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Are you looking for a new concealed carry gun? In this article, we’ll talk about the best concealed carry guns available in the market today. Choosing to carry a concealed weapon is a big decision and not one that should be taken lightly. On the one hand, it’s exercising a fundamental American and I would argue a human right. And yet, it calls into moral, legal, and philosophical questions that most of us have never had to face.
To that end, I want to not only help you choose the right firearm for you — I also want to help guide and prepare you in other ways.
We’ll take a look at some of the legalities of concealed carry, discuss the pros and cons of revolvers and semiautomatic pistols, and I’ll give you some lessons I’ve learned while carrying myself.
Is It Legal for Me to Carry?
The first question you should look into before starting this journey is the simple fact of if you’re allowed to carry where you live.
For most of us, the answer is or can be yes. But you need to make sure. I strongly recommend the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Reciprocity Map & Gun Laws by State. There are a few websites that offer this feature, but USCCA’s is one of the most up-to-date and easiest to use.
Click on your state and then read all about what permits you might need, where your permits are valid, and additional laws about carrying such as in bars, at work, and more.
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The Law Is The Law, Read It All
Read everything carefully. Not everything is black and white and you’ll often run into things that are simply… odd.
For example, I live in California. Something that comes up often as a concealed carry weapon holder is “can I drink at a bar and carry a gun?”. The answer entirely depends on where you live, but for me, the answer is a solid “shmaybe”.
Oddly, there is no California law against having a CCW in a bar or restaurant, provided I’m not drinking alcohol.
And yet, when I sign the paperwork for my permit I sign an agreement that says that even with my permit, I am not allowed to carry in a bar or “any place having the primary purpose of dispensing alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption.”
So while I can’t be found criminally liable for carrying a CCW in a bar (assuming I am not drinking) I can lose my permit if I do.
Details like this are important to be aware of.
Even if you never get caught going about your daily life, if you are in violation of one of these harder-to-find rules and you need to defend your life — it can make things tricky afterward.
Magazine Capacity, “Expanding” Bullets, and More
If you’re new to firearms, pay attention. Some states have laws limiting how much ammo you can have in your magazine. Normally the limit, if there is one, is 10-rounds. But that isn’t universal.
If you live in a free state, you won’t have to deal with this issue. But double-check the laws to make sure if you’re not positive.
As you might have guessed by the subtitle, this also goes for “expanding” bullets. Normally, that means a ban on Hollow Point rounds. But again, check your laws.
And in case you’re wondering, yes — these laws are stupid.
And yes, this is another one of those where it’s unlikely you’d be caught normally — but it is absolutely something that will be looked at after a defensive gun use.
There is a lot of case history across the United States that even if you’re clear of the shooting, you can still be charged for breaking other laws.
Open Carry Vs. Concealed Carry
Open carry means exposing your firearm and people can see it. Think of a uniformed cop or security guard, their firearms are open and exposed.
Concealed carry means people can’t easily see your weapon. It’s really that simple.
If you want to know what makes good open carry guns, that is another article. We’ll focus on concealed carry here.
I always recommend staying as concealed as you can be without grossly limiting access to your weapon.
For some, that means the appendix carry inside the waistband.
For others, the small of the back is best.
But for me, I like to carry on my strong side slightly in front of my hip.
Where you want to carry will impact what gun is right for you. If you want to carry in an ankle holster, don’t get the biggest gun you can find.
If you want to carry at your appendix with your muzzle pointed at the family jewels, maybe you’ll feel more comfortable with manual safety on your gun.
Keep these things in mind when choosing your carry gun!
What Is And Should You Be Concerned About “Printing”
“Printing” is how much your firearm deforms your clothing, normally in the shape of the firearm.
Depending on how badly it is printing, it might take a keen eye to tell that you’re carrying a gun or it can be so bad that even the legally blind will be able to point at it.
It just kind of depends.
Printing in of itself isn’t a super bad thing, honestly, most times your gun is printing it will feel and look to you a whole lot worse than it actually is.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it either. The least amount of printing possible is always better.
You can mitigate printing by what you wear, shirts with complex patterns help a lot. Loose and baggy clothes help a lot also. A good holster is a must.
It also depends on what shape you are in personally. If you’re built like a twig, your options are limited. If you never miss seconds at dinner, you can get away with a larger gun.
In the end though — don’t let printing run your life. If your fear of printing leads to a whole new wardrobe, a Hollywood diet, or a gun you hate, it isn’t worth it.
Is “Printing” Illegal?
Read enough concealed carry or CCW forums and you’ll find people saying that even printing counts as “open” carry. While there might be some weird jurisdiction out there where that is true, it isn’t true anywhere I’ve ever been, read about, or looked into.
Printing is not illegal. However, exposing your firearm… might be. It depends.
Most commonly accidentally exposing your weapon happens when you reach for something above your head or bend down to pick something up.
When reaching down or up, your shirt can often move and expose your weapon. For the vast, vast majority of places — this isn’t illegal. The worst that can happen is you get a surprised look from someone. Or in a more gun-friendly area, a high five.
However, there are some places where this is a violation of your permit restrictions. Again, read and understand your local laws to make sure.
Modifying Your Concealed Carry Gun
This is a hotly contested topic in the CCW community. I fall into one camp but I’ll also tell you why I could be wrong. I want you to have the whole picture.
First, check that it is legal for you to do so. Either read your laws or check with your permit issuing authority. While it might be legal on a state or city level, not all issuing authorities will allow it.
Assuming it is legal where you live, should you do it? Two huge reasons why some CCW trainers advise against modifying your carry gun is because it can be less reliable and modifications might be used against you in court if you had to use your gun.
There is some merit to these arguments, but I disagree with both.
As long as you use quality parts and the parts are installed by someone who knows what they are doing (either a gunsmith or yourself if you have the experience) and you test your weapon at the range, then any gun with modifications can be as reliable or even more reliable than a stock firearm.
Just some examples, my Glock 19 and Beretta 92FS are both heavily modified. Both firearms go through thousands of rounds between malfunctions.
The other argument, that they can use modifications against you in court, is one that I’ve never seen proven.
The argument holds that if you made changes to your gun, a DA might be able to sell those changes as making the gun “more deadly” or “more aggressive” or that you were “looking for a fight”.
If you slap punisher skulls on your gun, that third one might hold water. But if you make reasonable choices that are purely functional, you’re in the clear.
For years I have asked CCW experts to please show me a single case where a DA was successful in getting a conviction based on the fact that the firearm was legally modified. I have never been shown one, but I have disproven several.
A legal shooting is legal regardless of whether or not you have a slightly lighter trigger, night sights, a red dot, or a stippled grip.
How your gun might look to a jury is something you should keep in mind. Do you really want to try to defend your punisher skulls or “Get Some” engraving?
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Revolvers Vs. Semiautos
This is an age-old debate. Like 9mm vs 45 ACP, cats vs dogs, or baby back vs. St. Louis-style ribs.
Here is the honest truth — it depends.
Personally, I am very much in favor of semiautos for concealed carry, and I have a long list of reasons why. But I’ll do my best to give you all of the whys and wheres so you can make your own choice.
The two biggest reasons people choose revolvers are pretty simple actually.
First, they require almost no hand strength. If you can pull a trigger, you can use a revolver. If you have a compromised grip, this might be your only option.
Second, it’s what they are most familiar with. These days this is almost exclusively older generations, but regardless of age — if all you’ve trained on is a revolver, it makes sense to go with what you know.
If you fall into one of these two reasons, then I recommend a revolver for your concealed carry. For everyone else… keep reading.
People like to carry revolvers for their simplicity and reliability. But the thing is… they aren’t and they might not be.
Revolvers, on the inside, are actually really complex. The guts of a revolver are called “clockwork” because it looks and works like an old school clock. And it’s exactly as complex too.
They are reliable until something goes wrong. When something goes wrong, revolvers are almost impossible to fix in the field. Almost anything that takes a revolver out of the fight is critical enough to render it useless until a gunsmith can fix it.
My biggest gripe about revolvers though is ammo capacity.
Most CCW-style revolvers only hold 5 or 6 rounds. Larger ones can carry 7 or 8, but those aren’t as common. More than 8 is basically unheard of in a defensive caliber.
The Glock 19 I carry has 15+1 loaded with a 20-round magazine as my reload. To do that with a revolver I would have to carry 5-speed strips or speed loaders.
A positive that is reasonable but I would also say is kind of useless is that you can just keep pulling the trigger if your cartridge doesn’t fire.
While this is true, it’s a very niche positive that will effectively never happen if you use decent ammo.
My two big reasons for choosing a semiauto, other than all of the cons I’ve listed against revolvers, are ammo capacity and modifications.
Both reasons were touched on, but let’s dig deeper.
Depending on the gun you choose you might have magazines that hold 7 rounds or magazines that hold 20+. Generally speaking though, a semiauto has at least 10 rounds of 9mm per magazine.
Reloading with a magazine is always easier and faster than a revolver unless you put an incredible amount of time into revolver training.
Even so, once you get past the first reload or two — semiauto wins due to volume. Reloading with 10, 15, 20 rounds per reload is just so much more than 5 or 6 at a time with a revolver.
That said — it’s effectively unheard of to ever need that much ammo as a civilian. The FBI says that most civilian shootings are resolved with just 1-3 shots fired.
So why carry 35+? Personally, because I can. A second magazine is as much for redundancy and to solve any malfunctions that might occur as it is to carry extra ammo.
Since I’m already packing a spare mag, why not make it one that holds more ammo than I’ll ever need.
The legality of modifications I’ve talked about also, but let’s talk about it a little more.
Every change I’ve made to a carry weapon is meant to make the weapon shoot better in my hands so that I can be faster, more accurate, and safer.
Be it removing the magazine safety from my Bersa to changing the slide on my Glock 19 to add a red dot, every change had a purpose and every change was for the better.
All of us are different. We have different hands, eyesight, skills, and needs. Finding a gun that is perfect right off the shelf is a tall order.
With any popular semiautomatic pistol, you have an aftermarket that helps you customize it to fit your needs. Maybe this just means some Talon Grips or maybe it means entirely new internal parts.
Other reasons to choose a semiauto is that they are thin, easy to carry, crazy reliable, easy to use, accurate, and come in every caliber flavor you could think of.
Strikers, Hammers, Safeties, and More
Yet one more thing to think about! Do you want a striker-fired or hammer-fired gun? Do you want manual safety or not? How safe is too safe?
Strikers and Hammers
If you’re just choosing between a striker-fired gun like a Glock or a hammer-fired gun like a CZ P01, it really doesn’t matter. There is no major gain or loss between the two systems.
Some people like hammers so they can ride it with their thumb while holstering up, but that is a super minor consideration.
However, if you’re looking at a question of double-action/single-action (DA/SA) Vs. a striker-fired gun, then it’s something to talk about.
DA/SA guns are great and I love them. The first trigger pull is long and heavy while the double-action cocks the hammer before dropping it, but after that, the pull is crisp and light single-action.
Upside of this is that follow-up shots can be fast and very accurate. The downside is that the trigger requires more training to get good with. But once you are good with DA/SA, your shooting as a whole will improve a lot.
Strikers deliver a consistent pull no matter what. Every shot is always the same feeling and will take much less time to gain proficiency with.
My view is that this should be a lower-priority consideration. If you find a gun that fits you perfectly, but it’s DA/SA and you’d rather have a striker — this isn’t a big enough problem to prevent you from getting that perfect fit.
It might take some more training to get used to the new feel, but that is easier than shoehorning a gun you don’t like.
Manual Safety, Trigger Safety, Drop Safe — Are We Safe Yet?
The biggest choice you will have for a concealed carry gun is getting a manual safety or not. If the gun you choose is something like a 1911, you must have a safety since it is a single-action only firearm.
But on guns like the CZ P01, Beretta 92 series, and many others — you might be able to choose between a safety or a decocker only. Even striker guns might offer models with a safety on them just for you to think about.
For the past 20 years or so the trend has shifted away from manual safeties, they require more training, can stop you from firing under stress, and are generally just not needed due to modern firearm design and safety methods.
Personally, don’t carry with a safety on. Ever. My DA/SA guns are all hammer down and my striker guns don’t come with safeties.
The only time I use a safety is when my gun is off-body and that is rare since it isn’t a method I carry with often.
If you’re on the fence, I would recommend against a manual safety if you have the option.
“But if I don’t have a safety, how is my gun safe?!”
Most brands do it slightly differently, but any modern gun is drop safe at the very least. This means it won’t go off if you just drop it.
Guns like Glocks have 3 internal safeties to prevent accidental discharge or drop fires.
A trigger safety is a super simple way of designing a trigger that prevents it from being pulled unless with a proper grip.
Firing pin safeties mechanically block the firing pin from moving forward until the trigger is pulled.
And the drop safety holds the firing pin back until the trigger is pulled.
Because of safeties like these, modern striker-fired guns are some of the safest ever made.
Concealed Carry Calibers
This is a debate that I hate getting into, but we should at least talk about it.
Right off the bat — I recommend 9mm. If you just wanted my recommendation, there it is.
Really though, if you want to rock .45 ACP or .40 S&W or .357 Magnum, go for it.
Bigger calibers like those I just mentioned might have more “stopping power” as some people put it and that can result in greater lethality, but not always.
Shot placement is far, far, far more important than caliber, firearm, or tactics. A miss is a miss no matter what. You can poke a lot of holes in the human body and they will be just fine so long as is didn’t poke something important.
But hit the right spot and even a meth-crazed bodybuilder will drop from a tiny bullet.
9mm delivers great ammo capacity, outstanding lethality with modern bullet designs, mild recoil, and has a huge range of ammo options to choose from to carry with and to train with.
Bigger calibers mean more recoil. This makes follow-up shots slower, good hits are harder to achieve, and forces you to carry less ammo.
It is true though that bigger and hotter calibers will do more damage to the body with each shot. But I would strongly contest the idea that this ends fights faster in most cases.
Destroying a major artery means it is destroyed. There are very few cases where an artery would have been destroyed using a .45 ACP but left intact by a 9mm bullet.
Dead is dead. Bigger calibers don’t make the dead guy dead-er.
I would much rather have more ammo, better placed, and faster hits.
However, there is a hard minimum. Just because smaller can get it done, doesn’t mean super-small can.
From the testing that I’ve seen, .380 ACP or .38 Special is as small as I would go. I strongly do not recommend anything like .22 LR, .22 Magnum, etc.
I train with FMJ because it’s cheaper, but I carry high-quality defensive ammo — always. Why? Because it’s better in every way.
Good defensive ammo has higher quality control and is more reliable. It’s normally nickel or aluminum plated for better extraction and less corrosion. And the bullets are designed to expand in soft tissue thus helping to prevent over-penetration and delivering a more lethal hit.
Whatever caliber you choose, get good ammo to go with it. Don’t just grab a bag of Walmart half-off mystory loads.
I highly recommend:
Best Concealed Carry Gun
Now that we’ve gone over a LOT of information about how to pick a carry gun, let’s dig into the best CCW guns we recommend!
1. Smith and Wesson 642 J-Frame
One of the classic CCWs, the J-Frame snub-nosed revolver is still a perfectly viable choice today.
While this wouldn’t be my first choice of concealed carry, it would be my first choice of a revolver.
Smith & Wesson have been making revolvers for carrying and duty use for a long, long time. These are rock-solid and proven firearms that will always be there for you when you need them to be.
I have so much faith in these guns, a .38 Spl Lady Smith 642 J-Frame is what I bought my mother as her first CCW.
Rated for .38 Spl +P ammo, these aren’t pea shooters. They are also snappy in the hand and can wear you down over a day of training.
They’re small, easy to conceal, easy to handle, and accurate as you can be.
S&W also offers them in a wide range of models that include with or without manual safeties, laser grips, and more.
If you want something with more punch — take a look at the 640 line, basically the same gun but chambered in .357 Magnum.
2. Taurus G3c
Taurus is a name that doesn’t get a lot of respect in the firearms community, mostly because they’ve had a lot of issues with quality control in the past.
The thing is though… the G3 and G3c are just outstanding guns. I was as shocked as anyone, but Taurus has really knocked it out of the park with these guns.
The G3c is the little brother of the G3, smaller and more compact but with all of the same awesome features.
Since the G2 Taurus has made substantial changes to the design that took it from a good carry gun and turned it into a great carry gun.
Glock style iron sights (compatible with Glock aftermarket sights also!), an improved finish that doesn’t wear with holster use, 12 round magazines, and reliability that is off the charts.
It is awesome to see Taurus step their game up and design such a solid shooter for such a great price.
Take a look at the complete hands-on review!
3. Glock 19 Gen 3/4/5
The Glock 19 might be the CCW. If you’re not sure what to get and really can’t choose, get a Glock 19.
Small enough to be easy to concile by just about everyone but large enough to give you a full grip and great shooting stance, the Glock 19 really is a Goldilocks gun.
Best of all, to me, is that the aftermarket support for the Glock platform is unmatched. Sights, triggers, slides, frames, and everything else can be changed, improved, or customized to fit your needs perfectly.
You’ll never be short on parts either since it’s one of the most popular guns ever made.
I would recommend the Gen 5 since it has improved features and adjustable grip inserts, but you’ll be set with any generation Glock you can get your hands on.
4. Glock 43X
If the Glock 19 is just a little too big, the Glock 43 and 43X are there for you. Single stack, slimmer, and easier to conceal, both the 43 and 43X are legends in the making.
Personally, I strongly recommend the 43X over the 43. While the 43 came first, the 43X really has a number of improvements that make it stand out.
The biggest of those improvements is the fact that it holds 10+1 9mm with a standard magazine.
And being only barely bigger than the standard 43, it’s a huge gain for a little weight.
Otherwise — both guns are what you would expect with a Glock. Glock sights, Glock reliability, Glock feel to them.
Outstanding value in all respects.
5. Sig Sauer P365
Every once in a while there comes a gun that changes everything. Colt Single Action Army, the 1911, Glock. I don’t think the P365 was on par with those innovations, but it did make a huge splash in the concealed carry space.
The first to market with 10+1 rounds of 9mm in a size footprint that normally only held 7 or 8 rounds, the P365 gives you a lot more firepower while staying sub-compact.
Extended magazines make the gun slightly larger but increase capacity to 12 or even 15 rounds.
Since the P365’s introduction, several follow-up models have come down the line.
My favorite is the P365 XL, a slightly larger version of the base gun. It fits large hands perfectly and adds the ability to add a micro red dot.
6. Springfield Armory Hellcat
The P365 came first, but Springfield took lessons learned from the P365 to make a better gun.
Springfield’s Hellcat holds 11+1 rounds with flush-fitting magazines, has options for micro red dots, and is simply a juggernaut of a sub-compact pistol.
Dead on reliable, huge market support, and just a great shooter — the Hellcat is just a great gun. Period.
Extended magazines get you 13+1 rounds of 9mm and it still sits as a super easy to conceal sub-compact.
Oh, and it comes in FDE. Hell ya.
7. Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Shield 2.0
I really don’t have anything bad to say about the M&P Shield 2.0, but I also don’t have any major selling points to give you.
It’s a great gun. Easy to use, easy to shoot, reliable, and a great EDC gun that I think everyone would do well with.
But there isn’t really anything standout about it. It wasn’t the first or the best, it isn’t the smallest or the largest, it’s just a very good, reliable, always there kind of gun.
It’s my Johnnie Walker Red. Always there for you, never demands much, and is a friend in good times and bad. But I don’t break it out for the in-laws.
Like the Red label, it’s also almost always easy to find in stock. Even when Glocks are all scooped up or Sig’s are overpriced, Smith & Wesson has the ability to make sure they are there when you need them.
Something else I can point to is the M&P brand. S&W’s whole line of M&P firearms is outstandingly made and rock-solid with great QC to back them up.
If S&W is willing to put a gun in that line, it’s because they believe in it and will support it.
The other great thing is that it comes in a LOT of flavors. With or without a safety, with or without a laser built-in, the Shield line has a ton of options.
We have a complete hands-on review of the Shield, take a look for a ton more details!
More important than what you carry is that you carry. If you choose a gun that you hate to carry, you won’t carry it. And there is nothing more useless than the gun you left at home.
In that same vein, you need to train with your gun. Pick a gun you hate to shoot and you’ll never train with it.
Pick something you will carry and you will train with. Everything else falls in line after those two things.
You should also look into things like CCW insurance, holsters, and belts! These articles will get you started: