Portability, size, and performance are considered in almost everything we deal with. Automobiles are evaluated by their weight-to-horsepower ratio. It doesn’t matter if a car has three hundred horsepower, if it weighs four tons it won’t be as fast as a two hundred horsepower car that weighs one ton.
The same principle applies to you and your selection of a carry handgun. It doesn’t matter if you have a Model 29 .44 Mag, if it’s left in your car or house because it weighs a ton, it won’t do you any good in the grocery store. The other side of that coin is a .22 (especially being a rimfire and having potential gaps in the primer), while very light and handy, does not have enough of a voice to “talk down” a man size, possibly intoxicated or chemically altered problem.
I’ve submitted for discussion in the past the issue of caliber. This topic has been passionately debated for decades, and I’m fairly certain almost no ground has been given in any direction. Without getting too deep into the murk of ballistics, kinetic energy and types of wound cavities I will try and offer a helpful tip or two to aid in your decision making.
Let’s start with the .22 Long Rifle (LR). While a fantastic small game round and rite of passage for many, it is lacking in the self defense department. I mentioned its priming method above. Liquid primer is dropped in and the casing is spun, causing the priming matter to seat in the rim area. Though the odds of your hammer finding a gap in that primer are small, they still exist. The issue of “knock-down” power should also be addressed with this round. Plainly stated, the lack of mass does not allow the projectile to transfer enough energy to its target to hinder previous momentum. While any gun is a gun I don’t want to get shot with, the .22LR is best suited as a squirrel stopper and plinker. If you don’t have one you should, but be aware of its performance before you stake your life on it.
The .380 ACP and .38 Special varieties of ammunition are offered in many convenient and accurate packages. While still too small for some applications, personally I don’t take issue with a smaller or newer shooter opting to carry one of these calibers. The .380s come in styles from ball to hollow point, and some newer guns have really popularized and expanded our options. The rimmed .38 Special version was once a policeman’s staple, and the hotter +P version only ups its performance.
The .380 handgun is produced by numerous manufacturers in numerous designs, and if you’re looking for a small auto-loader you can shoot well, you will be able to find one in this category. Beware of under-sized packages; a .380 can produce moderately difficult recoil for some to manage if in too light a firearm.
I am a fan of a .38 Special +P backup or possibly primary in some situations. I feel very confident in my ability to perform with a five shot double action revolver, and have never felt like I was lacking a gunfight-worthy gun when armed thusly. My typical variation is to carry a .357 Magnum “snubbie” loaded up with a cylinder of .38 Special +P and a few speed strips with .357 should the need arise for a more formidable round. I do not mix the types of ammunition on the strips, and I don’t carry them in the same pocket. I also opt to avoid the lighter guns. I’d rather suffer a little carrying and have a more manageable recoil to control. Ensure you can manipulate a double action trigger properly before investing as smaller hands can find difficulty in this long and heavy trigger pull.
.40, 9mm, and .45 ACP are generally going to be found in full size handguns, although sub compacts are made to shoot these rounds. The ones I’ve shot require quite a bit of practice to manage, and my opinion leans me closer to just carrying at least a four inch barrel with these calibers. There are some smaller handguns out there in those calibers that are high quality firearms. If you are new to carrying a concealed handgun, I would recommend finding a range that rents handguns for range time if there is any question about your ability to perform with a certain firearm.
I do generally carry one of those last three calibers as my main carry option. .45 ACP is my go to caliber, but size and capacity have a way of encouraging compromise. “Stopping Power” or “Put-Down” are often addressed, but not only will one shot of .45 not knock everyone down, but four rounds of 9mm will upset everyone! If you are able to shoot more accurately with a 9mm, and get more rounds on target faster, use the tool that you are comfortable with.
Please keep in mind that this is an article written to encourage further research, not an all-encompassing reference. My hope is that someone with purely practical interests will take a glance at this and have found a good starting point. If you’re looking into this topic, you’re headed in the right direction. Don’t forget to think about it and pray about it.