Some good reading on ammo, guns ccw and a lot more.
A Guide to Caliber and Ammunition Selection for Concealed Carry
Caliber And Ammunition Selection
For true defense with a firearm, putting rifles and shotguns aside, you should carry the largest caliber handgun you can shoot well with as high a capacity as possible. For comfort while carrying concealed, you would carry the smallest firearm you could possibly find. Carrying concealed in the real world lies in a compromise between those two extremes. This article does not concern itself with which firearm you should carry. As long as you choose a well-proven model that you can shoot well and can reasonably be concealed and carried all day, every day with a degree of comfort, you will not make a bad choice. Nor will we concern ourselves with tactics. Shot placement and the ability to deliver devastating and overwhelming fire in your defense will be up to you to obtain through training and practice. With that said, let’s look at what caliber you should consider and what type of ammunition you should carry.
First, it will be important to understand some common terms and vocabulary. Ammunition is generally divided into several different categories, each with its own purpose.
“Ball” is a round-nosed, metal-jacketed bullet. Often referred to as full metal jacket, or FMJ, ball ammunition is rarely the best choice for a defensive round. FMJ ammo does not expand but will deform if it impacts an obstacle such as a wall or engine block. Ball ammo generally feeds and cycles very well in semi-auto and automatic firearms. It also is the king of penetration. The military used FMJ in all it’s handguns and rifles specifically for the reliability and penetration characteristics. The Geneva Convention governs the use of ball ammo by the world’s militaries. Fortunately, you are not limited by these standards and should choose other types of ammo for carry and relegate FMJ to the practice range. It is perfectly acceptable for training and practice and is generally lower in cost than other types of ammunition.
“Hollow Points” or HP or JHP (jacketed hollow point) have a hollow cavity in the nose and usually expand (and stop) in the body of the attacker. This transfers all the kinetic energy of the round into the target for maximum stopping power as opposed to FMJ, which can penetrate a target fully and exit the attacker, therefore transferring less energy. Hollow points are almost always the best defensive round as they offer the best chance for stopping the attack and the lowest chance of the bullet exiting the attacker and hitting an innocent bystander.
“Soft Points” or SP or JSP (jacketed soft points) are metal-jacketed bullets that leave an exposed tip of lead at the nose of the bullet. These do not make good defensive rounds in handguns as they offer limited expansion and the chance for over-penetration.
Other terms you are likely to hear in selecting your ammunition include:
+P A round that is loaded to higher-pressure level therefore developing higher energy characteristics. Basically a “turbo-charged” round. Make sure your firearm is approved for +P ammunition or you could have a catastrophic and dangerous failure.
+P+ Loaded to even higher standards than the +P round. Very few guns are rated for +P+ ammo.
A note about terminology. One of the quickest ways to identify yourself as mis-informed is to call the magazine of an auto-loading pistol a “clip”. While clip and magazine are often used interchangeably, they are different.
A clip is a device that holds ammunition together to facilitate loading a rifle such as the M1 Garand. The ammunition is not completely encapsulated nor is the ammo fed towards the chamber via an integrated spring.
A magazine completely encapsulates the ammunition. The ammo is presented for loading into the chamber via a spring located in the bottom section of the magazine. Virtually all self-loading pistols use a magazine.
Easily, the most important characteristic for you self-defense ammunition is that it function properly in YOUR gun. Hollow-point ammunition is generally the best choice but it is also the most expensive choice. You must spend some time firing your hollow point ammo to confirm functionality, accuracy and performance. I make it a habit of firing a magazine or two of my defensive ammo every month just to build confidence in the ammo but also to ensure I always am carrying “fresh” ammunition.
You should also only carry premium, factory ammo. Do not buy reloaded or hand-loaded ammunition if you intend to carry it in your defensive handgun. In many cases it is just not reliable enough to count on in a life and death situation. Carrying hand-loads can also bring liability issues. Over-zealous prosecutors have been known to make the use of “hand loaded killer rounds” a point of contention during self-defense shooting trials.
Buy a proven hollow-point design from a premium manufacture such as Federal, Corbon, Hornady, Remington, or Speer. Confirm it functions in your weapon and practice with your premium ammo on a regular basis. Now that you know you are going to be carrying hollow-points, let’s look at what caliber of firearm might serve you
The caliber of a firearm is simply the inside diameter of the barrel. It is measured in inches or millimeters, depending on the origin of the design. So, a 9mm pistol has an inside diameter of the barrel equal to approximately 9mm. A .45 has a barrel I.D. of .45 inches. Often, there are other terms applied to the simple caliber measurement. For instance a .45 ACP is a bullet with a diameter of .45 inches and a designation of “Automatic Colt Pistol” referring back to the original design by John Browning for Colt firearms. There is also a .45 GAP or “Glock Autoloading Pistol”. Both cartridges use a .45-inch diameter bullet, but are not interchangeable.
In general, the larger the caliber of bullet, the more powerful the ammunition will be and more effective as a self-defense round. It is better to carry a smaller gun and caliber and have it with you than to have a hand-cannon locked in the safe. With that said, I recommend you carry either a .38 special with +P ammo, 9mm, 40 S&W, .357 magnum or .45 Auto as a primary defensive handgun. There are other exotic calibers, such as the .357 SIG, 10mm, or 45 GAP that are fantastic rounds. But, the ammunition is either difficult to obtain or very expensive. If you carry a smaller caliber such as the .380 auto or regular pressure .38, please understand the limitations and lack of performance and be prepared to compensate with superior shot placement and volume of fire.
Personal defense ammunition is a very largely debated subject. There are many factors to consider when choosing a personal defense round. Let's say you live in a tightly knit neighborhood. The angel on one side of your shoulder says you could miss a shot, and send a stray round into an innocent house. The results could be terrible. Common sense says penetration is the key, and you must have penetration to strike a vital organ and incapacitate an attacker. Which is right? Penetration or safety? Frangible, hollow points, or full metal jacket? First thing is first, when choosing a defensive ammunition you must weigh your ability with your common sense.
WHAT ARE MY CHOICES
Lets start with frangible. Frangible ammo is ammunition that more or less explodes when it hits something. It is a really cool concept and is not a new idea. It has been a popular choice amongst some folks, and with all the hype of Disneyland one could easily choose frangible ammo as a home protection round. Hell some guys at the local gun store swear by it. It has good energy, claimed safety and a hefty price tag to reflect it. It is supposed to stop a bad guy yet disintegrate upon impact with a hard surface such as drywall. Wow, it sounds like some sort of miracle bullet. Smart choice right?
Not exactly. The hype and claims are not always entirely true. In tests frangible ammunition fails to penetrate deep enough to damage a vital organ or tissue. Usually only 4 to 6 inches in ballistic gelatin before disintegration. These high velocity light weight bullets do not penetrate as well as heavy slow ones and disintegrate much to fast. They certainly transfer energy well, (shoot a watermelon with one, great fun) and are capable of stunning an attacker, but fall short in the penetration area. (12 inches penetration in ballistic gelatin is the minimum required by FBI)
So if penetration is what we are after, wouldn't a maximum penetration Full Metal Jacket round be the best? Slow down buckaroo, the answer is not that simple and here is why. While a 158 grain lead semi wad cutter (better known as the FBI Load) or a Full Metal Jacket round may penetrate 18 to 28 inches thru four layers of denim and absolutely reach a vital organ, the bullet does not expand and therefore the energy is not completely transferred into the attacker. We have all heard stories about someone getting shot and they didn't even know they were hit? That would be a Full metal Jacket Round. It simply blazed right thru them. Moreover, upon exit this round still has plenty of energy and is by no means inert. This leaves a greater chance of sending a stray round into a son or daughters room even after hitting the target. So for me, this is not practical. The less chance I have of hitting an innocent person while still stopping an attack is a win! That is common sense that I can live with. I say these rounds are better spent at the range or on four leggers, not for personal defense.
ENTER HOLLOW POINTS
Here is where I talk about the tried and true. The bullets you will actually find in a duty pistol. Hollow Points. Hollow Points are very effective for putting down and stopping attackers, and yes they penetrate plenty. (10 to 14 inches usually) They are made to expand and also transfer most if not all their energy into the attacker. This means if you hit your target, the bullet will penetrate, make a huge hole and the bullet should have already lost 95% or more of it's energy if it even exits the target. Hollows will also travel thru the wall or glass giving you the advantage of hitting an attacker hiding behind the shower door. However much like the Glaser Safety Slug, hollow points can become clogged with drywall, and fail to expand. There are some new variations of hollow points that claim otherwise, but I have not tested for myself so I will not comment on that matter yet.
Here is the bottom line and where research of application comes in. The best defense bullet is one that penetrates at least 12 inches while expanding as much as possible. The idea is to transfer the most amount of energy into the attacker with the greatest effectiveness, and least amount of liability. Velocity has something to do with it as we want to obtain the 12 inch mark however, a slower heavy bullet will penetrate just as well as a lighter +p round. A heavy bullet retains more inertia after impact allowing it to penetrate deeper. Lightweight +P rounds are typically not necessary unless you are using a snub nose or the barrel length is less than 3.5".
Given this country’s current political climate, it’s really no surprise that gun sales are through the roof. Many would-be first-time gun owners are anxious to purchase a home-defense gun before more stringent gun laws are passed. Most people looking to purchase their first firearm have a long list of questions. Handgun or long gun? Pistol or revolver? Shotgun or rifle? What about caliber and ammunition type? Finally, how can the gun be stored so it is both ready for home defense, and inaccessible to curious children and criminals?
Of course, when faced with a lethal threat, any gun is better than no gun. But what is the best gun for home defense? Unfortunately, there is no firearm that is perfectly suited for every person or circumstance. Rather than purchasing a gun based solely on the recommendation of a friend, family member, gun shop owner or because it was featured in in the latest issue of Guns & Ammo, you should consider the capabilities of those who will potentially use the gun to thwart a home invasion.
Here’s an overview of various gun types as they relate to home defense:
Pistols and Revolvers
Laymen often refer to all handguns as pistols, but this is incorrect. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pistol as, “a handgun whose chamber is integral to the breach.” Obviously, this definition precludes revolvers.
The overwhelming majority of pistols are semi-automatic, which means after they are fired, a new round is automatically chambered from the magazine. This cycle is repeated with each trigger pull until all of the ammunition is depleted. While there are a myriad of pistol designs on the market, most pistols are easier to shoot than revolvers, thanks in large part to their lighter trigger pull. The lighter the trigger pull, the less likely the gun will move off-target as the pistol is fired.
Although pistols tend to be easier to shoot accurately, they are more complicated to operate than revolvers. To clear a malfunction or reload under stress takes considerable practice. In addition, many pistols have external safety mechanisms that must be disengaged in order to fire the pistol. This too can be an obstacle for an inexperienced shooter or one operating under the stress of a life and death encounter.
For home defense, a full-size pistol is an excellent choice, assuming those who may need to shoot it can comfortably grip the pistol for maximum control. To determine whether your hand is big enough for a particular pistol, grip it so that the slide is aligned with the middle of your forearm. While holding the gun in this manner, ensure that you can comfortably reach the trigger without changing your grip. You should also make sure that other controls—such as the magazine release, slide release and external safety (if applicable)—are within reach while you maintain a shooting grip on the pistol.
While some may dismiss revolvers as mere relics, they are viable home-defense handguns. Detractors will point out that revolvers tend to have a lower ammunition capacity than pistols, which means you’ll have fewer shots before you’ll need to reload. Reloading a revolver is also more difficult—particularly under stress—than a semi-automatic pistol because it has multiple chambers. However, when it comes to reliability, nothing beats a revolver.
Since revolvers are comprised of fewer parts, there’s less chance of the gun malfunctioning. Revolvers are also easier to operate, allowing for virtual point-and-shoot functionality. In the rare case of a malfunction, the shooter need only pull the trigger again. This act rotates the cylinder so that a new round aligns with the barrel.
Shotguns and Rifles
The shotgun is considered by many to be the ultimate home defense weapon. While there is no disputing the effectiveness of a shotgun, there are certainly drawbacks to using a shotgun inside the home.
The shotgun’s extended sight radius—along with the fact that it enables you to have both hands on the weapon while achieving a cheek weld and shoulder mount—makes it easier to aim than a handgun. It’s important to realize when hunting fowl with a shotgun, it’s often said the shotgun should be “pointed” rather than aimed. However, when you are confronting a criminal inside your residence, you need to aim; contrary to popular opinion, you can miss with a shotgun.
Since the shotgun is designed to be operated with two hands, opening doors, turning on lights and other seemingly routine tasks associated with searching your home for a bad guy can be a bit of a challenge. Another concern is the shotgun’s barrel length, which can make it difficult to maneuver around corners without telegraphing your intent.
If you load your shotgun with 00 buckshot, it may be difficult to ensure that all eight or nine pellets (depending on the brand) hit your intended target. While it may not take all of the pellets to incapacitate your adversary, stray pellets could injure or kill the very people you intend to protect.
Rifled slugs can be very accurate, but there are tremendous over-penetration issues associated with these projectiles. With slugs you need to worry about your neighbors as well as the occupants of your own home.
The use of birdshot in a home defense shotgun is somewhat controversial. While over-penetration is certainly mitigated, many speculate as to whether birdshot would incapacitate a determined assailant.
There’s no doubt that a rifle is easier to shoot accurately that handgun. Rifles like the immensely popular AR-15 platform afford you increased ballistic performance and higher ammunition capacity than most other firearms. However, they share many of the limitations of a shotgun when it comes to clearing your residence in search of an intruder. Rifles and other shoulder-fired weapons also tend to be less accessible than handguns during a home defense situation.
Caliber and Ammunition
In theory, the larger the bullet you hit the bad guy with, the better. After all, a bigger bullet will tend to produce a more significant wound, which is more likely to stop an attacker. However, a hit with a 9mm bullet beats a miss with a .45-caliber bullet every day of the week.
When you consider most gunshot wounds are survivable regardless of caliber, the importance of shot placement is clear. While being shot with any type of firearm is likely to have an effect on your adversary, shots to the thoracic cavity and cranial vault are most likely to quickly incapacitate the attacker, thus stopping the threat.
Many consider .45-caliber to be the only handgun round suited for personal combat. However, for a shooter with smaller hands, the enhanced control from a 9mm pistol’s slimmer grip and softer recoil may more than make up for its lesser ballistic capability compared to the .45. Also, today’s technologically advanced hollow-point bullets make even smaller caliber bullets capable of stopping a deadly threat.
You may be tempted to purchase less expensive full metal jacket or “ball” ammunition for your home-defense gun. While ball ammo is fine for training, it can be very problematic in a home-defense situation. Ball ammunition is likely to pass through a bad guy, which not only minimizes the effect of the bullet but also increases the likelihood of the bullet striking an unintended target, such as a family member. In fact, it’s not uncommon for ball ammunition fired from a handgun to penetrate multiple interior residential walls.
For home defense, hollow-point ammunition is the only way to go. Hollow-point bullets are designed for optimal expansion upon impact. This creates a larger wound and produces a “parachute” effect, which helps contain the bullet.
The storage of firearms within the home has always been a bit of a conundrum. If you keep the gun loaded and easily accessible, you may be prepared for a break-in, but you may also be setting yourself up for a tragedy. The last thing any responsible gun owner wants is for a child or irresponsible adult to find a loaded firearm.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the homeowner who purchases a gun for home defense, yet leaves the gun unloaded and secured in a safe. While storing a firearm in this manner is almost certain to keep it out of the wrong hands, it makes it pretty tough to have in your own hand when you need it.
One of the best ways I’ve found to store a home defense handgun is to use a biometric safe. A biometric safe is programmed to open nearly instantaneously when it detects an authorized user’s fingerprint. These safes, which are typically mounted to a nightstand, allow you to decide who has access to the loaded firearm that is almost immediately accessible. Biometric safes often carry a price tag of around $200-300, but in my opinion, they are very worthwhile investments.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A HOLLOW POINT
If you have a revolver it is simple, pick any premium round in your caliber with a proven record. Revolvers will digest about anything with gun powder in it. Semi-autos are a bit more finicky. Every semi-auto has a different ammo it absolutely loves to feed, and some it does not. Try a few brands and choose the one that feeds the most reliably for you. The experienced shooter says, "Run at least 150-200 rounds of your selected defensive ammo thru your firearm. If it goes off without a hitch, then and only then can you call it your defensive load". This is costly yes, as most decent hollow points are, but what is your life worth? Try to find ammo that has a low muzzle flash and preferably not +P rounds if you have a barrel larger than 3.75". A heaver bullet will do the same damage with less recoil and muzzle flash. In a dark room, a large muzzle flash from a +P round will temporarily blind you, making it impossible for follow up shots.
Regardless of what personal defense ammo you choose, be smart. Keep in mind, placement is key. No matter what the caliber you must to be able to place the shot and in a hurry, so practice, practice. My advice is for the sole purpose of educating others. I have weighed my education and common sense with my own ability and research. I urge everyone to do the same and you can draw your own conclusions. Perhaps when properly educated you can enlighten us as well. A gun is a tool that we must learn to use properly. Safety and education is your responsibility as a gun owner, and that is common sense everyone must apply.
As an NRA instructor, I always enjoy teaching beginners. I typically get a lot of couples and families who sign up for beginners classes. Invariably, the question always comes up, “what is the best gun,” or “what is the best caliber?” Of course, the answer is “it depends.” That’s like asking, what is the best mode of transportation?
These first-time shooters are actually asking a very good question and with good reason. In the case of a couple or a family, the primary concern is most often personal protection inside the home. That is not difficult to address since the rule of thumb is generally to use the largest caliber gun you can comfortably handle.
When routine concealed carry is not a primary concern, then the size of the gun is less of an issue. Basic physics teaches us that force (the amount of energy a bullet carries when fired) is the result of the mass of an object (the weight of the bullet) multiplied by the acceleration (speed in feet per second of the bullet). Here is an easy-to-use online kinetic energy calculator that provides the ft.-lbs. of energy for a particular cartridge as long as you know the weight of the bullet and its velocity.
The more force a bullet has, the harder it hits, the more it penetrates and the more it transfers force—all good and necessary for personal protection. However, the second rule of Newtonian physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the more force a bullet has going forward the more force the gun has going backward (recoil).
The more mass a gun has, the less acceleration (perceived recoil) a particular cartridge will produce. So, in home defense, a full-size gun helps recoil-sensitive shooters handle more powerful calibers with a higher level of comfort and accuracy.
The second concern is the catch, however. Guns constitute a significant expense for many people, and in these tough times, a family may not be able to or be interested in purchasing different guns for each family member. One gun in one caliber may often have to fit the needs of everyone in the household.
Focusing on just the most popular personal-protection calibers, presented here are some of their differences and their relative strengths.
Special Note: What about the .22 LR, +P ammunition and expanding bullets? The .22 Long Rifle, or .22 LR, cartridge is everywhere. It is super cheap, fun and easy to shoot with almost no recoil. However, while it is perfectly lethal, and any gun is better than no gun, it does not produce enough energy to reliably stop a threat in short order and is not considered suitable for self-defense. It is, however, excellent for target practice, and if more than one gun is in your budget, a .22 for training would make a good choice.
Most ammunition manufacturers sell cartridges in all calibers designed specifically for personal protection. These are intended to provide the maximum energy for a given cartridge and use bullets that will produce the most effective terminal performance. Ammunition can be found in standard pressure varieties as well as +P or +P+, which produce higher-than-standard pressure and velocity. This higher-pressure ammunition should only be used in guns rated to handle the extra forces, and it will produce more recoil.
Likewise, the shape and weight of the bullet affects both terminal energy and performance. A heavier bullet carries more force but is slower, and velocity has a much higher multiplier effect on force than does mass. Most self-defense ammunition is designed to expand on impact in order to have the maximum effect on the target. It is for this reason that different types of expanding ammunition are so popular with law enforcement, as well as those interested in personal protection.
.38 Spl.: This cartridge is considered by many experts to be the minimum necessary for adequate personal protection, along with the .380 ACP listed below. For decades, this was the standard round for law enforcement and it served well, even using the plain round-nose lead ammunition. Anyone who chooses this soft-kicking cartridge today will be even better served thanks to the availability of specialized self-defense ammunition.
.357 Mag.: As the name implies, this is a powerful cartridge with a reputation for producing one shot stops against two-legged predators. That power runs both ways and it can be tough to handle for some. One notable benefit here is that, since this is just a .38 Spl. with a slightly longer case and a lot more power, revolvers cambered for .357 Mag. can be loaded with .38 Spl. for recoil-sensitive family members. The reverse, however, does not apply.
.380 ACP: Long popular for small semi-auto pistols in Europe and countries where possession of military calibers is restricted, the .380 ACP (or 9 mm Short) cartridge has taken America by storm in the last few years. This is thanks to the increased popularity of concealed carry and the ability of this cartridge to fit very small guns. Much like the .38 Spl. above, it is considered a minimum self-defense cartridge, but was used for decades by European police officers and, most famously, by James Bond.
9 mm: Consider the perennial European cartridge, the 9 mm is fast, straight shooting, light kicking, easy to find and cheap to shoot. It is equally at home in full-size guns as in small concealed-carry ones. It is for these reasons that it is in such widespread use among modern law enforcement agencies and militaries (including ours) worldwide. It is more than sufficiently powerful enough for self-defense with proper ammunition and easy for beginners to master.
.40 S&W: Is it better to have big, powerful rounds or more of them? This is America, so why not both? The .40 S&W cartridge is a less-powerful version of the 10 mm, and it offers heavy bullets with a lot of velocity, while remaining comfortable for most to fire with magazine capacity that is close to that of a similar-sized 9 mm pistol. The .40 S&W is a favorite among many law enforcement agencies and individuals focused on self-defense, and for good reason.
.45 ACP: This is the American cartridge: big, loud and powerful. Nearly half an inch in diameter, hollow-point ammunition resembles a flying ashtray as much as a bullet can. This heavy, slow-moving cartridge was the standard for the U.S. military for over 70 years and served on every battlefield (and still does) where Americans have fought. While it has stout recoil, it feels more like a push that a jab, and with practice, it is manageable by most and preferred by many.
In the end, the key is to get out to the range and try out a variety of guns and calibers to find the one you like best. Just like buying a car, if you are only getting one to share, it is always best to test drive it and make it a family decision.
| || |
One of our greatest modern gun experts, Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC, Ret., once made the observation that the bullet is more important than the gun. The gun, he explained, is merely the launcher. It is the bullet that actually does the job.
This is true for an armed citizen's home defense gun, as surely as it is for the battle weapon of one of Col. Cooper's brother Marines. Ditto for the police officer's ammunition. And ditto again for the bullet a rural American citizen uses to harvest game for the family table.
Modern ammunition testing. Paul Nowak of Winchester (left, with Springfield Armory pistol) fires over a chronograph (on tripod) which measures the bullet's velocity, and into the block of ballistic gelatin set on steel holder at right.
The military is bound by the codes of international warfare, going back to the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Accords, all of which predated napalm, chemical warfare, and the concept of thermonuclear war. Interestingly, the Judge Advocate General's office has already determined that these restrictions apply to declared wars between recognized nation-states, not things like the current "war on terrorism," but that's another story.
The Geneva Conventions and Hague Accords require that the bullets used not be designed to expand. Essentially, they call for full metal jacket projectiles that just punch neat, clean holes through the bodies of enemy soldiers. Ironically, in the name of human decency, virtually every state in the union forbids the use of such ammunition against deer, bear, or other big game. The reason is that it tends to result in slow death and is not humane.
In warfare, the bullet that wounds an enemy soldier becomes a greater "force multiplier" than the one that kills him. A dead soldier means one less enemy. A wounded soldier means at least three less of the enemy: one down, and two more to carry him off the field of battle.
I am sure that this makes good sense to the generals behind the lines, and the bean counters behind them. However, the soldier who is bad breath distance away from an Al-Qaeda fanatic with an AK47 doesn't just want his opposite number wounded, he wants him instantly out of the fight at the moment the bullet hits him.
Bullet has lodged in the translucent gelatin, leaving a "wound path" clearly visible behind it. Note that damage is greatest early in the path, before resistance has slowed the bullet and reduced its energy.
At this point, both the semantics and the ethics of the matter start to become complicated. No young man fighting for his country wants, when he thinks about it, to end the life of another young man fighting for his country. However, that young man desperately wants the other young man not to kill him or one of his comrades. Therefore, the job of the bullet he launches is instant incapacitation.
This may cause death. When you get into it deep enough, you realize that the righteous combatant does not shoot to kill, he shoots to stop. A mortal wound is not enough. Many an American soldier who was mortally wounded went on to kill so many of the enemy before he ran out of blood and died that the majority of those on the sacred list who won the Congressional Medal of Honor won it posthumously. Every combat soldier who fought in heavy battle can tell you stories of enemy soldiers who, wounded unto death, still took one or more Americans with them. These men had been killed, but not stopped.
In the big picture, the firearm is a tool. We homo sapiens are the tool-bearing mammal. We are also, ipso facto, the weapon-bearing mammal. We have become the dominant species—the alpha, the top predator if you will—because we have learned to tailor our tools to the given task.
Therefore, Logic 101 tells us, if we must tailor the tool to the task, and if the tool is the gun and we know that the gun's bullet is more important than the gun itself, why, we realize with our superior human brains that selection of ammunition is absolutely critical.
The history of law enforcement ammunition selection is a good one to study because it encompasses all four of the basic models of selection that the civilian will have available. It is from experience that common sense is born, and the police sector has that experience.
There are essentially four models that police used for selection of ammunition over the years. They might be described as the Traditional Model, the Advertising Model, the Laboratory Model, and the Experiential Model.
Police calibers today, in order of popularity. .40 S&W is far and away the most used. .45 Auto and .357 SIG are increasing in popularity. 9mm use is waning greatly in law enforcement.
The Traditional Model was used for the first two thirds of the 20th Century—longer by some of the more institutionalized departments—and it failed miserably. The .38 Special revolver was the standard then, using 158-grain round-nose lead ammunition with a muzzle velocity of 755 feet per second, generating some 200 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
This ammunition, from the beginning, performed dismally at its intended purpose. The rounded tip of the bullet slipped through flesh with a wedge effect, leaving behind it a dimpled channel similar to an ice pick wound. It would kill, but slowly. However, it had little "stopping effect." The round became known on the street as "the widow-maker," because you could empty your gun into your attacker and he could still make your wife a widow before he went down. Because the bullet tended to go through and through, there was great danger of striking an unseen bystander behind the intended target with the exiting projectile. Because of its low energy, this same bullet that penetrated too much on humans penetrated too little on hard barriers, such as car doors and windows, often bouncing off a felon's windshield.
In the late 1920s and the '30s, efforts were made to find something more powerful. These included the .38/44 round, simply a high velocity 158-grain .38 Special; the .38 Super Automatic from Colt, with a pointy nose 130-grain full metal jacket bullet at some 1200 foot per second, generating perhaps 420 foot-pounds of energy; and the .357 Magnum cartridge jointly introduced by Smith & Wesson (the gun) and Winchester-Western (the cartridge). In the Magnum, the 158-grain bullet was retained, but with a flat point and much greater velocity and energy.
These hotter loads were better man-stoppers if heavy bone was struck and shattered, or if the bullets hit a liquid part of the body, such as the brain or a full bladder. Otherwise, they simply zipped through the body with even more exit force than a .38 round nose, and most police chiefs banned them for fear of their corollary damage capability to bystanders.
The .38 Special round nose stayed dominant for the first two thirds of the 20th Century, simply because of tradition. "It's what we've always had." "We've always done it this way." Not until the 1960s did things get better. Lee Jurras in Shelbyville, Indiana, founded the Super Vel ammunition company and produced a line of light weight, high velocity hollow point rounds. With these, the .38 Special now had an expanding bullet that would open up or "mushroom" in the body. It delivered much more "shock effect" and was much less likely to exit. It was also much less likely to ricochet, which round nose bullets were and are infamous for doing.
Accuracy is usually a welcome side benefit of purchasing premium ammunition. 230-grain Federal Hydra-Shok .45 Auto round has given author a 13/8" group at 25 yards with compact Glock 30 pistol.
Now was born the Experiential Model. Police departments that took the bold step of adopting the new ammo were inundated with queries from other agencies as to how it had performed. When learning of its highly satisfactory results, the inquiring agencies adopted it themselves.
With widespread adoption came more collective experience. Police had at last fallen back to their core competence—being trained investigators—and applied it to equipment selection. The result was much better ammunition and a quantum leap in both officer safety and public safety.
In the mid-1970s we saw the first large-scale application of the Laboratory Model. In what is now recognized as a classic example of junk science, the National Institute of Justice spent seven figures on a study to determine RII, or Relative Incapacitation Index, of handgun ammunition. Using an old formulation of ballistic gelatin as flesh simulant, the testers went on the assumption that whatever bullet created the greatest temporary cavity in the substance would deliver the greatest "stopping power" in living tissue. They then set about quantifying stopping power value, with tables that indicated the old .38 round nose might be a better stopper than the Army .45, and that a 9mm automatic with ball ammunition would be more potent than the .45. "Softnose" bullets received the same value as hollow points.
The expensively funded study had the prestige of the U.S. Government behind it, and departments flocked to buy ammunition that rated well in the RII studies. Unfortunately, they were doomed to disappointment.
The RII results flew in the face of three quarters of a century of observed reality. The first test of junk science versus real science is, "Do the results from the laboratory correlate with known factors from the field?" If they do not, we know something went wrong in the lab. Many of the hypothetical conclusions that the RII study put forth as written in stone were in fact 180 degrees off from a large body of observed reality. That early warning signal was ignored, and the results were tragic.
High tech bullets in premium ammunition are what most cops use today, and most hunters are going in the same direction. Top: Remington brass jacket Golden Saber, and Winchester's SXT. Below: Federal's proven .45 Hydra-Shok and Speer's popular, effective Gold Dot bullet with bonded jacket and core.
Many of the quick-expanding bullets favored by the RII study would not penetrate deeply enough into a human body to reach the vital organs of a large man from certain angles. In Michigan, a policewoman fired two light, fast .38 hollow points into a gunman's chest, and apparently believing that this had done the job, lowered her service revolver. Instead of collapsing, however, the assailant raised his gun and shot her in the head, killing her instantly. He survived to stand trial. In Miami, a bullet that had done well in the RII tests was fired into the chest of a gunman who, unfazed, then shot and killed the man who shot him and his partner, both FBI agents, and wounded several more agents before being killed by bullets in the head and neck.
This resulted in the FBI Wound Ballistics Workshop of 1988 in Quantico, Virginia. Among those present were Dr. Martin Fackler, head of wound ballistics research for the US Army's medical training center, Letterman Institute. Fackler had developed an improved ballistic gelatin model that he had scientifically correlated to swine muscle tissue, which in turn is comparable to human muscle tissue. He hypothesized that wound depth was much more important than previously thought, and recommended ammunition that could send a bullet at least twelve inches into his ballistic gelatin.
The FBI agreed. By this point, the 9mm semiautomatic pistol had ascended to dominance over the six-shot service revolver in the police world, and the FBI adopted a heavy, slow moving 9mm bullet that weighed 147 grains and traveled at a subsonic velocity of less than 1000 feet per second.
Even this did not work terribly well. The bullet often went deep, but also frequently failed to expand reliably, and penetrated too far. Most departments that adopted it were so disappointed in the street results that they either changed ammunition or went to more powerful pistols.
Once-traditional 158 grain round nose lead .38 Special ammunition is now recognized as obsolete, and a poor choice for anything but target shooting.
Meanwhile, in a classic example of the Experiential Model, Detroit homicide detective Evan Marshall had begun a collection of thousands of police gunfight reports, and attempted to rate the stopping power of the ammunition used based on what actually happened in gunfights. He was soon joined by ballistic researcher Ed Sanow. In a separate study commissioned by the Police Marksman Association, Richard Fairburn analyzed gunfights submitted to his data base by various agencies, and his results were almost identical to those of Marshall and Sanow in identifying the best performing police handgun rounds.
Meanwhile, the Advertising Model—taking the manufacturer's grandiose claims for having the newest and deadliest ammo at face value—had quickly failed. Winchester's early Silvertip performed dismally in most handgun calibers, though it would later prove itself in subsequent generations of improved ammunition. Federal's Hydra-Shok series worked superbly in .45 caliber, but performed less effectively with some smaller diameter bullets. The police soon learned to trust only the Laboratory and Experiential Models, preferably in combination.
Experience has taught police that what actually happens on the street is more important than what happens in the artificial environment of the laboratory. The 9mm round now acknowledged to work the best is a 124-grain to 127-grain high tech hollow point at a velocity of 1250 feet per second. NYPD, with some 30,000 officers carrying this type of ammo, the Speer Gold Dot +P 124-grain, is happy with the performance of its 9mm service pistols. Ditto the Orlando, Florida, Police Department, which uses the Winchester Ranger 127-grain +P+ in their standard issue 9mm SIGs.
Tailor the tool to the task. Both of these hunting cartridges are .308 Winchester. The 165 grain Federal Premium at left is ideal for large deer, while the 125 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip at right is better suited for smaller animals like pronghorn antelope.
Most other departments have gone to more powerful rounds. The .40 S&W caliber is the overwhelming top choice of police departments today, followed by the .357 SIG and the .45. Created to duplicate the best ballistics of the .357 Magnum revolver in a semiautomatic pistol, the .357 SIG spits a 125-grain jacketed hollow point at 1300 to 1400 feet per second, delivering 500-plus foot-pounds of energy. Departments which have adopted it are delighted with the performance, reporting a high frequency of one-shot stops. The Virginia State Police, who issue the .357 SIG Model P229 pistol, told me that they were particularly pleased with the number of felons who dropped and stopped fighting after receiving non-fatal wounds in non-vital parts of the body.
In .40 caliber, the original 180-grain hollow point at subsonic velocity has worked better than expected, but the star performers in .40 ammo tend to be high tech bullets such as the Winchester SXT or Ranger T, the CCI Gold Dot, and the Remington Golden Saber with 155-grain bullets at 1200 foot-seconds or 165-grain bullets at 1140 to 1150 feet per second. Using the 165-grain Ranger in their .40 caliber Glocks, the Nashville, Tennessee, Police have amassed a long series of impressive one-shot stops.
In .45 caliber, the matured Federal Hydra-Shok design is something of a gold standard, and the Winchester SXT, Remington Golden Saber, and CCI Gold Dot also have delivered impressive performance in the field. These bullets reliably open up and get the job done. In .45 Auto, the 230-grain bullet at some 880 foot seconds has become standard in police work. Note that all of these are high-tech projectiles, what is known in the trade as "premium ammunition."
High tech bullets are more expensive to manufacture. The bonded core of the Gold Dot, the interlocked bullet body and jacket of the SXT, the post in the center of a Hydra-Shok's hollow point, and the driving band that surrounds the base of a Golden Saber bullet are all more expensive to manufacture and therefore cost more. Why do police departments that buy on bid specify this premium ammunition? Because it works better, and with human life on the line, they cannot afford to economize.
America's most popular police service pistol today is this Glock 22. It holds 16 rounds of .40 S&W ammo like this Black Hills EXP, which delivers 485 foot-pounds of energy per shot.
The same is true for the hunter, to a degree. Life may not be on the line, but performance is still important. If you are shooting a small deer at relatively close range with a high-powered hunting rifle, conventional hunting ammo bought in a "value-pack" at Wal-Mart will probably be good enough. However, if you are aiming at a thousand pound moose, and winter meat for the family hinges on the bullet performing its job, it's more than worth a dollar a cartridge to have a high-performance bullet designed for this particular task.
This is why hunting rounds like the Federal Premium and the Winchester Supreme sell so well in gun shops. This ammunition is bought by the serious hunters. Their research, and the anecdotal experience of their friends who have used it in the game fields, has convinced them to pay a few dollars extra to guarantee as much as possible the best performance when there is an opportunity for only one shot and the results are critical.
In the end, the smart hunters have done exactly what the cops did. They went with the reality of what worked in the field, in a way that was quantified and given credibility in the laboratory. This approach mirrored the collective, institutionalized learning experience of law enforcement in ammunition selection.
Some call it a combination of the Experiential Model and the Laboratory Model. Some might call it Reality Based Selection Protocol.
And some just call it common sense.
1. Find a Friendly, Knowledgeable Gun Shop
When you go to purchase your first concealed carry handgun, you may find yourself feeling nervous and out of your element at the gun shop. If this sounds familiar, I promise, we’ve all been there and done that. Know that this is where the value of a truly concerned and dedicated professional can shine through, and that would be the gun shop sales person from whom you decide to buy your first gun.
The salesman’s role is to explain to you, in terms you can comprehend and with no condescension, the varieties of handguns available and how they operate. An ethical gun salesperson or firearms instructor wants to see you on a regular basis and keep you as a customer. An ethical professional will also never push you into buying a particular product and should work to keep you, as a first-time buyer, resist being seduced into believing that cute, sleek, shiny, or complicated makes for a better defensive weapon. Rather, a good salesperson will help you make a truly informed choice, and they stay updated on quality products on the market.
2. Try Before You Buy
I suggest that, when shopping for a defensive handgun, you find a range facility that will let you rent different handguns, as well as offering basic handgun, personal protection, and concealed carry classes taught by qualified, certified instructors. In such a customer-friendly environment, you can best determine which type of handgun will best suit your particular needs.
As you begin to shop, you first need to educate yourself by gathering information about the different handgun types, makes, and models available. Then, compile a list of your objectives based on your own personal attributes and needs, so that you can make an informed and personally appropriate selection. No one handgun is perfect for everyone or every situation.
3. Know the Attributes of Good Carry Gun
Think light and thin, which equates to carrying comfortably. Also, think about how you dress. Will the gun be easy to conceal with your normal, every-day wardrobe? You may want to try before you buy. A customer-friendly gun shop will permit you to hold a handgun you are considering and maybe even try it out in a holster on your hip to see if it is the right type for you to carry.
4. Insist on Reliability
While the above criteria are important, we mustn’t sacrifice reliability and durability in a carry gun. Remember, if you are going to carry your handgun everyday and practice with it, it must hold up!
5. Find a Good Fit
In choosing your carry handgun, you must judge as to whether each option provides a good fit for your hands. Does it point naturally? Is your trigger finger comfortably able to reach the trigger without your having to distort your proper grip? Unless the gun is a point-and-shoot gun, are the sights usable? Can you see the front sight clearly with your corrective lenses on?
6. Strive for Manageable Recoil
Is the gun comfortable to shoot? Is the recoil manageable? Seriously, if you can’t answer “Yes” to those questions, you will not shoot it, and you won’t get in the necessary practice time. So, choose wisely. It is better to shoot a 9mm pistol accurately than a .40 S&W or a .45 ACP erratically.
7. Get a Good Trigger
You want a trigger that is neither too heavy of a pull nor too light. Bottom line—does it feel right for you? Can you operate it without getting finger cramps? Conversely, can you feel it when you press it? Too light of a trigger can spell accidental discharge. Can you repeatedly dry fire the gun without making figure eights with the front sight?
8. Seek Reasonable Accuracy
In your hands, the gun needs to be reasonably accurate when you shoot it at 10 yards and closer. Is the gun forgiving of the arc of movement created by your hand tremor? Are you able to place accurate follow-up shots? Bad guys have a nasty habit of not going down after just one shot, so good second-shot recovery is essential.
9. Demand Ease of Operation
Your defensive handgun should be simple and safe to operate. Do you have the hand strength to pull the slide all the way back on a semi-auto pistol to cycle a round into the chamber or to clear the gun? Can you easily operate the slide stop/release lever to lock the slide back? Can your thumb reach and operate the magazine catch to drop the magazine? If you have a revolver, can your thumb easily reach and operate the cylinder release latch? Under stress, whatever fine motor skills you do have tend to fly away.
Ease of operation includes choosing a gun that’s simple to field strip for routine cleaning and maintenance. Choose one that’s difficult, and the end result will be that you won’t maintain it, and then it won’t work when you need it. Keep in mind, too, that, as we age, many of us develop arthritis, which makes it difficult to disassemble and reassemble mechanical devices with many stubborn little parts. For those of us with weaker hands, it is important to choose a gun that does not require Herculean hand strength to disassemble and reassemble.
10. Affordability — Don’t Overpay!
Your gun should be affordable to purchase and use. If you’re on a fixed income, you don’t want to have to sell your firstborn grandchild to stay protected! Also, if practice ammunition is too expensive, then you may become reluctant to practice. Choose a handgun in a substantial caliber for which there’s plenty of cheap, quality target ammunition and a good supply of affordable, defensive hollowpoint ammunition—9mm would fit the bill.
More Good Information:]
This article is for novices... and for long-time gun-owners.
You might be a woman looking for your first self-defense handgun. Or you might be a lifelong "gun person" that people come to for advice about guns. Either way this article is for you.
Every day, people who have never owned any sort of gun — perhaps have never even shot one — decide to get a self-defense handgun. They aren't gun people, they aren't going to become gun people, they aren't going to hunt or target shoot, they aren't going to practice a lot. But they want a home-defense handgun, and they want one suitable for concealed carry if they decide to go that route. In other words they want an effective, easy to use, easy to carry, all-around self-defense handgun.
After all the pluses, minuses, caveats, ifs, ands, and buts are factored in — this is my bottom-line gun recommendation, along with the reasons for it. This article presupposes that the prospective gun owner is healthy, of normal intelligence or better, and has no inherent fear of guns.
Long-time gun users will undoubtedly find the selection process interesting, and may wish to use this article as a basis for their own recommendations.
In any case, don't be put off because I start with some basics — it's only a few paragraphs, and they're necessary for clarity.
First, Get the Terminology Straight.
A bullet is the actual projectile that shoots out of a gun. Bullets are usually made of lead. They may be covered with a thin copper-alloy jacket that serves various purposes.
Cartridges are the individual complete units of ammunition. A single cartridge consists of a bullet that is set tightly into one end of a powder-filled metal case. Cartridges are what you load into a gun. Handgun cartridges are commonly sold in boxes of 50.
Caliber, in everyday usage, refers to a particular cartridge configuration. This configuration consists of bullet diameter, case size, and case shape. Examples are the .38 Special, .44 Magnum, or 9 millimeter Luger. Most rifles are designed to shoot only one particular caliber, but some handguns can shoot cartridges of two or more different calibers.
With this in mind, you should know that bullets — the actual projectiles — come in many weights and designs, even for one particular caliber. These different weights and designs allow bullets to be custom-tailored for particular applications, such as target shooting, hunting, self-defense, etc. A well-stocked ammunition dealer will have several bullet options available for each caliber, and all of them can be shot in any gun of that caliber.
Handguns come in two basic types. The first type is the revolver, which has a visible rotating cylinder that holds the ammunition. Double-action revolvers — the type we're interested in for self-defense — require a comparatively long, firm trigger pull to fire. A single pull of the trigger rotates the cylinder (putting a fresh cartridge in position) and fires the gun. Revolvers typically hold five or six cartridges.
The second type is the pistol (or semi-automatic). Pistols hold ammunition in an internal magazine. Pulling the trigger on a pistol fires the gun. The gun then uses the energy of the "explosion" to automatically load a fresh cartridge in position, ready to fire. Currently available pistols can hold up to eighteen (or more) cartridges.
Finally, a round refers to either a complete cartridge or to just the bullet, depending on the context, which will generally make it clear. Let's get started.
Get a revolver.
Why? Because revolvers are rugged, simple to operate, easy to maintain, will function with any commercial version of its proper cartridge, and are forgiving of grime, lack of lubrication, and other neglect. Furthermore, if you pull the trigger on a revolver and it doesn't fire, you can pull the trigger again and bring an entirely new cartridge into firing position. Incidentally, this is exactly why policemen, hunters, campers, and other experienced folks (including myself) frequently carry revolvers. Because revolvers are simple and rugged, a used revolver is fine if it's in good condition.
If you're not going to train regularly, do not buy a semi-automatic handgun (a "pistol"), and don't let anyone talk you into getting one. Although there are many excellent and reliable semi-autos available nowadays (Glocks being a prime example; I own several), their comparative mechanical and operational complexity and their potential failure modes are simply not compatible with use by inexperienced or untrained people.
Let me repeat: if you aren't a gun person, or if you don't trust yourself to regularly maintain or train with your gun, you should not carry a semi-automatic handgun. Get a revolver.
What features should a revolver that is suited to both home defense and concealed carry have? Read on.
Get a quality, short-barreled, spur-less or concealed-hammer revolver.
Get a name-brand revolver (Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger, Taurus, perhaps a couple of others). This is your life you're talking about, so don't be a fool by pinching pennies. The gun you buy can easily continue to function for literally a hundred years or more, so get a good one the first time. I think the best manufacturer of small revolvers is Smith & Wesson, but the others are also very good.
Get a revolver with a barrel no longer than 2 1/2 inches, because that size handgun can easily be carried concealed by just about anyone, in any normal concealment manner. If you're a larger person, or have good reasons for buying a particular revolver, the maximum barrel length can be extended to 3 inches.
Don't be concerned about the reduced aiming qualities of a short-barreled handgun in comparison to a long-barreled handgun. This isn't a target gun, it's a self-defense gun, and precision aiming features are not necessary. Why? First, if you're under attack there's little chance that you'll actually aim the gun in the conventional sense. You will instead point it at your attacker and pull the trigger. You'll never see the sights — a phenomenon often reported even by trained police officers. Second, if you do pull the trigger on an attacker, the overwhelming probability is that he'll be at most seven yards away — and quite likely just a few feet away.
Get a revolver that has no exposed hammer spur. The hammer spur is the curved metal piece that extends from the back of the gun and is used to cock a revolver for single-action shots. But you should never cock a revolver in that manner for self-defense use because it makes the gun too easy to discharge by accident. Therefore you won't need a hammer spur anyway. Furthermore, and quite important, the hammer spur can catch on clothing at the worst possible moment.
I highly recommend special lightweight revolvers, such as those made with titanium or aluminum alloys. Examples are the Smith and Wesson "AirLite" or "Scandium" models and the Taurus "Ultra-Light" and "Total Titanium" models. Why lightweight? Because they are more comfortable to carry if you decide to carry. Five-shot revolvers are usually somewhat smaller and lighter than six-shot revolvers, but both are suitable for our purposes.
What caliber of name-brand, short-barreled, spur-less (or concealed-hammer) revolver should you buy? Read on.
Get a .38 Special or .357 Magnum caliber revolver.
Guns in .38 Special caliber were the standard law enforcement caliber in America for over half a century, and they are still used by many law-enforcement officers and citizens. A .38 Special revolver is not so large that it's hard to carry or shoot, and not so small that it's ineffective at stopping attackers. Furthermore, any place that sells ammunition will sell .38 Special cartridges. In sum, do not buy a gun that shoots a smaller diameter or weaker caliber cartridge than the .38 Special, period.
The .357 magnum caliber is a significantly more powerful version of the .38 Special. The case of a .357 Magnum cartridge is slightly longer but otherwise identical to a .38 Special cartridge case. Because of this fact, you can shoot the shorter .38 Special cartridges in a .357 magnum revolver. The reverse is not true; that is, .357 magnum cartridges are too long to fit into a .38 Special gun.
What this means is that you can load a .357 Magnum revolver with cheaper, milder-recoiling .38 Special cartridges for practice shooting. When you load the .357 Magnum revolver for self-defense, you can use either .38 Special cartridges or high-powered .357 Magnum cartridges.
If the above confuses you, read it again. If that doesn't help, find someone who can show you what I'm talking about. If in doubt about any aspect of this, simply get a .38 Special. You'll be well-armed.
A final note: don't concern yourself about recoil of a lightweight .357 Magnum. If you ever have to shoot your gun in dire circumstances, it's likely that you'll only have to do so a couple of times. You'll never feel the recoil. In fact, because of the way the human body works under stress, you may not even hear the gun fire. In any case, if you do get a .357 and decide it kicks too much, you can always load it with .38 Specials.
Speaking of firing the gun — what ammunition should you use? Read on.
Load your revolver with jacketed hollowpoint bullets.
Above, I explained that bullets come in many different designs. One such bullet design is the hollowpoint. Hollowpoints are sold in different weights, with and without jackets, but all of them have a cavity in the tip which helps them expand when they hit a human or an animal. This expansion serves two important purposes in a self-defense gun: it causes more energy transfer and more damage to the attacker (which helps to stop him quickly) and it keeps the bullet from passing through the attacker and hitting an innocent person (which has happened many times with other types of bullets).
Jacketed hollowpoints of .357 Magnum or .38 Special caliber are generally heavy enough, strong enough, and fast enough to penetrate leather, thick clothing, minor obstacles, or a substantial layer of body fat and still do their job. They may even penetrate or break bones. If reading this makes you squeamish, then you're normal. But if you are being attacked by someone trying to strangle you, slash you, or shoot you, you won't be thinking about any of this. You'll simply want to stop him, right now. For the given reasons, when you load your gun for self-defense use, load it with jacketed hollowpoints. (NOTE: Reportedly, hollowpoint ammunition is illegal for law-abiding citizens in New Jersey, giving criminals the advantage in a gunfight.)
A note: the bullet weight printed on an ammunition box has nothing to do with whether the bullets are hollowpoints, jacketed, unjacketed, solid, or whatever. The printed bullet weight is the total bullet weight, period.
Which particular hollowpoints should you use? Read on.
Use only name-brand self-defense ammunition.
This is another area where it's stupid to pinch pennies. Again, it's your life we're talking about. Don't use cheap commercial ammunition or reloads. They may have low-performance bullets, light target-shooting powder charges, or substandard cases or primers that could cause misfires or other problems.
Don't use your neighbor's special extra-deadly self-defense handload. First, hand-loading by fallible humans means you might have split cases, loose crimps, high powder charges, low powder charges, zero powder charges, loose primers, or oil-contaminated primers — any one of which could spell disaster in a moment of crisis.
Bottom line: get name-brand jacketed hollowpoint ammunition designed for self-defense, such as Federal Hydra-Shok, Remington Golden Saber, Speer Gold Dot, or Winchester Silvertip. That way there's a virtually 100% chance that when you pull the trigger, the gun will fire and the bullet will perform correctly.
Note: if you want to practice shooting with cheaper ammunition, that's fine, but it's best to use the same weight bullet as the ones you will use for self-defense. That way the recoil and target impact point will be the same. This is not absolutely essential, but recommended.
Taking care of your gun.
Revolvers are pretty easy to maintain. Keep them dry and lightly oiled on the exterior. Keep them out of dirt and lint, and learn to clean them properly after shooting by asking someone you trust how to do it. This could include your gun dealer.
One thing, however: DO NOT put a lot of oil on your gun, especially in or around the chambers (the holes where the cartridges go). The oil can seep into the cartridge primers and make them fail to discharge.
I advise against shooting unjacketed ("lead") bullets in your gun, even for practice, because (depending on the particular gun or which cartridges you buy) you may have to work to get lead deposits out of the barrel. I'm afraid you just won't do that. Fortunately, inexpensive jacketed .38 Special cartridges suitable for practice shooting are easy to find.
How do I carry my gun?
This section is a bit long because how you carry a self-defense gun is generally more important than the kind of gun you carry. In most self-defense situations, if you can't access your gun cleanly and instantly, you may as well not have it.
Keep in mind that, depending on the situation, you may use all of the carry methods below. I do.
Holsters — The Best Method
In terms of quick, easy access, waist holsters are generally the best way to carry a handgun. I don't recommend shoulder holsters because they are harder to put on, harder to conceal, harder on the gun due to moisture and salt from the armpits, and are often less comfortable when compared to waist holsters.
Waist holsters come in two main types: inside-the-pants (which provide better concealment) or outside-the-pants (which are more comfortable but require a longer outer garment for concealment).
Inside-the-pants holsters fit inside the pants waistband, against your body. They are attached by loops through which your belt passes, or by a clip that grips your pants waistband and/or belt.
Outside-the-pants holsters fit completely outside your pants. They are attached by means of loops or slots through which your belt passes, or by a "paddle" system.
Paddle holsters have a largish curved plate (the paddle), usually made of plastic, and a clip that grips your belt. The advantage of these holsters is that they can be slipped on and off without undoing your belt or pants, and the paddle keeps the holster properly positioned. Current versions generally are comfortable and work well.
Holsters often come with a strap that passes over the top of the gun. The straps (which are called retention straps, security straps, safety straps, thumb breaks or thumb snaps) are fine for law enforcement carry, hunter carry, and military carry — that is, when used by people who are well trained in disengaging the strap, or who generally know in advance when they must draw their gun.
However, for most folks carrying a concealed gun, a retention strap will hinder rapidly drawing the gun. So whether you buy an inside- or outside-the-pants holster for self-defense carry (either is fine) you should definitely get a holster designed to hold the gun securely in place without a retention strap. These holsters work by being closely molded to the shape of the gun, or by having an interior projection or squeezing device to hold the gun. They are called strapless or open-top holsters. That's what you want.
Many people carry their guns in fanny (waist) packs. This can be a good method, especially for motorcycle or bike riders or hikers, but only if the gun can be quickly accessed from the fanny pack. (By the way, a gun in a back pack is very hard to get to quickly, and backpacks are often easy to steal. Do not carry your gun in a backpack unless you have absolutely no other choice.)
A warning: if you live where politicians believe you have no right to defend your life with a firearm, be aware that police officers will automatically assume that large fanny packs, especially black ones, especially if carried by a man, have a gun inside.
For both men and women, depending on the weather and situation, a gun can be carried in a coat or jacket pocket. Make sure the pocket is empty of dirt and other objects, and make sure that the gun can't fall out under normal movement. Also make sure that the gun isn't obvious to people standing nearby — which usually rules out the front pockets of light pants and the back pockets of almost all pants.
It is probably impossible to prevent women from carrying guns in their purses. This is unfortunate because for many reasons purses are generally a bad place to carry a gun.
First, purses are the targets of thieves. If your purse is stolen, you'll lose your expensive gun and it'll likely end up on the black market in the hands of some criminal.
Second, unattended kids get into purses (though they should be taught NOT to — see section below about kids).
Third, purses are filled with other objects that impede quick access to your gun. If you need your gun, you're going to need it quickly, and you won't have time to paw through notebooks, cell phones, compacts, etc. to find it. Nor may you have time to unzip that little side pocket to get it. You'll need it right now.
Fourth, purses are full of tiny objects like pins, coins, lost beads, lint, and other debris that can work their way into a gun and keep it from functioning. A gun that doesn't function is just a piece of metal.
Nevertheless, women's clothing styles often dictate that a purse is the only realistic place remaining for women to carry a gun. So if you're going to do this, get a purse designed to carry a gun! You can find one through an internet search, by asking gun dealers, or by buying gun magazines and reading the ads.
For men or women, I also recommend buying and installing a set of Barami Hip-Grips if they're available for your model. Hip-Grips are similar to regular grips, and don't prevent you from carrying your gun in a regular holster. But they also have an integral lip that will catch on your belt or waistband, allowing you to simply stick your gun inside your pants waistband, leaving the grip still projecting and easy to grab. This means, for example, that if you want to walk to the corner convenience store, or need to make a nighttime walk to your car or a motel ice machine, you can poke your gun in your pants, pull your shirt over it, and go — nothing else to mess with.
These grips have other characteristics making them good for concealed carry. They are smooth and won't catch on clothing; they're black and therefore unobtrusive, color-wise; and they're small and make a minimal bulge, even under lightweight shirts. For women, this latter quality makes them fit smaller hands.
You'll have to search around for Barami grips. Try your local gun dealer, Shotgun News at your newsstand, or get them directly from Barami (www.baramihipgrip.com) or from Ajax Grips (www.ajaxgrips.com).
If you like the grips you already have, there is an add-on clip that fits under one existing grip panel and serves the same purpose as the Hip-Grip. It's called a Clipdraw, is made in different configurations to fit various guns. I haven't tried them, but the concept seems valid. Find out more here: http://www.clipdraw.com.
When should I carry my gun?
First, remember that the gun I have recommended is perfectly suitable for a home defense gun as well as a carry gun. You may or may not wish to carry it.
In some states, politicians (almost always Democrats) believe that only the lives of "special people" — usually the politicians themselves, friends of these politicians, celebrities, or people who carry money/valuables — are worth defending with guns. They have issued unconstitutional edicts making it a crime for their constituents (people like you and me) to carry guns to defend against vicious criminals (who carry any gun they want, any time they want). Yet almost all of these politicians are protected by armed guards at work and at home, usually 24 hours a day — just like COA says in its national pro-gun radio and print ads (www.citizensofamerica.org).
I say to hell with them and their edicts. These politicians are immoral, unethical, hypocritical, elitist, and control-obsessed. They clearly don't care about your life, or the lives of your family members. I would describe them as evil. No politician will ever prevent me from carrying a gun to protect myself, my family, or my neighbor with a gun. I carry a gun whenever I feel the need to do so, which is frequently.
You must decide if and when you carry a gun. You may decide, as many people have, that you should carry it every day. The bottom line: It's your life (and/or your spouse/children's lives). You have the right to defend these lives. And you have the right — not just morally, but Constitutionally — to carry the most effective and convenient tool to effect this defense — a handgun.
A final thought on this subject: simply owning a gun will not protect you from violent criminals; you must have the gun with you when they attack.
What about my children?
It is better to gun-proof (educate) your children than try to child-proof your guns. This means teaching your children what a gun is, what it can do, and that they should never touch it without your permission.
From personal experience, empirical historical evidence, and overwhelming anecdotal evidence, it seems far better to go a step further and familiarize kids with guns. That is, let them look at and hold your unloaded gun. This satisfies their natural curiosity and indicates on a fundamental level that you trust them — and most kids will try not to abuse such adult trust.
Even better, let your child watch you shoot a cantaloupe, honeydew melon, or watermelon so that they can experience the noise and damage a gun can do. When they are mature enough (probably around eight years of age for most kids) teach them how to load and shoot the gun.
DO NOT trust "secret" hiding places or trigger locks, especially with older children. Such "secrets" tend to be uncovered when you aren't around, and many trigger locks can be taken off or otherwise defeated with a little effort. Even gun safes can be left open by accident, or your children may find the safe's keys or combination and open it.
Again, educate your kids rather than attempt to outsmart them. If you do this, a lapse of safety on your part need not lead to tragedy.
· If you absolutely can't afford a gun precisely like the one I recommend, get one as close to it as possible. In this article the desirable qualities of a reliable, simple, effective, easily-carried self-defense handgun have been arranged in order of importance, topmost (revolver) being the most important.
· Shoot at least twenty-five rounds (half a regular box) from your gun every six months. It keeps you familiar with its operation and your own abilities.
· Put fresh (but not necessarily brand new) cartridges in your gun every six months.
· Take basic gun safety and shooting lessons. There are NRA instructors in just about every city, and many shooting ranges offer lessons, or can put you in contact with instructors. This is the smart and responsible thing to do, so do it.
· Learn about the laws regarding self-defense. An excellent and very readable book on this subject is In the Gravest Extreme, by Massad Ayoob. Find it at your local gunshop, or try Amazon.com or other online booksellers. This is the smart and responsible thing to do, so do it.
· Work to elect politicians who trust you to carry a gun and believe your life is worth as much as their own.
Great article from Chuck Hawks:
Most experts suggest using a conventional belt holster for concealed carry. Breaking that down, we find strong side external holsters the most frequent recommendation. Admittedly, no holster will permit a faster draw from a standing position than a good belt holster, particularly when worn on the shooter's strong side on a dedicated gun belt. A strong side holster on a wide, purpose-built belt is also one of the more comfortable methods of carrying a handgun, as long as a lot of sitting is not required. Cross-draw holsters, inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters and shoulder holsters are also regarded favorably by most pundits.
These are excellent options in some circumstances, but I do wonder where these guys work, socialize and relax. Don't they ever sit down, attend a function, have coffee with their friends, or drive a car? Isn't it ever summer time where they live? Don't they ever come in out of the rain? Don't they ever do any kind of physical activity (labor or recreational)?
Because if they did any of these things, the first thing they would normally do is take off their coat or jacket and in the process expose their previously concealed handgun to public view. This is not desirable and in most jurisdictions it is against the law. (The legal term is "brandishing.")
Most people live in states that permit legal concealed carry and an increasing number are taking advantage of it. A lot of other people live in places where their Constitutional right to "maintain and bear arms"--that means carry a gun--has been infringed by state or local government, but who have decided to ignore such laws and arm themselves for self-defence. Who can blame them? Honestly, if you and your loved ones were threatened with robbery, battery, rape, torture and murder by a gang of toughs, or even a single psychopath, could you defend yourself without a gun? Sadly, not many of us could.
I am talking about ordinary, law abiding, working or retired people here. People who live normal lives and want to protect themselves and their loved ones, but do not want to disrupt their lives or dramatically change their behavior to do so. People who do all of the things I mentioned above. For most of these people, the conventional holsters recommended by so many experts are just not practical.
Handgun size has a big impact on the viability of the various concealed carry methods. In other words, appropriate concealed carry methods vary with the size and weight of the pistol. The bigger the gun, the harder it is to conceal. The handguns commonly used for personal defense can be grouped in the following general categories.
Full Size Service Pistols
The larger and heavier a gun is, the harder it is to keep concealed and the less comfortable it is to carry. These factors mitigate against full size, service type autos and revolvers (1911's, Beretta 92 series, Browning Hi-Power, Ruger GP 100, S&W "K" and "L" frame revolvers and all similar size handguns). No matter how brilliantly these guns perform when the whistle blows, service pistols were not designed for concealed carry. Indeed, they were designed to be carried in large hip holsters suspended from a wide gun belt. Full size service pistols are, therefore, a poor choice for concealed carry, although some of the carry methods appropriate for compact service pistols can be used for their larger cousins.
Compact Service Pistols
A step down in size are the compact service pistols. These are the shortened and lightened versions of the semi-auto service pistols. Most chamber the 9mm Luger (9x19mm), .40 S&W, or .45 ACP cartridges. I think the first pistol of this type was the Colt Commander. Today, a Commander, at 27.5 ounces and 7.75" in length, seems chunky compared to the new Colt Officers Model (24 ounces and 7.25") or, my favorite, the Glock 19 (21 ounces and 6.85"). Most manufacturers now have "chopped" (shorter barrel and grip) versions of their service pistols. This class of gun is the largest I would consider for concealed carry.
The next group of concealable pistols include the small frame .38 Special snub-nose revolvers (Colt's Detective Special, Ruger's SP101 and S&W's Chiefs Special are the classics), the small .380 ACP semi-autos (Walther's PPK being perhaps the most famous) and the new breed of sub-compact 9x19mm semi-autos, such as the Glock 26, Kahr PM9 and Kimber Solo Carry. The G26, for example, is 6.3" long, and weighs 19.7 ounces. Its size is typical of many sub-compact pistols.
Pocket Pistols and Mini Guns
The smallest guns fall into the Deep Concealment or Mini-Gun category. These are the true "pocket pistols," in that they will literally fit into most jacket or pants pockets. These tiny guns include the .22/.22 Mag. mini-revolvers, .22/.25/.32 mini-autos and various derringers. Good examples are the North American Arms mini-revolvers and the Beretta tip-up barrel mini-autos. My favorite, the NAA Black Widow mini-revolver, weighs just under 9 ounces and is 5.75" long. Guns this small can be concealed in many ways, including some unique carry alternatives, which is their great advantage.
CONCEALED CARRY OPTIONS
There are many ways to conceal handguns of various sizes. Here are some worthy of consideration.
A belt holster on a dedicated gun belt is a non-starter for concealed carry, so we need only consider holsters that attach to the belt that holds up your pants. Belt holsters can be used with handguns of any size, but are particularly applicable to full size and compact service pistols, which have a limited number of carry options. If you are absolutely sure you will never want or need to remove your coat in public, a conventional holster (strong side or cross-draw) attached to a wide trouser belt can work well. The holster should precisely fit the belt. Belt holsters are the best option for a fast draw and reholstering is easy.
Unfortunately, belt holsters are inappropriate for many civilian concealed carry situations, particularly in warm weather when a coat or jacket is uncomfortable and may appear inappropriate. Quickly and discreetly discarding a holster that is threaded through your pants belt is practically impossible, should it become necessary to ditch your sidearm.
A strong side belt holster is typically uncomfortable when sitting or driving a vehicle. I prefer a cross-draw holster, since it is more comfortable in a wide variety of positions and can be reached with either hand, in case your strong hand is otherwise occupied when you need to draw your piece.
Shoulder holsters are available that carry the gun in either the vertical or horizontal orientations. Relatively long barreled guns require vertical shoulder holsters for concealment, while shorter barreled guns work well in horizontal holsters. Shoulder holsters can be made for guns of all sizes. Access to the gun is generally good, as long as your coat is unbuttoned/unzipped, and reholstering is easy.
Obviously, a shoulder holster requires wearing an outer garment at all times for concealment, a disadvantage they share with belt holsters. If you always wear a coat, and depending on your build and tolerance for shoulder straps, a shoulder holster can be a good choice. Many men find the shoulder holster's straps irritating for extended wear, while women typically have fewer problems with shoulder holster straps. To ensure maximum comfort, a shoulder rig must be carefully adjusted to fit the wearer; ideally, it should be custom made.
Someone who spends most of the day seated and is required to wear a coat may find a shoulder rig appropriate. If you have to carry a large gun under a coat, a vertical shoulder holster is one of the few practical options. It also keeps the gun dry in inclement weather.
A holster that rides inside the waistband of trousers can be an unobtrusive method of concealed carry for those thin enough to comfortably wear one. Concealment is superior to an external belt holster or paddle holster, although some sort of coat or jacket must always be worn.
Some inside the waistband holsters are held in place by a spring clip over the waistband and belt, while others come with straps that attach around a trouser belt. Either way, a short barreled handgun and a stiff belt are required for best results. Pants and belts should be purchased in a waistband size that includes the gun and holster. Most inside the waist band (IWB) holsters can be worn cross-draw or on the strong side, depending on the situation and wearer preference. A clip-on IWB holster and gun can be quickly discarded, if necessary. Reholstering can be a problem with a soft (and hence more comfortable) IWB holster.
I find an inside-the-waistband holster, worn either strong side or cross-draw, to be uncomfortable for carrying compact service pistols or .38 revolvers, although many experts recommend such combinations. In general, IWB holsters are most appropriate for thin handguns and thin shooters.
The Pager Pal is an IWB, cross-draw holster that clips over the waistband of your pants and carries a small pistol entirely inside the pants, below the waistband. The relatively large outer (clip) portion of the Pager Pal is covered by a pager or cell phone case. A two hand draw is required to hold your pants down while jerking the holster above the beltline by its exposed pager case, so the gun can be drawn. Concealment is good, but access is slow and requires two hands. As with any IWB holster, pants and belts should be purchased in a waistband size that includes the gun and holster.
I have found small of the back holsters too uncomfortable to be practical. Satisfactory when standing, they make it impossible to lean back when sitting or driving a vehicle. They also print badly when the wearer leans forward. They work fine in the movies, because the hero is almost always facing the camera. I do not consider SOB holsters useful for regular concealed carry and will not mention them again in this article.
A thigh holster can be attached to the upper leg by an elastic band, or held in place by some sort of garter belt. The latter keeps a thigh holster from obeying the law of gravity by slowly slipping down the leg and is the correct alternative for a woman wearing a skirt or dress. Thigh holsters are suitable for sub-compacts and mini guns. A thigh holster is generally impractical for men or women wearing pants, as to access it one must drop one's pants. Drawing and reholstering are awkward, but concealment is good.
I have seen ankle holsters for full size .380 autos and .38 snubby revolvers, but I would not like to carry a gun that big in one. An ankle holster impedes normal foot/leg movement, especially if you need to move fast. However, an ankle holster will work for the deep concealment pistols, such as mini revolvers and .25 autos. Such handguns are light and small enough not to be too intrusive. Cowboy boots or similar footwear help to conceal an ankle holster. Ankle holsters can usually be worn with formal clothes (a big plus), as long as the diameter of the lower pant leg is not too tight. (Ankle holsters require at least boot-cut pants legs.)
The pistol may inadvertently be revealed when sitting, especially if you are prone to crossing your legs, unless you wear extra long pant legs that drag on the ground when walking. Gun access and reholstering are awkward when standing, better if seated. Obviously, an ankle holster is not compatible with shorts or skirts.
The holster shirt usually takes the form of an undershirt with a pocket specifically designed to hold a pistol, typically under the left arm (for right-handed shooters). Holster shirts provide a high level of concealment, coupled with poor access (you normally have to unbutton your outer shirt to get to your gun). Holster shirts are best for carrying lightweight guns; a heavy pistol will cause them to pull away from the body and droop. They also tend to be quite warm, rather like a long underwear top. Holster shirts are expensive and you will need several if you wear them often, as you will need to wash it after every wearing. Kramer's Confident Carry is one of the better known holster shirts.
If you choose this method of carry, it is best to wear outer shirts with snap or Velcro closure to avoid having to rip the buttons off a regular shirt in an emergency. A cowboy shirt with snaps would be one possible alternative, if it blends into your usual surroundings.
These are wide fabric bands, usually including an elastic insert, with a integral holster pouch that are worn under a blouse or shirt. A belly band may be a viable way for a woman wearing a skirt, or a man in formal attire, to carry a small pistol. It shares the basic advantages and disadvantages of a holster shirt, namely a high level of concealment and poor access, but is less expensive and cooler to wear. As with a holster shirt, an outer shirt closed with snaps, instead of buttons, is desirable, since the shirt must be ripped open to access the gun. Reholstering is difficult.
Lower Abdomen Holsters
Thunderwear and SmartCarry are popular brands of lower abdomen holsters. These are pouch holsters on integral belts that are normally worn under an outer shirt that is not be tucked-in. They can also be worn over an outer shirt, but below the beltline. The various SmartCarry models can accommodate guns ranging from 1911A-1 pistols to mini guns and have a waterproof back panel to keep sweat off your gun. Drawing and reholstering are relatively slow with these holsters, as the gun is carried with most or all of its frame below the belt line, so the grip is hard to grab in a hurry. As with IWB holsters, one must buy pants and belts sized to go around a holstered pistol.
Fanny packs are normally worn in front, not in back as the name implies. They offer some of the advantages, particularly in terms of comfort and supporting the weight of a pistol, as a cross-draw holster on a separate gun belt, but with slower access and superior concealment.
Most manufacturers offer two (or more) fanny pack sizes. Service pistols and compact service pistols usually require the large size, while most snub-nose revolvers and sub-compact pistols will fit in small size fanny packs. The smaller a fanny pack is, the less it resembles a gun pack and the less hassle it is to carry. Therefore, small fanny packs carrying snubby revolvers or sub-compact autoloaders are best for unobtrusive carry. I recommend the smallest size your gun will fit into.
The fanny pack has several good points as a method of carrying a concealed handgun. For one, it has its own wide belt that spreads the load of the pistol and makes it much more comfortable to carry all day. For another, it does not interfere with most normal activities and is completely independent of the clothing you wear (no jacket required). It is suitable year around and in any climate. Access is pretty good, you just jerk the corner out and down with your weak hand to reveal your pistol, held ready for a strong hand draw. If stealth is more important than speed, you can quietly unzip the fanny pack and draw the gun with your shooting hand, which is particularly useful when sitting at a table. The fanny pack is attached to your body, so you will not forget it, or be separated from it at the wrong time. You will not inadvertently reveal your gun (flash) as you bend over, or twist to look behind you, which are common problems with conventional belt and shoulder holsters. There are no unusual straps running under your clothes (like with a shoulder holster) to give you away. Your gun will not "print through" your clothing, since your clothing is not concealing the gun.
Fanny packs also provide a handy place to keep your wallet, change and incidentals. They work particularly well in hot weather, when jogging, exercising, or anytime wearing a jacket to conceal a belt or shoulder holster would be uncomfortable and possibly draw attention. Both men and women can, and do, innocently carry fanny packs all the time, so yours should not be remarkable. Reholstering is easy.
The main drawback to fanny pack carry is that it is not appropriate for wear with a suit and tie (for men), or evening dress (for women). Almost anytime you do not have to "dress up," a fanny pack is appropriate. Two hands are required to draw the gun rapidly and, like any carry system requiring two hands, you could get seriously injured if the second hand is busy doing something else when you need the gun. The other major argument against fanny pack carry is that knowledgeable cops and civilians (usually others with concealed carry permits), may spot yours for what it is. My response to that is, So what? As long as you are carrying legally, cops and other legitimate gun owners are no threat to you. The point is that the general public will not know, will not be upset, does not think in terms of concealed firearms and will not give you or your fanny pack a second glance.
The Safepacker, by Wilderness Tactical Products, comes in a variety of sizes suitable for almost all types of handguns. It is a rectangular, enclosed gun pouch that can be worn exposed on the belt, since it completely covers the gun. Wilderness Tactical Products offers an accessory belt that effectively converts the Safepacker into a fanny pack and also an accessory strap for carrying Safepacker over a shoulder. The Safepacker can be secured to a vehicle's safety belt when driving. For the user who cannot wear the Safepacker on a belt or strap, it can be carried by hand.
My favorite method for carrying a mini-gun is the belt pouch. Mine is from Uncle Mikes. It will hold a small gun in the rear area and your wallet, change, shopping list, or whatever in the front section. It opens by means of a top zipper. The gun compartment is accessed by a pull away Velcro partition inside the belt pouch. It will work fine with any of the mini-guns and also with the smallest .380 autos (like the SIG P-238). The belt pouch just slides onto your regular belt. I recommend a wide, sturdy belt, such as those sold by Wilderness Tactical Products.
A photographers vest is available from a number of sources (mine is a Domke). They are generally light in weight with multiple large pockets, usually with zipper, snap or Velcro closure, and therefore provide a secure method of carrying a concealed gun. The front zipper pockets of mine will accept a G26 or Detective Special size gun, but not a G19. I carry extra ammo in the weak side front pocket to equalize the weight distribution. Access is adequate. The other pockets can be used for pens, wallet, change, checkbook and other stuff that is handy to have with you. In this regard, a photographer's vest is similar to a fanny pack, serving as a general purpose carrier. Fishing vests and general outdoors vests can be used similarly. The photographers vest's negatives are similar to those for the fanny pack: it does not go with more formal attire and very knowledgeable shooters may suspect why you are wearing one.
Pocket holsters are available for small handguns and I recommend their use for pocket carry. A pocket holster allows acquisition of a full firing grip, prevents "print through" and keeps pocket guns in a consistent position. Different pocket holsters are designed for different shapes of pocket, so you must match a pocket holster to both your gun and your pocket. An alternative to the front pants pocket is the thigh or cargo pocket found on some types of pants.
While most handguns are too big for a normal pants pocket, many will fit in a coat pocket. Not just the traditional trench coats seen so often in movies, but many leather jackets and parkas have pockets large enough to hide a gun. A gun in a coat pocket may be accessible when a gun in a belt or shoulder holster is buried under a closed coat in cold weather. On the other hand, the weight of the gun on one side may cause a jacket to visibly sag and make it feel unbalanced. Carry extra ammo (an ammo wallet is handy for revolver fanciers, as it is flat) in the pocket on the other side to equalize the weight. If you choose to carry a gun in your coat pocket, be sure not to leave your jacket somewhere, or check your coat in a restaurant; you are morally and legally obligated to maintain control of your gun at all times.
The wallet holster literally replaces a wallet with a heavy leather sandwich that snaps around the pistol. Most have cut-outs that allows firing the gun without removing it from the wallet. NAA offers a dedicated wallet holster for their mini revolvers. Carry it exactly as you would carry a wallet. Obviously, wallet holsters are suitable only for the smallest handguns.
One possibility for the smallest mini-revolvers is the special belt buckle. These are designed to hold the smallest .22 short/1" barrel model mini-revolvers. The one I have seen was from Freedom Arms and it looked like a large cowboy belt buckle. A stud on the front releases the gun into your hand. Pretty neat, except for the caliber of the gun it carries. There is also a belt buckle from North American Arms and theirs fits either standard or magnum frame NAA mini-revolvers, but does not conceal the gun within the buckle like the Freedom Arms version does.
The holster grip is a device that replaces the standard grips on a NAA .22 LR mini-revolver and folds closed in a manner similar to a pocket knife. It is designed for pocket carry and if it "prints" in your pocket, people will think it's a pocket knife. Deployment would seem to be a little slow, since before you can even start to aim, you must remove the mini revolver from your pants pocket and unfold its grip.
Lanyards and Neck Chains
A lanyard ring can be installed on all NAA mini-revolvers with birds head grips and the gun then hung around the neck, under the shirt, by the NAA lanyard cord that incorporates a quick disconnect at the gun end. Neat, and with a little custom work, the idea could also be applied to most mini-autos or derringers. Anything worn under the shirt is probably not going to be too quick to access, however.
OFF BODY CARRY
By "off body," I mean carry methods that are not firmly attached to the body and might, in the course of normal use, be set down somewhere. Such devices include all sorts of back packs, purses, shoulder bags, briefcases, day planners and sundry impromptu carry methods. (Almost anything you could reasonably carry could be used to conceal a gun. A camera case, shoe box, hollowed out book, Christmas package, or even a paper bag.)
A couple significant points should be made about all of the carry methods that do not firmly attach the gun to your person. You could be separated from your gun at the very moment you need it most. Briefcases and purses are particularly vulnerable, as they are regarded as valuable targets for theft by criminals (i.e. purse snatching). The other consideration is that it is perfectly possible to leave your briefcase, shoulder bag, day planner, etc. somewhere and forget it. Alternatively, it could be stolen during a moment of inattention. What is the likelihood that a person carrying anything by hand won't set it down somewhere at some point during his or her day? This could be disastrous if it contains a gun. Only people who NEVER forget a coat or misplace a purse should consider carrying a gun in this manner. Few people qualify, certainly not me, and I do not use or recommend off body carry. Never the less, here are some reasonably common off body carry methods.
Day Packs and Knapsacks
A possible way to carry a large gun is in a day pack. You see people with these light knapsacks everywhere. Women carry them shopping, kids carry them to school and hikers often wear them. You could carry a gun in one with no one the wiser. As long as the pack stays firmly attached to your body at all times, firearm security is adequate. The problem with any sort of pack is that rapid access to your gun is practically impossible and the pack must be removed, making it vulnerable to theft, to access your gun.
Purses and Shoulder Bags
There are versions for women and men, designed to hold all the stuff purses usually hold. The models designed specifically for concealed carry have a special gun compartment, usually held closed until needed by Velcro. You rip the Velcro open and slip your hand into the opening to grasp your pistol. Such purses seem appropriate for someone who works in an office or other place where a fanny pack is inappropriate. Gun purses can be made large enough to accommodate any size handgun and even a very small ladies purse can be used to conceal a mini revolver or .25 auto pistol. A wrist lanyard can help prevent the theft of small purses. Tiny, decorative ladies handbags are acceptable in almost any social setting, including with formal attire.
Another carry method for office workers or other persons who use them is the briefcase. I am not speaking of the typical hard side briefcase that is hinged along the bottom, but of the special leather or Cordura type designed for carrying a gun in a special area. Like the holster purse, most of these use Velcro for closure; you can access your gun by ripping the Velcro panel open. Most briefcases are big enough to hold full size service pistols.
One briefcase not intended for carrying a concealed weapon, but which works pretty well anyway, is the Lowe Pro. Made of Cordura, it has a double (two way) zipper across the top and pouches inside intended for notebooks, pencils and so forth. Some of these fit guns up to a snub-nose .38 revolver quite well. The top zipper can give you rather unobtrusive access to the gun, even when carrying the briefcase by its double handles, if something in the environment does not look "right."
A very special briefcase that deserves mention is the ingenious model from HK, designed to carry their compact SP89 or MP 5k sub-machine gun. This thing looks like a regular hard side briefcase, but it holds the sub gun firmly inside, barrel lined up with an unobtrusive hole in one end of the briefcase. There is a trigger built into the handle and special provision inside to channel spent brass from the ejection port to the bottom of the case. You can fire the whole magazine without ever opening the case or removing the gun! Of course, the entire inside of the briefcase is taken up by the gun and the mechanism, so it will not function as a regular briefcase. Note: BATF considers this to be a Class 3 destructive device. I have been told that the Secret Service uses these on their VIP protection details. Now you know why some of those Secret Service guys following the President around are carrying briefcases.
A special day planner, one of those Leatherette books with zipper closure, a calendar, address book, notepad and so forth that you see people carrying around these days, can also serve as a way to conceal a firearm. I have seen advertisements for special versions of these that include a compartment for a gun. Or, a person could modify a standard day planner for the purpose. I believe the specially made-for-the-purpose models still retain their original function, while one modified from a typical Cambridge (or other brand) planner might need to be pretty well gutted to hold a pistol.
A creative person can devise many unconventional methods for concealing a small handgun, particularly a mini revolver. Some that I have heard about include inside a cigarette case, hanging from a cleaning brush pinned under a large collar and up a sleeve. I hope some of the concealed carry methods mentioned in this article are helpful and provide food for thought, even if they are usually ignored by most experts.