The popularity of concealed carry permits over the past decade has given rise to a marketplace revolution of light, lean shooting machines. Suddenly, every popular full-sized handgun has a “mini me” version, suitable for easy concealment and swift action.
Experienced shooters may understand that there are trade-offs between your dependable, hefty handgun and its more nimble sports car model, but novices sometimes leap at the first cute little compact that sparkles at them under the counter lights.
When I was in counter sales, I would cringe when a father/son/husband/boyfriend would tap the glass above a Kel-Tec P3AT, Ruger LCP, or Taurus TCP and enthusiastically tell his daughter/sister/wife/girlfriend “this’ll fit you perfectly!”
Yes, fit is a big issue with firearms, and something that must be considered when selecting a gun, but there are many other factors of equal or greater importance, especially when you are dealing with first-time shooters.
You MAY carry a gun… but SHOULD you?
The availability of CCW/CHL (Concealed Carry Weapon/Concealed Handgun License) permits has prompted a lot of folks to excitedly put the cart before the horse when it comes to firearms. They take whatever training their state requires to get that prized permit, without giving much thought to what they will carry, if they will actually carry, and whether they have the mental fortitude and physical skill to actually use the weapon if necessary.
A GOOD CHL class will force students to consider these things – however temporarily – but firearms curriculum varies broadly from state to state. And, even in more stringent states, instructors run the gamut in skill, knowledge, and commitment to “doing it right.”
For the men who goad their wives into classes – and the women who agree to do so “only if I can use a cute little gun, because I don’t like those big, loud ones,” – the unfortunate truth is that, when it comes to recoil, accuracy, overall ergonomic fit, and whatever else you want to throw into the mix, size does matter. But not the way you may think.
You don’t purchase a concealed carry weapon for the same reasons you might purchase a full-sized gun. Your .40 cal Glock G35, Springfield XD-M 9 mm, or Sig Sauer 1911 .45 ACP may be the perfect home defense gun and a blast (pun intended) to shoot on the range, but you may quickly develop an intimate relationship with your chiropractor if you decide to routinely carry one on your hip or in your purse.
The P3ATs and LCPs, by contrast, are not much heavier than your average wallet. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily well-suited to the needs of a novice shooter. If you plan to carry a concealed firearm, you have one objective and one alone: personal defense. You need to know what your concealed carry weapon is…and what it isn’t.
Mini me pistols have limited value
The “mini me” revolver or pistol is a niche weapon designed for a very narrow tactical objective. It requires advanced training and a clear understanding of its inherent weaknesses if you hope to use it effectively for self defense.
For instance, a smooth profile, the very design element that makes it easy to slide your CCW gun swiftly from your pocket holster, also makes it harder to aim. The sights on a traditional TCP, LCP, and similar models are virtually non-existent, because their presence would pose snagging issues if you had to yank your gun from your waistband or pocket holster in an adrenaline-stoked panic. More recent LCP models – the LCP Custom in 2015 and, to a lesser extent, the new LCP II, have attempted to improve the sight issue. It’s almost academic, though, because in a personal defense situation, I promise that you won’t have time to carefully line up your attacker in those fancy high viz sights. The whole purpose of those Kel-Tecs and Rugers is to have something that is easily drawn and quickly utilized. That requires practice…but their diminutive size poses other barriers to the casual afternoon range time that would enhance your skill and competence.
Novice shooters make the mistake of believing that a small gun somehow implies a light trigger pull and an absence of recoil. If they shot BB guns, CO2 pistols or even cap guns as children they may surmise that any light, small pistol is going to fire with similar ease.
In fact, part of the nature of many concealed carry guns is a heavy trigger pull which makes it much less likely that you will accidentally discharge the gun while fumbling with it. This is a nice safety element – especially on guns like the traditional LCP that have no manual external safety – but the long trigger pull makes it more physically demanding to shoot for long periods of time. And if you can’t or won’t invest some serious time into training with the pistol, you won’t develop the instinctive proficiency demanded by a high stress situation. The new LCP II MAY be a good solution for you, trigger wise. It boasts a lighter, crisper (but still very safe) trigger pull and easier racking on the slide, among several other much-needed improvements. I’ve not had the opportunity to shoot this model but the reviews I’ve read warn than it has a “snappier” recoil than the original. Yikes. For those of us with old wrists…or those with inexperienced wrists, “snappy” is not a good word.
Newbies pick up these tiny, lightweight firearms with the flawed thinking that small and light means comfortable to shoot. In fact, it is usually just the opposite.
Light does NOT mean mild
Small, light guns – of any caliber — can kick as much or more than their big, heavy counterparts. In fact, when a friend and I needed a couple of spent .50-cal. cartridges to show students in our NRA pistol class, it was with some trepidation that I squeezed the trigger on a Smith & Wesson 500 at a local range. The barrel was so long and the gun so heavy that my “girly side” was convinced the recoil would knock me into next week (plus I had seen that ridiculous internet video where some chick in a bathing suit knocks herself silly by limp-wristing an S&W 500). But common sense told me otherwise – and common sense won out. Indeed, the resulting kick jarred the web of my thumb and rattled my wrist a tad, but much less than I was expecting…and not THAT much more than your average lightweight carry gun in .380 or 9 mm.
Of course no one is advocating concealing a full-sized .50-cal Desert Eagle in your pocket (okay, well someone might love the idea…but not me and not for beginners). The point is simply that many people – especially new shooters – are not prepared for the hand-jarring recoil of a petite pistol.
To make matters worse, those who want to carry must contend with the pervasive and sometimes condescending argument that carrying a concealed .22 is less effective than whipping out a slingshot. Indeed, many CHL classes won’t allow students to qualify with a .22. Some purists argue that a .22 won’t dissuade a determined assailant and that rimfire ammunition is more unreliable.
My hubby has 28 years in law enforcement (many as a shooting instructor) and over a decade in gun shop management and sales. He argues that a .22 will serve a personal defense purpose quite nicely, especially if it’s the model you are comfortable with. In the end, he says, “it’s all about bullet placement, NOT caliber.”
He further makes the point that, if the individual is comfortable with the gun and enjoys shooting it for practice, they will naturally become more proficient at that all-important factor: bullet placement.
Not so wimpy, afterall
For new shooters, the .22 offers more physical comfort (less jarring to the hands) than larger caliber pocket pistols. It is also quieter (less jarring to the psyche) and cheaper (less jarring to the pocketbook). These factors conspire to increase the likelihood that a novice will head to the range more often in order to become proficient. And, as we all know, the more fun you have and the better you shoot, the more likely you are to want to expand your horizons and step up to different models and calibers. So today’s timid .22 packin’ mama may be tomorrow’s take-no-prisoners Glock totin’ diva.
Is a .22 pistol or revolver the be-all and end-all for personal defense? Maybe not (sorry hubby). But if you buy your girlfriend an S&W Airweight .38 Special and it gathers dust on the top shelf of her closet, who are you protecting? The gun you have in your pocket or purse is infinitely more useful than the one tucked into your sock drawer. And this never-ending .22 debate dovetails nicely with the final “misconception” of the day: that anyone can tell you what the “best” CHL/CCW gun is. Sooner or later, in every CHL class, someone raises their hand and asks “so, what’s the best gun to conceal and carry?”
What’s the BEST concealed carry gun?
There is an answer to that question. The problem is, that answer is different for everyone. The best gun? The one you like, use, and can actually hit something with. The “best” gun fits your hand, your lifestyle, your physical and mental structure, your wallet, and your needs. It’s that simple. When you buy your first concealed carry gun, do your homework: misconceptions are born of ignorance. Ask questions, study the magazines, go to your local range and rent the gun you are interested in buying.
And, please, don’t listen to anyone who says “this is the gun you need…” They may be right – but, in the end, the only person who can make that decision is YOU.