December 2, 2016

Best Concealed Carry Handguns for Beginners


I teach concealed carry permit classes for the state of Utah, and invariably, I am asked by my students, “What is the best concealed carry handgun?” My answer is always the same: Carry whichever gun you feel most comfortable with, and the one with which you can hit your target. While this answer is true, it is not terribly helpful. So, I have decided to make a beginners’ guide, if you will, that will point people in the right direction. My list will not be exhaustive; that would be impossible, but I will try to make it as complete as I can.

The most important consideration when selecting a handgun for concealed carry is your ability to hit the target with it. It does not do you any good to have a .357 magnum if you cannot hit you target. One would be better off with a .22 magnum, if that is the handgun that can be shot most accurately in their hands. Cost is also a consideration.  Not just the initial cost, but the cost to shoot the handgun on a regular basis. You must practice regularly with your chosen weapon if you want to become proficient.


9mm’s are the mainstay of concealed carry. There are so many choices that I could write an entire book about them. The round has become popular again after being over shadowed by the .40 caliber. There are now many choices in self-defense ammo—so many that that will be a topic for another day. My personal feeling is that the 9mm is a great starting caliber for new shooters and new concealed carry permit holders. As you gain experience, you may want to try out other calibers, or you may be like me and stay with the 9mm.

Springfield XD Sub-Compact 9mm. Springfield has really made a name for themselves in the polymer pistol arena. This pistol features a 13+1 capacity if you use the compact magazine and it can increase to 16+1 with a grip extension. I’ve shot this little gun and loved it. It felt really good in my hand and had a natural point to it. Springfield makes this in a few different sizes, but my favorite is the sub-compact.

Taurus PT111G. People bad-mouth Taurus all the time, but I have to admit that I have owned 5 different Taurus handguns, and I’ve never had a single problem with any of them. The PT111G is the latest version of their Millennium series and is a real beauty. It is a 12+1 9mm with a 3.2” barrel. Basically, this a sub-compact pistol with a great price tag. Taurus is always going to be cheaper than Springfield or Glock. My personal feeling is that Taurus is a great gun for beginners that may be on a tight budget. These guns also come with a lifetime warranty.

Glock 19. Of all the Glocks, the 19 is by far my favorite. This is a compact pistol that has a capacity of 15+1 and is easy to conceal. Glock is known as a high quality, reliable pistol that requires little maintenance. The reason I like the 19 is that it has a perfect blend of conceal-ability and capacity. I always use my 19 to teach beginners, and all of them love it. I also have a model 26, which is the sub-compact version, and it seems just a little too small for someone just starting out.

Smith & Wesson M&Pc. The M&P series has really taken the pistol world by storm. I was reluctant to even shoot one when they first came out because I felt like Springfield and Glock had perfected the polymer pistol. I was pleasantly surprised when a fellow shooter at the range allowed me to shoot his M&Pc 9mm. I was surprised at how easy follow-through was after each shot. It has a 12+1 capacity and a four-inch barrel. The gun also has an adjustable back-strap to accommodate many different hand sizes. These guns have become popular with law enforcement as well. Recently, my local sheriff’s office adopted the M&P as their duty weapon.

.40 S&W

The .40 S&W has been a mainstay for the law enforcement community for the past twenty years. Every gun maker has a .40. All the guns listed in the 9mm section also come in .40 S&W. It needs to be mentioned that the .40 S&W will recoil significantly more that the 9mm. The recoil will be felt in muzzle flip. The flip can be quire sharp depending on the ammunition that you are using. Your capacity will also be lower when using a .40 S&W. The advantage is that the .40 has great stopping power and the .40 frames will be the same size as the 9mm. Practice is super important if you choose to go with a .40 S&W.

.45 ACP

I strongly advise against a new shooter or concealed carry permit holder getting a .45 ACP. The only exception to this would be if the person has a shooting back ground but has just gotten their permit. When it comes to .45′s, there are lots of choices, but I recommend staying with either Glock or Springfield XDs. The 1911 is a great gun, but is not suitable for a beginner.

.38 Special

Revolvers are a little tricky in this area of shooting. They are by far the most dependable of the handguns for personal defense. Pull the trigger, and the gun goes boom. There is no safety to worry about, no slide to rack, and no magazine to fall out if the wrong button is pushed. The problem is that revolvers take a lot more practice to master than pistols do. Most people who carry a revolver for personal defense carry a two to three-inch barrel. This barrel length does not provide mush in the way of weight to counteract the recoil of the gun.

The other issue is capacity. Most revolvers that are used in concealed carry are five or six-shot, at most. Compare this to the 9mms mentioned above that hold anywhere from 13-16 rounds. That is a big difference. But I still believe that revolvers have their place with beginners. I would absolutely discourage any new shooter from getting a .357 magnum. This caliber is a monster in four-inch and six-inch barrels, and in a two-inch barrel, it is a real wrist breaker. There is one positive for buying a .357 magnum: They are heavier, so when you shoot your .38 specials, the recoil is less than out of a standard .38.

Smith & Wesson J Frame. This revolver has been proven to be a real winner and a dependable handgun to have. It comes in 30+ models to choose from. Most are two-inch barrels, but some come with three-inch ones. You will also have lots of finishes and grips to choose from as well. The J frames also come in .22 magnum and .357 magnum, as well as .38 special.

Taurus Model 85. I list this one because I have owned one for about six years now, and I have loved it. Mine is a .38 special, and I carry it in the summertime. It has handled everything that I have thrown at it, and all for a fraction of the cost of a Smith & Wesson. Now, the Smith is much higher quality than the Taurus–no question about it. The most notable deficiency is the trigger. The Smith trigger is smooth, while the Taurus is quite rough. However, I only paid $260 for my Taurus brand new.  You’ll have to do the comparison and make your own decision.

Some may notice that I did not list the .380 auto. I’m not a fan of this caliber, simply because the 9mm does a much better job, and you’ll have a bigger selection of handguns to pick from by going with a 9mm. I also left off other calibers that I feel are more appropriate for advanced shooters, like the .357 Sig.

I’m sure some of you will have differing opinions, which I always am excited about! I want to hear from you.  What is your best concealed carry handgun for beginners? Let’s help those new to shooting make great investments. People are more likely to carry a gun that they feel comfortable shooting and they will feel comfortable when they can hit their target consistently.

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