MIKI Yoshihito via (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/) Flickr

One of my favorite classes to teach is my Firearm Selection Assistance Course. The primary purpose and benefit is helping students pick out the best gun for their intended purpose — including concealed carry. 

There are thousands of guns on the market — no joke – thousands. They come in every variety of caliber, shape, size, and style you can imagine. Sky’s the limit. Thus, it’s understandable those new to the gun world could easily become overwhelmed by their limitless options. 

Despite the large array of firearm choices today, focusing on a few pieces of essential carry gun criteria can quickly narrow down your options, and help determine the perfect carry gun for you. 

Five key variables to consider when choosing a carry gun:

  1. Caliber
  2. Size and weight of the gun itself
  3. Number of rounds the magazine/cylinder holds
  4. Safety or no safety
  5. Personal style and preference

Caliber — The first key variable to consider is the gun’s caliber. Certain calibers are ideal for concealed carry while some definitely are not. The goal is to strike the proper balance between power and comfort – the gun’s power and your comfort. 

You want a caliber large enough to take down an assailant, but also small enough that it’s comfortable to wear all day. For my female students, I tend to recommend a .380 or 9mm. For my male students, I tend to recommend a .380, 9mm, .40, or .45. 

Regarding caliber, it’s important to note that it’s perfectly legal to carry a .22 in most carry states — and I try not to discourage .22s. — but they won’t necessarily have one-shot stopping power. A key carry principle: if you have to use your weapon in a public setting, you want to discharge as few rounds as possible to minimize the chances of injuring anyone else in the vicinity. 

Size and Weight — The second variable to consider when picking your carry gun is the size and weight of the gun itself. The goal is to find a handgun that you WANT to carry all day; not think of it as a chore because the gun is heavy and uncomfortable to wear. 

This is closely tied to the first consideration of the gun’s caliber. Larger caliber guns will generally have a heavier frame compared to smaller calibers — and the rounds themselves could add significant weight. However, even with lighter calibers, the weight of the gun itself can vary quite a bit — so be sure you pick it up and hold it before actually purchasing. 

Magazine/Cylinder Round Capacity — The third key variable is how many rounds the magazine or cylinder holds. Some states and localities will have limits on magazine capacity — so do that research ahead of time before selecting a gun. 

Beyond legal limitations, the number of rounds wanted or needed will vary with each CHP holder, and can only be decided by the individual. Backup magazines and revolver clips can also be carried — so don’t let a low-capacity magazine keep you from carrying your favorite gun. Just have that backup magazine/clip ready to go in case you need it. 

Safety/No Safety — The fourth carry gun key variable is whether or not you want a safety. I could devote an entire article to this subject — but for now — I’ll summarize by saying that some folks feel more comfortable carrying a gun with a safety while others don’t care at all. Decide for yourself how you feel about safeties and then shop accordingly. Keep in mind that certain handgun models can be ordered with or without the safety. 

Remember: safeties are not eliminators of negligent discharges; they’re simply one extra measure to help prevent them. Following the general rules of gun safety is always a must – ALWAYS.  

Personal Style/Preference — Fifth, and finally, personal style and preference should obviously be considered when choosing a carry gun. We all have an opinion regarding what’s cool and stylish and that’s great — it’s precisely why there are thousands of guns on the market to choose from.  

After all is said and done, my biggest piece of advice when selecting a carry gun is ALWAYS TRY BEFORE YOU BUY! In my professional opinion, a good carry gun should cost in the $500 range brand new — possibly $400 if you buy a slightly used one. It’s a matter of basic quality and reliability — and price point matters.

That’s no small investment for most folks. Definitely test out a few before committing. Happily, many shooting ranges also rent firearms — so call a few to see what kind of rentals they offer. 

Happy gun shopping!

Grace Boatright

Grace Boatright is a professional firearms safety instructor and second amendment advocate based in Alexandria, Virginia. A 7th-generation Texan, Grace has over 20 years of firearms experience and over 10 years of experience working in Washington D.C.’s government affairs community. She teaches firearms and range safety, concealed handgun permit, and skill improvement courses on a weekly basis to a diverse group of students, both adult and youth.

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