Choosing to carry a handgun for self-defense is a serious decision. That same serious thought should be put into choosing the handgun you carry. A poor-quality weapon, or one that you hate, will not inspire confidence or desire to exercise your right to carry, and as Paul Harrel states, “The name of the game is program compliance.”
The best handgun for concealed carry self-defense is one that you trust and can shoot well. Concealability is also a factor but comes second to having a gun that you are willing to put the time into mastering. Other considerations include caliber and cost.
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Fit in the Hand
When you grab the weapon, does it feel like an extension of your hand? Do you have to re-adjust your grip every time you pick it up? Is it comfortable to grasp? These are questions to ask when considering a weapon to carry. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then try a different gun. Ergonomics are a big part of this. Thankfully, superb ergonomics are incorporated into most new handguns today, so finding a pistol that is comfortable to shoot should not be a difficult quest to complete.
Carrying On or Off Body?
If you cannot hide it, there is no point in trying to conceal it. Yes, the smaller the handgun, the easier it is to conceal but body type and clothing come into play on what handguns you can hide on your person without showing. You want to be able to not only cover the weapon but do not want it to print (show a telltale protrusion or silhouette through your clothing). For most people, a handgun with a shorter grip helps in preventing printing.
If you carry in a chest pouch, fanny pack, backpack, or purse, you will have more options for a carry gun. The best pistol for you may be a full-size 1911 or .357 magnum. These can be difficult to hide on your person under normal clothing, but in a pouch or bag of some sort, they are easy to hide. The downfall to off-body carry is that your weapon is not on your person. If you lose your bag, you lose your weapon.
Caliber and Cost
These two options are the least important but are the most hotly debated. There are plenty of affordable and reliable handguns from major makers these days, and most new pistols are reviewed ad-nauseam on YouTube shortly after they debut, so lemons are brought to light quickly.
The proper caliber of a self-defense handgun is a fiercely debated topic these days, and people get adamant about how much cartridge is needed. I agree that you should carry what you can handle, but heavy calibers recoil fiercely in small guns. I have known individuals who used a .22 because arthritis had taken the strength from their wrist. But they carried that pistol every day and could hit the target.
Following are my top five choices for the best concealed-carry self-defense handgun. These are weapons that feel comfortable in my hand and that I would trust. Your mileage may vary.
Springfield Armory Hellcat
This pistol is the leader in capacity for sub-compact handguns. Factory supplied with 11+1 and 13+1 magazines from the factory (or 10+1 if your state is into that sort of thing), the Hellcat brings double the rounds to the table as the Glock 43 at a nearly identical weight unloaded. The Hellcat is also a sixteenth of an inch slimmer in width than the Glock. As a bonus, the 13 round magazine is extended to allow a better grip for target practice.
A slightly larger handgun, I have included this pistol for its barrel length. The model 48 is a trim package with a ten-round capacity and a four-inch barrel, offering an extra inch of sight radius over the Hellcat for better accuracy and less muzzle rise. The grip of the 48 is longer than the other pistols on this list, but concealability is traded for controllability. I have one of these on my wish list for a carry gun/hiking pistol.
Ruger scored a hit with wheelgun fans when they debuted this little revolver. The LCR is ergonomic, lightweight, and powerful. Chambered in calibers from .22 LR to .357 Magnum, with 1 7/8” and 3” barrels, there is an LCR for your needs.
Ruger LC9 / EC9
These twin pistols are trim. Measuring almost 1/8” less in width than the Hellcat, these are the narrowest handguns on the list. Carrying seven rounds on board, the LC9 and EC9 pistols give up capacity for their slimness but shed nearly an ounce over other sidearms mentioned here. If you need a skinny and lightweight weapon that still has a decent grip, then these are worth a look. The EC9 is the same basic gun as the LC9, but with fewer features.
Sig – Sauer P365
Not necessarily unique compared to other pistols on this list but combining all the right features for a good carry gun. The P365 features comfortable ergonomics, a 10+1 capacity, and a 3 barrel, this is a close competitor to the Hellcat. Several co-workers have chosen this pistol as their weapon of choice and have zero complaints.
The options for a concealed carry self-defense handgun are as diverse as the people who choose to carry them. Taking the time to find and select a sidearm that suits you is crucial to making concealed carry work for you. The best handgun for concealed carry self-defense is the one you will practice with frequently and carry daily.