This page was last updated on Monday, 16 June, 2014.

So you want to carry a gun....

Steve Whitman
16 June, 2014

Many people, due to our current society, are seeking a concealed carry permit for protection. Record numbers of applications are being applied for at all of the state agencies and waiting periods have greatly increased. Personally, I have acquired or reinstated my License to Carry (LTC) in three additional states and it has taken anywhere from 8-14 weeks for the application process to run its course. Once a person acquires his or hers permit, the question always arises as to "what type and caliber gun should I buy and carry for self defense?"

There has been so much research and testing of various calibers, that to say one is the "perfect round" would be just an outright lie. No matter what the caliber, from the .22 to the .50 Action Express, all of these, if properly placed, will stop an assailant. In fact, even a modern day air pellet gun will take down a “bad guy” if the right area is hit.

In a typical gun fight, from the draw to the end of the altercation, the normal duration of the event is only seconds. As proven to me through the several tactical schools that I have attended, if someone is standing 21 feet from you and draws a knife and attacks you, they can reach you on average in only 1.7 seconds. During this time you must assess, commit, draw, aim and fire at your assailant. When I was shot three times by an attempted murderer with a .45 caliber Springfield semiautomatic hand gun, (he turned the gun and killed himself after he thought I was dead), the whole process lasted less than 6-7 seconds. Even if I was carrying a weapon that day, due to my bullet injuries and the surprise of the attack, (he was a previous employee for five years), it is doubtful, I would even of gotten a shot off. Under a bad situation like this, the adrenaline is flowing like a busted dike, and the caliber you choose must be sufficient enough to "do the job", even if your shots miss their intended center of mass target. Believe me, when the lead begins to fly, calm and controlled emotions are out the window. That's why when practicing at the range, taking careful aim and ignoring the amount of time taken, in my opinion, is a waste of time and effort. You can get all the necessary "memory reflex” (stance, drawing of the weapon, sighting of your gun, and proper trigger squeeze) by "dry firing" at home. Don’t worry, for most modern firearms, the old myth of "dry firing" and hurting your weapon is long gone.

You can save yourself a lot of money on ammunition, when going to the range, if you concentrate on putting all your abilities that are required for defensive purposes together. Practice drawing, aiming, and firing your weapon with accuracy in the shortest time possible, and this will give you the best "bang for your buck" (pardon the pun) at the range. This entire sequence must be second nature and be done the same way every time until it becomes just that. Since, you will never draw your weapon, unless you are going to shoot in self defense (lets put it this way, you better not), the action of drawing and firing must be automatic and without hesitation. Simply put, if the gun has to come out, in a life threatening situation, which is the only justifiable time, then you are going to shoot, preferably by utilizing the “double tap system“. Fire two shots, quickly assess, and if needed, fire two more shots. This is extremely hard to do under a severe stressful situation, but if you have practiced at home and at the range, this motion can become second nature to you and will be carried out in a systematic manner. Until the time comes, no one knows for sure how they will react during a life or death struggle. Hopefully, your training and preparation that you have undertaken will be sufficient enough to allow you to survive the ordeal. Above all, to avoid situations like this in the first place is top priority, but if needed, you must be able to function physically and emotionally to save your life and that only comes from training and lots of practice. After I was shot, it was amazing on how my automatic pilot kicked in with regards to my emergency first aid training. I really never thought about it, kept a relatively cool head, and just did what I had to do. This is exactly what needs to happen, and why we all require to spend time at the range honing all our skills. Because if you have to "think and ponder" about what you need to do in a life threatening attack, then in all likely hood, you will die.

Another excellent way to get your stress and emotions under control, during your practice time at the range while target shooting, is to always try and compete against someone. Even if you challenge your buddy to a dinner or something for the best target score, this will put a little anxiousness into the scenario and will aid you when and if the "real situation" ever occurs.

Additionally, to be able to observe your trigger squeeze, stance, and overall shooting sequence, is to have someone video tape you at the range. Nothing will help you more than to see if you are jerking the trigger, bouncing the gun, or pulling to one side, as actually seeing yourself. I learned this method at golf school years ago and found it extremely helpful at the range as well.

Probably one of the most important tools that everyone ignores or has little interest in is a shooting timer. Everyone is always interested where they hit a paper target and their score, but have little thought on "how long did it take me to fire two or more with accuracy?" and "what was my time from the draw to the first shot fired?" There are many on the market, but my favorite is the Pact Mark lV Championship Timer & Chronograph. It is extremely versatile and has a loud buzzer for signaling purposes to begin shooting. Also, it will determine your draw time, give times between shots, total time of a series of shots, and keep a record of your progress, among other things. It is easy to operate and definitely will help to improve your shooting skill. Get one and use it. You will not be sorry that you did.

Some people reading this article will say, "I will never be able to draw my weapon within seconds and fire it". This will not be the case, if you prepare and train for it. Additionally, if you anticipate and evaluate a situation as it is occurring, and expect the unexpected, you will be amazed after only a small of amount of performance drills how your speed and firing capability will increase.


Well, back to the "ideal caliber". For defensive purposes, three major considerations must be considered by the individual. The cartridge must have sufficient bullet mass, velocity, and energy, even if it misses the center of mass of the target, to produce adequate damage. Generally, the faster you can throw a substantial piece of lead down range, the more energy and damage you can expect at impact. In my opinion, this would eliminate the .22, .25, .32 and .380 cartridges. Generally, all of these utilize a bullet weight of less than 100 grains (relatively light) and depending on powder loads, etc. have velocities at the muzzle of about 600-900 feet per second (fps). Although, their frames are small in size and easily carried concealed, they should not be used as primary defensive carry weapons. Due to weaker ballistics, they should be possibly used as a backup weapon, but not as your sole carry gun.

The next group would be .38 special, 9mm, 40 S&W (Smith and Wesson) and .45 calibers. Most of the common bullet weights in these cartridges are in excess of 100 grains (gr) but less than 240 gr. The .38 special, especially in a model 15 S&W, was the old stand by police firearm that was carried for many years. With a velocity of 600-700 fps (121-158 grain bullet), it has weaker characteristics than the others on this list. The 9mm round has much better ballistics utilizing bullets ranging from 90 grains (gr)-147 gr with velocities of 1300 - 900 ft/sec respectively. With the gaining popularity of semiautomatics by law enforcement, due to better ballistics, flat magazine storage versus cylindrical speed loaders, and 10-15 cartridges at the ready versus only six with a revolver, most police departments exchanged their .38 caliber weapons for the 9mm by the 1980’s.

However with the development of the .40 S&W, a lot of departments again switched to this cartridge in later years due to even better ballistics. This round was specifically designed as a law enforcement cartridge and in the late 1980's and early 90's was often called "the ideal cartridge for personal defense and law enforcement". A typical .40 round is 165 grain with a velocity of about 1150 ft/sec. (My Glock 23 or 27 carry gun is loaded with Speer Gold Dot - Duty Ammunition, 180 grain GDHP (hollow points) @ 1025 ft/sec.) It also has very manageable recoil and has extremely good accuracy with hollow point bullet loads. But, recently, some law agencies have chosen to carry the larger .45 caliber firearm. Although a slower round, it generally uses a 230 gr bullet (40% heavier than the .40 at 165 gr.) and generates velocities, depending on the powder load, of 800-900 ft/sec. However, at the end of the day, there is little difference in the energy produced, since the .40 caliber delivers 485 ft-lbs and the .45, 414 ft-lbs respectively at the above bullet weights.

In this category of weapons, the .40 S&W and .45 in my opinion are the best for personal defense with a bullet weight of 165-180 and 230 grains respectively. Both will approach a velocity of 1000 fps and exceed it in some cases, as noted above, depending on the ammunition used and loading criteria. Also, they have proven to cause substantial damage to human targets. Most law enforcement agencies have elected to use these as well and both are easily carried concealed in the compact and subcompact size frames.

For the ladies, the 9mm is a good choice because of the reduced recoil and its smaller frame size. My wife carries a Glock 26 (9mm-124 grain bullet@1150 ft/sec - Federal Premium Law Enforcement - Tactical HST Ammo) or a Smith & Wesson Lady Smith 5 shot revolver in .38. Both guns are very safe to carry, small in size, and very dependable.

Impact power is greatly enhanced with use of Corbon, Black Talon (Winchester Ranger SXT), Speer Gold Dot, or Federal Hydra Shok ammunition (there are others on the market) in all calibers. These factory loads approach maximum powder charges and velocities with hollow point bullets which will expand upon impact. Full metal jacket (FMJ) slugs do not expand and are not good defensive loads. More than likely, if the attempted murderer as previously mentioned, had hollow points in his gun that afternoon in October 2013, instead of 230 gr. FMJ “hard ball” ammunition, I would not be here today and writing this article.

Above all else, do not use reloaded ammunition in your carry firearm. True, it may misfire or jam more frequently than factory ammo, but one of the main reasons are, you do not want an over zealous prosecuting attorney giving a speech to the jury on how you sat up to the wee hours in the morning, in a dark... secluded basement,... alone..., at your reloading press....weighing your special power and creating the ultimate “killing load”. I am sure; you can understand where this will eventually lead in your trial for a justifiable defense shooting case. Do yourself a big favor and stick with any of the factory defensive loads, as mentioned above. The difference between your “special hot load” and factory cartridges at 12-15 feet (I was shot at about 10 feet) where most gunfights occur won’t mean a “hill of beans” in the end.

The final group is what I consider the "big boys" and are 10mm, .357 Magnum (Mag), .44 Mag and .50 Action Express (AE). All of these generally utilize bullet weights in the range of 175-325 grains and have velocities of around 1200 fps and higher. Because of heavier bullets at increased velocities, the energy released upon impact is immense and devastating. All of them will definitely "do the job", but they are very large frame weapons, have lots of recoil, and are not easily carried or concealed. This is especially true with the .44 auto mag or .50 express made by Desert Eagle and others. The .50 Action Express (AE) as manufactured by Desert Eagle, the Amt Auto Mag, and the Freedom Arms Model 555 are some of the most powerful handguns made in the world. As an example, the .50 AE with a 300 grain (gr) bullet can exceed a velocity of 1500 fps and has a muzzle energy, depending upon the barrel length, of 1500-1800 ft lbs.! As a comparison, the 9mm 115 gr FMJ at 1300 fps develops only 420 ft lbs. If you want to carry a cannon, then the .50 Action Express is the gun for you!

Make & Model

Once a caliber is chosen, in my opinion, comes one of the most important part of firearm selection, the make, model and most importantly the “fit” of the weapon to you. The size of your hand, your body type and frame, personal firearm experience, and eye sight capability will come into play during your firearm selection. This will take time and can not be made with one trip to the gun shop. Above all, the firearm must "feel right" and "fit your hand." Having very long fingers and a huge hand, will not make a subcompact frame feel very comfortable. Like wise, with a small hand and stubby fingers, a full size 1911 .45 colt 5"government model will feel uncomfortable as well. In order for you to be accurate with a firearm, especially under duress, it must not feel foreign to you. It must feel like an extension of your hand and almost seem like a part of you. Of course, this comes from many hours of practice at home and at the range, but first, the weapon must “feel right” from the start. There are many manufactures of quality hand guns such as Colt, Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch (H & K, one of my personal favorites, but expensive), Springfield, Sig Sauer, and Glock. Any of these would be a good choice, but with the many models available and frame sizes, the selection must be a personal one.

There are several types of custom grips and accessories available as well, but your initial selection should be on how the stock gun feels to you. If you have friends that have interests in firearms already, then go to the range with them and, if available, fire guns of different calibers and frame sizes. This will give you a head start in making your final choice at the gun shop. Recently, I acquired the relatively new “Tactical/Practical” Glock 41 (.45 caliber) with an extended slide and a barrel length of 5.31 inches. Distance between the sights is greater at 7.56 inches which gives a longer "sight radius" and because of the longer length reduces "muzzle flip" and recoil. Picking one up at the gun shop, I immediately knew that this gun was for me, as it fit my hand perfectly and had a "great feel and sight picture". The results at the range were exactly what I expected. It was extremely accurate, had great balance, and operated flawlessly right out of the box. My brother, who was watching me, grabbed the weapon to try it out and guess what? He is now on his way to the gun shop to get one for himself. The point is, that if a gun is “right” for you, especially after a little experience at this, you will know almost immediately after picking it up.

The debate on revolver vs. semiautomatic still goes on today. Many people call a revolver an “old man’s gun” and dismiss it entirely. This is mainly due to its 6 shot limited capacity and modern day thoughts that you have to carry at least 10-15 rounds in your gun ready to go. This thinking has made the semi’s the choice of today. However, most defensive gun fights end with 2-3 shots being fired. Spraying bullets every where from a semi auto just because you have them is not the way to go. Controlled, quick accuracy is naturally the key. The old Wyatt Earp adage “quick is good.....but accuracy is final” are words we all need to remember during our drills and training.

A revolver is a very safe firearm to carry because it is in double action mode all the time (hard trigger squeeze required) and because it almost never jams is nearly 100% dependable. Plus, with no safeties, the revolver is always “good to go” by just pulling the trigger. Semi autos will jam no matter what make and model it is and there is no doubt about that. One must be always aware of this and be able to clear a jam at a moments notice. This can occur, even with the best factory ammo available, especially if the weapon has not been properly cleaned and maintained. A revolver is a lot more "forgiving" and will definitely be there for you, when and if “the time comes“.

The standard 911 pistol in .45 is carried loaded in the single action mode (very light trigger squeeze needed) with the safety on. Some people find this scary with the possibility of an accidental discharge (AD) down your leg if one is “carried in the pipe” and the safety is tripped or left off. Additionally, most 911 style semis remain in the single action mode after the first shot is fired. Although, greater accuracy can be obtained in the single action mode, by most people, there is also more potential for an AD. Don’t get me wrong, the 911 model is a great gun and one that I have used a lot in competitions and at tactical schools. The Colt's 911 style officer .45 with a 3 1/2 inch barrel is a superb defensive carry gun and one that I use often as well. But, especially for people new at this, it may not be the right carry gun for you, due to excessive recoil from the shorter barrel length and operational characteristics, as previously mentioned.

Some semi auto’s can be purchased in the "double action" (double trigger) mode such as the Glock to simulate a revolver. The big advantage of the Glock or a similar weapon is there are no “safeties”. A round can be “carried in the pipe“, and the gun is set to go all the time. Since it is in "double action" mode, requiring a harder trigger squeeze, all the time even after firing the first shot, it acts and shoots very similar to a revolver. Considering that you get the capability of carrying 10-15 rounds in the magazine and the gun is very safe to carry, are just some of the reasons they have become increasingly popular. Some people have trouble with accuracy in the "double action" mode due to the harder trigger pull, but with a little practice, especially by dry firing at home, you can get used to it.

Sight selection

During the selection process, gun sights will play an important role. Most of the manufactures have gone to "night sights" or the “three dot” system. This aids the shooter to gain a “sight picture” quickly and focus on the target. However, configuration of sights will vary from gun to gun and depending on your own individual eye sight, some will be better than others. My personal favorites are Glock, H & K and Colt. These have worked for me, but again, you must make your own personal choice. While at the gun shop, do not be afraid of picking up the various guns, and looking through the sights at a wall (with no one in between, shop owners get very nervous if you ignore this simple safety rule) to obtain the feel of the weapon and “sight picture”. You will be amazed on how different each gun will feel in your hand and how quickly or slowly the sights will “work” for you.

The distance between the front and rear sights will vary from gun to gun as well. Subcompact and compact models will have a shorter distance than standard frame models thus making the gun harder to achieve a "sight picture" quickly and sufficient accuracy at longer distances. As an example, a standard frame Glock 21 (.45 cal.) Gen 4 has sights 6.77 inches apart while a subcompact frame Glock 30 (.45 cal.) Gen 4 has sights 5.9 inches apart. Although the difference between the two guns is less than an inch (.87 in), this can affect accuracy substantially, unless the shooter is experienced and has spent a lot of time at the range. Add a shorter barrel length (Glock 21-4.6 in v.s. Glock 30 - 3.7 in.) and this will only compound the problem, especially with higher caliber weapons, due to recoil.

Method of Carry

Once, a gun selection is made, another important if not vital part of the puzzle comes into play and that is, "where on my person am I going to carry it?" There are so many places to conceal a weapon on the body and holsters for it, that this can become a daunting task. Cross or standard draw, inside or outside the pants holsters, shoulder holsters, behind the back, ankle holsters, pants pocket holsters, are some of the methods for concealed carry. All have advantages or disadvantages for quickness of draw and concealment. Unfortunately, if you have been using firearms for many years, you may have accumulated literally dozens of holsters during your quest on finding the "perfect one". I am no exception, as there are over 30 holsters in a storage box in my cellar that I have collected over the years. From my own personal experiences, I have settled on basically two types of concealed carry.

The inside the waist band holster is a very good choice. Recently, I purchased one from Cover 6 Gear that is advertised by John Moore's website The Liberty Man.Com and on his radio show for my Glock 23 (.40 cal). It is an excellent well made holster allowing the gun to rotate on the attachment clip and it is molded and formed to specifically fit your make and model of weapon. This is extremely beneficial if you are active in your daily life. In my job as a professional guide on fishing and hunting trips, running heavy equipment at camp (backhoe and a tractor), climbing 40 ft. extension ladders, jumping in and out of four wheel drive pickup trucks, crawling under buildings to jack and level them due to frost after a hard winter, cutting and splitting wood, etc. this holster is extremely comfortable to wear and your weapon is easily accessible at all times. In a seated position, since the weapon is allowed to rotate with the holster, being comfortable is no longer a problem. This is extremely handy if you have to get in and out of vehicles often or operate heavy equipment. Also, the longer you wear this holster, the more comfortable it becomes, as it "molds" to your individual body structure Being so impressed with it, I am going to order one for my Colt .45 1911 government model. I highly recommend this holster as it is well made, extremely durable, versatile and worth the money.

The other method I use is the pants front pocket holster which is a very simple and effective way to carry a smaller frame weapon. A Glock 26 (9mm) or 27 (.40 cal) are well suited for this purpose. Carried in this manner, the gun is extremely accessible and virtually non detectable. The typical pocket holster is designed and configured to remain in the pants pocket while drawing the weapon. A good pocket holster will completely cover the trigger guard to help prevent an AD and must be used at all times. Since you will carry your gun with "one in the pipe", it is extremely unsafe to place a gun anywhere on the body without a holster and the front pants pocket (especially for us guys) is no exception! Some people do not carry a gun "ready to go", but in my opinion, if you have to take the time to draw and rack the slide before you fire, then you might as well throw it like a rock at the bad guy.

Naturally, carrying this way, you can even wear a tee shirt and your gun is still concealed. The only drawback is the frame used must be a subcompact, which for people with large hands can present some problems. Additionally, with a shorter barrel length, accuracy may suffer. But, as mentioned above, with practice at the range, this can be overcome. For example, at one of the tactical schools that I attended, a State cop from Georgia that we competed against used a 2” Smith revolver. The man weighed about 350 lbs. and the gun looked like a Cracker Jacks toy in his hand. But, when he shot the combat course, he beat everybody hands down. So much for short barreled weapons being inaccurate.

My first choice, above all, and what I am most comfortable with is the outside the pants standard draw holster for all my weapons. If the situation arises, and I can carry this way because of a coat or outside shirt which will conceal the weapon, it will always be my personal favorite. For me, this type of carry gives me the most confidence, and drawing the weapon is very smooth, quick and feels the most natural to me. The Cover six gear holster, previously mentioned, also provides this quickness. But, I have seen people with shoulder holsters and even behind the back carries produce a gun faster than you can “blink an eye“. So again, it comes down to personal preference. No matter where you decide to place a holster on your body, what makes a quick draw is practice, and a lot of it!

For the ladies, concealed carry can be a little easier, as the weapon is usually of a smaller caliber and frame size. Also, there are some very nice looking leather pocket books on the market with a hidden compartment. Generally, they come complete with an internal holster which is accessed from the end of the pocket book. This allows the woman to carry it on her shoulder with her hand already inside on the weapon when she is walking to her car. If an assault occurs, there is no worry and concern about getting to the weapon in time and defending herself. Talk about a quick draw!

Your Stance

There are three basic combat stances that have been accepted as “proper”. They are the modern isosceles, weaver (developed by Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff-Jack Weaver), and modified weaver. All have advantages and disadvantages for the shooter. However, all of them will provide a strong solid foundation to help with accuracy. I will not go into all the pros and con’s of each here, but, as an example, the isosceles is a natural defensive maneuver and is usually a good stance for beginners, but it does give the “bad guy” a full frontal view of you to attack. The Modified Weaver gives a smaller profile, but leaves the side of the body, especially if you are wearing body armor vulnerable to a side shot. There are other issues with each, but any self defense book on the market today will have illustrations of each stance indicating their proper form and discuss them in further detail.

Another stance that is gaining popularity is the Tactical Stance (sometimes called the “Fighting Stance“) which is a combination of the modified weaver and the modern isosceles. This has become my personal favorite, as it is easy to get into and feels very natural. A brief description is as follows:

  • Feet shoulder width
  • Shoulders squared to the target
  • Keep your strong leg slightly behind your weak side leg
  • Grasp the gun with both hands
  • Lock your shooting arm forward (right arm if right handed)
  • Keep the supporting arm bent with the elbow tucked closely to the body
  • (personally, I do not tuck the left arm but keep it slightly bent and extended)

If you think about it, if you were assaulted, the feet, legs, and shoulder placement of the above “stance” would probably be used by you to face an attacker, even if you were not carrying a firearm. Plus, excellent accuracy can be obtained by utilization of this stance.

Many shooters have adopted variations of the above stances; me included, to fit their comfort zone. Confrontations happen so fast in the real world, that to worry about “absolute proper form” in a defensive situation is nonsense, and should be considered as such. What ever stance you finally decide on, the important thing is that it is used all the time during your defensive drills and that it becomes almost automatic. Also, if a variation or combination of these stances works for you at the range and if your draw is fast and accuracy is good.... so be it.

Some Final Thoughts

As with models and makes of cars, everyone has his favorite or personal choice of weapon or a way to carry it. I have taken part in so many “discussions”, (sometimes heated) with people at competitions and training schools, on which is the “best gun, the best caliber” and “how it should be carried“, that it has become very clear to me that there are no “right answers“. It seems that everyone is absolutely convinced, that their way is the “right and best choice” and all others do not measure up. However, it does you no good to take someone’s advice that you have to buy an H&K USP compact in 9mm with a shoulder holster because “it's the best gun made and the only way to carry it.” Then you discover it takes you until next week to draw it and when practicing at the range you can not even hit the paper. Simply put, in the end, the ultimate question to always ask yourself is:

Can I assess a situation, commit, draw my weapon, fire, and most importantly
hit something with accuracy, all under 2 seconds?”

If you can answer yes to the above important question, then, it really does not matter what gun you may carry or where you conceal it. For you have made the right choice. Because, when the chips are down and the crap hits the fan, your weapon and mode of concealment that you have chosen and worked hard to be confident and proficient with, will save your life.℠ (Right-side navigation page SSI insertion)