Tactical Blog
By Rod Kuratomi
Which Gun Should You Buy for Personal Protection?

I am frequently asked, "which gun should I buy for personal protection?"

It is said that if you know you are going to be in a gun fight, bring a rifle or shotgun. The ability for the handgun to immediately incapacitate an adversary is weak in comparison to a rifle or shotgun. The primary advantage of the handgun is that it can be with you at all times and is therefore primarily a defensive weapon. The other advantage of a handgun is that in tight quarters such as inside a home, a rifle or shotgun can be difficult to wield. The long arm is also easier to neutralize than a handgun in close quarters battle (CQB, also known as “bad breath range”).

There is not a clear cut answer as to what gun to buy without asking additional questions.

Is this for the home or are you going to carry the gun?
(If for the home, a shotgun, or full size handgun is an option)

What climate will you carry the gun in?
(If in hot weather, it is difficult to conceal a full size handgun when wearing shorts and a T-shirt)

Will you carry concealed or in the open?
(If you carry out in the open, it is much easier to carry a full size handgun)

Will you carry the gun attached to your person or in some kind of bag or purse?
(Bag or purse carry allows you to carry a larger gun, but it has a tradeoff of not being attached to your body)

How large are your hands?
(Some handguns are too large for small hands, ie. Glock 21, Beretta 92).

Since we are not military or police planning an assault, it is likely that the most useful gun to buy for the average homeowner would be a handgun in a caliber adequately large enough for self-defense. Usually the minimum caliber considered adequate for self defense is the 9mm. Certain .380 rounds are also considered the bare minimum if using hollow points. Ideally, have a handgun when away from home. When at home have a handgun AND a shotgun or medium caliber rifle. I say medium caliber because full power rifle rounds like the .308 will penetrate right through your walls and your neighbors walls and is a safety hazard.

If a handgun is the logical choice, the above questions will determine which size of handgun you should purchase. Full size handguns have many advantages. The recoil is the easiest to manage on a full size gun. The velocity of the bullet is faster out of a longer barrel adding to the stopping power. The slide on a semi-auto is easier to manipulate because the smaller the gun, the stronger the recoil spring has to be. The larger slide is also easier to grasp to load the weapon and clear malfunctions.

On the other hand, if you are going to carry the gun concealed, then size often times becomes a big concern. The best combat grade gun that money can buy is of little use if it sits in the gun safe because it is too large or heavy to carry concealed. Carrying of a firearm is not very comfortable to carry. As the late, great father of modern technique of the pistol,  Jeff Cooper stated, “a gun is designed to be comforting, not comfortable”. The best gun you can have is the one that you will carry with you and will have readily accessible when it is needed. 

Revolvers can be very powerful and reliable. They are not totally foolproof though as they can malfunction if the cylinder binds. If this happens, the gun will not shoot. Revolvers are more difficult to load rapidly and you are typically limited to a capacity of 5 to 6 rounds. In addition, the cylinder of the revolver is usually rather thick and much thicker than the largest semi autos making it more difficult to carry concealed.

For these reason, I prefer semi auto handguns for personal protection. They can be extremely reliable, have a large capacity of rounds in them, are relatively flat and easy to conceal, are capable of sustained rapid fire, and are fast and easy to reload.

I would avoid all double action semi automatic handguns as they require you to master two different trigger pulls. The first long, hard, trigger pull and then the short second light trigger pull. To become proficient with a double action gun requires more training to be consistently accurate from the first shot to the second shot. Many people miss their first shot with a double action handgun. Examples of double actions guns are Sig Sauers, CZs, old model Smith and Wessons, and Berettas just to name a few.. 

The other action type is the single action semi auto. These guns have the same short  trigger pull for every shot. Unlike a double action ONLY (DAO) gun, the DAO trigger pull is long and heavy. 1911 style .45s are a good example of a single action auto. 1911s are good but they tend to malfunction more, don’t work well when dirty or not lubricated, and have a manual safety that has to be manipulated every time you shoot. Some shooters will shoot nothing else and swear by the 1911. 1911s are better for advanced students and enthusiasts. You will also often times find that a particular 1911 will only reliably feed a certain brand of ammunition. The 1911 has by far the best trigger action which is very short, light, and crisp which assists in accurate shooting. The inherent flaw design of the 1911 is that the round in the magazine must take a fairly high climb of a ¼” or so up the feed ramp to feed into the chamber of the barrel. For these guns to feed reliably they must shoot hard ball (full metal jacket) ammo. If you want to shoot hollow points, usually some custom work done needs to be done the feed ramp and throat of the chamber. Most of the modern semi autos have the first round in the magazine almost in a straight line with the chamber, requiring no climb up any feed ramp. Where 1911s jam most frequently is a round failing to climb the feed ramp properly. This can happen when the gun is dirty, when the feed ramp is not perfectly smooth, or when shooting hollow point ammunition. In 1911’s, Springfield, Kimber, Colt, and any number of excellent other brands are available. There are a number of factory produced guns which are custom in quality from companies like Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, Les Baer, or Nighthawk. These guns will run you several thousand dollars. They have very tight tolerances and are very accurate. Tight tolerances result in greater accuracy but it also means that the gun needs to be clean to function reliably. If you get one, get a full size one with a 5” barrel as the extra size and weight will dampen recoil. 1911s can run anywhere from $750 to $5000.

My preferred style of defensive gun is a semi auto of the single action design made popular by Glock. This is also known as a “safe action” or striker fired action. There is no exposed hammer to catch on anything, there is no manual safety that needs to be manipulated, and they are utterly reliable. Glocks have been dropped in mud, frozen in a block of ice, rolled in sand and dirt, dunked in water, and even run over by a truck and it still functions flawlessly. In addition, Glocks will still fire reliably even if they are not cleaned. As a test, Combat Handgun Master Chuck Taylor is said to have a 9mm Glock with over 100,000 rounds through it without cleaning and it still works flawlessly. Glocks have been field tested since 1980 and have consistently demonstrated excellent accuracy and utter reliability. The Glock has much fewer parts than other pistols when it was developed and therefore is less prone to breakage.

Several companies have since copied or tried to improve on the Glock pistol. Springfield has produced the XD pistol from Croatia which has shown to be a reliable pistol that incorporates some additional features like an ambidextrous magazine release, chamber loaded indicator, and oversized controls. Smith and Wesson has made the M&P (military and police) which also has different size grip back straps that can be changed to fit different size hands. All of these guns have proven to be reliable but none have been around as long as Glock to prove the longevity and reliability of the Glock pistol. In addition, replacement parts, parts for customization, holsters,  and magazines are widely available for the Glock.

Can you tell I like these guns?

If I could only have one pistol, it would probably be a Glock model 23 in 40 Smith and Wesson caliber. The Glock 23 is large enough to be able to handle easily, yet compact enough to easily conceal. It holds 13 rounds of 40 which is more than twice the ready firepower than the average revolvers. The 40 caliber has better stopping power than the 9mm without increasing the size of the frame, grip, or magazines.  The 45 is an excellent round but the grip on the Glock in 45 (model 21) is too large for most peoples hands. The 40 is also a bit easier to control than the 45 and is easier for beginners to become proficient at shooting due to the decreased recoil. If size is not a problem, then the Glock 22 would be my second choice.

Springfield XD shooters have a large following and it is growing daily. My main problem with the XD is the trigger reset. The trigger reset is how far you have to allow the trigger to move forward after firing in order to be able to pull the trigger again to fire a second shot. On the Glock, this reset is very short. On the XD the reset is considerably longer. This will have a tendency to make some shooter "slap" the trigger resulting in a mash or low shot.The other thing is that in class where we typically shoot 1000 rounds, I have seen more XDs fail than Glocks. I have also seen more XDs with problems new right out of the box that require a return to the factory for repair. I attribute this to Croatian quality control.  The other issue is the magazine. The XD magazine is chrome plated steel vs. the polymer magazine of the Glock. The sheet metal XD magazine can be damaged if stepped on. Not so with the Glock polymer mag. The advantage is that the grip on the XD can be made thinner since the magazine can be made smaller if made out of sheet metal.

Hopefully this will give you some insight as to what gun to select. Remember though that the gun is merely the tool. Without adequate, repeated, training, a good handgun gives only a false sense of security and can endanger the user if taken away by an adversary. So TRAIN AND TRAIN HARD!