That’s a great question, but it’s also a big question! And the right answer for any individual depends on a whole lot of different things.
When you’re looking for a handgun to carry, there are several things to consider:
1. The gun should fit you.
It’s not about finding a super small gun for small hands, because that’s not necessarily the best choice. There’s more to a gun than its actual size. It’s also about how the gun fits in your hand. Some grips are more boxy, some are thinner. Two handguns can be the same caliber and still be completely different in weight, length, and shape.
2. You should be comfortable with how the gun actually shoots/operates.
It’s common for ladies (especially smaller framed gals) to assume that a smaller gun is going to be better for them. However, while smaller guns may be easier to conceal, I’ve found that most smaller guns are not nearly as “nice” to shoot as their slightly larger counterparts. Smaller guns often have bigger recoil – I’ve had many women shoot my .380 and comment they feel like they have to hold on to it tighter than my 9mm.
I highly recommend firing several rounds with an example of the gun you want to buy before you purchase; you can usually do this at many indoor ranges that offer guns for rent. You may just find you are comfortable with a totally different make, model, and caliber of gun than you assumed you would be.
3. The caliber (and ammunition used) should be powerful enough to stop someone.
Everyone has their own opinion on what the best caliber is for a self-defense handgun, and this topic has lead to arguments in many a gun forum. There are some people who believe a .380 isn’t big enough to do anything, and that it’s not worth carrying a gun unless you’re carrying at least a .40.
But I also don’t know many people who would choose to stand in front of someone firing a .380, especially if it’s throwing self-defense rounds.
It’s kind of like people telling us that you can’t use a .243 for bear hunting because a .243 can’t take down a bear. Friends, the bear my son shot with a .243 provided us many meals of delicious bear stew.
Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, it’s important to point out that ammunition itself has come a long way, even in the last few years. We’re not talking about the ammo of our great grandparents’ day. Ammunition specifically intended for self-defense is a real thing, and it’s key to getting optimum performance in a self defense situation, regardless of what gun you’re carrying.
If you can carry a bigger gun, should you? Maybe. That’s up to you. But don’t not carry because you think your gun is worthless if it doesn’t start with .4.
4. The gun should fit your purpose.
If your reason for getting a gun is because you want to carry it concealed, that may require a totally different gun than something you don’t intend to ever have leave your house—or something you’re going to shoot in a pistol league.
Every gun has a purpose. As stated above, a gun that’s easier to conceal—or one that you feel more comfortable concealing—might not be the most fun to shoot. For example, my Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard (.380) was perfect for conceal carry. It’s tiny. But would I have taken it to the range to shoot “just because”?
Not a chance.
The .380 is snappy and spunky and isn’t something I would choose to take out on a day to shoot over and over again (aside from regular range practice.) That little gun has some bite.
By contrast, my Smith and Wesson M&P Shield 9mm is much more fun to shoot, but is slightly harder to conceal in certain outfits. My Sig Sauer p320 9mm is way more fun to shoot, but is much harder to conceal because of the double stack (a fatter grip which holds more ammo).
The point is this. Sometimes the main purpose of a particular gun is to be concealed—not to have an amazing trigger pull or be able to carry a gazillion rounds.
Other guns may have a different purpose. If you’re wondering which gun to buy and you’re trying to decide about one that is bigger but you wouldn’t feel comfortable concealing it—keep in mind what the purpose is for said gun.
5. The ammo for the gun should be available and affordable.
Sometimes the caliber of the gun you choose will cause a struggle when buying ammo. There are some really neat guns out there that I wouldn’t mind having, but finding ammo for them is a chore. There are also guns out there I’d like to own, but I’d go broke paying for practice ammo.
Choose a handgun that you can find ammo for, especially ammo that isn’t going to cost you a fortune. Yes, spend money on your carry ammo. It should cost you money if you pull that trigger with the intent to protect your life. But if your practice ammo is too expensive or too hard to find, you’re not going to practice. And that’s a really bad idea.
Look for a handgun that works for you.
There are lots of options when it comes to handguns for concealed carry. What works and is comfortable for one person is completely different than what may work and be comfortable for another. It’s great to ask for opinions and experience on what other people have chosen as their carry gun, but in the end, it’s all about what works and feels best for you.