Picking the best personal protection firearm is a huge question. Just for a little background, I am a firearms instructor and teach four to six classes a month on Basic and Concealed Carry/Defensive shooting. I work at a reputable “big box” store in the firearms department, and I give lectures frequently on personal protection techniques and tools. That is just small snapshot of my background to give you some insight.
In each of those scenarios, I am frequently asked what is the best personal protection gun, and the people that ask that question, usually say they’ve already gotten some information from various sources. Such as, “My friend who is a cop said I should buy this one” or “I read about this one; it looks like a good one.” or “I wanted something small I can carry in my purse or pocket” or one of the best ones: “I want a 45 because I want knock down power.” Naturally, all these have some validity, but none have any real substance.
Yes, there are lots of magazines that you can read about personal protection handguns. And there are at least a hundred websites you can read about the same topic. Many are written by well trained and highly experienced professionals, while some clearly are not. So you are presented with a dilemma. Who and what is right? Because every week the websites you read tell you about the BEST handgun on the market today, and every month the cover of your favorite gun magazine has an article about the BEST personal protection handgun on the market. This just complicates your decision making.
So let’s go back to basics. But I must say one thing before I do that with you–yes, I do have MY favorite handgun that I feel is the BEST personal protection weapon. But I feel it may be helpful for you to review the basics of choosing your personal protection handgun. Here are the characteristics I feel you should consider when choosing your next personal protection handgun. These characteristics should be researched and evaluated in this order.
One of the most important aspects of buying a handgun for personal protection is the manufacturer of your firearm. Here are my reasons why I feel this way. First and foremost, you want the best quality you can afford. This is a tool that you are buying for a time when your life or someone else’s life is in danger. You want something that is going to be very dependable, reliable, and has a reputation for high quality. If you are truly buying this weapon for personal protection, that means you are going to be shooting it frequently as you practice your shooting skills. Thus, it needs to be a firearm that can stand up to lots of shooting.
I personally look for manufacturers that have a longstanding reputation for providing handguns to the military or large government agencies. Why? Because in most cases, they do the most extensive and critical evaluations of the weapons and follow very strict rules about quality control. Secondly, in most cases, these handguns are used often and in a wide range of environments, so they know if they work when you need them or not.
This a very important aspect of buying your firearm that is related to the characteristics mentioned above. If the manufacturer is of high quality, they will most likely offer a very good warranty on their handguns. Some manufacturers offer lifetime warranties so you know they stand behind their product. Others offer warranties only for a limited time. You also want to know what modifications or ammo you that will void your warranty. Such as, will polishing the trigger void the warranty or will shooting +P ammo void the warranty? These are important factors you need to take into consideration.
This is most likely one of the most common areas of disagreement. Many like a revolver because they say it is “simple” and “easy” to use. I personally am not a fan of revolvers for two reasons. First, if something bad should happen, I want a gun I can shoot well and LOTS of bullets, and a revolver does not meet that requirement. Secondly, most revolvers have a very long and hard trigger pull. That makes it more likely you will be inaccurate with the weapon.
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I prefer semi-automatics for two reasons. First, in most cases, they allow you to have more bullets–two or three times as many rounds as a revolver. To me, that is very important. Secondly and equally importantly, I like the trigger pull on semiautomatics. We will go more into this below. But, having lots of bullets and being able to easily pull the trigger are two factors I find very valuable in a personal protection firearm.
This is the key physical factor of buying your personal protection handgun. I cannot stress how important this factor plays into your ability to hold, shoot and control your handgun. There are three factors in gripping a handgun– technique, weight, and size.
The first part of determining your grip on a handgun is to know HOW to grip a handgun. IF you do not know how to properly grip a handgun, you will most likely make a huge error when buying your weapon. I watch daily as people looking to buy their hand gun grip it incorrectly. I am amazed at how many salespeople do not try to help or correct the customer. Thus, LOTS of people buy a handgun without ever properly gripping it. Then they wonder why they do not like shooting their handgun and why they are not accurate with it. It all comes back to grip.
The next two components of gripping can be considered as one. Weight and size. Both play a critical role in managing a handgun, thus are very important.
First is the visual aspect of the handgun. Most people look at a handgun and on looks alone determine if it is too big. Without even holding the firearm they have already determine it is too big. Thus, they rule out very acceptable handguns on looks alone. Secondly, they want something small and light so it is easy to carry and hold. But they do not understand that the weight of the handgun correlates to the recoil, thus the lighter the weapon the more recoil; conversely, a heavier weapon reduces recoil. You want to find a handgun that might feel a little heavy in your hand at first but is very easy to grip. You should look for a gun whose grip is slim enough to allow your hand to encircle it easily, with a reasonable reach forward to the trigger while the gun is in alignment with your wrist and forearm. A gun with a short grip frame may not allow your pinky finger to get a grip on the gun, and this will make the weapon less controllable, although it may be easier to carry concealed it will be hard to shoot accurately.
The best way to address these issues is to handle numerous firearms and to understand that small is not necessarily good and slightly heavy is not necessarily bad. Once most people have the opportunity to grip numerous firearms and really get a feel for a proper grip, they soon realize that weight and size make a big difference.
I have seen so many people walk into the range or store with one concept of what they were going to buy and walk out with something totally different. These individuals then come back and say they were so glad they did not buy what they originally thought they wanted. I feel strongly this is where a good knowledgeable sales person comes into play. So when you buy you first firearms or if you are a novice buyer, make sure you ask what the sales person’s background is before you listen to their pitch. And make sure they give you a comparison of firearms to evaluate.
Trigger control is essential to accuracy. Trigger pulls can be hard, up to 15 lbs, staged, and hard to reach with your finger. Thus, it is essential that you choose a handgun with a trigger you can easily reach and comfortably pull. The harder the trigger is to reach or pull the less accurate you will be. Thus, when evaluating a handgun for personal protection, it is imperative that you have the opportunity to hold the handgun and place your finger on the trigger. Then whenever possible, you should be allowed to dry fire the weapon. That is the ONLY way to fully appreciate and evaluate the trigger pull.
What you want in a trigger pull is the following features, one that is within your fingers reach when you finger is correctly on the trigger, smooth pull with no roughness, easy, relatively short trigger stroke back, and a short trigger reset. A Short Trigger Reset (STR) means you only need to allow the trigger to release a short distance after it has fired the weapon before you are able to pull it again and fire your next shot.
Bullets have gone through tremendous improvements over the last twenty years. The weights, velocity, materials and aerodynamics of bullets are incredibly better today than they were even ten years ago. Thus, the choice of caliber is not that critical today, and calibers that were considered marginal a generation ago are often considered excellent performers with the best modern loads.
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In making the choice of what caliber to buy, beware of a number of common misconceptions. First is in the area of knock down power. This term in highly misunderstood and misused. There is the misconception that a bigger bullet results in more knock down power. Recent studies have demonstrated that this term is widely incorrect.
When humans are shot with traditional bullets used for personal protection, they do not go flying through the saloon doors nor get knocked back like you see in the movies. If a human is hit in a vital area they just collapse. There are numerous videos on the internet of humans being shot and when hit with a lethal shot they just collapse. So knock down power is way over used in relation to its actual impact.
Another misconception is penetration. Most think that bigger bullets penetrate deeper and cause more damage. In actuality smaller 9mm bullets have greater penetration ability than 45 caliber bullets. Based on substantial research, the FBI has reverted back to 9mm bullets for their agents for three very important reasons. One, they penetrated further thus doing more damage. Secondly, the agents that shot 9mm weapons were more accurate than those shooting 40 and 45’s. Finally, the lethality of the shots were the same, provided that a vital area on the suspect was hit.
There are strong arguments that the 9mm cartridge (AKA 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, or 9×19 mm) is the top logistical choice for a defensive handgun for most people:
- It is the least expensive of all personal protection ammo so you are more likely to practice more.
- More handguns are made in 9mm than any other caliber, so you are more likely to find a 9mm handgun that fits your hand.
- Most 9mm handguns allow for high capacity magazines, so you have lots of bullets when you need them, and many 9mm magazines even hold more ammo than the smaller 380 pistols’ magazines.
- The recoil of 9mm is easily manageable.
- The lethality is the same as larger bullets when a vital area is hit.
- More people carry 9mm that any other caliber; thus you could share ammo, if needed.
As mentioned a few times in this article, I feel strongly that I want to have as many cartridges in my gun as I can, should something go wrong. No matter how well you are trained, if a bad event occurs and you need to fire your weapon while you are running, taking cover, hiding, or avoiding getting shot, you will miss a lot.
Numerous times a day I have novice shooters tell me that they only need a gun with five or six bullets because they will hit the target in the first one or two shots. Clearly, they have not watched any videos of our heroic men and women in law enforcement in shoot-outs, nor have they watched our brave American military heroes in firefights. As good as these well trained professionals are, they still miss a lot. Not because they are unskilled– they are exceptional marksmen (and women) by any standard of training and testing. But it is exceedingly hard to hit a moving target when you are being shot at, beat up, or mugged.
So the more bullets the better. A semi-auto that uses a magazine with a staggered or double-column row of ammunition might hold 13-17 rounds of 9mm. That’s my recommendation. The brand, warranty, action style, trigger pull, grip, ammo capacity, and caliber are all the features and characteristic you want in your personal protection handgun. Each has its own importance and value in helping you chose the correct handgun for your personal use. Not all handguns are meant for everyone. You need one that fits you.
Here are some handguns that I find meet the above criteria; they are my choices in order of preference.
Manufacturer – Sig Sauer has produced handguns for many of our elite fighting forces and government agencies for a long time including but not limited to: SEALS, Secret Service, Air Marshals and numerous law enforcement agencies.
Warranty – Lifetime
Grip – Very nice and comfortable stippling, ergonomically and anatomically correct, and a great weight that allows for reduced recoil and easy handling.
Trigger Control – Excellent trigger, one of the hallmarks of this handgun, very short smooth trigger reset.
Caliber – 9mm, but the 320 is modular. The trigger and firing assembly is easily removed from the gun and barrels and frames in 380, 357 Sig and 40 can be purchased from Sig. so you get multiple caliber capability with this handgun.
Bullet Capacity: comes with two 15 rounds mags, can take 17 round mags.
Manufacturer – Ruger high quality firearms made since 1949
Warranty – Lifetime
Grip – Very ergonomic grip, nice stippling. Very good weight
Trigger Control – Good but can be a little rough
Caliber – 9mm
Bullet Capacity – Comes with two 15 rounds mags
Manufacturer — Walther is a German firearms maker that dates back to 1886. It has an excellent reputation, and its handguns have always been popular in both military and police use worldwide through the 20th century.
Warranty — Lifetime, transferable to subsequent purchasers, but only so long as that model firearm is still being produced and serviced, and is not a discontinued model.
Grip — Comfortable grip, no bigger than it has to be to allow all your fingers to fit on it, with stippling for better control and an undercut area at the base of the trigger guard.
Trigger Control — A short trigger stroke of just over a quarter-inch, with only 5.5 lbs. of pressure.
Caliber — 9mm.
Bullet Capacity — 8 rounds in the magazine (with one in the chamber, that’s 9 total)
Manufacturer – Glock was the first to make polymer-framed striker-fired guns, and it has held its place in that market for a long time. Glock has produced handguns for many military branches, elite forces, FBI, and numerous law enforcement agencies.
Warranty – Limited to one year, and with several situations where Glock disclaims any warranty responsibility. But in practice, they have been more helpful than the terms of their written warranty would require.
Grip – Nice grip good stippling, light weight.
Trigger Control – Nice trigger, my experience is that a lot people push the handgun when shooting it by not getting their finger on top of the trigger safety.
Caliber – 9mm
Bullet Capacity – Comes with two 15 round mags. Your spare magazines could be larger to hold even more, such as 17 or even 33 rounds.
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