Best Concealed Carry Guns [Semiautos & Revolvers]

So…you’ve decided that you want to carry a gun. Depending on what state you live in, this may not be the easiest decision you’ve made. Different states have different laws, as we know. Some states make it easier than others to get a concealed carry permit. Now that Illinois has joined the club, all fifty states allow some form of legal concealed carry or other. What does that mean in terms of how we are allowed to carry our gun? Does the law specify that I carry a revolver or a semiautomatic? If others can see it, is that legal? These are some of the questions that we need to answer, which we’ll do presently. We’ll explore some thoughts on what carrying a firearm involves. Afterwards we will look at some options that you have as to what type of handgun you want to carry, then we’ll end by looking at specific guns.

Some Thoughts About Concealed Carry

What To Carry?

The question above asks if the law (each state’s laws) specify what type of gun to carry. Not really. In some states, you must pass a shooting test with the gun(s) you are going to carry, and you are only allowed to carry those. Other states, like mine, just issue a permit and they really don’t care what’s in your holster, as long as it’s legal. As far as revolver vs. semiauto, I know of no state that specifies one type of gun over the other. Perhaps someone can comment below if this is not the case in their state.

What If My Gun Shows While I’m Carrying It… Is That Called Open Carry?

This article covers concealed carry, but I’ve had so many questions from folks about open carry that I need to touch on it here, since the two concepts are closely related.

Concealed Carry IWB

The definition of concealed is just that-concealed. Hidden. Not visible to others. Out of the line of sight. Some states require that you must totally conceal the gun at all times. All states (except for five and the District of Columbia, see the map below) permit some type of open carry where the gun is visible to others.

Open Carry Map
Source: Opencarry.org

Do you really want others to know that you are packing a gun? This is an important question to ask yourself if you live in an open-carry-legal state. If the purpose of carrying a gun is for personal protection (which I assume is why you are carrying a gun) then why would you advertise the fact that you are carrying to all around you?

I am not talking about law enforcement officers, security agents, etc. who are required to be armed (openly or otherwise) at least when they are on duty. I am talking about civilians who are legally able to carry a gun. If, heaven forbid, you are ever in a situation with an active shooter, if he or she sees that you have a gun you most likely will be among the first targeted. By the way, check out our self-defense insurance comparison.

Open Carry

You have to be the one to decide if you are going to carry openly if legal. One factor does come into play with open carry – which gun to carry. Open carry opens up your options as to what gun to carry since you can get away with carrying a larger gun than if you were trying to hide it (exceptions occur, I’ll agree).

We are discussing concealed carry, not open carry, but there are a couple of points to be made about it. How does carrying a handgun on your belt openly impact those around you? Does it frighten them? Anger them?

Here’s another thought…anti-gunners are always looking for ways to push their views and to forward their agenda of disarming legal citizens. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that carrying a gun openly just adds fuel to their fire, as they see the open carrier as a “vigilante” ready to start shooting at the drop of a hat, as could easily have happened in the 19th century old west. The true intentions, legality, etc. of the carrier do not matter to people with this mindset. They will see only what they want to see and vilify those who carry legally. We just don’t need that type of attention.

Now that we have looked at a few generalities concerning open vs. concealed carry, let’s get a little more specific.

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Revolvers Vs. Semiautos

There are many types of guns that are suitable for concealed carry, and we will look at different examples of each. We will look at revolvers and then take a look at some suitable semiautomatic pistols.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of each type of handgun. I have purposefully not listed bullet points (Handgun Caliber Guide) for each, but rather I’ve tried to offer a point-counterpoint type of approach to keep each type of gun in perspective. I have tried to remain neutral, to just list salient factors about wheelguns versus semiautos. Each has their advantages and disadvantages – as I have said so many times when comparing guns or anything gun-related, you will buy what works for you. For personal protection, there are just too many great choices out there for me to presume to narrow it down to one choice. When we look at specific guns I will list what I consider to be some of the best buys out there in both revolvers and semiautos. For now, let’s keep it general.

In this day and age of polymer striker-fired pistols with 9mm magazines holding a dozen and a half cartridges, why would anyone carry an old-fashioned double action .38 or .357 revolver? There are a couple of reasons:

Revolvers

1. Simplicity of Use. The revolver is simple to use. Just draw it from your holster, aim and pull the trigger. If it doesn’t go “bang”, pull the trigger again. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

2. Perceived Reliability. Why “perceived?” Why not just “reliability?” The revolver is extremely reliable and will fire just about every time you pull the trigger. So will most modern semiautos. The difference is what you do if it doesn’t fire. As stated above, with a revolver you pull the trigger again and rotate a fresh primer under the firing pin. With the semiauto, the drill’s a bit different (see below).

3. Safety. Revolvers are perceived as being safer to carry than semiautos in a lot of people’s minds.
This may or may not be true, depending upon who’s carrying it. A modern semiauto is very safe to carry. Most will have two or three safety features built into them, from a striker block to drop safeties to grip safeties, etc. If you have more limited use of your hands and fingers (arthritis, etc.), a revolver may be easier for you to operate. Which leads us to #4…

4. Operation. The revolver has no slide to rack, no magazine to insert. As above, if you are limited in hand strength, it may be the way to go. There is help on the way. A fairly recent trend in semiauto design is to make slides that are easier to rack – for example, the Smith and Wesson Shield EZ in .380 – so that will help alleviate the “can’t-pull-it-back” syndrome for those who truly can’t manipulate most semiauto slides.

OK…now that we have looked at some features of the revolver (with a few semiauto features thrown in), let’s focus on semiautos. What do they offer that revolvers don’t?

Semiautos

Here are some features of the semiauto…

1. Concealability. The semiauto is generally flatter than the revolver. The revolver’s cylinder is the culprit, with most of them being at least as large (or larger) in diameter than the complete semiauto pistol. The bulge created by the cylinder is enough to give it away as a gun in your pocket, even with some pocket holsters. The semiauto is just, well, skinnier by and large. As with anything, there are exceptions.

2. Reloading. The semiauto feeds from a removable box magazine and the revolver requires that cartridges be inserted into the cylinder’s chambers. For the majority of us non-professional shooters, it is easier and quicker to pop the empty magazine out and slam a fresh one in.

Interesting note: to see someone reload a revolver faster than a lot of us can reload a semiauto, check out Jerry Miculek’s videos on YouTube:

This man is amazing! He is a pro on the Smith and Wesson team and VERY good at what he does. He is the modern-day Ed McGivern.

3. Reliability. The modern semiauto is very reliable, for the most part. The guns tend to be more ammo-sensitive than revolvers, however. Function (i.e., ejection, feeding) depends an awful lot on the weight of the recoil spring. A spring too heavy for the ammo you are shooting will not allow the slide to go all the way to the rear, thereby hampering ejection. It also results in not allowing the slide to go far enough back to pick up a fresh round from the magazine, which stops reliable feeding. A spring that’s too weak will let the slide slam back and forth, shortening the time between tune-ups by a gunsmith. On the upside, if you have the right ammo, semiautos can be monotonously reliable. Some gun makers test their guns up to ten or twenty thousand rounds, just to see what it takes to break the gun. But what do you do if the gun doesn’t go “bang” when you pull the trigger? Here’s one area where the semiauto is different than the revolver. Here’s the drill, called tap-rack-bang.

“Tap-Rack-Bang”

What do you do if a semiauto doesn’t fire with the first trigger pull? If the semiauto doesn’t fire, usually the first procedure performed is called “tap-rack-bang.” This translates into first, slamming the magazine into the magazine well with the heel of your off hand to make sure it’s seated, racking the slide to eject the round in the chamber while loading a fresh one, and then pulling the trigger again.

It doesn’t matter whether the reason the gun didn’t fire is (1) due to a faulty cartridge or (2) due to accidental pressure against the magazine release button. This generally results in the magazine dropping a fraction of an inch which doesn’t allow it to be in position to feed a round into the chamber. Another uh-oh problem is (3) inadvertently resting a thumb against the slide release, thereby causing the slide to lock back. It could be any of these three scenarios but it doesn’t matter – you perform that tap-rack-bang procedure anyway. This is not as easy as just “pulling the trigger again” for most beginning-to-average shooters.

There is one semiauto exception – a double-action-only (DAO) gun such as my Taurus Spectrum .380. This gun is described as having “Second Strike” capabilities. If the round doesn’t fire, I pull the trigger again and usually it goes off on the second pull, probably due to a primer I didn’t seat deeply enough. I mention this to make the reader aware that there are such guns out there, but most trainers will have you do the tap-rack-bang procedure and not count on a second strike. If commercial ammo doesn’t fire the first time, chances are it’s a bad primer and would not go off with that second pull.

4. Ammo Capacity. Semiautos have the ability, due to their detachable magazines, to enable the carrier to have upwards of a box of ammo on his or her person by carrying spare loaded magazines. This is an advantage, but it must be remembered that the F.B.I. says that civilian shooting incidents are usually over after anywhere from two to five shots are fired. (This doesn’t include the times that the sight of a gun in the hand of the good guy was enough to cause the bad guy to run away without any shots being fired). The point is that having a zillion rounds with you may or may not be an advantage. The exception is ammo carried by law enforcement personnel – there are documented shooting encounters when police officers needed all the ammo they could get their hands on. Civilians are usually good to go with the magazine in their gun and a spare or two. The smallest-capacity mainstream production semiauto that I have owned is the Springfield Armory XDs in .45ACP – that gun comes with one five-round and one six-round magazine. S&W J-frames and other small .38 Special snubbies usually chamber five rounds, so in that respect they’re even.

Revolvers start at five rounds and go up to eight or so. Both revolvers and semiautos are quick to get into action and to fire the first five rounds. What sets the semiauto apart from the revolver is that after the first five rounds are fired, the revolver will take longer to reload, with its cartridges installed in a speedloader or speedstrip, than the semiauto. This assumes that the semiauto is using a five-round magazine so our comparison is the same as with the five-shot revolver. A lot of semiautos can hold anywhere from ten to eighteen rounds, so they start off roughly with triple what the five-shot snubby carries. The main idea I’m trying to convey is that, for the majority of us non-professional shooters, the semiauto is going to be faster to reload than the revolver. Having said that, I have carried a J-frame S&W and felt well-armed. It all depends on your attitude and skill level.

Semi Auto Gif

One more thought about the semiauto’s ready state – you must make sure that there is a loaded magazine in the gun and that a round is in the chamber if you want to be ready to draw and fire. Also, any manual safeties (if any – the trend is away from levers that must be flipped before the gun fires) must be disengaged before you shoot. For some, this is a lot to remember so they use revolvers. Another point – is the gun loaded? With a semiauto, unless there’s a loaded chamber indicator, it’s hard to tell if the chamber is loaded, so a slide press is called upon to check the chamber’s status. With a revolver, rounds are visible in the chambers.

Let’s look at some guns

Here is my list of guns that I would not hesitate to carry concealed. As with any list I put together, these choices are based on my experiences and may not include your favorite(s). Please leave a comment below if there’s another gun that you feel should be on the list. There are just SO many great carry guns available now, more than at any other time I can remember, that the line has to be drawn somewhere or else this list would be a book.

Specifications have been rounded off in some cases…exact dimensions are quick and easy to find online. I’m simply getting some quick numbers out there to make it easier to compare two or more different guns.

One very subjective criteria that I am adding to my list of specifications for each gun is the Concealability Factor (CF).

What is that? Very simply put, how easy is the gun to conceal in a pocket, inside or outside the waistband, etc.? Some guns are easier than others to conceal. My scale goes from one to ten, with one being not very easily concealed due to grip length or other factor. Another reason a gun may get a lower score is that it may be harder to get into action for whatever reason. The other end of the scale (ten) is applied to those guns that are very concealment-friendly and easy to get into action. I have carried several of the guns on the list, so I speak from at least a little experience where this is concerned. I am no expert, I’m the first to admit…just an avid shooter who has had a concealed carry permit since 1978 and has carried many different guns. Your scale may be different than mine, but that’s fine…I’m not trying to start any arguments. I’m just expressing my opinion on a subject that I have spent many hours researching and participating in for a very long time. Please, leave a comment below if you like. Anyway, here we go…

Best CCW Revolvers

Smith and Wesson 642 J-Frame

Specs
TypeSA/DA Revolver
Caliber.38 Spl. +P
Capacity5
Weight14.6 oz.
Barrel1 7/8 in.
Length6.3 in.
MSRP$469
CF9
Smith & Wesson Model 642

Smith and Wesson (S&W) sells a ton of snubnosed revolvers, mostly built on their smallest (J) frame. S&W shows 52 different J-frames on their website, so we know they are popular. In order to narrow it down, we’ll concentrate on one gun, the Model 642. What can you say about the best-selling J-frame that S&W sells? Considering that the S&W J-frame is (at the very least) one of the top-selling snubbies being sold today, that says a lot. S&W has been known since the early 20th century for making very good hide-away guns with short barrels, what we are calling snubnose (or snubby) revolvers today.

Smith & Wesson Model 642 Left Side

This model is the stainless Airweight version of the Model 442, one of the first guns to be hammer-fired but to have that hammer fully enclosed within the frame so it can’t snag on the draw. The gun is fired by long-ish double action pull. S&W makes fully-exposed hammer models (ex., Model 637) and they make a hybrid that has an exposed hammer tip while the bulk of the hammer is enclosed in a humpback-whale-type of frame covering…

S&W 638

This would be the Model 638. It is one very strong revolver. I own one. I’ve had to have it back to the mothership just once, and they turned it around in a couple of weeks, good as new. I like the ability to cock the hammer if needed, but it doesn’t snag on anything. Nice feature.

Smith & Wesson Model 642 Barrel and Muzzle

I just thumb the tiny part of the hammer spur that’s exposed back until it cocks. I think it’s the best of both worlds. Carry one in a pocket holster or on your hip – you won’t know it’s there. This is one of the best snubbies out there.

Smith and Wesson 640 J-Frame

Specs
TypeSA/DA Revolver
Caliber.357 Magnum
Capacity5
Weight22.1 oz.
Barrel2.125 in.
Length6.6 in.
MSRP$729
CF9
S&W Model 640

So you want more than the .38 Special in a snubby? How about a .357 in a package that weighs only 7 and a half ounces more than its .38 Special-firing stablemate listed above? That 7.5 ounces comes in handy if you shoot .357 ammo through this gun, which you probably won’t do very often. I believe the reason that so many snubby .357s get sold is so people feel more comfortable shooting hot .38 Spl. +P rounds through them. I’ve likened the feeling you get when you fire a cylinder of full-bore .357 ammo in a gun similar to the Model 640 here to having your palm whacked good and hard with a 2X4.

Smith & Wesson Model 640 Left Side Barrel and Frame

So why did I include this gun if it’s painful to shoot with the ammo type that’s engraved on the barrel? Simply because some people will shoot .357s in it and be happy, and the rest of the buyers will feel secure in the knowledge that a steady diet of .38 +Ps that they will shoot in it will not harm the gun or knock it out of time very easily. Therefore, it’s a valuable addition to a list such as this.

Speaking of another snub-nosed .357, there’s the Taurus 605.

Taurus 605 and 605 Poly

Taurus 605

This 5-shot .357 is very popular. Here are its specs…

Specs
Capacity5rd
Action TypeDA/SA
Caliber357 MAG / 38 SPECIAL +P
Height4.40"
Width1.40"
Weight24.00 oz.
Barrel Length2.00"
Overall Length6.50"
Front SightFixed
Rear SightFixed
SafetyTransfer Bar
CF7
MSRP$392.94

Its 24-ounce weight helps a bit in the recoil department, but (like most all snubbie .357s), you will probably carry .38 Spl. +P ammo in it, or at least practice with .38s and reserve the louden-boomer .357 stuff for familiarization and carry purposes. It can be a handful, for sure. If 24 ounces is too much for you, you could always get one of these:

Taurus 605 Poly

…the same gun but with a polymer frame. It’s 4 ounces lighter. Some folks say the poly frame flexes a tiny bit when the gun is fired and helps with recoil. I’m not sure about that, but it is an interesting variation. Taurus is a company that is working to gain a better reputation among shooters. There for a while, their record was not that great when it came to customer service. They seem to be slowly turning things around. Their revolvers have, for the most part, been decently made. The semi-auto end of things left something to be desired, according to some. With the introduction of guns like the G3c (included in this roundup), the company is starting to climb out of the proverbial hole they were in. The 605, whether steel- or poly-framed, seems to continue in the positive vein. Hopefully that will continue. At any rate, the poly-framed 605 puts me in mind of another poly-framed revolver on our list…

Ruger LCRx

Specs
TypeSA/DA Revolver
Caliber.357 Magnum
Capacity5
Weight17.1 oz.
Barrel1.87 in.
Length6.5 in.
MSRP$669
CF9
Ruger LCRx Exposed Hammer

The LCR was a revolutionary revolver when it appeared in 2009 (.38 Spl) with the .357 version making its appearance the next year. In 2017, Ruger installed a normal hammer and reconfigured the gun to have a profile more like those guns with an exposed hammer that you could cock if needed. The exposed hammer (the “x” in its name) allows single-action shooting, which for some people is more accurate.

Ruger LCRx Cylinder

The same caveats apply to this gun as to the Model 640 above (or for that matter, any .357 snubby weighing less than about 30 ounces or so!). At an ounce or so over a pound, firing .357s in this gun will hurt. Where it shines is that it is a great platform from which to launch .38 Spl. +Ps that doesn’t weigh a lot.

Ruger LCRx Sight

You can pocket-carry this little gun (in a proper holster, of course) all day long and not be uncomfortable. The polymer frame helps soak up a little recoil – again, this is hard to measure so “feel” is important – which allows you to shoot it maybe a little longer than if it had a steel or aluminum frame. I know, that seems backwards. But…unless the metal frame is heavier, the polymer flexing will probably soak up a little more recoil. Anyway, it deserves to be on this list.

Ruger SP-101

Specs
TypeSA/DA Revolver
Caliber.357 Magnum
Capacity5
Weight26 oz.
Barrel2.25 in.
Length7.2 in.
MSRP$719
CF8
Ruger SP101

I have written, in other articles here, about how tough Ruger guns are. I will spare the reader my comparisons of Ruger guns to tanks, battleships, or other examples of Fort-Knox-type construction. Suffice it to say that Rugers are built very well. I have first-hand proof as to their strength, but that’s a different article. The SP-101 came about after the Security Six and Speed Six .357 revolvers were discontinued by Ruger. (My article about concealed carry revolvers goes into some detail on the origin of the SP-101).

Ruger SP101 Cylinder

This gun comes in different formats…short barrel (here), longer barrel, fixed sights, adjustable sights, etc. Most folks who carry a revolver with a short barrel tend to want fixed sights of the rugged variety and this gun does not disappoint where that’s concerned. Being made in stainless steel is a plus from a corrosion standpoint – it has to be remembered that guns like the SP-101 might end up in a tackle box or other outdoor environment and rust resistance is important.

Ruger SP101 Barrel Left WM
Longer Barrel Version

From a concealed carry standpoint, stainless is great when it’s hot outside and you’re sweating. I’ve seen guns that have had their finish damaged by exposure to sweat. For a five-shot .357 in a small, hefty package that’s easily concealed, the SP-101 deserves a serious look. If you are wanting a Ruger with a six-shot cylinder, go look at a GP-100. Either gun will serve you well for years.

Taurus 85

Specs
TypeSA/DA Revolver
Caliber.38 Spl. +P
Capacity5
Weight22.2 oz.
Barrel2.125 in.
Length6.5 in.
MSRP$389
CF9

Taurus 85

(Update: Taurus has discontinued the Model 85 in favor of the 6-shot Model 856, but there are still 85s out there – you just might have to hunt for one. Everything I say about the 85 will apply to the 856, except for the 5-shot vs. 6-shot cylinder)

Taurus makes some very popular revolvers, especially in the lower price ranges. For under $300, you can have a reliable 5-shot +P-rated snubby that will last many years. I have a Taurus-made Rossi .357 that is one of the most accurate handguns I’ve ever owned.

Taurus 85 Grip

The Model 85 has a lot of the technology incorporated into it that my six-inch Rossi uses, so I see no reason why the 85 should have less than average accuracy. This is an important consideration in a snubnose revolver that people tend to overlook. The gun needs to be intrinsically accurate because with such a short sight radius, practical accuracy can be lacking. Small sighting errors can result in big misses. So, the more accurate the gun on its own, the better off the shooter is. The Model 85 is a very decent gun for the money.

Taurus 85 Left Side

A recent development has the 5-shot cylinder being stretched to hold 6 rounds. This would be the Model 856, new for 2018 (Read my review of the 856 Defender). It is only marginally larger and about $25 more than the 85. So, you have a choice…either 5 or 6 shots for a very nice price. Being backed by a lifetime warranty doesn’t hurt, either. Even if it adds a few bucks to the gun’s price, it would be worth it). Again, only my opinion. The Model 85 is a workhorse that won’t break the bank. Make sure to read my Taurus 85 Ultralight review – I liked the gun so much I bought it.

Best CCW Semiautos

Taurus G3c

Specs
Caliber:9mm
Capacity:Three 12-round magazines. Taurus 15- and 17-round mags will work as well
Action:Single action with restrike capability
Trigger Pull Weight:5 lbs, 7.4 oz., average of 10 pulls
Length:6.3 in
Height:5.1 in
Width:1.2 in
Weight:22 oz.
Slide:Alloy steel, Tenifer finish; front serrations
Sights:Steel, fixed front white dot, drift-adjustable serrated rear
Safeties:Manual thumb, striker block
Operational Controls Finish:Teflon
MSRP:$305
Real-World Price:~ $250-$280

The Taurus G3c is one of the most popular concealed carry semi autos on the market. Introduced on the 15th of June, 2020 as a little brother to the 4-inch-barreled G3, this gun has sort of shaken up that market. It is a game changer for Taurus. I have talked to, and seen online reviews by, hardcore Glock users who are genuinely impressed by this gun. Why? There are a few reasons…

  1. Sights. The sights on the G3’s predecessor, the G2c, were adjustable but were made of plastic. Taurus has seen fit to replace them with black Glock-pattern steel sights with one white dot (front). That makes replacing them very easy – just buy sights made for a Glock.
  2. Finish. Gone is the easily-worn finish that the G2c had. The G3c uses a Tenifer black finish, again similar to that used on pre-Gen-5 Glocks and several other makes of pistols. The finish is tough.
  3. Teflon-Coated Controls. Those levers that release the slide or put the gun on safe are now coated with Teflon, which makes them just a touch slicker in operation.
  4. Magazines. You get three 12-round (or 10, in those states) magazines with the gun. The mags use a bright yellow follower so it’s easy to know when the mag is empty.
  5. And, last but certainly not least, the trigger. The G3c’s trigger uses a wider safety blade that doesn’t pinch your finger like the G2c’s trigger could. It is also a bit smoother than the G2c’s. The break is still very far back into the trigger guard, almost to the frame, but the release is crisp. There is also the same double-strike capability that its predecessor had… if a primer doesn’t go off with the first trigger pull, pull it again. Just like a double-action revolver.

These are the main upgrades over the G2c. I owned two G2cs, so I feel that I know them very well. But…the G3c was worth the upgrade for me. The sight issue alone was worth it. If you want night sights, simply pick up a set of Glock sights and have them installed. The front sight is held by the same type of screw that hold Glock sights on. Plus, you get three magazines… that makes it worth the 25 or so dollars over the cost of a G2c. Other manufacturers should take note – several of them include more than two mags with their guns but not too many “budget” manufacturers do. This is a good thing!

Taurus G3c magazines

Taurus G3c slide right

Taurus G3c front sight
Sights

Taurus G3c rear sight

Taurus G3c grip texturing
Here is the grip.

Taurus G3c trigger

Taurus will sell just about every G3c it can make – they’re already backordered on many gun sites. There is a reason for that. When a nationally-known gun reviewer tells us that he would place the G3c up against other, upper-end gun manufacturer’s 9mm guns, that tells me something. Taurus is trying hard to turn its less-than-stellar reputation around – it looks like that just might happen. Check one out (when you can find one!) – you might be surprised at how good it feels in your hand. For my full review of this gun, go here.

Glock 19 Gen 4

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber9mm
Capacity15
Weight24 oz. with empty magazine
Barrel4.02 in.
Length7.3 in.
MSRP$559
CF6
Glock 19 9mm

I mentioned in my compact 9mm article that the Glock 19 is the mirror against which other compact 9mms are held in front of to see how they compare. It is pretty well the standard compact in the industry today. To be sure, there are larger Glock 9mm guns (Model 17, for example) and smaller ones (see below), but the sweet spot for concealed carry in terms of a 15-round-capacity gun is the Glock 19. Now that the new Gen 5 guns have come out, the 19’s position is even more solid as “the” compact 9mm against which others are compared.

Glock 19 Grip

Having said that, some people are not totally thrilled with the Gen 5 Model 19 frame with its cutout at the bottom front of the grip – it pinches their hand or fingers, I’m told. That effect is lessened a bit in the Model 17 due to its longer grip.

If this doesn’t bother you (and you really don’t like finger grooves), then the Gen 5 is for you. If finger grooves and some other changes don’t bother you, stick with the Gen 4.

It is not as small as some of the other guns discussed here, hence the 6 on the CF rating, but with an inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) it can be hidden pretty well. Reliability is off the chart for Glocks, so that isn’t an issue. Another plus is that this gun will take several other glock magazines, up to 33 rounds. Talk about carrying a box of ammo with you…this is one way to do that. If you want to carry “the” compact nine, give the Model 19 a look.

Glock 43

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber9mm
Capacity6+1
Weight18 oz. with empty magazine
Barrel3.4 in.
Length6.3 in.
MSRP$529
CF7
Glock 43 9mm

It took Glock a while to release a single-stack 9mm, after other companies had released theirs. Glock had a .380, the Model 42, out before the 43 made its appearance. Evidently, the wait hasn’t hurt the gun’s sales numbers.

Glock 43 Rear Sight

The Model 43 is carried as either a backup or primary concealed carry weapon by hundreds of law enforcement officers and civilians daily. One thing that helps to sell this gun is familiarity – a Glock is a Glock is a Glock, so to speak. They all work pretty much the same. Factor in that this gun will just cover your outstretched hand when laid on it and you see how small it is.

Glock 43 9mm in hand

To be sure, there are smaller single-stack 9mms out there, but they don’t have “Glock” engraved on their barrels. The gun is easily hidden away in an IWB or appendix holster, (or even a pocket holster if you have big pockets) so it gets carried a lot. If you are a Glock fan and are satisfied with a 6-round-capacity magazine, then this one’s for you. The newest version of the 43 is the 43X, which is a lengthened version. It holds ten rounds. Here it is…

Glock 43X

If you like the single-stack width of the 43 but want a few more rounds, take a look at the 43X.

Sig Sauer P365

Specs
Caliber:9mm
Length:5.8 “
Height:4.3” with flush magazine
Width:1”
Barrel:3.1”
Trigger:~6 lb.
Sights:XRAY3 Day/Night Sights (3-dot)
Weight:17.8oz. w/empty magazine
Slide:Stainless Steel, Nitron finish
Capacity:10+1 (1 flush mag, 1 extended mag) – 12- and 15-round magazines available
CF:9
MSRP:$599

Sig P365 – Sub-Compact

The Sig Sauer P365 (named as a way to remind you that you can carry it every day of the year) started a revolution, of sorts. Sig figured out a way to shoehorn ten 9mm cartridges in a magazine that doesn’t look like it could hold that many. I’ve heard it referred to as a “stack-and-a-half” magazine. However they did it, it works. The gun has excellent sights and trigger and weighs just slightly more than one pound. Being an inch wide and a touch over 4 inches tall, it will fit in many pockets. A lot of folks are buying the 365, because they can get 10+1 rounds of 9mm in the space that most 6-shot .380s occupy.

After its initial release in 2018, problems started cropping up on some guns. The night sights were weak and didn’t glow like they should, and some strikers broke not very far into their round count. Sig addressed these issues, and the 365 is as popular as ever. I know of at least one state police agency that issues the 365 to their officers as a back-up. It is very shootable, and the standard night sights really help to increase sight visibility in dim light. If you opt to buy the 12-round magazine, you’ll have 13 rounds of hard-hitting 9mm at the ready in a very small package…that’d be a really good thing, I would think.

For those of you who like the 365 but would like it to be just a bit larger, there’s the P365 XL. It is slightly longer and deeper. It will allow the 12-round mag to be carried with a flush fit. It is also optics-ready with a removable plate. The trigger is flat on the XL, as well. One more variation of the gun is the SAS version (Sig Anti-Snag). This gun has nothing that could possibly snag on the draw. Even the sights are modified – here’s a shot of this gun:

Sig Sauer P365 SAS

Here’s the rear sight…

Sig Sauer P365 SAS rear sight

Basically, there is no front sight. All sighting is done in the rear plane.

P365 Sight Picture

Whichever version you like, there’s a gun for you. The P365 is one heck of a good seller – it’s hard finding one in stock to buy at this time.

Springfield Armory Hellcat

Specs
Type:Striker-fired semiauto
Cartridge/Caliber:
Capacity:11 + 1, 13 + 1 (extended mag)
Barrel:3 inches
Length:6 inches
Height:4.12 inches
Width:0.88 inches (total width, 1 inch)
Weight (standard):18.3 ounces w/ flush mag., 18.6 ounces w/ extended mag.
Weight (w/ OSP):17.9 ounces w/ flush mag., 18.3 ounces w/ extended mag.
Finish:Melonite (steel)
Sights:Ameriglo Pro-Glo tritium/luminescent front, white-outline U-notch rear; removable optic plate to accept Shield RMSc on OSP model
Safeties:Trigger lever, striker-pin block
CF:9
Price:$569 (standard), $599 (OSP)

Springfield Armory Hellcat

Our next pistol to examine is the Springfield Armory (SA)Hellcat. The Hellcat was basically SA’s answer to the Sig Sauer P365, the way I see it. The P365 was the smallest gun out there to hold 10+1 rounds, at least at that time. The Hellcat went one better with an 11+1 capacity, 13 if you use the extended mag that comes with it.

Springfield’s striker-fired guns (at least the XD series) use a grip safety. (You can read my review of the SA XD(M) .45 ACP Compact here). Some shooters like that safety, others not so much. I never minded it. But, SA did not include a grip safety on the Hellcat. Featuring a nicely-textured frame (the “Adaptive” grip that forms a stronger bond the tighter you grip it, according to the SA website), tritium U-dot sights, slide serrations that go over the top of the gun and a 13+1 capacity using the extended mag, the gun has a lot going for it. Not bad for a gun that’s an inch wide at its widest part. Add in the fact that (if you buy the correct version) you can add an optic to the gun. If you are looking to get a 9mm that just about fits in your pocket, give the Hellcat a look – it’s getting great reviews.

S&W M&P 9 Shield 2.0

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber9mm (also available in .40 S&W and .45ACP)
Capacity7+1 flush magazine, 8+1 finger extension magazine
Weight21 oz.
Barrel3.1 in.
Length6.1 in.
MSRP$449
CF7

S&W M&P Shield 9

The Shield brand has really taken off for S&W. From the first videos I saw on YouTube of Julie Golob shooting her Shield 9 at hundred-yard-plus targets, I was sold. I owned one for a long time and shot a lot of my reloads through it.

S&W M&P Shield 9 Grip

I stippled the grip – something that the 2.0 upgrade has rendered unnecessary now – and customized it a bit. It carried very well in a DeSantis IWB holster (being a lefty, my holster options are somewhat limited). I’m not really sure why I sold it – it performed very well, was easy to take down to clean and had a really durable finish. Being a product in the M&P line just almost guarantees that the Shield will work as advertised. The M&P franchise goes back to 1899, so it is well-regarded.

S&W M&P Shield 9 Rear Sight

One thing I liked about my Shield was its width, or lack thereof…it is a pretty skinny gun. Sights are decent and the controls work well. If you are a 9mm-type of shooter, your options are very open in terms of ammunition – the Shield was reliable with any ammo I put through it, including my above-mentioned (124-grain powder-coated lead RN bullet) reloads.

S&W M&P Shield 9 Muzzle

Being a .45 guy, I have wanted to shoot that version of the Shield but haven’t had the chance. I highly recommend the Shield in whatever caliber floats your boat – it’s a reliable, well-built gun. Read my full review of the Shield here.

Springfield Armory XD-S Mod. 2

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber9mm (also available in .40 S&W and .45ACP)
Capacity7+1 flush magazine, 8+1 extended magazine
Weight23 oz.
Barrel3.3 in.
Length6.3 in.
MSRP$499
CF7
Springfield XD-S

Having just today taken delivery of a Springfield XD(M) .45ACP with a 3.8-inch barrel, I guess you could accuse me of a little bias where these guns are concerned. Couple that with the fact that I owned a .45 version of the XD-S, and I guess you could say I like these Croatian pistols. (By the way – the “S” stands for Slim).

Springfield XD-S Grip

There are many things to like about the XD-S. Safety features abound. There are three safeties: a trigger safety (bladed trigger, I call it); a striker block safety and a grip safety. Grip safety? Yes sir. For all you 1911 fans out there, this is the only pistol on this list with such a feature. OK, some hate it, I get it. But…for a new shooter or for someone who may be a bit older and maybe not have 100% function in their hands, it can be a very good thing. The lever doesn’t take much pressure to close, but unless it’s closed, nothing is going to happen in the “bang” or the slide-retraction departments.

Springfield XD-S Read Sight

Here are a few other things I like about the XD-S:

  1. The front sight is fiber optic, which really makes it stand out. Replacement fiber rods are included;
  2. There is a takedown lever that stays with the gun and can’t get lost;
  3. Frame texturing is very aggressive, almost like hand-stippling;
  4. The frame is undercut at the point where the trigger guard meets the grip, allowing a higher hold;
  5. There is a loaded chamber indicator that tells you, at a glance or by feel, if the chamber’s loaded;
  6. The Striker Status Indicator is a pin that sticks out of the rear of the slide when the striker is cocked.

Springfield XD-S Front Sight

The XD-S is a very viable concealed carry gun with a lot of features for the money. The Mod. 2 upgrades seem to be well thought out and contribute to the overall value of the gun. Read my full review of the XD(M) here.

Taurus Spectrum

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber.380 ACP
Capacity6+1 flush magazine, 7+1 extended magazine
Weight10 oz.
Barrel2.8 in.
Length5.4 in.
MSRP$289, standard colors; $305, house colors
CF10
Taurus Spectrum right side

I have, and carry, a Taurus Spectrum, but I will try to keep this as objective as possible. And, yes, there are even some things I don’t like about the gun but overall it’s a pretty solid carry gun, if you like the .380 caliber. Why carry a .380 pistol? I added a .380 to this list not because I own one, but because today’s .380 defensive ammo has “grown up” into a decent caliber for self defense. Is it perfect, or the first choice out of the other calibers we’re discussing? No, but if you are wanting some self-protection to stick in a pocket holster, the .380 works. Some gun writers have gone so far as to state that some new .380 hollow-point ammo is equal or better than a .38 Special 158-grain lead round in terms of energy released. (Notice I didn’t say “stopping power”, because that opens up a whole other discussion. Let’s stick to energy released.) There are many times when I will put the Spectrum in a pocket holster and stick it in my jeans or cargo pants pocket when I’m not “cleared” to have a larger gun in some type of belt holster.

As the old saying goes, whatever gun you have with you is better than the (fill in the blank) ___ caliber gun that you left on your nightstand. There is a lot of truth in this.

Another point worth remembering (that I mentioned above) is that a lot of the time, just presenting a concealed carry weapon is enough to cause the bad guy to go elsewhere and find a new, unarmed, victim. Do I count on this? Would I actually shoot someone? These are questions that I answered, privately, years ago. More important is – how would YOU answer them? This leads us back to the Spectrum. Would it do the job if called upon? I obviously believe it would, or I would not have acquired one. Something that reinforces my belief in the Spectrum is that my friend Mitch, a gun guy through and through, just bought one. If HE likes it, that’s a great recommendation. There are many .380s out there and most of them are very well built. I have owned others. I like the Spectrum’s “carry melt”, the rounded edges that don’t snag and the ability to take it down without having a separate, loose pin falling out. A screwdriver or case rim turns the slotted takedown lever a quarter turn and the slide comes off, no trigger pull. Considering that you can get the Spectrum in a plethora of colors (frames/slides/rubber grip panels), you can make a fashion statement if desired although I like my black-and-gray gun. Mitch looked for, and found, a teal-and-white model…it’s almost like buying a car…

Anyway, check one out – I’ve seen them as low as $230. That’s a pretty small investment to make in a gun that you can have with you almost all the time.

Ruger LC9S

Specs
TypeSemiauto
Caliber9mm
Capacity7+1 flush magazine, 9+1 extended magazine available but not included
Weight17.2 oz.
Barrel3.1 in.
Length6.0 in.
MSRP$449
CF8
LC9S and target

Before we get into the review of the LC9S, let me state that Ruger has discontinued this model. The replacement, the EC9S, is practically identical to the LC9S except for three things: first, the finish is different. Ruger went to an easier-to-apply metal finish (black oxide) that cost less. It is rugged, but not quite as nice looking in my opinion. Second, the sights are now integrated (machined) into the slide. The LC9S rear sight was drift-adjustable…I moved mine to the left. The EC9S rear sight is a raised notch at the rear of the slide. They are basically the same size as the LC9S’s sights, just not adjustable. The third difference concerns the slide serrations. They are not as deep as those on the L model, plus they are fewer in number. All these changes were undertaken in order to make the gun less expensive while not giving up the quality reputation that the LC9S had. A shooter new to the model would probably not notice these changes. Now, on with the review…

The LC9S by Ruger is one of my favorite guns. I’ve had mine for a good while and it has proven to be the most accurate small 9mm I’ve ever owned. It is scary accurate at 15 yards. It shoots my 124-grain reloads to point of aim, in a nice tight group. There is a lot to recommend this gun as a carry weapon. It comes with a seven-round magazine with a small finger extension, but nine-rounders are available. I have both. The rear sight is drift-adjustable and you can get one with thumb and magazine disconnect safeties if desired, or not – they’re available either way. The edges are melted…couple that with its light weight and it rides in a pocket holster most of the time. The gun grew out of the original LC9, a hammer-fired model with a less-than-stellar trigger (putting it politely). Ruger redesigned it, doing away with the hammer and adding a striker. As the gold miners would say, ‘Eureka!’. That did it – mine has about a 5.5 pound trigger pull with very little take up and creep. Painting the front sight bright orange so my aged eyes can see it better helped.

LC9S with bullets and magazine

The point being – there IS a front sight that you can see. The sights are replaceable, being dovetailed into the slide. I put pieces of stair-step traction tape (cut to the right shapes) on the grip, which is more aggressive than stippling and allows me to hang on better than the factory grip would allow. With the LC9S, you can have a gun about the size of a .380 but that shoots full-bore 9mm ammo in your front pocket. I think this is a great deal…I highly recommend that you shoot one and see what you think. With Ruger’s tie-ins with different distributors, there are fifteen different variations in terms of colors and slide finish/engraving available. Hopefully you will find one that you like…mine is plain black, but that’s just my taste in guns. More important than the color is the reliability…this gun will run. Check it out.

Honorable Mention

I couldn’t write about all the guns I wanted to. There are some awfully great guns out there that didn’t make the list, mostly because of room and time considerations. Here are some concealed carry guns that would do the job more than adequately…

Kahr C Series – Kahr makes three different sizes of 9mm pistols, the CM, the CW and the CT.

Kahr CW45
Kahr CW45
Source: 2improper Channel

These guns are very basic, with few frills but I’ve owned two of them and can testify to their ruggedness and “carryability”.

From a pocket pistol to a belt-holster model, Kahr has you covered.

Glock 26/27 – the Glock subcompacts in 9mm and .40 S&W offer a shortened grip frame and an abbreviated slide for easy concealment.

Glock 26 9mm
Glock 26

Many of these guns are carried as backups by law enforcement officers and as a primary CCW by the rest of us. If you’re into Glocks, check these out. If you’re not, check them out anyway – you might be surprised.

And In Conclusion…

We’ve looked at a whole lot of information concerning the ramifications of carrying a concealed weapon, and have touched on open carry. We’ve also looked at several guns, either in detail or as honorable mention. What conclusions, if any, can we draw from all of this?

The main conclusion is that you are the one to decide if concealed carry is right for you. If it is something you wish to pursue, hopefully I’ve given you a starting place in helping figure out what you are going to carry. If you, like me, have been carrying for a while, hopefully I’ve shed some light on possible future gun purchases that will help further your carry goals. I’ve asked some pretty involved questions that only you, the shooter, can answer.

We cannot take our right to carry a weapon lightly – there are way too many out there who would take that right away from us. Please be thoughtful as you ponder this article, and let common sense have a major say in what course of action you choose to take. As always, comments are welcome below.

Mike
Written by Mike

Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 9-and-counting grandkids.

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