What is the Best Concealed Carry Gun

Ultimately, the point of a concealed carry gun is to protect yourself or your loved ones from someone who is trying to kill you or your family. If you cannot come to terms with that fact, then you need to stop reading this article right now. If you are not ready to kill somebody in order to prevent them from killing you or your family, then you need to stop searching for the best concealed carry gun. There are many factors to consider before one firearm can be labeled the best concealed carry pistol. The answer is different for each individual. The best concealed carry gun is the pistol 1) that you will actually wear every day, 2) that is 100% reliable, 3) that you can shoot accurately, 4) that holds enough bullets to provide adequate protection, and probably most importantly 5) that has adequate threat stopping power.

 Will it Stop the Threat?

“One shot one kill” is rare in the world of concealed carry. For the most part, stopping power is determined by the size of the bullet. A bigger bullet creates a larger wound cavity. You need to put a large hole (or holes) in an attacker to stop him in the shortest amount of time possible. Unless you are an ex-special forces type, you probably don’t have the training or skill necessary to make head shots when you’re your life depends on it. The best case scenario is that you are going to strike your attacker in or near the center of body mass. This sort of hit rarely produces one shot stopping results.

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The experts recommend a bullet no smaller than 9mm for concealed carry purposes. That rules out some guns that are extremely small and extremely comfortable to wear. You can find some tiny guns that are chambered in .380 ACP, .32 caliber, or .22 LR (these are all smaller than the 9mm bullet). Obviously, a .380 ACP to the brain, brain stem, or spinal cord is going to produce immediate threat elimination. As a new concealed carry licensee, you might get lucky and actually hit your target when the lives of your family members are at stake. You might just get extremely lucky and make a head shot or brain stem shot. But if you don’t want to let your life depend on extreme luck, you need to buy a caliber of concealed carry hand gun that is no smaller than 9mm and aim for multiple hits in the center of body mass.

pocket-rockit-main

easy to conceal a .380 ACP

The most popular law enforcement caliber is the .40 Smith & Wesson bullet. This bullet is slightly larger than a 9mm round, and slightly smaller than a .45 ACP round. It is widely debated whether the .45 ACP round is the king man stopper for concealed carry or whether the .357 Magnum is the king. However, both the .45 ACP and the .357 Magnum are generally fired out of guns that are too large to conceal comfortably, or even open carry comfortably. This is why most law enforcement agencies use the .40 S&W bullet. It is a compromise. It’s not as big and powerful as the .45 ACP or .357 Magnum, so you can carry more rounds in a smaller gun. And it is larger than the 9mm round, so it has greater stopping power. However, many people consider the .40 S&W round difficult to shoot accurately as it has a large amount of felt recoil compared to the 9mm round or even the larger .45 ACP round.

.45 ACP, big bullet, big gun

.45 ACP, big bullet, big gun

If this is your first concealed carry handgun, I suggest you choose a handgun chambered in 9mm. The 9mm bullet is possibly the most common round in the world so theoretically it will be easier to find. The 9mm isn’t the largest bullet, but it is large enough to give decent stopping power while still being able to fit in a gun that is easy to conceal and carries a decent amount of bullets.

You should also consider that the 9mm round is generally less expensive than the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP round. If you take training classes to learn how to defend yourself with your concealed handgun (as you should) then you are going to shoot hundreds and sometimes thousands of rounds. Many “tactical” classes require 800-1000 rounds just to take the course. You can spend close to $300 for 1000 9mm bullets, or you can spend twice that if you are shooting .40 S&W or .45 ACP. This is another good reason to consider a 9mm caliber gun as your first concealed carry gun. Once you get trained up, you may want to consider one of the larger calibers.

Will You Wear This Gun Every Day?

It’s difficult to find a gun that is actually comfortable to wear concealed on your person. This is what most people who are searching for their first concealed carry gun do not realize.

The author driving with concealed Glock 19

The author driving with concealed Glock 19

You don’t have any idea when you are going to be attacked. You don’t have any idea when someone is going to try to rob you, try to rape you, try to kidnap you, or when you are going to be involved in an active shooter scenario. Some optimistic people believe the answer to that question is never. Even most police officers never have to shoot anyone in self-defense. But all you have to do is turn on the news to realize that any one of us could be involved in a life or death situation at any time.

Because the enemy is not going to tell you when he is going to try and kill you or your family, it is important to wear your concealed carry gun whenever it is legally possible. That means you need to be shopping for a gun that is comfortable to conceal on your person. If it’s not comfortable, you will not wear it. That’s human nature.

The holster you choose will also determine just how comfortable your concealed carry experience is. See my review of my Crossbreed Supertuck below (a great fist time CCW holster).

Width Determines Comfort

How wide your gun is will determine how easy it is to conceal on your person, how comfortable it is to wear every day and consequently whether you will actually wear it on a daily basis whether you will actually have it at your disposal when you need to defend your life with it.

 

Here’s the major problem. Thin guns are comfortable to wear and conceal. But, the thinner your gun is, the fewer bullets it is going to carry and the more difficult it is going to be to shoot accurately. My favorite concealed carry gun is the Glock 19, which is chambered in 9mm and carries 15 bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber (15+1). However it is not an ultra-thin gun, and requires some self-discipline to wear on a daily basis. I am generally uncomfortable when I am wearing this gun, but that is a sacrifice I have chosen to make. A thinner gun chambered in 9mm is the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield.

Glock 19 vs. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield

Glock 19 9mm, 20.99 oz unloaded, Barrel Width 1.18″, Barrel Length 4.02″, Overall Length 6.85″, Bullet Capacity 15+1, Cost $530

S&W M&P Shield 9mm, 19 oz unloaded, Barrel Width 0.95″, Barrel Length 3.1″, Overall Length 6.1″, Bullet Capacity 7+1 or 8+1, Cost $450

You can see from the comparison above that the M&P Shield is thinner than the Glock 19, and is therefore more comfortable to conceal on your person (especially if you wear an inside the waistband holster). However, as a matter of personal preference, I don’t feel safe carrying only 8 bullets, or 9 bullets with the extended magazine. You are going to have to decide how many bullets you need to carry to feel safe, and then you will be able to better select a suitable gun. Here is a list of some common, high quality / high reliability, concealed carry pistols.

Firearm Weight Unloaded Barrel Width Barrel Length Overall Length # of Bullets Cost
Glock 19 9mm 20.99 oz 1.18″ 4.02″ 6.85″ 15+1 $530
S&W M&P Shield 9mm 19 oz 0.95″ 3.1″ 6.1″ 7+1 or 8+1 $450
Beretta Nano 9mm 19.97 oz 0.90″ 3.07″ 5.63″ 6+1 $475
Kel Tec PF-9 9mm 12.7 oz 0.88″ 3.1″ 5.85″ 7+1 $400
Ruger LC9 9mm 17.1 oz 0.90″ 3.12″ 6.0″ 7+1 $450
Glock 26 9mm 19.75 oz 1.18″ 1.26″ 6.29″ 10+1 $530
Springfield XDM Compact 9mm 27 oz 1.2″ 3.8″ 7″ 13+1, 19+1 $679
Sig Sauer P290 9mm 20.5 oz 0.9″ 2.9″ 5.5″ 5+1 $500
Walther PPS .40 S&W 20.8 oz 1.04″ 3.2″ 6.3″ 6+1 $560
Glock 27 .40 S&W 19.75 oz 1.18″ 3.46″ 6.29″ 9+1 $530
Glock 30S .45 ACP 20.28 oz 1.13″ 3.78″ 6.89″ 9+1 or 10+1 $637
Springfield XDS .45 ACP 21.5 oz 1.00″ 3.3″ 6.3″ 5+1 $530

You can see that the thinner and more comfortable a pistol is to conceal, the fewer bullets it holds. Take a look at this side by side comparison of the Glock 27 and the Walther PPS, both chambered in .40 S&W. The Glock 27 holds 10 rounds and the Walther holds 7 rounds, but you can see that the Glock 27 is much thicker. Is the added discomfort of the thicker Glock worth the extra bullets? That’s a decision you need to make before you buy.

Glock 27 left, Walther PPS right

Glock 27 left, Walther PPS right

Revolver vs. Semi-Auto

Revolvers are generally thicker than semi-automatic pistols and generally carry fewer bullets than semi-automatic pistols. Most conceal carry revolvers carry only 5 bullets in them, and a revolver is generally harder and slower to reload than a semi-automatic pistol. In the semi-automatic pistol world, a thicker gun means more bullets. But revolvers are generally thicker than semi-autos and carry fewer bullets than semi-autos. I don’t see the advantage to carrying a revolver for concealed carry.

I have already written an article about the best revolvers for concealed carry. You may want to check it out, but I advise you to purchase a semi-automatic pistol for concealed carry purposes. If you do decide to purchase a revolver either for home defense or concealed carry, I recommend you get a revolver that is rated for .38 special +p rounds or a revolver like the Ruger LCR .357 Magnum that can handle both the .357 round and the .38 special +p round. The only possible advantage to getting a revolver vs. semi-auto is that people consider revolvers to be reliable and simple to shoot. I don’t believe that any revolver is more reliable than my Glock 19 or easier to shoot than my Glock 19. It’s not as if you need to be a rocket scientist or MIT Grad to learn to shoot a semi-automatic pistol so I have never understood the “revolvers are simpler” argument.

Ruger LCR 5 rounds .38 special +p

Ruger LCR 5 rounds .38 special +p

Reliability

Gun aficionados will debate all day about which gun is the most reliable. Every gun listed in this article is reliable enough to trust your life to. Is Glock more reliable than Smith & Wesson? Maybe, maybe not. If so the difference is probably negligible.

If you want to know which guns are reliable enough to trust your life to, then look to see what guns the professionals are using. I know an Army Green Beret who carries a Glock 27 for concealed carry and used a Glock on the field of battle. I know that Sig Sauer is used by the Navy SEALs. Several law enforcement agencies use both Glock and Smith & Wesson.

There are some guns that are made to withstand the rigors of combat. They are made to operate under dirty conditions. And there are some “pretty” guns that are made especially for concealed carry or civilian use. I’ve never heard of soldiers taking a Kimber or a Kahr to war, so I don’t list those guns here. I know that Glock is very popular with military personnel, and that it is a battle tested gun. This is why I carry a Glock 19 for concealed carry. I need a gun that will operate when my life is on the line.

Before you choose your gun, you will want to do some research on its reliability. You also want to go to the range and rent one so that you can actually shoot that gun before buying it.

No matter how reliable your gun is, you still need to train to clear basic malfunctions in an emergency situation.

Can You Shoot it Accurately?

This is directly related to how much training you have. In concealed carry land we aim to be “combat accurate.” That means striking your attacker in the center of body mass, i.e., putting holes in vital organs. This kind of accuracy balances high probability shots with high stopping power shot placement. Hitting an attacker in the head will have a greater stopping ability, but it is a low probability shot.

You can train to shoot any gun listed in this article with combat accuracy. You first need to spend lots of time doing dry fire drills, then you need to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars taking classes with titles like: Combat Pistol I, Concealed Carry Tactics, Fundamentals of Defensive Pistol, etc. You will shoot 400 – 1000 rounds in these kind of classes. If you are shooting 9mm bullets it will be like shooting 400 – 1000 dimes. If you are shooting .40 S&W or .45 ACP it will be like shooting 400 – 1000 quarters. This is why I recommend 1) that beginners do lots of dry fire exercises, and 2) that they purchase a pistol chambered in 9mm.

Dry fire exercises will fix your trigger pull and shooting mechanics so that you are not just wasting your money when you actually start training with dimes and quarters. Click here for a free introduction to defensive pistol and combat pistol/concealed carry tactics.

How Many Bullets Are Enough?

The statistics say that most gunfights last less than three seconds. There will be some confrontations where it is enough just to draw down on the enemy without having to fire a single shot. The appearance of your gun will sometimes be enough to deter an attacker. In that case, zero bullets is enough.

Never A VictimIf you get involved with multiple assailants it is going to take 2-6 rounds to put each attacker down. If you find yourself in an active shooter situation at the mall, you may need enough bullets to score a head shot on a body armor clad attacker armed with an assault rifle. It’s probably better to just run for your life in that situation, but you can see from these few scenarios that more bullets is better than less bullets. This will be a battle between ease of concealment and number of available bullets.

I don’t mind saying that the benchmark in concealed carry is the Glock 19, which holds 16 bullets (15+1), but as I’ve already said, it is not the most comfortable gun to conceal due to its 1.17” thickness. You are going to have to decide what amount of bullets you feel comfortable carrying. I feel comfortable with 10-16 bullets, you may feel comfortable with more or less.

Should You Carry One in the Chamber?

Yes, you should carry one in the chamber. Handgun enthusiasts will notice that there are no 1911 style pistols in this article. That’s because I believe you should always carry your concealed handgun with a bullet in the chamber so that you do not have to do anything other than pull the trigger when it’s go time.

The Glock 19, and most other striker fired pistols, do not have an active safety. The Glock has 3 safety mechanisms that prevent it from firing inadvertently. This allows you to carry with a bullet in the chamber and cocked and ready to fire the minute you pull it out of your holster.

However, 1911 style pistols are carried in “condition one,” which is a bullet in the chamber, the hammer cocked back, and the safety on. There is no hammer on the Glock 19 because it is a striker fired pistol. I prefer striker fired pistols because there is no hammer to cock back before firing, and more importantly there is no hammer to snag on any garments in an emergency draw from concealment.

The 1911 is a hammer fired weapon. So in order to have a round chambered, you must rack the slide back. Racking the slide back will cock the hammer. Since there is no de-cocker on 1911 style pistols, it is advised to keep the safety on anytime you have the hammer cocked back. Most people don’t feel safe carrying a loaded pistol concealed on their body with the hammer cocked back, unless they have an external safety activated.

This presents a problem because now when you get mugged by two assailants outside of your parking garage, you have to do an emergency draw, aim the gun at the attackers, and remember to de-activate the external safety before you fire. Hopefully you remember to do that because the alternative is death.

Or you can choose to carry your 1911 style pistol without a round chambered so that you don’t have the hammer cocked back and you don’t have to de-activate the external safety before firing. Now when you get mugged you have to remember to rack the safety back, i.e., chamber a round before firing. Hopefully you have both hands free and time to do that before they kill you.

Or you could carry a striker fired pistol with passive safety systems, like the Glock 19. Now when you get mugged, you draw your weapon, point and shoot, then go home safely to your family.

You should buy a gun that allows you to safely carry one in the chamber, and you should carry a gun that requires you to do nothing other than pull the trigger once you draw it (no racking the slide, no de-activating a safety).

Best Concealed Carry Pistol

I could just tell you that the Glock 19 is the best concealed carry gun, but that is only true for me, and may not be true for you. Instead I’m going to give you a checklist. First there are a few constants that are true for everyone 1) it needs to shoot bullets that are 9mm or larger (.38 special +p or larger for revolvers), and 2) you need to be able to do nothing more than pull the trigger when it’s time to shoot (no racking the slide back to chamber a round, and no de-activating an external safety). Here’s the checklist:

  1. It must shoot bullets that are 9mm or larger
  2. It must allow you to carry a round in the chamber safely, with no external safety to de-activate and no hammer to cock, just point and shoot.
  3. Decide how many bullets you need to carry to feel safe (I like at least 10).
  4. Find the thinnest gun that meets the first 3 requirements.
  5. Is this gun made by a reputable company proven to be reliable in an emergency situation?
  6. Can you afford to train (shoot several hundred rounds) with this gun on a yearly basis? This will mostly be a factor of bullet size. 9mm is less expensive than .40 S&W or .45 ACP.

Top 3 Concealed Carry Handguns

Here are my choices in order: 1) Glock 19, 2) Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, and 3) Glock 26.

Glock 26 right, Beretta Nano left

Glock 26 right, Beretta Nano left

Firearm Weight Unloaded Barrel Width Barrel Length Overall Length # of Bullets Cost
Glock 19 9mm 20.99 oz 1.18″ 4.02″ 6.85″ 15+1 $530
Ruger LC9 9mm 17.1 oz 0.90″ 3.12″ 6.0″ 7+1 $450
Beretta Nano 9mm 19.97 oz 0.90″ 3.07″ 5.63″ 6+1 $475

Truthfully, I am “physically” very comfortable carrying the M&P Shield and Glock 26 because they are relatively small guns. But the M&P Shield only carry 8 or 9 bullets, and I feel safer with a few more. All of concealed carry is a compromise. I would probably be outgunned in any defensive situation when carrying the M&P or the Glock 26, because criminals don’t have to worry about concealing their weapon. This is why regular and consistent training is so important.

Ruger LC9

Ruger LC9 (short & thin)

The criminal who is planning to attack you will probably choose the biggest gun he can hold and bring as many bullets as are needed to successfully kill you. That gun vs. your Ruger LC9 comfortably concealable handgun means that you are going to be outgunned in almost any defensive pistol situation. But the alternative is to be comfortable, dress however you want, and carry nothing. Find a gun that you are comfortable with so that you will actually wear it on a daily basis, and keep in mind that 7 or 8 rounds of 9mm is much better than trying to stop an attacker’s bullet with your good intentions.

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18 thoughts on “What is the Best Concealed Carry Gun

  1. David

    Just a small clarification, 380 ACP is a 9MM. The 380 ACP was original name the 9mm Kurz which is German for short. The 380′s measurements are 9x17mm vs the 9mm luger which is what you are referencing is a 9x19mm. Both the 380 and the 9mm Luger use a .355 inch diameter bullet. I do my own reloading, this is why I know this. Not to start an argument, I would say the 380 would be the smallest round you should ever consider carrying. 40 S&W is a good choice as there are several single stack weapons available is you are a small person such as myself.

    Reply
    1. DustinAaron

      Thanks for the info David. I did not know that about the .380 ACP. I love the arguments about the smallest rounds you should carry. They ALWAYS involve the phrase “shot placement is key.” And then once someone unleashes the “shot placement is key” comment, then another dude will chime in with “then why don’t we all just carry BB guns and train to shoot for the eyes?”

      Once those two phrases have been uttered (or written in ALL CAPS), then you know you have a genuine concealed carry caliber argument brewing.

      Reply
  2. Rebel Yell

    Just something to keep in mind: You’re not limited to only what is loaded in your pistol. Carrying a spare mag or two is a decent idea. I recommend always carrying at least one spare mag, and it’s easy to do since most magazines will fit comfortably in the front pocket of a pair of jeans. Carrying two mags in an IWB mag holder is a great option too. Again, it’s a physical comfort vs. mental comfort sort of thing. It’s pretty easy to carry an extra 17 rounds for my Glock 19 in my front pocket though, and that gives me 33 rounds in a firefight. Make me feel reasonably comfortable knowing I’ve got that sort of firepower. I carry a Glock 17 mag as my spare and it rides in a Desantis Mag Packer.

    Reply
  3. SamT

    I found this very helpful. I live in NY and the walls are coming in on gun owners.
    I am a backwoods hunter looking to buy a pocket pistol, and this pointed me in the
    right direction.

    Reply
  4. Shayne

    I’d like to throw my 2¢ in. Springfield’s XDs pistols are some great carry guns. Just as easy as any Glock, has an extra grip safety. I have the .45 and carry a spare mag, 13 rounds on hand.

    Reply
  5. Kirk kronenberger

    Excellently written, I’ve always invited those who say the 9mm isn’t powerful to stand in front of one and pull the trigger.

    Reply
  6. Chad Peterson

    I love my 19 but yes is a little bulky. So when that’s an issue my Colt Mustang 2 .380 fits about anywhere. By the way I had some issues with the Colt. It wouldn’t eject from time to time. Sent it to Colt and they totally rebuilt it at no charge including freight.
    Great article and details are good!

    Reply
  7. David Lostaunau

    I agree that modern semi-autos are reliable, but…

    A Revolver works when case hardened steel moves case hardened steel. It doesn’t work with the steel fails or the ammo is bad. Steel doesn’t feel very often. If the ammo is bad, the procedure for fixing it is to pull the trigger again.

    Expanding gases cycle the action on the semi – auto. If you don’t hold it properly, your hand absorbs the energy meant to move the slide. If your gun is not cleaned, or properly oiled, the slide might not move properly. Bad ammunition can prevent the gun from working properly. Parts like extractors and ejectors can create different problems, requiring a shooter to know multiple methods of fixing the problem.

    For many years I bet my life on a semi auto. The sad reality is that many people will never take the time to become proficient with one. For them, the revolver is by far the best choice. For someone who does not shoot, The best choice is usually the heaviest gun they will actually carry and conceal.

    Reply
  8. Thomas Kling

    I enjoyed reading your write up and agree with most of it. If I lived in South Chicago, Detroit, D.C. or South Oak Cliff in Dallas (add New Orleans) I would consider a high capacity combat gun like the Glock 19. But the vast majority of us live in a less dangerous environment. Therefore thickness and weight of a concealed carry gun is of prime consideration for every day carry. All double stacked magazines are going to be too thick and heavy for comfort. I wish Glock had made the G 42 single stack in 9mm instead of .380, I would buy one.

    Reply

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