Advice on Carry Guns

Sometimes you are the go-to guy or girl. You are the one in your peer group or social network that appears to know the most about firearms. This is a more weighty responsibility than one might think. In our office, I imagine more so than some places of employment, we talk about guns … a lot. Were we to have an actual water cooler (denied yet again in the fiscal 2012 budget), it would no doubt compare to the Fountain of Knowledge (or in Col. Potter’s parlance, perhaps, a “Fountain of Horse Hockey”) for most things regarding firearms. But we assume certain knowledge, a certain level of experience and a certain physiognomy that affect how we discuss firearms.

I am often asked advice outside the office, and I have been confronted with questions about firearms from less-experienced new shooters and women more and more in recent months. Those questions and some recent range time have given me some new insight on the advice I give. And no, the answer is not always a 5-inch M1911 in .45 ACP. Again, if the gunwriter union wants my card, they can come and take it.

If you are going to give advice, you need to ask the right questions. One high school classmate asked me about a defensive handgun for his mom. What will it be used for, home or carry? How much experience does she have with firearms? Is she comfortable with firearms? How recoil sensitive is she? Has she had any formal training? Does she have time to take the NRA Basic Pistol course (because she should)? Is she willing to start with a .22 and work her way up? How is her hand strength? Does she have big hands or small?

Range experience with a colleague recently made me rethink my own notions about firearm recommendations for routine concealed carry. My preference for day-in, day-out carry is a Smith & Wesson Military & Police Model 340 PD in .357 Mag. How I came to that decision is the subject for a different blog. But I also have a Diamondback DB380 I carry at times, and I have been evaluating the Colt Mustang Pocketlite for the June issue of American Rifleman.

My coworker is interested in a new carry gun, so I offered up my Diamondback DB380, S&W 340 and the Colt Mustang during a range session that taught me some lessons.

The strength and firmness of grip are very important considerations in the subcompact class of .380s and 9 mms available today, which can often only be discerned when actually on the range. My Diamondback, which fits unobtrusively in a pocket holster and works every time for me (with the right profile bullet) failed frequently to return to battery for the other shooter. Her grip was firm for her, and this is reflection neither on her physiognomy nor on the gun’s reliability. With her grip, with that gun on that day, it was a combination that did not work out. Good to know before the stakes are higher. While her hands are smallish, there was not quite enough gun for her to hold onto. Bottom line, she was not comfortable with it. 

The Smith 340, which after much study is the ideal personal security solution for me, has a long, heavy double-action-only pull, of about 12 pounds. It was difficult to master for my coworker, who is no weakling and no stranger to shooting. With practice, she could improve no doubt, and the simplicity of a double-action-only revolver is appealing. The smoother pull of the Ruger LCR might be a better choice, but we need to get one in her hands. Or perhaps a Smith Model 649 in which the shrouded hammer may be drawn back to single-action if time allows. Or, horrors, maybe an external hammer revolver may be a better gun for this person.

The PocketLite—which has a 2 3/4-inch barrel and is a single-action .380 ACP—went bang every time, was easy for her to retract the slide, easy for her to control under recoil and she could reach all the controls. It is the current frontrunner. More range time will make the final determination.

Some folks have difficulty retracting the slide of a semi-automatic pistol. If a person has trouble retracting the slide at the range, even after having them employ the slingshot technique—pushing forward on the frame with the strong hand and pulling rearward on the slide with the weak hand—it is inadvisable to have him or her choose such a gun for personal protection. If a person cannot "run" the gun's controls at the range, it is folly to think he or she will be able to perform the same motions under stress. The same goes for trigger pull weight and reaching the safety or slide lock.

While weight and size are important considerations, when making a recommendation it is best to have hands-on time at the range. For two of my friends, I will be upping the size of the guns for our range time next week. Lightweight little guns are all the rage, but if they cannot operate or shoot them effectively, perhaps moving up size to compact as opposed to subcompact may be the answer.

What works just fine for you may not work for those who seek your advice. Be prepared to not have an easy answer. Selecting a handgun is an important decision, one that requires good questions, good advice and an open mind.

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7 Responses to Advice on Carry Guns

Chris wrote:
May 15, 2012

The S&W Bodyguard .38 is my carry gun of choice. Light, small & controllable. I am partial to wheel guns for defense as the Taurus Judge is my home defense gun. I have several semi-autos, but they are something I use for entertainment, not defense. Just a personal preference, nothing more.

Al Z wrote:
March 26, 2012

If your friend seems to prefer a 380 or small 9mm, she should take a look at the Bersa models in both. I recently gave my daughter my Bersa 380 because she found it to be easy to manage even after having wrist surgery a few years ago.

True believer wrote:
March 26, 2012

I bought my wife an LCP for X'mas (I know, but she already has everything else), but she could not hit the proverbial "broad side of a barn" with it. When she asked to try my XD-40 sub-compact, I expected the worst. She loved it and was able to empty the mag into a 4" pattern at 25 yards! Her comment: "The LCP had nothing to hang on to!!!"

Gary wrote:
March 26, 2012

Good subject, this one should set a record for the number of comments. First up, revolver vs. auto. Are you going to load it, put it in a drawer, and then forget about it until you need it in 20 years? Then you can only have a revolver. Or, are you going to develop a real interest in firearms? That means becoming really proficient in its operation, being a responsible person when it comes to its care and feeding, and have a natural curiosity to search out related bits of information like when to replace its springs. If you pass that test then you can have an auto if you want. Next up is power. Now, if physical limitations are a major factor, then that alone will guide you. Otherwise, are you only going to shoot bad guys that don't have a firearm? Then a lower-powered round like a .380, 9mm, or .38 Special will work just fine. If your bad guy has a firearm then you need a "stopper" because the last thing you want is to become engaged in a fire fight. With all those bullets flying around you just might get dinged. And what is a stopper? What would take the fight out of you the quickest: A .380 or a .45? A .38 Special or a .357 Magnum? A .223 or a .30-06? Get it? Finally, the size. For home a full-size because the weight will help negate recoil and the longer barrel will increase velocity and power. For carry, decide where you are going to put it. Now, pick the biggest and most powerful weapon that will fit there. The FBI gave up on the .38 and 9mm after the Miami Shootout. If "shot placement" was to save the day then they only needed to improve training to the point where agents could easily make .22 head shots. But the prevailing wisdom called for torso shots with at least 12 inches of penetration (after going through barriers) and a really big hole. Don't give in and buy a cute little gun just because it makes you feel good. Protecting you life is serious business; don't send a boy do to a man's job.

koolaidguzzler wrote:
March 26, 2012

I pride myself on giving good self-defense/home protection gun advice, and my key is a detailed interview of the shooter's intended uses and background. I usually recommend revolver first, then pistol, for many reasons of simplicity, one-handed ease of use, long term loaded storage, less chance of improper grip/ limp wristing, no probs from bad mags/springs, safer operation/handling, etc. The worst kind of advice is when experienced gunners tell newbies to use what the gun vets use, with little regard for the differences in experience, training, attitude, confidence, aggressiveness, hand-eye skills, etc.

ron burwell wrote:
March 26, 2012

just got my cpl,will a ruger snub .38 hammerless wheel gun,it fits so nice in my hand.

ron burwell wrote:
March 26, 2012

just got my cpl,will a ruger snub .38 hammerless wheel gun,it fits so nice in my hand.