“What is the best handgun for me?” is a question I am often asked. Let me cut to the chase; you want a handgun that has a usable trigger, sights that you can see, and is totally reliable. It should be chambered in a round that can be relied upon to stop the fight. Your handgun should not have any sharp edges; if it does, get the file out or have a gunsmith provide a de-horning job on it. Below are various aspects of the handgun that enter into your decision about the best gun for you. At the end of this article are reviews of a few of the most popular handguns people use with a gun carrying license.
About The Trigger
A usable trigger is one that allows you to fire the weapon without unduly disturbing the sights. A crisp single-action trigger of 3-4 pounds is the simplest and therefore, the best trigger action available. However, good work can be done with the double-action and striker-cocking trigger types. A double-action, like the Beretta 92, allows you to cock the hammer with the initial trigger press. This sounds very nice, but actually it makes keeping the sights aligned while applying that long trigger press more difficult. The same is true with the various striker-fired handguns, such as the Glock and the Smith & Wesson Sigmas.
Some double-action handguns require the long trigger press only on the first round; thereafter, the hammer is cocked when the slide reciprocates. This would seem to be a better system than “double-action only,” but in practice it isn’t. The transition from double-action to single-action press is a bit disconcerting.
As already mentioned, the single-action trigger is the simplest to use. Good work can be done with the other trigger types, but it does require more work. At short ranges where defensive action usually takes place, this may not be a factor in success or failure, but it is something we should thoughtfully consider.
About The Sights
High visibility sights are very important to the successful placement of your shots. Sights serve to enable you to index the gun on the target. The easier they are to see, within reason, the more quickly and accurately you can hit the target. I say “within reason” because most optical sights on a handgun, though efficient in use, would make the handgun too cumbersome to carry and conceal.
If your handgun sights are so miniscule that you cannot see them, then you cannot be certain of accurately placing your shots. Eighty-five percent of those shot with a handgun survive. I would imagine this has more to do with poor shot placement than power deficiency.
High-visibility, fixed sights are more than adequate for use in personal defense. Most handguns intended for personal defense have their sights set up at the factory for the defensive ammunition most commonly used in their respective caliber. Sights that you can see and the training to use them are two primary essentials to getting quick, effective hits. Keep in mind that there is a shorter radius between the front sight and the rear sight with a rifle.
About The Reliability
You want absolute reliability and nothing less is acceptable. The handgun must cycle and fire with each press of the trigger.
DO NOT SETTLE FOR LESS THAN 100% RELIABILITY!
Mechanisms have a tendency to fail at the least convenient moment. Handguns quite often indicate problems before the critical incident. If your weapon malfunctions, identify and remedy the cause. Quite often a malfunction with the semi-auto is the result of failing to fully seat the magazine or simply a bad magazine. However, it could be bad ammo or the shooter is limp-wristing (“Limp-wristing” simply means taking a soft grip on the handgun. Semi-autos require a firm grip in order to cycle properly.) Whatever the problem, find it and fix it.
Use a cartridge that is sufficiently powerful to stop the fight. What degree of power will be required in your fight is impossible to predict. I have handguns in my collection that are extremely powerful – more powerful, in fact, than some rifles. The problem with them is recoil. It isn’t that they cannot be fired quickly enough but rather that the degree of training necessary to become truly proficient is tremendous due to the recoil they impart. To fire a hundred rounds in an afternoon through a .475 Linebaugh would not only rattle the nerves but would also damage the joints in the hands and wrists. That measure of power is necessary only when dealing with four-legged critters; the two-legged kind usually require less pop. There are a number of fine calibers on the market today.
Remember, research has revealed that to effectively stop an assailant you need 12-14 inches of penetration. Therefore, your weapon must be capable driving a projectile that deep at normal self-defense ranges. Once you identify the cartridges that are capable of that degree of penetration, then the one that makes the biggest hole and is fired from a pistol that you can effectively control is the proper choice.
Which Type of Handgun Is Right For Me?
About The Colt .45 a.c.p.
There are a number of pistols available that will do the job. A properly tuned Colt-style .45 a.c.p. is still the finest fighting handgun available. A tuned 1911A1 is totally reliable, accurate, and is, in my opinion, the most ergonomic pistol offered today.
No handgun round has proven more generally suitable for stopping a fight than the .45 a.c.p. No, it isn’t magic, but it does cut and crush a .45 to .75 caliber hole through tissue to a depth of 12-14 inches. The .45 can be easily fired with just the trigger finger and thumb. I have seen a particular small, frail (determined) woman use a compact .45 through a full week-long class.
The Colt-style 1911A1 in .45 a.c.p.
The lines of carry-ability, power, recoil, effectiveness, and user-friendliness come together with the Colt-style 1911A1 in .45 a.c.p. for many very serious, very capable people.
There are many different full-size handguns available for use. Glocks, Sigs, H&Ks, among others, have proven to be reliable. After instructing handgun classes for almost ten years, I have found that the prospective pistolero must train and work a bit harder to achieve the same measure of skill than he would if he were using the 1911. The trigger systems used in these pistols are not as simple to use as the 1911. The handguns, with few exceptions, are wider through frame – they have fat butts – and the bore line is a good half inch higher than the 1911, making them a bit more difficult to control. These points are worthy of consideration, but one can become as proficient in stopping a fight with any of these pistols; it will just take a little more work.
Smith & Wesson M&P series
The Smith & Wesson M&P series of pistols are worthy of consideration in this genre. There are times when it may be less than convenient to carry a full- or mid-size pistol. Quite often when I wear a suit and tie, I will carry a compact Kahr semi-auto in .45 acp in an Alessi ankle holster. This is a very fine little pistol. It is accurate, very reliable, and easy to use. The sights are first-rate being highly visible and have tritium inserts for low-light shooting. The trigger is finer than either the Glock or the little J-frame Smiths. It is much more compact than the Glock and Smiths as well.
The small Smith & Wesson .38 Special deserves mention. These are very reliable little guns but usually need some trigger work to make them a bit more user-friendly. Most have fixed-sights that are more difficult to see, though some have been produced with high-visibility, adjustable sights. The .38 Special cartridge has never been known for its fight-stopping ability. As always: SHOOT CAREFULLY! Place your shots center of mass until the fight has left your assailant.
In short, select the best handgun for you and carry it with you on a daily basis. Then learn to use that handgun. Come to class and train with it. Train until you are as comfortable running that gun as you are in driving your car. Carry it with you; it must be your constant companion. It must be with you when you face your problem, or you will lose and so will your loved ones.
Develop the warrior mindset. Be strong, brave, and aware. Have a plan! You develop various plans by placing yourself mentally in potential deadly-force situations. Ask yourself: “What would I do if ________ happened?” Then when the hard moment comes, you will be harder still. The fight will probably be over before your antagonist realizes there was a fight.
Be well armed and well prepared! You will win, and that is a very good thing.