How to Choose a Concealed Carry Handgun – The Basics

Choosing a concealed carry firearm can be a daunting task, often involving trips to various gun stores, consultations with friends that own firearms, late-night internet forum browsing, and possibly asking a spouse how much money one is allowed to spend. Along the way, various rules might be set – “it has to be in a caliber starting with 4,” or “only a revolver is always reliable,” or “You can’t spend more than $300 on something silly like that.”

When I worked in a gun store (there’s a phrase I don’t like to repeat often), I encountered this all the time. I would often have to help someone select a firearm based on arbitrary rules that Uncle Jerry had set forth – despite Uncle Jerry’s complete lack of knowledge.

With those experiences in mind, I’ve decided to write a primer on the subject, being as brief as possible while still explaining my opinions. Keep in mind that they’re opinions – feel free to seek out other advice – just take Uncle Jerry’s with a grain of salt.

I’m going to avoid recommending specific firearms in this article. Here are a few basic considerations that should be taken into account. They’re in a rough order, from most to least important:

  • Usefulness/Needs
  • Proficiency
  • Budget
  • Platform/Caliber


Needs

First and foremost, the weapon you purchase to carry concealed should meet your specific needs – chief among them is your ability to carry the firearm, on your person, at all times. A hand cannon that’s too heavy or large will not be carried often, making your purchase - and efforts – a waste. The concept of a small handgun being easy to conceal doesn’t escape many people, but what does escape people who don’t shoot much is that tiny handguns in big calibers are difficult, even sometimes painful, to shoot.

Perhaps I should write a separate article on myths, but erase the concept of the “one shot stop” from your mind right now. Being forced to rely on one shot stopping a threat – especially after that balsa wood derringer chambered in .50 BMG breaks your wrist – is a very poor choice to make. No handgun caliber is a magic wand, and you might not be facing just one opponent.

When you first start looking at carry handguns, you’ll probably gravitate toward the smallest ones in the case or on the wall, because you’re thinking in terms of the clothing you wear now, which is probably not exceptionally conducive to carrying a sizable handgun. However, while minor wardrobe changes might be undesirable, they’re worth it in the long run, for both comfort and the more capable firearms they might allow you to carry.

As a side note, the general population is oblivious to many things, concealed carry being one of them. The only person “freaking out” about the fact that you’re carrying a concealed weapon the first time you carry will be – you.

Proficiency

There’s absolutely no substitute for being proficient with your firearm – caliber, manufacturer, etc. are absolutely irrelevant if you have no idea how to safely load, operate, and fire it under all conditions. You become proficient by properly learning how to do all of those things (often via competent instruction), and you remain proficient through regular practice. If the bulk of your shooting budget goes to one or two training courses per year, but you rarely shoot otherwise, you’re only proficient for a maximum of 1-2 months out of the year. By all means, attend shooting courses if possible, but don’t let those skills become dormant.

Beyond that, you should choose a handgun with which you can easily become proficient and easily maintain said proficiency. I’ll go back to the “hand cannon” analogy, but the same could be said for someone with huge hands trying to operate a tiny .22 revolver – whatever weapon you choose should not fight you in your efforts to load, operate, or fire it.

Budget

Whether limited by personal finances or a controlling spouse, budget often plays a role. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a crappy gun – you can save your money over time and look for deals. Also keep in mind that having, say, $800 budgeted for the task does not mean that you should go to the nearest gun store and look for pistols priced at $799.95. You’ll need ammunition, a holster, range time to practice, and, preferably, some professional training. Your current belt is probably not sufficient for the purpose, and you might need to buy some different pants or shirts- just don’t buy a khaki concealed carry vest, for Browning’s sake.

These other items are going to eat into your budget. It might be a good idea to allocate roughly half of your budget to a firearm, and the other half to the items mentioned above.

Don’t feel bad about not being able to afford the nicest pistol in the display case – as they say, it’s the singer, not the song. Just keep in mind that there are a few crappy songs out there.

Platform/Caliber

I deliberately put this last, because it’s almost always the first thing that people think of when buying a handgun, despite the fact that it’s not as important, in my mind, as the above factors. Caliber itself, once we are in the major caliber realm of .38 Special to .45 ACP, plays almost no role in the decision-making process I use to choose a firearm. I’m far more concerned about the platform being adequate for the caliber.

What I mean by this is not just “big bullet + small gun = bad.”

I prefer a firearm that was designed for the caliber, not adapted for it – examples of which I’ll provide in another article, or perhaps a video, because they’d be too voluminous for the purposes of this article, which is already longer than I wanted it to be.

Final Thoughts

If you already own a handgun with a barrel length under 5″, chances are that it’s at least a semi-decent choice for concealed carry. You might be able to save yourself time and money by using what you already have.

Beyond that, purchasing or carrying a firearm, in and of itself, will not make you any safer. Evaluating and avoiding potential dangers, being aware of your surroundings, and maintaining proficiency with your carry firearm can increase your chances of survival. Only you can prevent forest fires – and only you are ultimately responsible for your safety.