By Dan Kidder
Managing Editor

Choosing the right gun for concealed carry can seem to be a daunting endeavor. There are so many choices, calibers, actions, styles and sizes to choose from. Additionally, there are brands and models that are more or less reliable, which makes them more or less suitable for concealed carry.

In my concealed carry classes, I find that many of the female students who already have a carry weapon, did not choose that weapon for themselves. Gentlemen, while we want to be helpful and think we are being so in selecting a concealed weapon for our significant other, I would encourage you not to do this. A good test to see if you are qualified to properly choose a gun for the woman in your life, would be to purchase her a bra. If you get that one right, then perhaps you are ready to move onto something complicated like a concealed carry pistol.

Women are perfectly capable of selecting their own weapon and they are more likely to carry it if they choose it for themselves.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a gun. Size, wardrobe, daily activity, hand strength, body shape and size, and method of carry are all factors that need to be figured into the equation. While it sounds like a lot, it really isn’t.

The Right Gun
The right gun is a balance of sufficient caliber, that fits the hand, can be controlled and operated, is comfortable to carry and of a size that can be easily concealed. These factors will vary on different models. There is a longstanding argument in the firearms community over caliber versus shot placement. The argument is that a larger, more powerful caliber is better than a smaller and lighter caliber because it will incapacitate an attacker faster with fewer shots. The other side argues that with proper shot placement into a vital area such as the brain or spinal column, disrupting the central nervous system, that any size round will be more than adequate.

While I agree that shot placement should be as optimal as possible and this can be achieved through rigorous training and practice until proficiency is achieved, I also know that gun fights are highly dynamic, in that none of the parties are typically standing still and exchanging gun fire. Because they are moving rapidly, it is difficult to accurately place your shots on target, let alone at specific smaller targets within. Among professionals in law enforcement, the miss rate is upwards of 70 percent. For me, I want to know that each hit I do make is going to impart as much trauma on the subject as possible. My goal is not to kill an attacker, it is to make him stop his attack and whether he lives or dies is incidental to that. My surest way to stop an attacker is to incapacitate him. To make it so he can no longer continue his attack. I can hope that pain or psychological deterrence will make him stop, but incapacitation is my only certain way to stop the attack.

The downside to a larger caliber, is typically the size and the capacity of the gun. For years, I carried a 1911 with .450 SMC rounds, with the thought that this hard-hitting cartridge would pretty much stop somebody pretty quickly with minimal shots fired. As the incidence of terrorist attacks featuring multiple actors and non-traditional weapons such as trucks, became more prevalent, I transitioned my daily carry gun from the small capacity 1911, to a larger capacity, Sig Sauer P229. I traded my 9-rounds of hard hitting .450 SMC for 16-rounds of 9mm +P ammunition. I also carry two spare magazines, so my total round count went from 25- to 46-rounds of ammunition on my person and ready to work if needed. This gave me greater capability to address multiple targets or a technical threat like a truck.

If you hit somebody enough times in the right place, eventually you will incapacitate them. There is always a give and a take to every choice you make. If all I can adequately control and manage the recoil, is a .22 long rifle, then I need to make sure that I have sufficient rounds in the gun and on my person in the form of a reload, to deliver enough damage to incapacitate my attacker. He may give up before then, but I need to know that my baseline goal is incapacitation. If you can handle a .22, odds are that you can handle a .380. It will be a little snappier, but it is worth trying. I personally don’t like the .380. It lacks the power of its bigger brother, the 9mm. I can control the 9mm and even the 9mm +P, but if all you can manage and all you will carry is the .380, then get that and carry it. Carry as much caliber as you can control.

Grip too large

Grip just right

Grip too small

Size Matters
As a general rule, if you take two guns of the same caliber, the larger and heavier gun is going to have less recoil. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the weight of the larger gun is going to provide more inertia for the round and expanding gases pushing back on the gun to overcome. So, if you take the same gun in two different calibers, typically the larger caliber is going to have more recoil. This balance between weight and size versus caliber are factors to weigh when deciding to carry. I often get students who have been sold an Airweight .357 Ladysmith or other J-Frame revolvers and they don’t like to shoot them. It hurts their hand. When I hand them my 6-inch barrel Model 66, they really don’t want anything to do with that large of a gun, thinking the bigger the gun, the bigger the bang. But, they are amazed at how much more manageable the recoil is with the larger gun, shooting the same cartridge.

The flip side of the size equation is how likely you are to carry the larger gun. I know that if the bad guys phoned ahead and I was going to have to shoot one later today, I would like my .450 SMC or a .500 SW. But the bad guys aren’t that considerate to let me know the time and place they plan to attack, so I have to be ready for that eventuality at all times. I bet with proper planning, equipment and wardrobe, I could secret that giant .500 SW on my person every day, although I am not sure how comfortable that would be. At some point, I am either going to sacrifice stopping power for comfort or I will just stop carrying it. I need a gun that is a good balance of size and power and that I am willing to carry every day.

A proper grip will help you determine whether the gun is a good fit for the shooter.

I am also concerned with real estate. I have larger hands and have a hard time holding onto small gun grips. I can’t hit anything with the Glock 43, as it practically spins around in my hand. The Ruger LC9 is about the same size, but because of the configuration of the grip, I am much more accurate with it. Having a gun large enough to properly hold is vital to proper accuracy. Having the proper grip will help you determine if the gun is a good fit for your hand. If the Thenar Imminence, the big meaty part of your palm at the base of the thumb, meets it up with its mate on your other hand, with both thumbs on the same side of the gun, then that gun grip is a good fit for you. (See Ill.1) If they overlap, then the grip is too small. If there is a gap, then the grip is too large. The key to a proper grip, is the meeting of these two meaty portions of the hand when the gun is properly gripped. (See Ill. 2) Fortunately, many of the guns for concealed carry have backstraps that allow the size of the grip to be adjusted. Some models, like the H&K VP9 even have inserts in the sides of the grip to adjust the thickness of the grip.

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
If you think that you will carry a gun daily but won’t have to make any changes to your daily lifestyle, wardrobe or activities, then you are sorely mistaken. Robert H. Boatman, a prolific gun writer said it best. “Carrying a loaded gun with the ability and will to use it is not a casual fling meant to bring some excitement into your boring life. It is an all-embracing lifestyle and must take precedence over your respect for law, your fear of social criticism, your love of humanity, your wardrobe and your drinking habits. You can never be unaware of the weight you carry on your hip or under your arm. You can never forget your responsibilities.”

The sad fact is that the bad guys never phone ahead to let us know that they are going to attack. So, if you are going to carry a gun for defense, you need to get used to carrying it every day. If it isn’t comfortable, you won’t carry it. If it is too big and hard to hide, you won’t carry it. If it becomes inconvenient because you have to take it off and put it on because you frequently go into places where you aren’t allowed to carry it, you will stop. If you don’t adapt your lifestyle, wardrobe or where you go, you will either stop carrying it or you might be better off not carrying it.

I used to work on Capitol Hill and guns are not allowed in Washington, DC, let alone in the US Capitol complex. Obviously, if I were to continue working there, I would have to leave my gun at home. Fortunately, I was surrounded by the fine men and women of the US Capitol Police, so I never worried about my safety at work. Traveling to and from work was another story. The unfortunate reality of gun laws is that I had to adapt my daily habit of carrying a gun for my job, which didn’t permit me to carry. Now that I work in Utah, I carry on the job every day.

Just as your daily activities may decide if you can carry, so will your wardrobe. At work now, I wear relaxed casual clothing. When I worked in DC, I wore suits and ties every day. Your job may dictate your wardrobe and that will dictate the size of gun you can carry as well as the method you use to carry it. In another article later in this series, I will cover methods of carrying. But for this article, it is important to realize that you will need to make changes to your wardrobe to add a gun. You may need to buy your pants an inch or two larger in the waist or you may need to untuck your shirt or blouse. You might add a vest or light jacket. You may choose to go with off-body carry, such as a fanny pack or purse, but some level of adaptation will be necessary.

Just Do It
Take the advice of Nike and do it. Start carrying a gun. Obviously, you want to get proper training and abide by local laws where you live, which may mean getting a concealed firearms permit, but get a pistol and start carrying it. At first you will be so freaked out. You will feel like everyone you pass can tell that you are carrying a gun. You expect that at any moment, you will be swarmed by a SWAT team, ready to take you down. The truth is that 99.999999 percent of the people you pass never even notice you, let alone whether you are carrying a gun. If they do notice a bulge along your waistline, they will think "phone" before they think "gun." If your shirt rides up and exposes your gun, odds are that nobody will notice and most who do won’t think anything of it. In certain places like California, it can pose a problem and in Florida, it can get you arrested. So, take precautions and use prudence, but you will find that over time, your sense of worry will decrease and your comfort level will increase.

The more you carry, the more you will also discover what works and what doesn’t work. You are buying a gun for concealed carry. You are not marrying it. If you repeatedly find that the gun you have purchased doesn’t work, then sell it and buy something else. You may find, like me, that a single concealed carry gun doesn’t work for everything I need it to. My concealed carry selection varies on my activities between my Sig P229, a Glock 26, an HK VP9SK or a Smith and Wesson Shield 2.0. All of these guns are in 9mm and all use the same ammunition; Doubletap 9mm+P with a 115 grain Barnes TAC-XP bullet. You may also find that whatever holster you have selected doesn’t work. Ask anyone who has carried for a significant amount of time to show you their holster collection. We all have that drawer, box, suitcase, tool bag, etc. of holsters that for one reason or another didn’t quite fit our lifestyle.

Make it Personal
At the end of the day, the best gun for concealed carry is the one that you will carry. It is the gun that is comfortable enough that you will practice with it. That you can control. One that you can operate. Can you reach the slide lock, operate the safety, pull back the slide, cock and decock safely, load and unload? Does it fit your hand? Can you shoot it without feeling like you need to readjust your grip? If you are considering buying a gun, it helps to find someone who has one and see if they will let you shoot it. I have most of the standard reputable brands and models that I can let students try. Do your research and read reviews from reputable gun writers to see if they have discovered any flaws or reliability issues with the model you are considering. There are brands that I won’t purchase. Ever. There are brands that some people don’t like, that I have never had an issue with, like Kahr and Bersa. Both have been inexpensive but reliable workhorses that I often refer to students with limited means and they have never failed them.

At the end of the day, that is the primary consideration in choosing the right gun. It has to be 100 percent reliable, every time. If your concealed carry gun and ammunition combination ever fails, change out the ammunition first. If it happens again, get a different gun. Your life depends on it working every time, without fail. And practice. A lot.