Picking Your Defensive Handgun
Hey all you cool cats and kittens! Recently I was asked to do a guest article for LOX... I started writing it and finally asked, "Hey, this is going to be long. Want to turn it into a mini series?" And I got the green light! So, to get started, let me introduce myself.
My names Michael and I'm a hobbyist when it comes to firearms. I got into them around the end of 2015 and bought my very first handgun, a CZ 75B, in 2016. After that purchase I realized how much more there was to know about defensive firearms, carrying a firearm for defensive purposes, and more. That's when I decided to start TacCat; a personal blog where I logged my own experiences with firearms as a novice, and worked my way up.
Basically, a way for me, and in turn you, to learn from my own embarrassment. So far though I've only taken a couple of impromptu courses, but now that I've settled on the platform that will be changing once I get all of the modifications I've deemed necessary done.
"A gun in the waist is better than a gun on the nightstand."
If only choosing your defensive firearm were as simple as following that phrase, but unfortunately it isn't. There's some out there that are just bad choices, some that require more training, and others that are flat out fantastic options. To get started off, let's go ahead and work through the bad options, and why they're bad options.
What could be considered life dependent gear isn't something you want to cheap out on. Think about it this way, would you want the paramedic responding to your call to use a nylon band in place of a tourniquet because it was cheaper? Or would you expect them to use something like the CAT tourniquet that's been approved by the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (CoTCCC)?
With that said I would generally avoid these brands/models:
Taurus, Rossi, FMK, Phoenix Arms, Hi-Point, Kimber, Springfield XD, Bersa, and SCCY
There's a few others that aren't as...common if you will, but anything that may seem similar (price point is usually a key indicator with the exception of Kimber) might be skeptical. The above brands/models though suffer from a few things, but not necessarily everything I'm about to list: Reliability issues, durability issues, and bad customer service (Ex: Taurus is known to hold onto a gun for 6 months only to send a check for the full MSRP).
There are a lot of what's called "snake oil" in the self defense world and these items tend to get pushed onto new gun owners/novices that don't know any better. Some of these guns include the North American Arms Mini-Revolvers which offer terrible terminal ballistics, requiring the gun to be cocked for every shot, and a reload time that'll leave you dead. You may have also heard of the two shot Derringers, sure they might make for a great "last resort" piece, with only two shots out of a 2" barrel it's far from being an adequate option for self defense.
At the price point that most Derringers go for, you would be better off spending the money on a J-Frame revolver from Smith & Wesson, as well as 1,000rds of .38Spl to practice with. This leads to my ultimate example of what I deem as a bad idea for self defense purposes. The Standard Manufacturing Thunderstruck.
The law of averages is the idea behind the Thunderstruck. 2 shots at 2 yards in 2 seconds... one of the flaws here is, is that just because the average encounter meets certain characteristics, doesn't mean that's what we will be facing. For instance, if we lived by the law of averages we wouldn't carry ammunition. Why? The CDC has come out and said that firearms are used between 500,000-3,000,000 times a year without shots being fired; which turns the average from being 2 shots, at 2 yards, in 2 seconds to brandishing only.
But, there's a lot of other issues going on here. Originally I was going to focus on the increased potential of timing issues with this revolver, however, I consulted a little bit with Nelson Gunsmithing, LLC a little bit prior... and I'll do my best to break down his explanation on why this is such a bad idea.
Is there a higher potential for there to be a timing issue?
Yes, but not as much as I was thinking. The biggest issue outside of the ergonomics of this revolver, is the fact that the revolver has to rotate 120 degrees versus a normal revolver's 60. This can cause the revolver to seize, or to lock-up, which takes it entirely out of the fight. The manufacturer is going to have to account for the barrel being installed twice and aligning properly; this is going to take away from QC (quality control) time being spent elsewhere.
As Nelson Gunsmithing put it: "If you have 10 floor hours of production on a gun, is it better to spend 2-3 messing around with two barrels, or making sure the internals are properly fitted and finished?"
Now let's talk about the horrific ergonomics and what they mean for you. The trigger pull is heavy, verging 20 pounds (given it maxes out trigger gauges rated to go up to 15lbs), and it requires you to lose a control finger. The trigger's weight alone can cause a person to make the gun fail. Doing a short pull can prevent the cylinder from rotating entirely; in the end you'll have to manually set the cylinder which is deadly in a fight.
"What's a control finger?"
A control finger is one you're using to actively manage recoil to be able to be as accurate of shots as possible, your middle finger (a finger required to pull the trigger) is one of these fingers. Without your middle finger you're losing a substantial amount of stability with your grip, as well as a lot of recoil control. This is going to lead to you throwing shots (quite often) and recoil being more substantial, especially with two rounds being shot out such a short barrel. Pictured below is what your middle finger should be doing and is doing with a regular pistol/revolver.
To hit on ballistics briefly, 2-.22LR shots out aren't going to produce better terminal ballistics than 1-.38Spl or 1-.357Mag out of a similarly sized barrel, but it will give you similar recoil to the .38Spl (possibly worse with the missing control finger). All around the Thunderstruck, like many other guns, just aren't good options for a multitude of reasons; so watch out for them.
Spend to save, don't spread to save.
Some of us don't have the budget to waste money on frivolous junk that we'll never make back what we spent. So we try to do our due diligence while also trying to keep our budgets in mind. And just because some of us are on a budget, doesn't mean we should blow our wad on subpar equipment that our lives may depend on. For an example, here's a story from someone I know.
A buddy of mine had a $600 budget. He wanted a red dot, he wanted a flashlight, a holster, AND a gun on that budget. Despite repeated warnings of, "Be patient, you're going to lose your rear end," impatience won. Everything he got was budget friendly of the worst variety; but hey! It had a lifetime warranty!
In the end, the firearm he got ($300) was broken (the company has yet to respond to him), the optic ($160) he picked up shattered (again, company hasn't responded to him), his budget gear flashlight stopped working for multiple reasons (...again, company hasn't responded to him), and the "holster" he picked up is now shredded. So now he's sitting on a $300 gun he cannot resell, a $160 broken optic that's not worth it's weight in salt, a cracked flashlight, and no holster.
So, follow the phrase: Spend to save, don't spread to save. Meaning, spend your money wisely, not hastily. BUT, just because you're balling on a budget doesn't mean you have to sacrifice quality; it just means you have to wait for certain accessories. To help you, I'll break down my personal opinion on what to do at a couple different budget levels, and then I'll give you some of my favorite budget combinations.
At this range you aren't beyond being able to get a quality handgun, there's actually quite a few here! BUT, they're all subcompacts (which are harder to shoot), or they're revolvers (which require more dedication to learn how to run). That said, you could also swing a LE (law enforcement) trade-in. I know what you're about to ask too.
"But TacCat, don't cops beat the tar out of their handguns?"
Actually, no. A lot of what you see on LE trade-ins is just holster wear. Typically speaking, they're perfectly fine internally. They've been shot very little, and in some cases they've been refurbed a little bit at the factory. The nice thing is, even if somethings wrong, parts are plentiful, and there's thousands of people that can help you get things replaced (if not the actual manufacture).
Those options aside, at this price point, you're still going to want to wait to get a holster/flashlight/red dot for use.
Exception to the norm: Smith & Wesson SD9VE. The trigger is horrendous, but it's reliable, it's cheap, and it's a full sized handgun.
Possible Exception: Canik TP9; I've heard many mixed things on this pistol and I don't want to recommend it without getting hands-on time with on, approach at your own risk.
At this price range you've got a few options you can play around with. You can either buy one of the subcompacts I mentioned in the above price range, as well as a holster for it. Or... you can do what I've done and blow your wad on a brand new duty quality handgun (like a Glock 19 pre-panic buying prices).
If the name of the game is to get carrying as quickly as possible, you know which route you'll probably take. If you aren't in a rush and you want to do things right though... I'd go ahead, ante up, and drop the money on the new duty quality handgun. It'll be a lot more pleasurable to shoot and it won't be all that much more difficult to carry (heck, you may have already started buying pants 2 sizes up like I mentioned in the first leg of this series).
There are a very limited amount of options in this price category and I know them all by name. Occasionally, you can get a Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm, or a Walther PPS M2 for between $200 and $260. Beyond these two options, however, there isn't much of anything in this range that I would recommend as trustworthy.
My Budget-Ish Picks:
Just picking out a couple of my favorite budget layouts is going to be difficult, but I'll do my best. Afterwards I'll rattle off a list of other budget options to keep your eyes open for.
1. Walther PPS M2 + Cold War Concealment Holster + DCC Monoblock + a handheld
The Walther PPS M2 cannot use a weapon mounted light, so you're stuck using a handheld (checkout the Fenix E-16). Cold War Concealment's holsters are budget friendly and with a DCC Monoblock belt clip ($5) you're looking at some very solid choices for concealed carry.
Walther PPS M2: $2-300
Cold War Concealment Holster: $45
DCC Monoblock: $5
2. Walther PPQ + Streamlight TLR-7A + Legacy Firearms Ares
The Walther PPQ is a fantastic budget-ish pistol like the two that will follow, but the aftermarket hasn't been as kind to it. Currently the only option for light bearing holsters is from Legacy Firearms, without a light though the world's your oyster.
Walther PPQ: $4-500
Streamlight TLR-7A: $109-$150
Legacy Firearms Ares: $124
Total: $633- $774
Alternative: Get the Legacy Firearms Cronus and a DCC Monoblock
3. CZ P-10c/CZ P-07
Whereas I haven't had a P-10c personally, a friend of mine did and ran it through it's paces. Meanwhile I've been using a CZ P-07 for the last year. Both of these guns are amazingly reliable, they're cheaper than their competition, and the market has picked up both of these pistols. Unfortunately, magazines are pricey.
CZ P-10c/P-07: $4-500
Holster: The World's Your Oyster
Light: Any WML will fit on these guns
4. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm + Handheld
The Shield has been the dominating subcompact, budget, 9mm on the market. You can find them readily available typically, everyone offers holsters for it, and tons of people know them inside and out. Unfortunately, the one weapon light for it is mediocre at best, so I'd strongly recommend picking up a handheld light to accommodate it instead.
Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm: $2-300
5. Smith & Wesson 442/642
The 442/642 (the 642 being stainless) are 5-shot .38Spl snub nosed revolvers. Whereas they're going to require dedication to learn, they're light weight, they're relatively cheap, and they've been around for forever...and they'll continue to stay around for a long time. Whereas I haven't had a chance to try out holsters for my 642 yet, I do know that Cold War Concealment makes them.
Other than listing budget-ish guns that I like, the best thing I can do is to tell you to stick with trusted, reputable brands (with the exceptions of those above). When you do that, there's not a lot that you can mess up. So, get to your local shop, fondle a bunch of guns, and go from there! Next time you hear from we, I'll be going in depth...and I mean in depth, with holsters.
And now that you're through reading this super long monologue, mixed with a rant about the Thunderstruck, go reward yourself with something from the Lox webstore! Remember to use Cat10 to get 10% off your order!
Thanks to TacCat for writing another super-helpful piece in this series on Responsible Concealed Carry!
Stay Sharp. Stay Savage.®