Concealed Carry Nevada
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Buyer's guide to selecting a handgun.


Choosing a new firearm can be a daunting task these days. There are many good brands of firearms to choose from, but sorting through all the marketing hype and technical specifications can leave you scratching your head.

Here are some things to consider when you are shopping for a new firearm that will assist you in making a good choice and keep you in control of the buying process.

Price and mission

The first basic question is: What will your budget allow? While price shouldn’t be the only consideration, one has to be realistic about finances.

The next question is of primary importance: What is the intended mission you have in mind for this handgun? Think of handguns like golf clubs. You can try to work with one club, but you are better off with a well-thought-out selection. Patrol, SWAT, detective, undercover agent — all will have needs unique to their mission.

Handgun types fall into these general categories: duty weapon, reduced-size duty weapon, off-duty weapon, backup gun, hideout gun. Taking a realistic look at your mission will help you determine what features you desire. It will determine size and weight to some degrees, as well as other features such as round count, light rails and so on.

For general patrol/SWAT missions that are open carry, and for most off-duty concealed carry, full size guns offer the best performance in terms of weight, size, capacity, sight radius and controllability. Slightly reduced size and weight might be just the ticket for detectives or concealed carry.

For backup guns and hideout guns, concealability will dominate the selection process. If the gun is too big or heavy, you may end up leaving it at home. If it is low quality, it may not last long or malfunction at a critical moment. The key to these weapons is to use the word “practical” when you look at them. Will you be most likely to have it with you all the time because it is convenient to carry? Again, price is a consideration, but
don’t sacrifice performance or durability in the name of paying less.

Remember though, durability standards are not the same for small, very light guns when compared with full-size pieces made to shoot a lot of rounds. Make sure it goes “bang” every time, it is safe, and you will carry it all the time.

Mode of carry

How will you carry the firearm? Will it be in a duty holster? Concealed carry? Fanny pack? Undercover? Hideout position or backup gun?

Think of climate or mission considerations and what type of clothing will fit with the mode of carry. Hot summers may preclude wearing a jacket to avoid standing out as a gun carrier. Here a slimmer/smaller gun can be worn in a higher ride or inside the pants holster with a squared bottomed shirt hanging over it.

If you like to carry a backup gun in a coat or pants pocket, a hammerless revolver such as the Smith &Wesson Scandium J-Frame weighs only 11 ounces while allowing you to fire from the pocket without jamming. A North American Arms, five-shot, .22 Magnum, Black Widow revolver weights about 9 ounces and hides effortlessly in an ankle rig, pocket or deep-cover position.

Size, weight and capacity

Too many people play follow-the-leader rather than make an educated choice. We are all born with different hand sizes. Don’t let capacity become the driving force in your selection. Pointability, shootability, controllability and manipulation of the trigger are far more important than mere capacity.

One of the first things to do, after determining the firearm is in a safe condition, is to grip the firearm and see whether the middle of the pad of the trigger finger rests easily against the trigger when you finger is relaxed. If you have to stretch your finger to get the middle of the pad on the trigger it is most likely too big for you. Now try this same test while wearing any gloves you would wear for duty or off-duty wear. This can be a deal-breaker.

Shooters with smaller hands almost always benefit from a narrower frame size that allows a stronger grip and gives a better reach to the trigger. I would gladly give up a few rounds of capacity in order to increase controllability and speed. The classic Colt 1911 pattern, carrying 8+1, has served many a cop well for many years and is still one of my favorite firearms. The Springfield XD in .45 ACP adds several more rounds to this yet has a smaller grip than many other high-capacity firearms.

Please note that smaller guns do not necessarily have smaller frame circumferences. As an example, going from a Glock 22 to a Glock 23 will not reduce the reach to the trigger. For a shooter with small hands, you will need to find a gun with a shorter reach from the tang to the trigger.


This encompasses the individual preference of the shooter and comprises conscious and subconscious choices.

How well does the gun point for you? When you bring it to eye level, are the sights falling into line with your line of sight? Some guns allow you to feel like you have built-in radar. Grip angle and shape, as well as thickness of the grip, will factor into this equation. Certain guns just point better for you, and you know that your sights will be aligned naturally for you. My advice is that if it is otherwise a high quality weapon, has sufficient round count, good sights and trigger then buy the one that points the best. Only you can determine this.

Trigger system

This is a crucial part of shooting well. A heavy trigger pull, too long of a reach or a complex trigger manipulation does nothing to assist you in getting good hits in a timely fashion.

The single-action trigger, a la the Colt 1911 Government Model, remains the No. 1 trigger in the world for high-performance shooting, and for good reason. It is an extremely viable trigger system for law enforcement and lends itself well to large and small hands when combined with a 1911-style handgun.

If you need to shoot precisely at high speed, make precision shots on a suicide bomber from a safe distance or take a longer shot, this style of trigger makes it far easier to do so. As a bonus, the manipulation of the thumb safety and trigger is almost identical to the M-4 Carbine, making weapons training that much simpler.

That being said, the striker-fired system is a close second to the single-action trigger and, in some ways, superior for certain modes of carry. Now that the Glock patent has expired, we are seeing a host of weapons from other manufacturers with this style of trigger. Springfield, S&W, Ruger, Taurus — all have firearms with similar trigger systems. I think this system will become the dominant system for law enforcement in the future.

Still, many prefer the double-action/single-action trigger system. Sig Sauer makes a very nice double-action trigger that is even better with competent gunsmithing. It is also hard to beat a small or midsize revolver for certain applications.


Full-size handguns provide a full-gripping platform for both hands. They generally have barrels between four and five inches long. Their size allows them to carry more rounds as well. The slight increase in barrel length does provide a bit more sight radius and bullet velocity and lends itself well to a weapon-mounted light. Being a little heavier, they tend to be a bit more controllable over a lighter, shorter platform.

For off-duty or concealed carry, many prefer a slightly downsized version of their duty weapon for better concealability and lesser weight. This lends itself to fanny pack carry as well. You do give up some control and capacity, but the trade-off is something you will have to judge for yourself. I generally don’t like carrying fewer than nine rounds in my primary gun if I can avoid it. Backup or hideout guns are a different story. Capacity is less of an issue than concealability and weight.


Weight can be a mixed blessing. A lighter gun is good up to a point. Lighter, polymer-framed guns can be more difficult to control under rapid fire compared with steel framed guns when shooting some of the hotter duty loads. I see many people having problems with flinch when shooting a lighter gun, especially if they shoot only a few times a year. Here a full-size or steel-frame gun might be a much better choice. Examples here would include the model 1911-style gun, which is still the No. 1 selling handgun in the world today.


We can have endless debate about stopping power of the various calibers, and it is endless fun. Far more important is how well you can shoot the gun in the size and weight you will carry. For duty weapons, .40-caliber S&W and .45 ACP seem to be the favorites, with a smattering of 9mm or .357 Sig. If you flinch quite a bit or shoot poorly with the weapon, your confidence will suffer. Consider going to a caliber that allows you to shoot well and still have a viable caliber. For smaller weapons, backup or hideout guns, we have 9mm, .380 or .38 +P, .357 Magnum or even .22 Magnum.


It has to go bang every time you need it to go bang. My standard test for a carry firearm is 500 rounds, without a malfunction, with the ammo I am going to carry on the street. Some of the smaller automatics with shorter slides may not cycle as reliably with a certain round as another gun with a slightly longer slide. It should feed flawlessly with the rounds you intend to carry.


This is a big one for me. I shoot 40,000 to 50,000 rounds a year on average with my primary high capacity 2011 from STI. I have, conservatively, more than 200,000 rounds fired on one of them, using the original frame, and it is still in great shape.

Most guns are rated to a service life of 10,000 to 20,000 rounds, even though they routinely shoot more than that. Even if you don’t shoot a lot, it gives you peace of mind to know your gun won’t break when you need it most.

Don’t expect a small, light hideout or backup gun to have the same durability of the full size guns. They have a different mission and generally will be carried a lot and shot enough to maintain a strong sense of competence with it. Undercover cops need something they can hide well, and they may need to compromise a bit on size and durability to have something that they feel they can use. Just make sure it goes bang every time.


This is a subjective topic and is a bit different than controllability. How well can you shoot the gun? You will be looking at what kind of sights are on the gun and how well you can see them, the weight, reach and length of the trigger pull, muzzle recovery after recoil, weight of the gun and type of load you will be shooting.

If you are shooting a hot round in a light gun and find yourself pushing shots around a lot because you are flinching all the time, then it is too much for you. Many times a bit heavier gun will allow you to have far more control than a lighter gun. My advice is to go to a local gun range and rent one to shoot or find a buddy that has one and shoot it.


How easy is it to take down and clean the gun? How about getting aftermarket parts like good sights and a better trigger job? If the gun goes down, what is the warranty service like? Does the manufacturer have a reputation for quality and timely repair service? Factory reps that are accessible go a long way toward making a gun more attractive to purchase.
Never buy a gun that you can’t service easily.

I have tried to cover the most important points in selecting a gun that is right for you. Following these guidelines will help find one that fits your mission and your price range.

Conceptual Basis

The paradox of the concealed personal defense weapon is that it is something you hope you will never have to use for its intended purpose, but with which you must achieve a level of mastery and familiarity comparable to the other tools you use to survive and get through your day. You wouldn't drive to work in a car that you didn't know how to operate. You wouldn't wear a coat that was three sizes too small or use a carpenter's saw to slice up a pot roast. No, you use the tools appropriate to the job and you learn how to work with them competently. The same holds true with a self defense pistol. You should know how to operate it and have the level of skill necessary to use it safely and effectively. It should fit your hand and your lifestyle because you will be spending a lot of time with it. It should be comfortable to shoot and hopefully to carry, although when asked if a carry gun should be comfortable to wear, master trainer Clint Smith said, "Your carry gun should be comforting, not comfortable." Your pistol should be powerful enough to do the job and accurate enough to hit the target. It should be completely reliable, and its operation should be as familiar to you as riding a bicycle or brushing your teeth. You must also have a clear understanding of the legal issues surrounding the use of deadly force -- when you can and when you can't -- and the methods and techniques of using a gun in a self defense situation. Sounds like a lot? You're right; it is, and if you are unwilling to master the skills and concepts of lethal force, do yourself a favor and just don't carry a gun.

Skill and Familiarity

Handguns are not easy to shoot well. The ability to consistently put bullets into a target quickly and in the places which will stop an attacker is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Too many people have the notion that a pistol is a kind of magical talisman and the user need only take it out and wave it around and the problem will magically disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. A gun brandished at the wrong time and without the fighting skills necessary to employ it effectively will make a whole bunch of new problems, including getting you killed or arrested and charged with some very serious crimes. Hence, making the decision to carry a gun should be made only with the commitment to practice and learn. This may take the shape of attending classes or participating in a practical shooting sport like IDPA. We strongly recommend that you attend training classes and participate in IDPA if you carry a concealed weapon. At the very least, a regular practice schedule should be part of the package. This means that you will be spending a lot of time with your pistol. The gun should be comfortable in your hand, have manageable recoil, and be sturdy enough to stand up to heavy use in practice sessions, matches, and classes. The gun should also have reasonable accuracy. You should be able to consistently put all of your shots in an area the size of a saucer at ten yards quickly.

Types and Sizes: Pros and Cons

Pocket Guns

When many folks think of a concealed carry gun, they think of little-bitty pocket pistols that will easily disappear into a pocket or purse. While these may be light and convenient, that's all they are. Aside from that, they're pretty useless. They lack the power to put down a determined attacker and they lack the accuracy to hit anything at more than spitting distance. But even more importantly, most little guns are unpleasant to shoot. Being very light and having small handles, their muzzle flip is very bad. After a few rounds your hand may begin to hurt. Shoot a match or take a class at Gunsite with one of these pocket guns? Forget it. If you don't learn to use it, how much good is it going to do you when the chips are down? In this group, I would include the small Berettas, Airweight snubnose revolvers, Seecamp .32's and derringers. There may be a place for these pistols, but they all suffer from serious inadequacies. (I am particularly fond of the Airweight snubnose .38 Special revolver, but it is an unpleasant gun to fire.)

Medium Frame Revolvers

Even though they have been around for 165 years, revolvers remain an excellent solution. These pistols are simple to use and accurate. They can handle hot loads and larger bullets making them effective personal defense weapons. Examples of this class of pistol are the Ruger GP Series and the S&W Model 66. The ideal revolver would have a 3" to 4" barrel, a six-round cylinder, and a grip that fills your hand. The biggest drawback of these pistols is the speed of reloading, but with practice, a revolver can be reloaded as quickly as an autoloader.

Medium Frame Auto Pistols

The overwhelming majority of professional trainers, operators, law enforcement and military people prefer medium to large framed autoloading pistols. These pistols have the best combination of speed, firepower, accuracy, and power. These pistols will generally load 8-10 rounds in their magazines (or more if you can find the magazines), have full-length grips, and 3.5" or longer barrels. These guns tend to have adequate accuracy and power, and large enough grips to be comfortable. Examples of this type of pistol would be the Glock 17, 19, 21 and 22, the S&W 39xx, 59xx, and 69xx series, the SIG 22x series, the H&K USP and P7, the Kimber ProCarry and Compact, the Springfield Champion, Para-Ordnance P12, and many others.

Large Frame Pistols and Revolvers

I like big pistols. They shoot more accurately, absorb more recoil, and develop greater muzzle velocity due to their longer barrels. I would include in this group the Beretta 92, the Colt Government Model M1911 (and clones), The N Frame S&W revolvers, Colt Python, Anaconda and their copies. Characteristically, these guns have 5" barrels and weigh 36 oz. or more. The biggest drawback of these pistols is their weight. They get heavy and small framed people may have difficulty concealing them.

Autoloader Action Types

There are four types of actions around which semi-auto pistols are built. It's important to understand the differences:

Single Action - M1911 Colt .45 ACP and Browning Hi-Power 9mm

This is the oldest autoloader design still in service, designed by John Browning (with the help of the Army Ordnance Board) during the period between 1905 and 1911. The hammer must be cocked, generally by racking the slide, for the gun to fire. This design in .45 ACP, .40 S&W and .38 Super is favored by competitive shooters, FBI SWAT, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and many special forces units because it has the best trigger, outstanding accuracy and is very fast. For the gun to be carried in a state of readiness, the hammer must be cocked and the manual safety applied, "cocked and locked" (see "The Conditions of Readiness"). This looks scary and is not recommended for novices or those suffering from attention deficit disorder.

Double Action/Single Action - Beretta 92F (Armed Forces M9), most Smith & Wesson autos, SIG, Walther, and some Rugers.

This has been the standard design for most autos for the last 50 years. These pistols are cocked by the first trigger pull, but subsequent shots are cocked by the action of the slide cycling back. Consequently, the first trigger pull is long and harder (Double Action) since it is also cocking the hammer. Subsequent trigger pulls are easy (Single Action) since the hammer is already cocked. These guns have an external safety lever which puts the gun on safe and de-cocks the hammer. This is generally thought to be the safest design since the long, heavy first trigger pull and the external safety which blocks the firing pin tend to prevent the gun from going off by accident. The criticism of this design is that it forces the shooter to learn two different trigger pulls and accuracy often suffers on the first double action shot. Most accidental discharges with these sorts of pistols are the result of the shooter forgetting to de-cock the hammer.

Double Action/Single Action with De-Cocker Only - Ruger and some SIG pistols

This is a variant of the DA/SA which is used by Ruger and some SIG pistols. It functions just like a DA/SA except the "safety" lever is not a safety. It only de-cocks the hammer, but the gun will still fire when the de-cocker is applied and the trigger is pulled. I personally do not like this design since the de-cocker looks just like a safety lever but does not put the gun on safe.

Double Action Only - Glock, Smith & Wesson Sigma and M99, some Berettas, some Rugers, Kahr, Kel-Tec, Walther P99.

This is the newest action design made popular by Glock. With these pistols every trigger pull is the same and they have no external safety or decocking levers. The hammers are not cocked by the cycling of the slide (except for the Glocks which are pre-cocked by the slide cycle, and are not true double action). DAO pistols depend on the long double action trigger pull to prevent accidental discharges. In a sense these are autoloaders which fire like revolvers. Triggers vary from model to model. Some, like the Glocks, have very light triggers. Other DAO triggers can be quite heavy and long, and can be very unpleasant to shoot. The advantage of this action is its simplicity and the fact that every trigger pull is the same.

Calibers and Power

Here we get into mysticism and voodoo, and I will just give you my personal opinion and you can take it for what it's worth. I like the .45 ACP and the .357 Magnum the best. Just under them in effectiveness are the .40 S&W, the .44 Special and the 9mm. Below them are the .38 Special and the .380 ACP. There are other cartridges, but these are the most common for personal defense weapons and the ammunition is readily available.

I wouldn't be comfortable with anything smaller than a .380 (actually, I wouldn’t be comfortable with anything smaller than a .45 ACP, but that’s a different argument). My personal favorite handgun cartridge is the .45 ACP because of its power and accuracy, but smaller cartridges will do the job if you do your part. Like the selection of the gun, the selection of a cartridge should be based on your ability to shoot it well. A good hit with a .380 is better than a miss with a .45. So, as a general rule, your self defense cartridge should be the largest and most powerful load that you shoot well.

The Selection Process

Don't be in a rush to buy the first gun you see. Give it a lot of thought. Ideally, shoot as many pistols as you can before you make a decision. Most gun ranges have pistols you can rent to see how they feel. If you have friends who own pistols, go shooting with them. Most will be happy to let you shoot their guns and share with you their experiences with them.

Be careful about the advice of clerks at gun stores; some are very knowledgeable but many others are total idiots. Just because someone works at a gun store doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is an expert on personal defense pistols.

I would also maintain a healthy degree of skepticism toward articles in popular gun magazines. They don’t make money by trashing the offerings of their advertisers.

Consider how you dress and your lifestyle. How will you carry the pistol? Can you adjust your wardrobe to accommodate your pistol? Particular body shapes may present special problems. Your physical strength and conditioning may also be a factor, i.e., powerful auto pistols tend to function better for people with strong arms and hands. How much time do you have to devote to practice? As a rule of thumb, autos require more training than revolvers, so don't pick a single-action .45 auto if you're not willing to learn to use it.

As important as any other single factor is the size and geometry of your hand. Hand size varies greatly between people and it is very important to handle a gun and note carefully the comfort of the grip and the position of the controls on the pistol. If you can't easily manipulate every control on the gun with either hand, then find a different gun. People with short thumbs may have trouble with the safety of an M1911. People with short palms may have difficulty with the thick handles of the double-stack 9mm and .40 pistols. People with meaty hands may be "bitten" by the slide of a small auto when it cycles.

Does the gun feel good in your hand? Is the trigger smooth or is it rough and heavy? Is the frame fairly narrow so that it will conceal well? Does the gun have the right balance of weight and size? (Remember, bigger is better for shooting and power, but can you carry it for 8 hours if you have to?)

You will notice that I have said nothing about price. I really hate to hear people making a decision on a handgun based on price. No one wants to pay more than we have to or what is fair, but price should be the last consideration. You won’t remember a hundred or so dollars extra you paid for the right pistol, but you will remember the ill-fitting bargain pistol that doesn’t shoot right or feel good.

To summarize, hold it, feel it, fire it if you can, and recognize that you're going to spend a lot of time with the pistol. Remember also, that it may be called upon someday to defend your life. No, it isn't easy, and you may end up buying two or three pistols before you find the one with just the right balance of weight, power and comfort.


The holster and the gun are two components of one system. Don't cut corners on a holster. A good holster makes the carry much more comfortable and safer. A good holster will allow you to carry a heavier gun with less discomfort and greater concealment. A fine holster will be thin yet strong. It will shield the trigger but not grab it. The choices in holsters can be bewildering, but if you let your common sense, your mode of dress, and logic guide you, the problem simplifies. The best draw is from a belt holster on the strong side. The strong side belt holster provides for a faster draw, better retention, and fewer problems than other styles of holsters. When you select your gun, you will need a holster that works with it so it is important to know if the right holster is available for the gun you intend to carry.

Summary of Selection Criteria

  • Your personal defense weapon should be as large and as powerful as you can shoot accurately and carry with a reasonable degree of comfort and concealment.

  • Your personal defense weapon should fit your hand perfectly.

  • You should be able to manipulate the controls of your weapon with either hand alone.

  • Your personal defense weapon should be of sturdy construction and be able to withstand heavy use and rough handling.

  • Your personal defense weapon should be accurate enough to consistently hit a target the size of a saucer at 10 yards quickly.

  • Select a caliber for which ammunition is readily available.

  • A good quality holster must be available for the model of pistol you intend to carry.