This is the third install­ment in a series of papers to edu­cate the new prep­per about what weapons they should have on hand.  I’m approach­ing this from a SHTF sce­nario and an every­day car­ry, per­son­al pro­tec­tion per­spec­tive.  While I’m not advo­cat­ing using any firearm in an offen­sive man­ner, I stress that being able to use one to defend your­self is imper­a­tive… so when I use terms like ter­mi­nal bal­lis­tics or knock down pow­er, keep the defen­sive mind­set.

The third gun to con­sid­er adding to your sur­vival arse­nal is the hand­gun.  Often times, peo­ple put too much empha­sis on their sidearm and pri­or­i­tize it over oth­er firearms.  In my opin­ion and per­son­al expe­ri­ence, hand­guns inher­ent­ly suck… they are under­pow­ered, have a lim­it­ed ammu­ni­tion capac­i­ty, and are inac­cu­rate past a few yards.  How­ev­er, sidearms do have their place… they can be con­cealed eas­i­ly, deployed quick­ly, and reloaded fast mak­ing them excel­lent or every­day car­ry.  FBI sta­tis­tics state that most armed encoun­ters hap­pen with­in a few yards so hav­ing a hand­gun for per­son­al pro­tec­tion is a must, but if giv­en a choice, go for a rifle or a shot­gun.

Just like any oth­er type of firearm, there is no short­age of hand­gun types and man­u­fac­tur­ers on the mar­ket.  I will dis­cuss a few of the more com­mon hand­guns and make rec­om­men­da­tions based upon reli­a­bil­i­ty, stop­ping pow­er, weight, cost, and over­all accep­tance as a defen­sive weapon.…. but keep in mind, this analy­sis isn’t com­plete and you should find a gun you like and stick with it.

9mm vs 40 vs 45 vs 38/357

handgun 1Lets first talk about what cal­iber you should look into.  Some will say you need to car­ry a 45 cal­iber because you need that knock­down pow­er… some will say a 32 will suf­fice with prop­er shot place­ment.  I won’t get bogged down in that debate… but I will give a few sim­ple facts.  Emer­gency room doc­tors cant tell the dif­fer­ence between a 9mm, 38 spe­cial, 357 mag­num, 40 cal, or 45 cal bul­let wound when its in soft tis­sue (mus­cle, organs, etc)… the dif­fer­ence can be seen in struc­tur­al dam­age how­ev­er (bone break­age) and 45 and 357 stand head and shoul­der above the oth­ers.  I car­ry a range of per­son­al pro­tec­tion guns but I adhere to one rule… I car­ry a plat­form I’m train­ing with at a giv­en time.  If I’m train­ing with my Glock 34 for mul­ti­gun match­es, Ill car­ry my Glock 26.… if Im train­ing with my 1911 for IDPA, Ill car­ry my 1911 ultra car­ry.… if Im train­ing with my Smith 686 for ICORE, Ill car­ry my Smith J Frame.  Car­ry­ing the same plat­form firearm allows for faster draw, reloads, and sight acqui­si­tion (you fight how you train… keep that in mind).  I wor­ry less about cal­iber and more about how I can deploy the gun and put accu­rate hits on tar­get.  That being said, fol­low these two rules: 1) pur­chase and car­ry the largest cal­iber hand­gun you can reli­ably con­ceal, deploy, and con­trol and 2) prac­tice… a lot.


handgun 2Glocks came on the mar­ket in the states in the late 80s and at first, met with a lot of resis­tance (most­ly due to the com­pos­ite frame) but they have thank­ful­ly stood the test of time.  They are now the most com­mon­ly used gun for com­pet­i­tive shoot­ers and law enforce­ment and have become the firearm many oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers com­pare them­selves to… for good rea­son.  Quite frankly, they are an engi­neer­ing mar­vel; the bar­rel axis sits low enough on the frame and the grip angle aligns the gun so that most of the recoil is trans­ferred direct­ly rear­ward along the shoot­ers fore­arm bones; they only have 6 mov­ing parts in the action, mak­ing them very reli­able; they break­down eas­i­ly into basic com­po­nents, mak­ing clean­ing sim­ple; the gen­er­a­tion 4 glocks have inter­change­able back­straps so one gun can be used by mul­ti­ple shoot­ers with minor mod­i­fi­ca­tion.  There are many after­mar­ket acces­sories for glocks out there (trig­gers, recoil springs, etc) but an “out of the box” glock will give an aver­age shoot­er years of ser­vice with no prob­lems (I have an unmod­i­fied Gen1 mod­el 26 with well over 10,000 through it).  They do have a few draw­backs how­ev­er: old­er gen­er­a­tion mod­els have grips that dont fit every­one and can­not be changed (hav­ing a glock and a dremel tool does not make you a gun­smith… mod­i­fi­ca­tion just weak­ens the frame); glocks must shoot jack­et­ed ammu­ni­tion because of the design of the bar­rel (lead will over time cre­ate deposits in the rifling); they are a “safe action” pis­tol and there is no trig­ger safe­ty… some shoot­ers find that trou­ble­some (but ulti­mate­ly it makes the firearm that much eas­i­er to shoot and eas­i­er to get used to).  A glock wont break the bank… they gen­er­al­ly cost in the 500 to 600 range new.

Other composite frames (XD, Smith M&P, ruger)

handgun 3There are many com­pos­ite frame firearms on the mar­ket now.  The Spring­field XD, the Smith and Wes­son M&P and 442, the Ruger SR40, and the FNH X and P series  are a few notable mod­els… but the list goes on.  I wont get bogged down in the debate on each one, but I will give a few insights into com­pos­ite frames and ref­er­ence a few I have dealt with per­son­al­ly.  Com­pos­ite frames are lighter than their met­al coun­ter­parts.  This makes them eas­i­er to con­ceal and more com­fort­able to car­ry in a hol­ster for a lengthy peri­od of time… but a light frame allows for more felt recoil and that can be a prob­lem for some peo­ple… espe­cial­ly when cham­bered in 45 acp or 357 sig.  Many mod­ern semi-autos are ambidex­trous (such as the S&W M&P)… if you are a lefty and tired of hav­ing a mag­a­zine release that is dif­fi­cult to oper­ate, you may want to take a look at a new­er mod­el.  Com­pos­ite frames often have inter­change­able back strap so one gun can be shot by mul­ti­ple shoot­ers with dif­fer­ent size hands with minor mod­i­fi­ca­tions.  A decent com­pos­ite frame can be had in the 600 dol­lar range.


handgun 4The 1911 is over 100 years old.  It has stood the test of time for sev­er­al very good rea­sons.  First, it has proven through mul­ti­ple mil­i­tary engage­ments to be a reli­able sidearm.  Sec­ond, it has been around so long and is so favor­able there are many after­mar­ket parts (trig­gers, sights, mag­a­zines, grip pan­els, ambidex­trous safeties, etc).  Third, its large, steel frame make it a com­fort­able weapon to shoot despite being cham­bered in a larg­er cal­iber.  This is a dou­ble edge sword how­ev­er and is actu­al­ly one of the draw­backs to the 1911… while it makes the gun eas­i­er to shoot, it makes it dif­fi­cult to con­ceal and wear in a hol­ster all day.  It can also be a bit of a bear to dis­as­sem­ble and reassem­ble because of the com­plex­i­ty.  Giv­en the good and bad, you cant go wrong with a 1911 from a qual­i­ty man­u­fac­tur­er. A qual­i­ty 1911 will cost you, mak­ing it less than ide­al com­pared to com­pos­ite frames… look to spend some­where around 1000 dol­lars for a qual­i­ty 1911.

Beretta 92

handgun 5The Beretta 92 has been a sta­ple of the US mil­i­tary for almost 30 years.  The M9 (mil­i­tary des­ig­na­tion) shoots 9mm luger but oth­er cal­ibers can be had.  The most com­mon con­fig­u­ra­tion on the mar­ket in the US is the 92FS but oth­er Beretta mod­els are avail­able.  The 92 is accu­rate, well built, and has a large mag­a­zine capac­i­ty.  Its also not over­ly heavy or bulky so it can be car­ried for long peri­ods (but can be dif­fi­cult to con­ceal).  The nomen­cla­ture of the gun leads to prob­lems how­ev­er… the safety/decocking lever is coun­ter­in­tu­itive to a per­sons move­ment when tak­ing a fir­ing grip and the mech­a­nisms of the gun still func­tion (slide, ejec­tor, etc) while the safe­ty is engaged.  With­out a prop­er indi­ca­tor of either an engaged safe­ty or a pos­si­ble mal­func­tion, the oper­a­tors prob­lem solv­ing for an inop­er­a­ble firearm is com­pli­cat­ed.  With practice/training, the 92 can be mas­tered and any prob­lems with nomen­cla­ture can be min­i­mized and is an excel­lent choice for a sidearm.  A Beretta 92 can be had for under 800 dol­lars.


handgun 6Revolvers don’t get a lot of press in the defen­sive firearm world for sev­er­al reasons….they take longer to reload, hold less ammu­ni­tion, spare ammu­ni­tion takes up more space, and they have a longer, heav­ier trig­ger pull than semi­au­tos.  For these rea­sons, I advise any­one look­ing to pur­chase a hand­gun to buy a semi­au­to.  That being said, if an expe­ri­enced shoot­er feels more com­fort­able with a revolver than a semi­au­to, Im not one to tell them to change (shoot what youre com­fort­able shoot­ing).  I would advise, how­ev­er, if you choose a revolver, train with a it exten­sive­ly to mas­ter the longer trig­ger pull and reloads.  Pur­chase a 4 inch bar­rel mod­el… it has decent accu­ra­cy but will rehol­ster and draw rel­a­tive­ly well.  I would also advise using a com­mon and decent size cal­iber such as a 38/357… the 327 mag­num is under­pow­ered and 44 mag­num is over­pow­ered and both may be dif­fi­cult to come by in low ammu­ni­tion sit­u­a­tion.  Look to spend under 800 dol­lars for a revolver but prices will vary wide­ly based on fin­ish and con­fig­u­ra­tion.

Novelty guns

handgun 8There are many nov­el­ty guns on the mar­ket and they serve a pur­pose for an active shoot­ing enthu­si­ast, but as a self defense firearm, they are use­less.  Let me high­light a few things to stay away from and why.  The Tau­rus Judge is a revolver cham­bered in 45 long colt and .410… it is fun to shoot but a hand­gun that shoots bird­shot or buck­shot has no real pur­pose oth­er than hav­ing fun on the range (the rifling caus­es the shot to spread more than a smooth bore and any ben­e­fit of a hand­gun shoot­ing mul­ti­ple pro­jec­tiles is negat­ed).  The Ruger LCP (and sim­i­lar sub­com­pacts chamered in 380)… it is small and easy to con­ceal in a pock­et but shoots an under­pow­ered car­tridge and because of its thin back­strap, is not com­fort­able to shoot.  The Desert Eagle is a semi auto cham­berd in 50 cal or 44 mag­num… it has mas­sive knock­down pow­er but is very large frame and dif­fi­cult to car­ry for too long and dif­fi­cult to con­trol for accel­er­at­ed shots.

This has been a brief overview of hand­guns on the mar­ket that you may con­sid­er pur­chas­ing as a sidearm.  I would advise doing fur­ther research and pos­si­bly shoot­ing any gun youre inter­est­ed in pur­chas­ing.  As with any firearm, you get what you pay for… so buy from a rep­utable man­u­fac­tur­er.  I hope this write­up has helped some of you “firearm chal­lenged” folks look in the right direc­tion. Look for oth­er posts in the com­ing weeks deal­ing with oth­er plat­forms.

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