The Endless Carry Argument: which gun? what caliber? what self defense round? which holster?

Uncle George's Wallet Holster

From my experience on a couple of decent firearms forums

which primarily serve citizens interested in pistols for both shooting and self defense, this argument seems never to die. I think it is important to address because of the increasing numbers of people who are new to handguns and new to legal carry for self defense. These long-running discussions, which can unfortunately turn dictatorial and nasty when the so-called experts get involved, do more to confuse the issue than offer clarity. So, I'm attempting to interject a bit of basic information, and, hopefully, clarity into the topic of handguns meant for self defense carry.

I've illustrated this post with a photo of one of Uncle George's wallet holsters made for the Ruger LCP because carrying a handgun for self defense is a simple and basic act, and this is about as simple as it gets. Anyone - male, female, big, tiny, it doesn't matter - can carry one of these setups almost anywhere without being noticed or uncomfortable. The Ruger LCP weighs 9.4 ounces, 10.0 with a Crimson Trace laser sight installed (as above). It's a little over five inches long and less than an inch wide. It is built for concealment and for carrying. It, and other similar 'pocket pistols' usually are chambered for the .380 caliber round (also called the 9mm short). With a good factory load, designed for self-defense, such as the Hornady CD or perhaps the Speer Gold Dot (and similar ammunition), it is an effective self defense weapon.

So, what we have here is a lightweight (Light), small (Compact) Pistol designed to be carried for self defense by practically anyone. This, evidently, drives some self-styled 'gun experts' crazy.

They can't so much complain about the polymer frame, since many of the handguns they prefer incorporate that in their builds, but seemingly everything else is fair game to them: caliber (too small), bullets (not heavy enough, not designed right), sights (poor iron sights that aren't adjustable), small capacity (seven rounds is not enough), not durable enough (will suffer problems if it's shot too much), and so on. To further disparage these kinds of self defense weapons, they have labeled them "mouse guns". Must mean that they are only good for plinking mice, or that mousy people use them. Not sure on that. And, they probably aren't either.

A few examples of the "experts" recommendations for self defense carry:

  • If the caliber of your pistol doesn't start with a "4" it isn't big enough.
  • Double-stack magazines are required so you can carry enough ammo without having to frequently reload.
  • Your self defense gun must be 100% reliable under all conditions.

There are more, but those will do for illustration purposes.

In my opinion, basically all of those arguments are bogus when it comes to self defense.

The two critical factors

are, 1.

carry a gun

. All of the time. It is a true statement that you better have one when you need one.


hit only what you intend to hit

when you have to shoot.

If the caliber of your pistol doesn't start with a "4" it isn't big enough.

It is obvious that if you pull a gun and fire off a round (or twelve, even) and don't hit the threat, you've done yourself no good and possibly have injured, or worse, an innocent person. No matter what the caliber of the gun, velocity or impact of the bullet, your self defense gun is useless unless you can hit something with it. Reliably, accurately and repeatedly if necessary.

Unless one is a practiced, experienced shooter, shooting a large caliber handgun is harder than shooting a handgun of smaller caliber and power. Most people who carry for self defense are not practiced, experienced shooters and are not going to become one either. They, hopefully, practice enough to be comfortable with their weapon and to be accurate enough for the ranges and target sizes that would be appropriate for most self defense situations. Most of these people shoot a reasonably sized handgun - .38 special, 9mm, .380 calibers. They are big enough to do the job, but not so heavy, noisy and recoil producing to be hard to shoot.

Double-stack magazines are required so you can carry enough ammo without having to frequently reload.

Double stack magazine handguns are bigger and heavier than single stack guns. As a consequence, they are more uncomfortable and heavy to carry and more difficult to conceal. Hence, they tend to not get carried as a regular thing. Your double-stack .40 caliber pistol is doing you no good as a self defense weapon while it's in your car or home in the safe. Besides, when are you going to really need a fifteen, sixteen or seventeen round capacity in the self defense world? I supposed if you were attacked by a gang and were forted up behind a car, then, maybe. You'd likely be outgunned anyway so things wouldn't be turning out well for you.

I think the notion of being in an extended shoot out is common because that is what TV and the movies show us. But, that's really the rare exception when citizens are forced into self defense shooting. Read up on it. Most scenarios involve one or two rounds being fired. It's rare that more than five or six are expended in these situations. They start quickly and end quickly with people running away or stopping their aggressive behavior because they are suddenly dealing with a bullet wound or two.

You can easily carry a spare single-stack magazine along with your smaller self defense weapon so you'll have a reload in the unlikely event you will need one.

Your self defense gun must be 100% reliable under all conditions.

That would be nice, but face it, no machine is 100% reliable even under good conditions. It's the nature of the beast. It's the world of Murphy's Law. I know shooters who have fired thousands of rounds from their handguns and think this is a guarantee of reliability, that the gun is going to go bang the next time they pull the trigger. Think about it. Just because the machine has not experienced a failure before does not mean it's never going to fail.

Check your self defense gun by shooting regularly, but don't burn through hundreds and hundreds of rounds. Shoot it enough to be sure it's running well, like it should, then carry it. Maybe go out and practice once a month to keep your proficiency and to exercise the gun. You will soon know if it has an endemic or recurring problem. Send it back to the maker and have them fix it. Use another self defense gun in the interim.

The reliability factor is one of two that mitigate for carrying a backup gun. In the unlikely event that your pistol malfunctions at exactly the wrong time, you may have the opportunity to go to your backup. Odds are that the two guns won't fail at the same time. The second reason is that you may not be able to get to your primary weapon due to being injured, having the gun taken away, dropped, or perhaps your assailant in on top of you wrestling with your gun, or preventing you from getting to it. You may have the option of going for the backup.

In the real world, it is impossible to prepare for all contingencies,

just as it is impossible to carry a gun that is 100% reliable. You can narrow the odds and put survival more in your favor by understanding that a reasonable and rational level of preparedness is attainable and sustainable if you only do a few things.

1. Find a handgun that suits you and which you will carry at all times where legally allowed.

2. Keep that gun in good condition.

3. Practice regularly so that you can access it and shoot it accurately

under self defense conditions

. Practice at short ranges, say, the distance between two walls in a regular room in your house. Become good at hitting an area the size of the human torso.

That's it. Shooting an assailant a number of times in the torso will definitely put the odds of survival in your favor. Of course there are true stories of men being shot multiple times with decent caliber handguns, mostly by law enforcement officers, who still fight back and don't seem to know they are shot. This is the exception however. And, when you think about it, if you should encounter one of those people, it doesn't much matter if you are toting a Model 1911 .45 automatic or a .380 LCP. But one thing for sure, I'd rather reach for and use my .380 in a circumstance like that and hope my accuracy was enough to stop the threat, than to be throwing rocks, glasses or chairs as my self defense weapons.

If you think the circumstances may demand it, you can always carry a larger gun along with your primary self defense weapon, but you don't have to make it a regular thing.

Realistic self defense carry will keep your armed and prepared in all situations. You probably won't be ready for the zombie apocalypse, but you will be ready to deal more effectively if you are seriously threatened.