How to choose the right handgun for personal protection or concealed carry

How to choose the right handgun for personal protection or concealed carry Looking for a concealed carry pistol or a handgun for personal protection, but don’t know where to start? If you […]
Pearce Grip Glock Magazine Extension Generation 4 - Pearce mag extension held in glock 17

Glock 17 9mm

How to choose the right handgun for personal protection or concealed carry

Looking for a concealed carry pistol or a handgun for personal protection, but don’t know where to start? If you don’t have a method for narrowing down which handgun to buy, then you are left with a crap shoot.
The steps below will help you methodically narrow down the options and make a good choice for your needs.

There is no single answer to which concealed carry handgun is best for everyone. Various details of your situation will influence which concealed carry handgun is the best choice for you.

If you are looking for a place to order a concealed carry pistol, we recommend that you check out:

Step 1: Starting list

We start by eliminating any brands of handgun that aren’t considered reliable enough to bet your life that they will work when you need them to. I generally recommend sticking with the bigger brand names like:

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - sccy

SCCY CPX-2 9mm

  • Glock
  • Ruger
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Kimber
  • Beretta
  • Springfield Armory
  • Sig Sauer
  • Colt

Or the next step down the line with brands like:

  • Kahr
  • DiamondBack
  • KelTec
  • SCCY

While many folks are happy with bargain brands like Hi-Point, I recommend that you only consider trying to find a gem in the bargain bin after you have learned a lot more about handguns and the pros, cons, and risks associated with each one. If you are reading this article, then you likely don’t have that sort of experience yet. Don’t worry. You will. 🙂

Other articles that might help you determine which pistols to include on your evaluation list:

Step 2: Decide when and where you plan to carry the handgun. 

Will you only carry around the house or your property where concealment isn’t that big of a concern? If so, then you aren’t limited to smaller pistols and have a lot more to choose from.
Will you carry in public? If so, will you need to carry concealed or do you plan to open carry?

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - alien gear holster

Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 3.0 IWB holster

Concealed: How will you conceal the handgun? In a purse? Front pants pocket? Inside the Waistband holster? Pocket holster? Appendix holster? Ankle holster? etc. Each concealment method has range of concerns and requirements and they can differ greatly. Depending on your capabilities, body type, and willingness to dress around your concealed pistol, even full sized handguns might be an option. I routinely carry a concealed full sized Glock 17 in an IWB holster, but it has meant changing my behavior and clothing to accommodate the full sized handgun. Generally though, for concealed carry you will likely be better able to conceal a smaller, slimmer, lighter, handgun easier than a thicker, bigger, heavier handgun. Check out this article for Pocket Holster options: Best Pocket Holster for Concealed Carry of Small Pistol

Open Carry: If you will carry your handgun in a holster that is visible to all, then size and shape considerations are much less of a factor. Weight will still be a consideration since you will need to carry the handgun with you.

Based on how you plan to carry your handgun, narrow down your list of handgun options to include only pistols that meet your requirements.

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - G2 RIP 9mm vs gold dotStep 3: Decide what ammunition cartridge your handgun will shoot?

I believe that some holy wars have been fought with less disagreement and conviction than ammo debates concerning which cartridge and caliber are favored among gun owners. However, I’ll make this easy for most people… choose 9mm Luger. Why?…

Every cartridge option is a compromise between a variety of complex factors including:

  • how many rounds of ammo you can carry in the pistol (bigger, heavier rounds generally mean the gun will hold fewer rounds)
  • how many rounds can you carry to reload the pistol after firing (bigger, heavier rounds likely mean that however you carry spare rounds will have to accommodate them)
  • how difficult it is to reload the pistol after firing
  • how to choose a concealed carry handgun - Federal 147gr HST - stuck

    bullet failed to penetrate cinder block

    cost of ammunition

  • availability of the cartridge in general
  • internal ballistic characteristics of the round (how it behaves in the gun)
  • external ballistics of the round (how it reacts in flight and upon impact)
  • availability of ammunition variants that meet your intended uses (personal defense, hunting, plinking, law enforcement, etc.)

Our goal is to help you pick the best option for your specific needs. Since this article is about carrying a handgun for personal protection or concealed carry, we can narrow down the cartridge choices quickly.
For most people the combination of the above factors make 9mm Luger the best choice. Need proof? 9mm Luger (aka 9×19) is the FBI’s current choice to fill this role after weighing all options and many years of experience.

*When might 9mm NOT be the best choice for you? If your specific situation calls for a more powerful round (maybe for barrier penetration), a round that will not penetrate walls, or a more compact option. However, in my experience most folks that argue for other cartridges for personal protection or concealed carry tend to base their choice on old, flawed data or emotional factors. We are more data driven here at Gear Report. Modern bullets in 9mm Luger are proven to be just as effective in the most likely personal defense scenarios as other readily available handgun options like 10mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W and the always popular .45 ACP. With effectiveness a virtual wash, the size and weight of 9mm, which allows you to carry more rounds in the gun and in your back-up magazine(s) give the clear edge to 9mm Luger.

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - AR pistol in .300 Blackout

Yes. This AR in .300 Blackout is a “pistol” and might be a good personal defense choice

Step 4: Which handgun can YOU shoot accurately and comfortably?

With your cartridge chosen you can narrow your focus to the vast range of handguns available which fit the size, weight and shape requirements from Step 1. From these options shoot as many as you can since handguns that look similar often feel very different when you shoot them. Accuracy is of critical importance when shooting for personal defense, so rank order your list of handgun options according to your accuracy shooting the slowly (we will get to more rapid firing later) and shooting comfort. Please don’t make the mistake of buying a personal defense pistol that your life might depend on some day without at least putting a few rounds down it to be sure it works for you.

Step 5: Tactical Accuracy

In step 4 we assessed the potential accuracy of the handguns under good conditions. Now we will see how the best of them perform for you under more rapid, stressed fire… the sort of use they will be put to in real life, should you be required to defend yourself with your handgun.

At the range, see which you can string multiple shots on target most accurately and quickly with. If any are markedly better move them up on your list, any are markedly worse, move them down or take them off of your list.

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - EZ2C TargetStep 6: Capacity

At each step above we have narrowed the list to only handguns that meet your needs. There likely aren’t many left on your list to pick from. Of what is left, I suggest picking the handgun with the highest capacity. This may eliminate revolvers for some people, as they are generally more difficult to reload quickly under stress vs mag fed concealed carry pistols.

By following the steps above you  are assured to make a good choice. Once you own a concealed carry handgun I suggest shooting AT LEAST 200 rounds to ensure reliability and familiarize you with the nuances of its operation before even thinking about carrying it for personal protection. Many people choose to shoot cheaper FMJ rounds for practice, then buy specialized rounds for personal defense or concealed carry. I also like to practice with the cheaper rounds, but like to shoot at least 50 rounds of whatever ammo I will actually carry in the pistol to be sure it functions flawlessly and that I am prepared for any differences in how the handgun shoots with this “defensive” or “duty” ammo vs the cheaper “range” or practice ammo.

Let us know in the comments how you choose your personal defense and concealed carry guns.

If you are looking for a place to order a concealed carry pistol, we recommend that you check out:


About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.