Which model should I buy for my first concealed carry handgun? The question is common enough, and for good reason. At times, you may choose to carry more than one firearm for self-defense, different guns—depending on the weather and clothing, or even a back-up gun (BUG). Whichever route you go, here are six tips to consider when choosing your first handgun for concealed carry.
By Dr. Dave Dolbee
I have often been asked to make a recommendation for a concealed carry handgun, or asked what I carry. My dilemma is not with the question, but making a recommendation. What I carry is not right for many. Besides, I write about guns for a living and truly test each model before I write about it. That means one to two sessions a day of drawing from concealment and dry firing for a couple of weeks and plenty of time after that actually carrying the gun.
However, my routine does not provide the type of familiarity I would recommend, and changing firearms more often than your car’s oil is seldom recommended. You would be much better off picking a single gun/carry system and sticking to it. Likewise though, what you carry will not be right for many others. Therefore, making a recommendation for the best model is not only difficult, it borders on being irresponsible.
In addition to specific models, those new to concealed carry have questions about brands, calibers, and action type. Here again, I would hesitate to be specific and instead offer the pros and cons as I see them and help to relate the benefits and drawbacks of each. I want the prospective buyer to be informed, but just as someone else can’t choose the shoes that fit you best or which furniture would be to your liking, you need to take charge of the decision of picking the right handgun—as daunting as that may seem. Spend time at the range shooting your friends’s guns as well as the rental guns at the range before deciding on the gun that is right for you.
Make an Informed Concealed Carry Decision
Doing a little homework is never a wasted effort. After all, your decision could literally one day mean the difference between life and death. While the probability of having to use your handgun to defend your life or the life of a loved one is low, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Know your budget. You are likely going to spend a minimum of $200. From there, the sky’s the limit, with most opting for something in the $350-600 range for a first concealed carry handgun. In terms of caliber, .380 and 9mm are most popular in semi-autos and .38 special or .357 magnum in revolvers. The reason the .357 magnum is included is because you can shoot .38 Special loads from it for practice and later load something more powerful for self-defense.
Another reason to stick with these calibers is availability. Most any place that sells ammunition will have plenty of choices in stock. That allows you to tailor your choice to a heavy, aggressive, self-defense round, or simple ammunition for practice. You could even drop to a low-recoil frangible offering.
Don’t Trust the Experts—Even Me!
Okay, maybe I am the exception, but only because I will not try to steer you to something specific. Be aware of the sales person or friend who knows the exact model you need. Your best defense is knowledge and experience. Both of those can be obtained with the research you are doing now and time at a local range that rents firearms. Nothing beats firsthand knowledge gained through experience.
Shop, Shop, Shop
K-Var has thousands of guns to choose from and some of the best prices you’ll find anywhere. If you have a friend or two with a suggestion, ask them to go to the range with you so you can try out their guns. If you are looking for something in the spring, consider the NRA Show. The latest models will all be in one place and you can get a feel for them all. Don’t just ask which gun, but why they chose that particular model, caliber, etc.
Get the gun you really want and works for you. If it costs more than your proposed budget, wait and save up for it. It is better to wait for an extra paycheck or two, or sacrifice a night out and get the right gun. Odds are you’ll be carrying it for a very long time. When you need to deploy it for self-defense, the last thing you want creeping through the back of mind is, “I wish I would have spent a few dollars more for the…”
You also need to look at carry options. Will you be carrying your firearm in a holster on your person? Where? Appendix carry, 3 or 4 o’clock, in a shoulder holster? Or will you opt for an easy access purse designed for concealed carry, a bra holster, or covert diversion pack. What holster options are available for your proposed handgun?
The decision to carry a handgun for self-defense is not the end, it is the beginning. You’ll need to practice regularly to build proficiency and maintain skills. Follow on training is also highly recommended. The NRA has a series of courses—as do a host of private training academies. When going through a private instructor, check their credentials closely. There are many private instructors who are simply a waste of money.
And just as important to additional training is getting some insurance though organizations such as U.S. Law Shield or the NRA’s Carry Guard. For a few dollars a month, you can cover you entire legal bill should you be forced to defend yourself. Check out the program details to determine which one is right for you.