What Caliber Handgun For Everyday Carry?

Ken Hackathorn's Take: Sage Wisdom From The Grandfather Of The Gun Industry
By Ken Hackathorn for M4Carbine.Net

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Ken Hackathorn
Ken Hackathorn

Strasburg, OH – -(Ammoland.com)- I am constantly amazed at the number of people I meet that think they can fix the problem of self-defense by purchasing the ideal handgun.

For much of the CCW crowd, this is defined as the small .380 that they can carry in their pocket with ease.

To others, the choice may be a custom 1911 or Glock 17. Few people really consider the ‘reality‘ of what happens in 90% of self-defense scenarios. Shootings and gunfights involving handguns take place at close range….police, military, & private sector all share these facts. Some folks will tell you that pistol marksmanship skills should include 25 and even 50 yard precision abilities.

While being able to shoot well at long range is nice, and a desirable skill, it really has little to do with reality. People that try to sell you on the importance of this are simply way off course of needs vs. wants. The ability to make a head shot at 5 yards in 2.5 seconds is far more critical than the ability to hit a torso at 50 yards in 4.0 sec.

Let's be real here about all those folks that carry these little .22, .25, .32 & 380 pocket guns: they are perfect self-defense guns as long as they never need them!

Luckily, most people that carry guns will probably never need to use them, thus a little blaster will work just fine. I get it, any gun is better than a sharp stick, but, if you ever need to defend yourself or your family, you want a gun that you can shoot accurately and effectively under stress.

I am often asked about calibers of choice. When I first got into this business back in the 1970s the gun of choice was either a .357 Mag revolver or .45acp 1911. Typically the 45 1911 was popular in the holsters of the ‘gun guys', most of whom could shoot far better than the average gunner. Today, I note a high percentage of those who pack a .45 acp caliber handguns have the attitude that while they know they are poor shots or not highly skilled with a sidearm, the .45acp round will solve the problem even if they can only achieve peripheral hits. Kind of the mindset that a 45 hit in the little finger will make the targets head explode.

Guess what, it does not work that way. One is always better off with a weapon you can use with skill, caliber is secondary to shot placement.

It is my belief that a .45 round is about 10% better than a 9X19mm.
It is my belief that a .45 round is about 10% better than a 9X19mm.

After all these years, it is my belief that a .45 round is about 10% better than a 9X19mm…..ball round vs ball round or JHP vs JHP. Ten percent isn't much unless your life is at stake–then it is a whole lot. On the other hand, if you told me that I have to carry a 9X19mm pistol, I'm not going to throw a hissy fit. A nine will work just fine if you can place the round where it needs to be. It is not the number of shots fired, or the splits between the shots fired that matters (anytime I hear some talk about ‘splits', I push the delete button on them……splits don't mean shit in the real world). While all of us would choose a gun that holds more bullets, how often does round capacity really matter in the real world? If you miss a lot, then high capacity handguns are a great choice. Remember, shootings and gunfights are generally won by those that hit their targets with accurate shots.

Like many of the M4Carbine.net fans, I enjoy testing and trying new handguns and gear. There are huge numbers of excellent sidearms on the market to choose from. Every year we see more and more entries. What matters is that you pick one that works for you and you can use well. For most of us that means a handgun that you can afford to practice and maintain your skill with. For most, based upon much of what I have seen over the past few decades, I recommend guns like the Glock 17 and Glock 19. I have both, but if I could have only one it would be the G-19. For the money it is a slam dunk choice. I love 1911 pistols, carry one daily and have total faith in my 1911s. I'm constantly asked to recommend a ‘good 1911′. I typically reply, “buy a Wilson Combat“. This usually gets a response of something like: Wilson Combat 1911’s are really expensive. Yep. If you can't afford one, maybe you should select another pistol design. Quality of the 1911 pistol in the main stream market varies widely.

Wilson Combat Custom Supergrade 1911
Wilson Combat Custom Supergrade 1911

Currently I see excellent results with Springfield Armory 1911 pistols. The Colt 1911 pistols made today are some of the best 1911s Colt has ever made. Maybe not up to prewar standards, but compared to the guns made from 1980 and on, the current guns are excellent. I have three different Colts made over the last few years and they are outstanding guns right out of the box. I have been shooting an H&K VP9 since last Summer and I consider it one of the best 9X19mm pistols on the market. I have a couple of 9X19mm S&W MPs that have been tweaked and work well.

While many people like to “MF” the Beretta M9/92, I think they are great pistols, overly large for most CCW purposes, but extremely reliable and soft shooting. I find them to be very accurate out of the box and great for belt holster carry. I am not a big fan of the .40S&W. Carried one as a duty sidearm, have a few, but the caliber just never ‘rang‘ for me.

What I can tell you about sidearm choice and recommendation is very simple. Whatever gun you choose, practice with it doing drills that reflect ‘real world' requirements. Never accept mediocre skill, get it right, and never leave the range saying ‘I suck'.

M4Carbine.Net
M4Carbine.Net

If you do, you have already planned the outcome of the fight when that moment comes. And no matter what…..be aware of your environment. Don't be the one surprised.

-Ken Hackathorn

View Ken's training schedule by clicking here.

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See our related article on the Best Concealed Carry Handgun you can carry.

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    multiple rbxbeanienomaTorrojeffDaveindeSwamp Recent comment authors
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    multiple rbx
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    multiple rbx

    Excellent web site. Plenty of useful information here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks for your effort!

    beanienoma
    Guest
    beanienoma

    I also carried a .45 in the U.S. Marines. I also qualified “Expert” every year for six years, but I now carry a .22lr semi automatic for self defense. Why? It is easily concealed, and because I’m an old fart and can no longer rapid fire a large caliber weapon. With a .22 I can consistently put 5 rounds in less than 5 seconds in a 3″ circle at 10 yards. I may not drop you like a single round from a .45 will (which is why the military went to the .45 in the first place, and why the… Read more »

    Gregory Romeu
    Guest
    Gregory Romeu

    Realize that many people think that their lives can be saved with the use of small and cute. The old adage has always been, “Don’t get into a gun fight with a smaller gun than your target”. Or something like that. When I read news of our prosecutor being shot point blank to the base of his skull with a .22 and survived and is back in business, or when I SEEN a .38 caliber round ricochet off the windshield of a car and the 9mm attack on then Congresswoman Gabby Gifford AT POINT BLANK RANGE and she survived, well,… Read more »

    Boxerjoe13
    Guest
    Boxerjoe13

    “If the U.S. Marines are using .45’s to get the job done, why aren’t YOU?” Because the U.S. Marines do not have to conceal carry. Simply, smaller is easier, people are aware of the trade offs, no one is arguing that. People carry small caliber pistols because they are easier to conceal than the smallest .45.

    Paul
    Guest
    Paul

    Personally, I carry a little .32 Keltec pocket pistol so it can be completely conceal for my job, I cant’ carry my XDS 9 which I prefer to carry. So, sometimes even a little gun would suffice if you are not able to carry a heavier round.
    I’m just saying…………

    Jc
    Guest
    Jc

    Try carrying the xds appendix or in a smartcarry holster.

    Darren
    Guest
    Darren

    “And no matter what…..be aware of your environment. Don’t be the one surprised.” This is the most important part of the article. You won’t even need to draw your gun if you don’t let a criminal set the stage for his evil. I dealt with several situations on the mean streets of Philly where muggers walked away because they could see that I was on to them. A case in point, someone brought up George Zimmerman. He’s an idiot. Had he handled the situation better he wouldn’t have ended up on his back getting his head pounded into the pavement,… Read more »

    Mike Twain
    Guest
    Mike Twain

    I thought the article was good and covered all the basic generic attitudes and opinions. In all the studies I’ve read, when it comes to shootouts between cops and gangsters (before the entire militia arrives) the gangsters almost always win. Expertise? Caliber? Weapon familiarity? No. Gangsters use a method called ‘spray and pray’, just blast away like a maniac, background be damned. I own a 1911 and love it, also a 19, 22 and a 92. And for good measure a 5.7. But if I’ve got to leave the house with only one it will say CZ75 SP-01 9X19 on… Read more »

    Garr Obo
    Guest
    Garr Obo

    I sorta like my 44. It’s a little heavy but does the job real well.

    Bill
    Guest
    Bill

    It is good to see someone who agrees with my assessment of the Glock 19 with as much knowledge, given that it is the only handgun that I own that I know where it is, and can get to it in a hurry. When I bought it, back in the early 90’s, my decision was between it and the .45, and the number of rounds ended the contest. A secondary factor was the fact that the military had just decided to go to 9mm, and I figured there’d be plenty of ammo if the worst case scenario, martial law, came… Read more »

    StBernardnot
    Guest
    StBernardnot

    No. 1, I won’t pay $1500 for a gun the cops will take, if you ever have to use it. My .45 Rock CS meets my needs & costs less than a third of that. Carry & shoot what works for you.

    Ryan
    Guest
    Ryan

    Even George Zimmerman got his firearm back.

    JulieH
    Guest
    JulieH

    Well being the weak woman I can say you guys are a bunch of sexist pigs! I started shooting back in October. And yes my weapon of choice is my Colt 1911. I am accurate at 3, 7 and 15 yards and feel that if I ever have to use it in self defense I will stop my attacker. So if carrying a “big” gun makes me less a woman so be it! Oh and my other gun is a Colt 45 Commander.

    Paladin
    Guest
    Paladin

    KUDOS to you!
    I shot competition on my Department pistol team for years. One of our team members was a woman, 4’11”, 95#.
    She used a Springfield 1911 .45 ACP, and we won a number of trophies. Brute strength has little to do with shooting. It boils down to eye-hand coordination, mental concentration, and good technique.

    Her carry gun is a Sig 225, because of Department restrictions. It is a bit large for a purse, but a Kahr PM9 works quite well.

    DaveindeSwamp
    Guest
    DaveindeSwamp

    Good for you Julie! My EDCs are 1911 Government Models , My daughters’ preferred sidearms are 1911s .All are 0,38 Supers .

    The point in my mind is carry, number one, caliber and sidearm are what can be carried comfortably, shot easily and accurately . .32 ACP and .380 may not be optimal,but they can and have worked. I do agree though that 9 mm and.38 Special are the minimum I would depend upon.

    dc.sunsets
    Guest
    dc.sunsets

    Looking at the only data available (gel tests), modern JHPs in 9×19, 45ACP and 40S&W all perform well and thus promise about all you can expect in a fight. The differences then are largely on the “back end” (recoil, gun size & weight, gun longevity). 380ACP JHP’s do not penetrate far enough to maintain my confidence, so my preference in that caliber would be FMJ, ideally a flat point. In that loading, a 380 ACP should penetrate all the way through, just like a 9×19 FMJ, so there’s no difference there other than the shootability of the gun (and tiny… Read more »

    Bo Cappella
    Guest
    Bo Cappella

    “…he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) In other words, better naked and armed than clothed and unarmed. Hi-Point? Sure, why not? Whatever you can afford and can carry and shoot comfortably.

    BTW: My EDC is either a Colt Defender .45ACP or a Glock 22 .40S&W, and my BUG is a Keltec P3AT. “Two is one and one is none.”

    TEX
    Guest
    TEX

    It is my belief that 45ACP 230gr round has at least 50% more stopping power,knockdown than 9x19Mm (just a .380 on steriods) most law enforcement has shit canned the 9mm.

    Lee
    Guest
    Lee

    You wouldn’t mind getting hit by a little 9mm or 380acp? I sure would’nt want to get hit by one.

    Jc
    Guest
    Jc
    Don in LA
    Guest
    Don in LA

    Forgive me, but isn’t rule #1 for a gun fight is to have a gun? The biggest you can comfortably carry, the best most reliable you can afford. Every choice is individual.

    TEX
    Guest
    TEX

    Yeah,can you carry anything at all in LA ?

    Chip
    Guest
    Chip

    Pretty sure that is, indeed, the first rule of a gun fight. I think ideally, everyone should have at least a .380 or higher if they can handle it. There was a study a few years ago by a guy at the Buckeye Firearms Assocation (called “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power”) that compiled reports of DGU’s and how effective the particular calibers were. The “% of people who were not incapacitated” stat dropped substantially once you got up to .380 and above. That said, any gun on your hip is better than one that’s not with you. I… Read more »

    dailyops
    Guest
    dailyops

    One only needs to study gun history to see the logic used here is nonsense. Not too many years ago, 32 acp was used in law enforcement all across europe, then .380 became standard for many years. This article is almost as bad as troll comments designed to get us worked up. I will pass.

    Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
    Guest
    Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

    My reaction to Mr. Hackathorn’s views of .25, .32, and .380 calibers for CCW use: Phft. Glad to see he’s willing to lug around some monstrosity of a pistol on this hip or wherever… I can’t, and a 9mm (let alone .40 or .45) is not what you’re going to find in my wife’s purse, either.. This all harkens back to the days of Elmer Kieth who subscribed to the silly notion that one needed an elephant gun to hunt mice… Best advice: Be proficient with whatever sidearm in whatever caliber you feel comfortable with carrying and shooting… Oh, and… Read more »

    dave
    Guest
    dave

    or ignore idiots that think .25 .32 caliber handguns make good weapons for self defense.

    Dr Dave
    Guest
    Dr Dave

    How many of you have actually had the luxury of being on both sides of the discussion? How many of you have been in CIVILIAN defensive gun fights (not battles) AND have been in the ED digging bullets out of human meat? I have spent almost 30 years doing both. As a surgeon and Federal LEO I can tell you that a 22 or 25 or 32 are deadly and even defending yourself against a hopped up cokehead a well placed round of 22LR is going to put the guy in a box while the 45 “hopefully” placed and not… Read more »

    Tom R
    Guest
    Tom R

    If a person is too lazy to carry a weapon big enough to do the job correctly, that person shouldn’t bother even carrying.

    dranosh
    Guest
    dranosh

    If a person is too lazy to carry a weapon big enough to do the job correctly, that person shouldn’t bother even carrying.

    So a 100 lbs woman shouldn’t even bother carrying a gun if she can’t handle a 9mm or .45 but can easily handle a .32 or.380acp? you may want to carry an extra 10 lbs around, but some of us don’t have that luxury. I bet you guys think it’s better to have literally nothing if the only gun you can afford is a hi-point.

    dave
    Guest
    dave

    You’re ignorant and sexist if you believe a 100 pound woman can’t handle a 9mm.

    And you bet wrong, a Hi-point in a suitable cartridge is ok.

    Not that this discussion has anything to do with any specific manufacturer.
    Your statement is illogical and off topic.

    jeff
    Guest
    jeff

    A 12 year old could handle a 9mm for crying out loud

    dave
    Guest
    dave

    “you may want to carry an extra 10 lbs around, but some of us don’t have that luxury.”
    You clearly don’t know what you are talking about if you believe 9mm or .45 handguns weigh 10lbs.
    Explains the other stupid comments you made. LOL

    Torro
    Guest
    Torro

    In the real world many of us are asked to ware uniforms. Where does a shop clerk wearing a polo shirt hide a glock 19? Where does a air conditioning repairmen conceal his Beretta 92fs . I manage a restaurant in high crime area my uniform prevents me from concealing my beloved High Power of Smith 66. Sometimes a pocket revolver or pistol is the only carry option in a non permissive environment. I carry always but it requires compromise.
    .

    Jc
    Guest
    Jc

    Define “cant”. You are likely a whiner that hasnt done any training and has no idea what a handgun needs to do.