Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Armed for self defense..... some thoughts.


This question comes up at every gun shop, every gun show, and every time two or more shooters get together. It's the old 'Ford vs Chevy' argument, although it can feel a little more like 'The Hatfields vs The McCoys' at times.

"What is the best pistol to carry for self defense?"

Like my dad used to say, "Now There's a hole with no bottom!".

At the risk of opening a can of worms, stirring them up, and spreading them out across the gun shop floor...... here is what 'Ol Carteach thinks.

My ideal carry pistol? One that works, one that is on me when I need it, and one that's sufficient caliber to likely deter someone who wishes me harm. In other words, carry pistols are like tools in a tool box. The right tool for the right job, or at least as close as one can get. Notice, there is nothing here that says a carry weapon must be a revolver, or must be self-loading. There is nothing here that says it must be made of steel, or plastic, or even melted down barbie dolls. It need not be cheap, nor expensive, nor pretty, nor ugly. It does not need a whiz bang laser, nor a flashlight, nor dual matching cup holders.

A defensive carry weapon must work, must be there, and be big enough to do the job at hand. More than that is personal choice (not a bad thing).

'Must Work' means the pistol needs to be reliable. In this case, reliable is usually determined by the number of rounds the weapon can go through without a failure of any kind (not directly related solely to ammunition faults). A not uncommon notion, and one I subscribe to, is that a carry weapon should be able to digest thousands of rounds in a row without a single hiccup. Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands.

Revolver shooters may look at this number differently, and with good reason. Solid, old school, double action revolvers have a reputation for reliability that is unmatched. This statement may drive some Glock shooters into fits of frothy fury, but it's no less the truth. With fewer moving parts, robust designs, and no safeties to get in the way, revolvers have earned their reputation for dependability. Not that wheel guns are infallible. No, they are far from that. No machine is free from all failures forever. But.... a good quality revolver is the standard others are measured against.

Weighed on the scales of reliability, revolvers as a genre have an edge. Not a big one, in these modern times, but there is a measurable lean to the wheelies side of things.

Most importantly, and back on the topic, carry weapons need to be reliable. This means their owners, if they really care, should be shooting them a lot. Not a box a year at the family Fourth of July picnic, in between the hot dog course and the pie extravaganza..... but several hundred rounds a month, if possible. Many defensive shooters believe a carry pistol should have a solid thousand rounds through it, without a glitch, before it is really dependable enough to be relied on.

In this area of concern, there is no substitute for round count. Folks who carry, and do it with forethought and reason, need to spend quality trigger time with their weapon. Should it not be true, should it suffer failures of any kind.... then it's time to move on to another weapon. Allowing for a short break in time, several hundred rounds or so, a serious weapon simply should not fail to work afterwords.

This is not to say that failures don't occur. They always will, as we are dealing with machines. Machines break, machines fail, and machines are only as good as their designers skull sweat and their owners care. If you have one steel ball.... you are pretty safe in that it's not likely to fail. As soon as you introduce a second steel ball and let it touch the first... all bets are off and it's just a matter of time till they fail. For that reason, good shooters practice for failures. Reload drills, failure to feed drills, and even 'move to a backup gun' drills.

Now, once we have a reasonably reliable weapon, where should we keep it? The answer is really very simple. A defensive weapon needs to be on you, or where you can lay your hand on it RIGHT NOW. That's it, pure and simple. Anything less means your defensive options are diminished tremendously. Understand... it's all about time. The time it takes you to move your weapon into service, Vs the time it takes a bad guy to surprise you and take the advantage. If your 'time to armed' is less than the bad guys 'time to overpower', then you may win. If not, you are likely to lose. 'Time to armed' means weapon in hand, ready, aimed at the threat. A weapon anyplace else but there mean
s you are not armed yet.

This notion of 'time to armed' must be balanced against risk, and against social need. As I sit writing this, I am perhaps twenty feet from a substantial house gun (a
twelve gauge pump action shotgun), tucked away in a safe and concealed position. Am I armed? Sadly, the answer is no... or least "not very well for the situation". I know from experience that someone can be on the front porch without my knowledge, and through the front door far faster than I can vacate this chair and get to that shotgun. But, should I have that weapon leaning against my chair, as I write? Or, perhaps in my lap? No, that would be unreasonable, given the threat level right now, which is approximately 'zero'.

The single best place for a defensive handgun to be is on your person. That is the one place it's best suited to fulfill it's role.... defending your life in a violent encounter. In keeping with this thought, some consideration must be given to the size and shape of the carry weapon, as opposed to other factors. How does the carrier dress? What environment are they in? How much weight can they comfortably bear all day without fatigue or irritation?

Above all else, a weapon left at home in the safe because it was unsuitable to carry... is no longer a defensive weapon. The words "Leave me alone, I own a gun!" will carry no weight when shrilly screamed during a violent encounter. A defensive weapon has to be on the person to be of use, and this means it must be suitable to the situation. If the only possible carry position is on a neck cord, with the weapon hidden under a tank top, then so be it. In that case, the weapon must be small enough, and light enough, to be carried so.

On the other hand, most adults who can wear any type of loose clothing can carry a full sized (and full power) pistol on their person without too much difficulty. There are any number of quality made and well designed belt holsters. There are belly bands, pocket holsters, 'Grip Clips', shoulder holsters, and purpose designed carry bags. There is clothing specially designed for wear with concealed carry. There are... options... many options, and very few real excuses.

It's in the 'carry arena' that semi-auto pistols gain an edge over revolvers. A modern defensive 'pistol' can carry ten rounds of .45 ACP in a reliable weapon that's flatter and lighter than most snub nosed .38 Special revolvers. Moving to even lighter calibers, such as .380, gives automatics the decided advantage. There is an entire new genre of very small, very light pocket pistols built around the .380 cartridge. Plastic bodied, double action only, minimal carry signature.... all designed to BE THERE in your pocket, because they are just so easy to carry. True, the .380 is not a mighty power house of defensive thunder, but even a pipsqueak .380 (in the pocket) beats a .500 magnum in the safe.

My opinion? The largest reliable pistol you can carry, comfortably concealed all day, that is the way to go.

The last criteria, that the weapon be in sufficient caliber to perform it's job, is at the heart of a never ending discussion. What caliber is too small? What is too big? What is too 'unusual'? What has the best terminal ballistics? What has the best track record?

Carteach has definite thoughts on the issue. Consider what we ask the defensive pistol round to do. Ideally, it should be able to deter or stop someone from violently attacking. How does it do that? A pistol round works primarily in one way... it punches holes in people and things. If it's large enough, fast enough, or heavy enough, it can cause shock and trauma in addition to punching holes, but the very least a defensive pistol round must do is punch holes in people. Deep enough, and damaging enough, to deter an attacker (with luck).

On the low end of the scale, the .380 auto is considered the bottom rung. With modern ammunition, it has the ability to gain a bad guys attention. It certainly will not 'blow them twelve yards backwards, doing flips all the way', but a solid hit with one should let a bad guy know they made a serious error in the victim selection process. At the very least, it should cause enough pain and disruption to allow the victim to escape. At the worst, it may result in a dead bad guy. The same can be said for both the .32acp and the .22 rimfire, but both those rounds have a sad record in shutting down attackers. Kill people, eventually, sure. Deterring violent criminals bent on personal destruction? Not so much.

In the revolver realm, the .38 special is generally regarded as low man, although the venerable .38 Special +P 158 grain FBI load has a reputation as a man stopper.

From there, the field is wide open.... right up till the cartridge becomes just too strong for the shooter to efficiently and accurately handle it. There are some who regard the 9x19 parabellum as 'too harsh' in recoil, while others shrug off the muzzle blast of a .44 magnum as tolerable. The real consideration on top end is what can the shooter handle well. Too harsh, and accuracy suffers tremendously, especially as the shooter becomes afraid to practice.

As far as caliber is concerned, Carteach's thinking is.... The biggest that will fit the pistol you will carry, and not so big that you won't practice often. As for the rest, there is a good argument that can be made for every single cartridge out there, and each will have supporters and detractors. When it comes to tools in the tool box, chose the best you can, and one you have faith in... if such is possible.

Putting all this blather into real world reality, here are 'Ol Carteach's choices: For everyday carry, a Glock G-30 in .45acp. It's reliable, reasonably powerful, surprisingly accurate, easy to shot well, and on my large body it simply vanishes under a loose shirt. The full magazine of heavy .45acp is comforting, as the round has a long track record of success in defensive shooting. Over 100 years worth, come to think of it!

For backup, or times when I cannot carry on my belt, a Taurus model 85 .38 special snubnose with +p ammunition. The old snubby is one of the original Taurus imports, and I have owned it almost 20 years now. It's had thousands of rounds through it, and is quite reliable. For carry, it snuggles into a belly band and simply goes away, even under a loose T-shirt.

For times when nothing else will suit, a Ruger LCP in .380 finds a home in my pocket. Tiny, light, reliable, and reasonably accurate given the LaserLyte unit I mounted on it. With Federal Hydroshocks on board, I think it's a significant threat to any violent criminal with intent on ruining my day.

There are others in the Carteach CCW stable, but those three account for 99% of regular circumstances. Each pistol gets used, fairly often, and trained with under various situations. None are target pistols, plinking pistols, nor hunting weapons. They are defensive concealed carry weapons.... and ones I have faith in.

What do you chose to carry, and why?


Old NFO said...

Kahr P-9, Colt Agent in .38 Spl, or with a larger cover garment, 1911 Agent. One thing you didn't address is ammo, all of mine are loaded with Speer Gold Dots. I try to carry the same ammo LEOs carry, to minimize the hate and discontent if I should ever have to use one of these pistols in a defensive format. I do not 'practice' with Gold Dots, but I do shoot at least one mag or cylinder full at each range session.

Mark Roote said...

I carry a S&W M&P .40 compact with 200gr Hornady XTP handloads
Now for the "why"... when I bought my first carry weapon 10 years ago, I had just gotten some very negative stories from my military friends about the 9mm rounds ineffectiveness in combat (from personal experience as combat medics in Afghanistan). We did some research, and at the time the .40 was the best round based on what we found. I will admit that we didn't really know what we were doing back then, and the 9mm ammo my friend had to deal with was basic ball ammo.
Since that time I've learned a lot, and if I had to start over with what I know now I would probably go with a 9mm based on availability and the fact that there are very specific bullets for very specific jobs (and as a citizen, I am not regulated by the Geneva convention). These days, the bullet makes more difference than the size (within reason).
I'm not going to switch right now as I do love my .40 and I'm comfortable with it... plus, it's what my reloading bench is set up for :) I've also got several thousand rounds through it, and now that I reload I practice with my carry ammo, so I am used to the right kind of "feedback" rather than one weak kind for practice and a stronger kind for carry.
Having said that, we're trying to find the *right* carry weapon for my wife, and that might be a 9mm. If it is, I'll get the appropriate reloading gear and my next carry piece will match caliber with hers.

Tam said...

A Smith M&P 9 full-size.

DaddyBear said...

CZ-82 with Hornady XTP for CCW belt carry. Taurus Model 85 with Federal blue NyClad hollow points for pocket carry. If I'm open-carrying, a S&W Model 13 .357 loaded with Hornady XTP.

Carteach0 said...

Um.... Tam.... I'm a little set back by that comment. I just can't picture you with anything but a 1911 based 'something'.

Sorry.. it's just stuck in my head that way. I even thought about leaving my commander to you when I drop dead some day.

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

Most days... Ruger SR9c in a Galco Cop-Slot 3 holster with 11 Winchester PDX1s on-board and 17 more in the spare mag... occasionally, a Ruger SP101 or LCR, and once in a while, when there's not much for good concealment, a Ruger LCP...

I love the 1911, but a bit heavy and bulky for me in the EDC category...

Dann in Ohio

Anonymous said...

With heavier clothes, full-size S&W M&P 45 with Remington UMC JHP 230gr in an inside the wasteband holster
When I need something smaller, Kel-Tec P11 in a Smartcarry deep concealment holster.

Ryan said...

I carry a Glock 19 more than 9 times out of 10.

I do disagree with one statement you made "The largest reliable pistol you can carry, comfortably concealed all day, that is the way to go."

Instead of CAN carry it should read WILL carry. What we will actually do on a regular basis in real life is a lot more important than what we are capable of doing. I could conceal a full framed pistol like a 1911 or a 4" revolver but I WON'T do it with regularity. Thus I got a good carry gun I will actually carry.

The wrong thinking on this leads to people buying too big of hanguns which end up in nightstands and glove boxes which really misses the point of a CARRY GUN.

Murphy's Law said...

Given my preference, an H&K P7M13. It's reliable, accurate, and fast to bring into play.

Back-up or alternate pistol is S&W .38 Special Model 642.

ASM826 said...

Current carry is a Ruger Sp-101, with the 3" barrel. Small enough to conceal, not too heavy, and 5 rounds of .357 Magnum.

Every handgun is a compromise, all I can say is that this is one I'm willing to carry and I shoot it well in practice.

Carteach0 said...

Next up, another question...

How much should one modify a defensive carry weapon?

My vote: Anything that amplifies reliability, 'shootability', and accuracy is okay... in that order.

Tam said...

I put in an Apex RAM to fix the godawful vague reset that hampers shooting the thing at anything faster than a slowfire bullseye clip. I also need to put some glow-in-the-dark sights on it on my next trip to TN.

Marko said...

I carry a S&W Model 10, 3" heavy barrel. Bone stock except for the Pachmayr Compac Pro rubber grip.

Fits my hand, puts the bullets where I need 'em to go, never fails to go bang when it's supposed to.

In the cylinder are .38 Special 158-grain LSWCHP +P more often than not.

Larry said...

Glock 36 with +1 extensions.
The instructor at the pistol class I attended last weekend recommended a 9mm loaded with hollowpoints. He carries a very nicely done G17.

theirritablearchitect said...

G-19, GenII

Robert Fowler said...

A Llama X1 (1911) with 185 Hornaday XTP's. My BUG is a Llama IIIA 380 with Hornaday 90gr XTP's. The IIIA is a exact copy of a 1911 only smaller. Same controls on both guns makes for faster deployment than having 2 different systems.

panamared said...

Here in Florida heat and humidity are a nearly constant problem, so I carry 2 guns that seem to handle the extra sweat. A Kel-Tec P3at is in my pocket where-ever it is lawful, almost as often you will find a Glock 36 in an IWB, both carried with jacketed hollow points. Both guns offer good control and hold up to the environment while offering reliable service.

Chas Clifton said...

I read all this "loose clothing" stuff and laugh a wry laugh. What about people in professional jobs, not a bunch of retired gunnies who can slop around in whatever they want to wear?

For years my job attire was button-down shirt, tie, slacks or khakis. Some rooms were cool enough that I could wear a sport coat, others too warm.

This workplace technically permitted guns, but was not gun-friendly in any sense.

So "concealed" had to mean in the briefcase or in a Day-Timer type spiral journal that had a built-in holster.

The Kel-Tec P-32 made the smallest lump in the book, so that is what I carried.

Carteach0 said...


There is a creature called a 'belly band' holster, which is my go-to when I have to carry in tighter clothes. It will carry my G-30 so tight to my body, and hide it's lines so well, that I can carry under a shirt/tie.

On the plus side, it's also sort of a girdle if you wear it tight :-)

On the down side, deploying the weapon is slow unless you rip the shirt buttons.

Keads said...

A Smith M&P 9 VTAC full size. Backup is either a Colt Detective Spl. or S&W Bodyguard .380

Tam said...


I know somebody who worked in an extremely non-permissive environment with a similar dress code who wore a Galco Miami Classic under his shirt but over his undershirt.

I know other people who use tuckable holsters and carry small-to-medium-frame Glocks or SIGs IWB in similar attire.

I mean, that's pretty much what the tuckable holster was invented for. Air Marshals use them to carry SIG P-229s in exactly the attire you describe. said...

Hmm, I actually wonder whether the average revolver has more moving parts than a GLOCK.

And the Smiths now have that handy-dandy safety that locks the hammer sometimes on accident under recoil. And I know it happens because I read about it on the Internet. (Actually that last part is true - the S&W forum has a thread dedicated to it.)

Firehand said...

Preferred is an Officer's Model-size 1911, either an IWB or tuckable IWB holster(Chas, I love the tuckable, the pistol disappears under a somewhat loose shirt; which includes all my dressy shirts). There are times, especially in summer, when I go to a .380 pocket pistol in a good pocket holster.

As to 'how much to modify', the 1911 has fiber-optic sights added, and Crimson Trace grips; for bad light the laser works better for me than trying to focus on glowy sights, in good-to-decent light the fiber-optic lights up quite nicely. CT laser on the .380, too.

It's not a 'carry' matter, but the bedside pistol is a .357 S&W with the SWCHP loads; it can sit there forever with no mag springs under tension or whatever, and be ready.

CeeZar said...

CZ 75D (PCR) in a Crossbreed Supertuck full of RangerT 124gr +P

Although I'm thinking about giving a polymer pistol a second chance. I shot a few Glocks years ago and hated them. But I recently rented a 21SF at a local range and shot as good with it as I have any handgun I own and shoot regularly. I've also given M&Ps a chance in the past and they never quite did it for me. But my brother recently put an aftermarket trigger (don't recall which) in his and it shoots like a different gun.

Blackwing1 said...

Springfield V-10 MicroCompact in .45 ACP, in a Don Hume IWB (with thumb-snap strap, because I'm nervous about a cocked-and-locked 1911A1's safety without it).

The best "modification" I've made is to use ONLY Wilson Combat Officers-size magazines. They reliably feed the biggest-mouthed hollow-points, while the Springer stock magazines let them nose-down.

When I don't feel like carrying a pistol, I have a Ruger LC9 I just got. Flat, small, tucks away neatly, easy to shoot, and dog-reliable with any kind of ammo I've put through it.

Reese said...

When I'm in a suit and tie for work I carry a Sig Sauer P238 in a Galco #2 pocket holster. The rest of the time I carry an XD45 compact because I like it and I shoot it well.

Just My 2¢ said...

Glock 30 or S&W M&P 9mm compact. Haven't decided which. Ye Olde tuned Colte 1991A1 is getting bigger and heavier in comparison to the newer stuff. My other question is whether I'm going to melt a Trijicon RMR into the slide.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

When out of MD and in a more permissive state it's a 640 with .38 +P Federal hydro-shoks, generally. Pocket holster, I think a DeSantis, tho Uncle Mikes is fine for this application. Tritium front sight.

yankeefried said...

S&W 325 Night Guard for winter. S&W 908S for the rest of the year.

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

@Carteach... I would add to your three items anything that enhances carry-ability... like de-horning, or rounding/smoothing the grip butt... or removing the hammer spur on a revolver... or a better holster... whatever makes it more comfortable for you to carry every day...I tell my CCW students that if you don't carry it, it doesn't matter how well it shoots...

Dann in Ohio

Chas Clifton said...

Carteach0, Tam -- thanks for your comments. I have not tried the tuckable style, figuring I could draw from "the book" just as fast. Other shooters are not necessarily sold on them either.

The belly band seems really cumbersome, I have to say, although it would encourage good posture.

And don't the air marshals keep their jackets on? I thought that was how you spotted them in coach class. ;)

Ausprepper said...

Regarding someone kicking in your door before you can get to your shottie, you really should reinforce your most obvious entrance but make it look just as vulnerable as it ever was.
The goblin(s) immediate failure to breach your entrance will give you notice of their intent and more importantly time to get to that longarm.
As a bonus, it diminishes the chance that you'll be accientaly shot sixty times by your local SWAT team executing a "no knock" warrant on the wrong address.

Firehand said...

The tuckable does have drawbacks, no question. What I like is that, even with those, it keeps the weapon on your body, always handy. There are times I'll trade that for a possibly slower draw

Cybrludite said...

Driving to work: Taurus 445 wedged between the seats. I unload it before stowing it away in the glovebox when I get to work so that if someone breaks into my car while I'm inside, all they have is a paperweight worth 10 years Federal. Only one local gun shop even carries .44 Special ammo, and they just have CAS loads. Unloaded, it doesn't even make a good club.

Tango Juliet said...

4" 1911 in a VMII seems to work for me at this point in time.

Greg Tag said...

I have come late to the party- sorry. Here is what works for me.

I am an engineering consultant- work attire is dress slacks, button down shirt and on many days a tie, sometimes a suit.

Daily Carry choices: various flavors of 1911 Colt .45 ACP , and a spare magazine. The arm is usually a custom Officers Model, but sometimes I use a custom Government Model or a Commander. I put the pistol on when I dress in the morning, I remove it when I change into sleeping attire at night.

Why a 1911? It is flat, reasonably powerful, reliable , accurate, easy to handle, easy to reload, the manual of arms is simple, and I have been carrying and shooting them since I was 8 years old.

Ammo is 230 grain Federal Hydra-Shok. Customizing is light-beavertail, Novak sights, flat mainspring housing, checkered front strap.

In business attire I used a belly band, at waist level, over a T-shirt. The pistol sits in a normal right hand strong side position, just behind the hip bone. My business shirt blouses over it and tucks in - NO ONE can see am carrying a real pistol. In one concession to carry, I use a high quality black gunbelt rather than a typical wimpy dress belt. The draw is "left hand rips up shirt, right draws normally." I have carried a Smith 25 N-frame like this successfully, and comfortably , as well.

For casual attire, usually jeans/Dockers, I wear square - bottom shirts as a rule and the 1911 rides in a Milt Sparks Heritage 1-H, or Versa-max, on a Galco gunbelt.

My second carry gun, either as backup or spare, either on my person or in my briefcase is a Grant Cunningham slicked up DAO Colt Detective Special loaded with Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel +P. Speed loader rides in left trouser pocket. When wearing jeans, the Detective Special rides in a Milt Sparks holster as well. The DS with .38 +P's is not quite as good as the .45 ACP, but I use a good load, and the revolver handles and shoots very well, and I have complete confidence in it.

In 1995, when Texas passed CHL, I decided that if I was going to carry a gun, I would carry one I had confidence in, and I would carry EVERYWHERE and at all times I legally could. My reasoning on this was I couldnt tell ahead of time if this would be a " dangerous day", so I better be prepared all the time. Let's face it, carrying a gun isnt romantic or exotic, it has it's drawbacks, and sometimes it is downright annoying. I must always be aware that I am armed. I can't yell at the guy who cuts me off in traffic. I must dress with a view to how it will effect my carrying. I must put up with holes worn in my shorts by the pistol muzzle. When its all said and done, though these are burdens to be borne willingly so I can be in a position to protect my family and myself, not be a victim

As Clint Smith says " Carrying a gun is not supposed to be comfortable, it's supposed to be comforting". I have found a method that works well for me, is indeed generally comfortable, and allows me to have a real fighting sidearm handy all the time.

Other folks take a different approach, of course.

Carteach0 said...


Sounds reasonable and well thought out.