Last month, I cited the reasons I prefer a somewhat larger handgun for concealed carry than many others would even consider. I haven’t changed my mind. I still prefer to carry something such as a Glock 19 or Commander-sized 1911.
There are many fine, capable weapons in this “compact” size category. I’m currently putting a Ruger American Compact in .45 ACP to the test.
And yet, I have to acknowledge that there might be a time and a place for smaller guns. Here are some things to consider.
I went on a weekend backpacking trip with my daughter last fall. Crime isn’t limited to urban areas, but on such a trip, every piece of gear has to be considered carefully, because space and weight are at a premium.
Some things you pack are absolute necessities. Other things, such as first aid supplies, fall into the “what-if” category. A firearm is also on the “what-if” side of the tally, but I never want to be in a situation where a firearm suddenly becomes a necessity and I don’t have one.
AS A TOOL FOR LAST-DITCH DEFENSE, A SMALL GUN MIGHT BE BETTER THAN WHATEVER ELSE YOU CARRY IN YOUR POCKETS.
I did overpack for that trip; my pack was way too heavy, and I suffered for it. But I don’t regret that in the pocket of my hiking shorts was a Glock 26—a small gun that some still consider way too big and fat to carry.
A small handgun might also be suitable when you have other defensive tools nearby. For example, when I’m home, I might have a small pistol in my pocket, knowing that I have access to other weapons a few steps away.
Being prepared is not being paranoid. I’m not the kind who paces from window to window, shotgun in hand. And, despite owning a few stainless steel handguns, I’m not about to carry one in the shower.
But think about it: Home is where you have the most things to protect. There’s nothing wrong with having a small pistol in your pocket when you go to answer a knock on your door.
THE SECOND GUN
The best role for a small gun is as a backup weapon. There’s probably more of a need for a backup if you’re in law enforcement or other dangerous occupations. But for the average person, a backup weapon can sometimes be a way to ensure you have quick access to at least one weapon when you need it.
If I’m a right-hander carrying my primary weapon in an inside the waistband holster on my right side, a good place for a small backup might be in the left pocket of my jacket. If I’m sitting in my car, that backup might be easier to reach than my primary handgun; and, depending on the direction of my attacker, it might be easier to bring into action effectively. And there have been occasions when I carried a Ruger LCP as a backup in a shirt pocket with a button flap where I could reach it with either hand.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
If you make the decision to carry a small handgun, you have to know it completely and be realistic about its limited capabilities. Regular practice should be your standard operating procedure, no matter what gun you carry. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but I have found that those who carry smaller guns tend to put in the least amount of range time with those guns. That’s not a recipe for success.
Most gunfights are at extreme close range. But can you make an accurate shot at 15 yards, 25 yards or out to 50 yards? Are those unrealistic expectations? Put it this way: Could you make a shot with your small gun across the dining room of a restaurant if some wannabe jihadist walks in and opens fire? What if that same wacko shows up at your child’s soccer game?
Knowing your capabilities with your carry weapon is essential, but what about the capabilities of the gun, itself? A small handgun sometimes means a small cartridge. Despite the well-hyped advances in ammunition, keep this one thing in mind: There are a lot of career criminals walking the streets with little, round bullet hole scars on their bodies that they wear like badges of honor.
There are more-powerful small guns on the market these days— lots of 9mms and a handful of .45s. However, then recoil and controllability become issues. And if the gun isn’t fun to shoot, you won’t practice as often.
LET’S BE REALISTIC
Okay; this is an exaggeration, but obviously, you’re not going to carry a 6-inch revolver in a shoulder rig when you’re at the beach. A small gun that slips into your pocket is so easy. I get it.
As a tool for last-ditch defense, a small gun might be better than whatever else you carry in your pockets …
… just don’t feel too confident about that small comfort.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.