The five best guns for self-defense

Glock 42

On Friday, I published a list of The Five Worst Guns for Self-Defense. I didn’t list specific makes and models, because I wanted to focus on types of guns that are poor choices for as primary guns for self-defense. I like derringers and I think they’re cool, but it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for an SD gun. Today I want to flip the script and focus on the five types of guns I do recommend for self-defense, starting with my top choice.

1. A compact semi-automatic 9mm handgun

Gen 4 Glock 19

Examples: Glock 19, M&P Compact, Sig P229

My first and most frequent recommendation for carry guns fall into this category. Usually the question sounds like this: “Caleb, I want a gun for self-defense, what should I get?” I almost always recommend one of these four guns, based entirely on what the end user wants. Why? Because the compact segment of guns offers the best in terms of ease of carry/concealability, ammo capacity, and shootability. I recommend a 9mm because it’s the most common service cartridge on the planet, it’s cheap to train with, and quality defensive ammo is widely available from a variety of manufacturers. Accessories like holsters, sights, lasers, and lights are widely available for these common types of guns, meaning when you decide to upgrade your game it’s easy. Don’t be a special snowflake and buy something that there’s no aftermarket support for.

2. Sub-compact single-stack 9mm pistol

MP Shield no thumb safety

Examples: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, Glock 43, Walther PPS

A lot of time, people will say that guns in the compact segment, Glock 19/P229 sized guns are too difficult to conceal for EDC in certain types of clothes. I get that, because not everyone has the luxury of picking clothes to dress around a good-sized pistol like an M&P Compact. That’s why my second recommendation skips all the way down to the smallest reliable class of pistols chambered in a service cartridge. These guns go hard in the paint for concealability, while still retaining enough good features to make them shootable. You can take an M&P Shield through a 500 round class and you won’t hate yourself at the end of it (ask me how I know), and then stick the short magazine in it and make it completely disappear under the tightest of extra-smedium t-shirts. Again, stick with reputable, mainstream brands and you’ll be in good shape.

3. Full-sized service pistols in 9mm


Examples: Beretta 92FS, M&P fullsize, Glock 17, Sig P226, HK VP9, HK P30L

Some people on the other hand aren’t all that concerned about concealability, so the first two recommendations aren’t their cup of tea. They want the gun that holds the most rounds and is the easiest to shoot well, and for these guys we have full size service pistols. You want a gun that holds a lot of BBs, and is easy to shoot well? Here’s your category. In fact, if you really want to go hard in the paint in the segment, you could even carry one of the “competition” models, like an M&P9L, or a Glock 34. Guns in the full-size segment require more thought to carry and conceal on a daily basis, which means you may need to make some fashion concessions to tote around a full size M&P with an RMR mounted on it (ask me how I know…). But these are by far the best guns if your primary goal is shootability in your carry platform.

4. Compact revolvers in .357/.38 Special

Ruger SP101 Wiley Clapp

Examples: Smith & Wesson j-frames (so many flavors), Ruger SP101, Ruger LCR

For an admitted fan of revolvers, they’re also pretty low on my list. The reason is that these guns are probably the hardest to shoot well of any gun on this list, including #5, they don’t hold a lot of ammo, and some of them have terrible sights that you can’t replace. However, a big favor for all of them is that they all have Crimson Trace grips available, which ameliorate the “sights” issue. The best thing about these guns is they occupy a unique place in the casual gun owner’s psyche of “guns for self-defense”; which means that people who buy them are actually likely to carry them. And I’ll be the first person to say that none of the guns I’ve listed before this are worth a crap if they’re not on your body when you need them. At the lighter end of the small revolver spectrum, a Ruger LCR simply disappears when you carry it, and then on the heavy end you can shoot full house .357s out of a Ruger SP101 and probably finish an entire box before you hate yourself.

5. Pocket .380s


Examples: Glock 42, M&P Bodyguard, Sig P238, Colt Mustang (if you’re classy), Ruger LCP

There’s a reason I recommend these last on the list, behind more difficult to shoot compact revolvers. With the current quality of single stack 9mm pistols on the market, I don’t really see the point of these wee little .380s any more. But some people really don’t want a 9mm in this size, they don’t want a wheelgun, so a .380 makes the most sense. These guns frequently are difficult to really shoot well, and their truly compact size sometimes can compromise reliability, but they satisfy the first actual rule of gunfights: have a gun. I think that a j-frame is a preferable choice, but not everyone wants to get down with a DA revolver trigger. Also, don’t ever let people tell you that these pocket blasters aren’t accurate:

There you have it. The top 5 categories of guns that I recommend as primaries for concealed carry, in order from my favorite choice to my least favorite choice. Savvy readers will probably notice a couple of classes of guns missing from this list, if you think you’ve spotted it, let me know in the comments.

25 thoughts on “The five best guns for self-defense”

    1. I think I’m a heretical JMB type–I like my 1911 fine, but I’ve spent more time trusting my life to Glocks than to it.
      But I really think a 9mm 1911 would be a pretty sweet carry piece. One of the 1911’s big strengths is that even a beanpole like me can conceal a full-size model IWB with fair ease. Combine that with modern 9mm’s terminal performance/shootability nexus and the extra couple rounds it affords, and I’d be really hankering for a 9mm 1911 Government or Commander size as a carry piece.
      If, that is, I lived somewhere that permitted carry. I don’t at the moment, so it’s academic for now.

      Liking the column overall, too.

      1. Not only did JMB design guns for .25acp, .32acp, and .380acp, he also designed the cartridges in question.

    2. John Browning built his service sized pistols in .38cal, it was the Army that insisted on the .45

      He also invented the .25acp, .32acp and the .380

      Just sayin

  1. CZ75D Compact PCR 9mm or CZ75 Compact 40, Sig P938SAS, Kahr K or MK 9 or 40, M&P Compact 9 or 40, Ruger LCP or Remington RM380; I know you’re probably shaking your head at some of these choices. I have had excellent results with each of these and actually prefer the 40 in the Kahr MK and M&P Compact; but the CZ75 D Compact PCR is my favorite of the larger size weapons. Just picked up the RM380 at the beginning of the month, worked like a charm and not as nasty as the LCP is, when it does’t have the Hogue replacement rubber grip.

  2. Don’t knock the .380- Gavrilo Princip was able to kill millions with just two shots from a Browning 1910!

  3. In my case I feel that if I’m going to carry a “Full sized gun” which I’ll define as Colt Commander or larger. It makes sense to carry a 45acp. Why you ask. Well here in the Peoples Republic of Komifornia I’m limited to 10 rounds in the mag.

    In that case my Pro Carry with 8 round mags makes more sense to me then a similar sized gun with 10 rounds of 9mm.

    Now when I go smaller I’ll carry either a S&W 642 or a Kahr CW9, and I don’t feel any less prepared with them.

      1. It would, if I had a 10mm but I don’t and don’t feel the need to run out and buy one. Now a friend has a early Colt Delta Elite that I would like to trade him out of. But he won’t trade.

  4. I also live in a “10 round” state (CT), and I prefer to carry my Kimber Crimson Ultra Carry. The craftsmanship is unmatched, the accuracy is dead on, and even with 8 rounds, I feel extremely comfortable when I can keep them all within an inch and a half at 25 yds. I’m a city boy who lives with 40 or so murders a year and my .45 keeps me coming home every night.

  5. I have a CZ-P07 .40 Duty and it’s great. I also plan to pick up a CZ-2075 Rami BD 9mm. They are both great, solid, easy to use and clean guns. Reliability is awesome and accuracy as well. Call them a Combloc gun all you want and peddle the typical govspook guns you do here but I love CZ products. Easy to service and just as easy to get parts for as the ones you guys “prefer” on this site.

    1. @ SJ: I contemplated a Rami in 9 or 40 for a long time, they do feel good, but I kept thinking it’s just a little too fat for comfortable all day IWB; whether it’s front or back. That’s why I chose the 75D PCR; it just felt better in the hand and sliding it in and out of my holster. I actually picked up the PCR for less money too! They’re both difficult to find, but the PCR was even more difficult. Have a Happy Thanksgiving . . .

  6. That’s a sweet looking SP101 in that picture. Do you know where I could get a more sword-like grip for it?

  7. G19, check. Basic carry.

    XDS9, check. Sort of pocket-able with short mag, very handy belt gun with extended magazine.

    XD40 Service. close enough. It’s my gun and I like it.

    642, check. Basic pocket carry. Everyone should have one.

    LCP, check. I got one, thinking I’d get more use out of it. I’ve concluded that it’s a specialized piece, for carrying when anything larger is too large. Not fun to shoot, difficult to shoot well.

  8. You really don’t see why people would want a 9.5 oz .8 inch thick LCP over a “subcompact” that is twice the weight and size?

  9. I like my Beretta Tomcat 32 with the flip-up barrel. It is easy no need to rack to load or unload. Also, if target is over 10 feet then use a rifle or shotgun. The tomcat is great for anyone with difficulty operating the slide on an auto, but still wants an auto for ease of use. That said, the Tomcat has been discontinued and is difficult to find. I guess anyone that has one does not want to give it up

    1. Ten feet? I’m not particularly talented. (IDPA Sharpshooter and C class USPSA production) But even I can make quick accurate shots with a handgun at nearly ten times that distance.

  10. I like the pf 92 but like JTE I also love my gp100 Never underestimate the reliability of a good revolver and being 6 foot 200 lbs I can carry either of them comfortably concealed

Comments are closed.