing the course with my Dan Wesson Valor Commander 1911. The pistol is a classic commander size 1911 with a thumb safety however it is not an ambidextrous thumb safety. During on the drills it called for switching hands from the strong hand to the weak hand. Being right handed I started from the right side disengaged the safety and engaged the target. When I pulled the trigger the gun didn’t fire, why you ask? Well in the speed of the drill and the focus on the target when I thought I had disengaged the safety it hadn’t dropped. After the drill I said in front of the class there is a great argument for ambi safety. I was the only one in the class using a gun with a thumb safety. Talk about feeling dumb, I did but that’s why we train. The other element to that is its one more thing you have to remember during a critical situation when your adrenaline is flowing and your fine motor skills are diminishing. It is much easier to make it a habit to keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire then to remember a thumb safety. So my suggestion is if you are going to carry a gun with a safety on it train with it a lot and I mean a lot to make it a thoughtless action to disengage the safety when you draw the firearm. You can do this just through repetitive dry fire practice.
However with that said there have been cases where someone had been disarmed by their assailant and the assailant tried to shoot the person with their own gun and failed because they didn’t know how to work the thumb safety. Rare but it has happened.
Thumb safeties also can give a person a false sense of security thinking they have a safe firearm. Insert game show wrong answer buzzer here. J The truth of the matter is the only true safety is keeping your finger off the trigger, thumb safeties are mechanical and they can fail at any time.
· Triggers – There is nothing like a light crisp trigger for shooting accurately however on a defensive pistol carrying a gun with a super light trigger may not be such a good idea. Keep in mind in a self-defense situation it is high stress with your adrenaline flowing and you might get a little jumpy. If you pull that trigger too soon you could be in a lot of trouble. I suggest at least 4.5lbs trigger pull weight on any defensive handgun, leave the competition and target shooting triggers for completion and range shooting.
Now the different types of triggers, single action, double action or both what is better. Simply put whatever you are most comfortable with is what is better. I personally do better with a single action 4 – 4.5lbs trigger than a double action. So pick something with that is comfortable for you.
· Night Sights or No – The clarity of the sights for you is the most important aspect when it comes to your sights. I personally prefer to have a front sight that contrasts to the rear sights typically a red or orange in color. This way I can pick up the front sight quicker. I do have the Trijicon HD sights on all my guns except my Sig Sauer P320 which I am sure will get changed in the future. But either way my sights do have the tritium inserts but honestly think about this if you are in a defensive situation I think you better have enough light that you can identify your target not just your sights. Remember that fourth rule “Know your target and what’s beyond”. Though the night sights can help you ID your sight in low light don’t rely on them 100% you still have to ID your target and not shoot at shadows or silhouettes. That shadow might be your kid or your spouse.
· What is the best caliber to use for carry? – The answer is much easier than one might think so are you ready for my magic answer, the best caliber to carry is one that you shoot the best and can control the recoil from the best. With all the jokes about calibers aside the simple fact is with all the Hollywood flare society is also pre-programmed to believe what they see on TV or in the movies is real. True a .45ACP round is going to do a lot of damage but so will a 9mm. Knockdown power is nothing more than a myth especially with a handgun caliber. So shot placement is so much more important than caliber. Just as an example my everyday carry gun is typically a Glock 42. It’s small and light and very easy to conceal and I shoot it well. The rounds are typically Hornady Critical Defense which I have plenty of confidence it will do the job if god-forbid I ever need it and won’t over penetrate putting innocent bystanders at risk. The other ones are in various guns in 9mm which I carry nothing less than a 147gr round. Yes it is slower than the typical 9mm but very powerful and still won’t over penetrate. If I am carrying a gun in .45acp I don’t use a heavier round than a 185gr. My choices are well thought out to prevent over penetration and still do the job they are meant to do. Will a .357 magnum do the job? Absolutely probably more than you would want it to.
What Brand To Choose?
I am only going to talk about a handful of the brands that I mentioned in the interest of keeping this shorter.
First off probably the most iconic handgun other than the 1911 is the Glock. Glock is one of the top choices for law enforcement and military use around the world because of their reliability track record. Glock is probably one of the simplest designs to ever be created and used regularly. Incredibly easy to maintain and care for these guns will last an incredibly long time if they are properly cared for.
The downside to Glock is a couple of things and even the Glock fanboys make these upgrades even if they don’t admit to it right away. First off the stock sights on Glock are “ok” in function but they are cheap and fragile. The stock sights are plastic and most Glock owners switch them out for better sights pretty quickly. The other downside is the triggers are stiff and spongy and simply crappy out of the box. This is yet another thing a lot of people do work to and I don’t blame them at all. A bad trigger is as dangerous as a light trigger. If you can’t get a good smooth trigger pull it certainly affects your accuracy.
The next of the top choices would be Sig Sauer. Sig Sauer is one probably the next top choice for law enforcement in this country and they just picked up the US Army contract in the last couple of years beating out the Beretta M9 that had been in service with the US Army for 25+ years. Sig Sauer is used in many special operations units and federal law enforcement because of their top grade reliability and accuracy. Typically you will find the P226, P229, M11-A1 and P320 in service with the occasional P239. My take on it is if the United States Secret Service, US Navy Seals and all the law enforcement agencies that trust their lives and the lives of those they are protecting to Sig Sauer that’s good enough for me.
The Smith & Wesson M&P line is another great choice again incredibly reliable and Smith & Wesson is just a tried and true name in the firearms industry. With the release of the M&P 2.0 line I feel that was a major improvement with the line of M&P pistols. They greatly improved on the trigger and the texturing on the frame adds lot to enhance the grip on the gun when shooting. However it is so aggressive concealing it against bare skin is ill advised. The number of options and sizes available in the M&P line is awesome with calibers ranging from .380ACP - .45ACP though the 9mm and 40 S&W models are very popular. Sizes very also with the M&P Shield, M&P compact and M&P full size with the .380 bodyguard being the baby of the family and a great little pocket gun.
The Springfield Armory XD line is probably the next most popular and though I personally don’t like the texturing on the frame they shoot well and seem to be quite reliable. Again Springfield brings a lot of options in sizes and calibers to choose from. Let’s face it Springfield is another iconic name with a good strong reputation on reliability.
As you can see there are a ton of options so how do you choose? Ask yourself these questions and keep in mind there are a lot of people who have multiple carry guns to fit what the needs of the day are.
1. Are you going to carry it? If it’s too large or cumbersome to carry you won’t it’s that simple.
2. How do you intend to carry it? It is a big factor when making a choice.
3. Reliability! Make sure it’s reliable and has a good track record. No manufacturer has not had issues with something but how they take care of it is huge. For example the Sig Sauer P320 and the drop issue. It is being taken care of and people are saying when they get the gun back the trigger is better than original.
4. Cost! If you have to mortgage your home to buy your carry gun it is probably a bad choice. There are people who are carrying $4000 guns (why? I don’t know) but they are and if they have the money to do that well more power to them.
Here are my suggestions for carry guns broken into 2 categories. The nice thing is most of these you can get in multiple calibers:
Glock 42 / 43 (top of the list because of size)
Sig Sauer P239
Sig Sauer P938
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Shield
Sig Sauer P320C
Sig Sauer (M11-A1 or P229)
Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 Compact
Glock (19, 26, 27)
It is my sincere hope that this helps you make your choice(s) easier.
Brandon L. Fisher
Precision Defensive Solutions, Twinsburg, Ohio
Brandon has studied the defensive arts for the majority of his life. Having started in the martial arts at age 8 and started shooting at age 13. Today with over 30 years of training and 25 years of teaching Brandon is ranked as 7th Degree Black Belt in Shorinryu Karate and 4th Degree in Okinawa Kobudo (weaponry). He is also a certified NRA pistol instructor certified to teach (basic pistol, personal protection inside the home, personal protection outside the home and defensive pistol). He is also a NRA Certified range safety office and Refuse To Be A Victim Instructor. Brandon has also taught many self-defense courses for local schools, recreation departments, YMCA’s, colleges / universities and corporations. Brandon continues to learn having taken courses on de-escalation tactics, police tactics, defensive shooting, physical control tactics and more. Brandon teaches karate at his karate school 4 days a week in Twinsburg, Ohio.
For class information or to schedule a self-defense seminar for your group contact him through the Precision Defensive Solutions Website at www.ncpda.us.