Choosing your first pistol for concealed carry can be a daunting decision. This is going to be a handgun that will be on you all the time (hopefully), and may one day save your life or the life of someone you love. When you are selecting a handgun for concealed carry, there are a number of aspects you should consider.
First, you will want to carry a handgun that you are able to shoot accurately. A gun is only useful if you are able to deploy it properly. Next, you will want to make sure you select a gun that you will carry with you, and carry with you all the time. Having the largest gun doesn’t help you if you leave it at home. Finally, you will want to have a gun that’s comfortable to you. If your firearm doesn’t make you feel confident and comfortable carrying, then it is not doing its job.
Before we get into choosing the right size, style and caliber, there are some decisions about features, specifications and accessories you need to make.
When looking at handguns for carry, you will want to consider the grip size, thickness and loaded weight, because these are the primary factors that will determine how easy it is to carry for you.
Thicker guns and guns with a longer grip tend to print (when the outline of your firearm can be seen under your clothing) more, and depending on your local laws, this could be a legal issue. Printing is also something a lot of first-time concealed carriers are concerned with and if your gun prints too much, you may feel uncomfortable having it on you.
You will also want to consider what type of accessories you want. Primarily, you are going to need a holster if you are going to carry properly, and some gun models are easier to find holsters for than others.
Some of the more common handguns from companies like Springfield Armory or Smith and Wesson are going to have a ton of options, whereas some older or more obscure models may not. When selecting a holster, you need to decide on where on your body you plan to carry your firearm.
There are pocket holsters, shoulder holsters, outside-the-waistband holsters and more, but the most popular for concealed carry are probably inside-the-waistband holsters. These holsters tuck inside your pants and clip to your belt and are a good balance between accessibility and concealment.
There are also options like bra and thigh holsters that are specifically designed for women. Additionally, you could opt to carry your firearm “off body” in a purse, briefcase or backpack. This method allows you to carry a larger gun more comfortably, but does sacrifice speed when trying to access the firearm.
You may also want to look at pistols with night sights. These can be added on later, but selecting a handgun with night sights preinstalled makes life easier.
Night sights glow in the dark and will aid in accuracy at nighttime or in areas with less than optimal lighting. Another option that can aid in this is a weapon-mounted flashlight.
Most lights attach to a rail, but others attach to the trigger guard. If you think you want to add a light to your concealed carry handgun, research your options to make sure that one will be available. It is also important to note that if you want to carry a pistol with a light, you will need to find a holster that accommodates that light.
You should also determine the capacity you are comfortable with. Your firearm isn’t going to be very comforting if you are constantly concerned about the ammunition capacity.
Determine the minimum capacity that makes you feel safe and secure, then go from there. If you can carry more comfortably, great, you just don’t want to force yourself to carry less.
Additional magazines or speedloaders are always an option, just make sure that you are able to find some and have a method to carry them. Some older firearms have magazines that are harder to locate, while modern handguns should have magazines that are fairly easy to find.
If you carry, and carry every day, there are going to be times when your firearm gets sweaty, especially during the summer months. Some people have more acidic sweat than others, and this is something to consider when selecting your concealed carry pistol.
An all-steel blued pistol is going to develop rust a lot easier and quicker than other options. This can be anywhere from one use to several years depending on the amount you sweat and certain properties of your sweat. Polymer-framed pistols tend to be good options, as the only part you need to be concerned with is the slide (the plastic frame can’t rust).
Another great option are alloy-framed pistols. Like polymer, the alloy frame will not develop rust so you only need to pay attention to the slide. These are great options if you like the feel of an all-metal gun but are worried about rust.
Finally, one last suggestion is a stainless steel pistol. Stainless steel is not completely rust proof, but it is very rust resistant. Additionally, if the pistol does develop rust, the metal can be buffed out and returned to its former glory.
It is important to determine the size of the pistol you will actually carry every day. Having a full-size pistol is great for self-defense, but it is large and heavy and will not be useful if it is left at home.
That is not to say you can’t carry one, it is just much more of a commitment. Likewise, a gun that is too small may not be as effective if you actually have to use it in a defensive encounter, and you may not train with it due to the harsher recoil.
Having a full-size handgun will give you the most options and will be the easiest to shoot, but it will also be the hardest to conceal. A full-size handgun will also be heavier and less comfortable.
However, full-size handguns have the highest magazine capacity and, because of the long sight radius (distance between the front and rear sight), are easier to shoot accurately. They also have less felt recoil because the heavier weight helps soak up some of that force.
A compact handgun offers a good balance of handling and concealability. You are still capable of getting a full grip on the pistol, but don’t have as much of a grip to stick out and cause printing.
Compact handguns are very similar to full-size, they just have shorter barrels and grips. Compact handguns sometimes fit shooters with smaller hands better and provide a lot of the same benefits as full-size pistols.
A compact handgun is a great option to choose if you only want one handgun to serve roles for concealed carry and home defense.
Subcompact handguns are great for concealment due to their shorter grip frame and slide. Most shooters can only get a two-finger grip on subcompact handguns so they are sometimes more difficult to fire accurately.
However, some models have different baseplates that can be swapped onto the magazine to add an extension for your pinky. Subcompact handguns also have a reduced capacity compared to larger sizes, but some can accept larger magazines from their compact and full-size counterparts.
There are some subcompact handguns that are smaller than others. On the smaller end, bridging the gap between subcompact and pocket pistols, are the SIG Sauer P365 and the Springfield Armory Hellcat. These pistols utilize a staggered-stacked magazine that gives them the capacity of a subcompact, in a slightly trimmed down package.
Pocket guns are incredibly easy to conceal; as the name implies, they can even fit in a pocket.
However, they can be very snappy to shoot and hard to hold on to because of the reduced grip area. Pocket guns also typically come in smaller calibers, the largest usually 9mm Luger, but more commonly .380 ACP.
Pocket pistols tend to have the smallest capacity (usually around six to seven rounds) of all the sizes mentioned due to their single-stack magazine design.
The style of firearm you choose will affect how easy it is to be carried. A revolver has different dimensions than a semi-auto, and depending on your body type, this can make one easier to carry than the other. Revolvers also tend to have a significantly lower capacity than a semi-auto of a similar size.
Revolvers have a thick cylinder that you will have to disguise while carrying. Additionally, most revolvers designed for concealed carry utilize a round grip that is more easily disguised under lightweight clothing.
However, due to the design of a revolver, longer barrels will stick out further when compared to semi-autos with comparable barrel lengths. Carrying spare ammunition for revolvers is also much more cumbersome, and reloading under stress must be practiced much more.
Semi-automatic handguns have a more blocky form factor. This causes them to stick out more in certain areas. They also have thicker grips because that is where the ammunition and magazine are stored.
Because they don’t have a long cylinder between the grip and barrel, semi-auto handguns tend to have a shorter overall length than comparable revolvers with similar barrel lengths. Reloading semi-autos is also much easier, simply carry a spare magazine and practice your reloads.
Choosing the right caliber for your concealed carry pistol is incredibly important. You want to select a caliber that is powerful enough to get the job done, but is also controllable. You need to be able to accurately shoot the caliber you select, and, if necessary, make fast follow-up shots.
It is important to note that you should select a centerfire cartridge, as rimfire ammunition tends to be less reliable and more prone to malfunctions. Full metal jacket (FMJ) ammunition is great for practicing at the range, but for carry, you will want to select a good jacketed hollow point (JHP) round and make sure it functions well in your firearm. Some firearms will function perfectly with one type of ammo but not another, so it is important to test your specific combination and make sure it’s reliable.
.380 ACP is what most people consider the bare minimum for defensive use. However, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be considered. .380 ACP offers acceptable ballistics and moderate recoil, this makes it a great choice for shooters who have weaker hands or are recoil shy.
Additionally, .380 ACP handguns can be found in incredibly compact sizes, making them very easy to conceal carry. This is a great option for those looking for an extremely concealable firearm or a pistol that has little felt recoil.
9mm Luger is the most common handgun cartridge selected in the United States. It provides a good balance of power, controllability and capacity.
Because of its popularity, it is the cheapest to purchase, which will allow you to practice more for your money.
It is typically reserved for semi-automatic handguns, but there are some revolvers chambered in 9mm Luger. Selecting a 9mm Luger handgun is a great option for a new shooter or those looking for something with high capacity.
If 9mm Luger isn’t powerful enough for you and you can handle more recoil, .40 S&W is a great option.
The .40 S&W has snappier recoil than the 9mm Luger or .380 ACP, but it fires larger, heavier bullets. As with 9mm Luger, it is typically reserved for semi-automatic handguns, but there are some revolvers available in .40 S&W.
A .40 S&W handgun is a great option for those looking for a little more power than a 9mm Luger, but want more capacity than a .45 ACP.
The .45 ACP has a long history with American shooters. Some people feel there is no substitute for a large, heavy projectile.
.45 ACP handguns tend to be lower capacity and thicker than their 9mm Luger and .40 S&W counterparts, but if you don’t mind some extra bulk, a .45 ACP is a great option.
.45 ACP offers shooters a large, heavy projectile that creates a massive wound channel. Just like with the 9mm Luger and .40 S&W, .45 ACP is typically a semi-auto cartridge, but there are revolvers with this chambering.
If you selected a revolver as your preferred concealed carry handgun, then selecting something in .38 Special is a great option. .38 Special provides a decent amount of power for a modest amount of recoil.
It is very similar to the 9mm Luger, just for revolvers. Ammunition is relatively inexpensive and is very common to find, so it will be great for training. A .38 Special revolver is a great option for those who want a handgun that is simple and easy to shoot.
If you want a little more power in your revolver, then a .357 Magnum may be the gun for you. A .357 Magnum revolver is also able to shoot .38 Special cartridges in the same cylinder (but not vice versa).
This makes .357 Magnum revolvers incredibly versatile firearms. The .357 Magnum round is incredibly powerful, but it also provides a lot of muzzle blast, noise and recoil. Be sure you are not recoil sensitive and have the strength to control this kind of revolver before selecting a .357 Magnum.
They are also harder to control and are not a great option for someone's first concealed carry gun. Additionally, calibers like .25 ACP and .32 ACP may not be powerful enough to get the job done and are typically available in handguns that are very small and hard to manipulate.
Be sure to go to the range and test your firearm with the ammunition you plan to carry to ensure that it functions properly. You also want to make sure that you can fire the gun accurately and use it effectively.
You do not want to find this out when your life or the lives of people you love are on the line. Go through this list and decide on what features in a carry gun are important to you.
It will also help to feel some of these guns in person so you can see how each style works with your body type and chosen carry position. Your local range may even have some of them available for you to test fire so you know how they feel to shoot.