Like many armed citizens, I have in my collection of firearms several that can be described as 'pocket pistols'. Most of them are chambered in smaller, lighter, less powerful cartridges, such as .32 ACP, .380 ACP or 9mm. Parabellum for pistols, and .38 Special for snubnose revolvers. A good example of this category of weapon is the diminutive Ruger LCP pistol, shown below.
Such weapons are often used as a backup to a larger, heavier firearm, and as their designation suggests, they're often carried in a pocket. I prefer to do so using a pocket holster, because I'm nervous about anything else in that pocket interfering with the trigger and possibly causing an accidental discharge. I'd hate to shoot myself through my own negligence!
Some people rely on such pocket pistols as their sole or primary armament. They may be in a work environment that's not conducive to being armed, for any of a number of reasons, and therefore find that they can only carry small weapons like that because anything larger would be too noticeable. Others have suffered injuries that make it difficult or painful to carry a larger weapon in a belt or shoulder holster for extended periods, but they can tolerate a lighter weapon in a pocket. Be that as it may, such pocket weapons have become very popular, and are carried by many people for self-defense.
However, such handguns do have drawbacks. For a start, they tend to have tiny, even vestigial sights, making it hard to achieve accuracy over anything more than point-blank range. This is complicated by their small size and light weight, which means that users feel the recoil of the cartridge more than those shooting larger, heavier weapons. The smaller guns are generally much harder to control in repeated, rapid, accurate fire. Their smaller-caliber rounds also inflict less damage on an attacker than those fired from larger pistols; and even if they fire the same round as the latter, it typically develops less energy out of the smaller weapon's shorter barrel, reducing its terminal effectiveness. Finally, again due to the limitations of their size, such weapons usually have relatively small magazine capacities. Five or six rounds is common, whereas full-size handgun magazines can carry up to sixteen or seventeen rounds.
In the light of the increased danger of urban terrorism, many are re-evaluating whether or not such firearms deserve their place in our defensive battery. I believe they do, because they can be concealed and carried where larger firearms can't; but at the same time I think it's worth highlighting their limitations in the light of the increased threat, and perhaps switching to a more powerful weapon in the category to make up for them.
A pistol or revolver in a pocket is usually more difficult and, critically, much slower to draw than one in a holster on one's belt. In an emergency, the delay thus imposed may be crucial to your survival. There's also the factor of being close to one's attacker. Any delay in producing one's weapon allows an attacker to get even closer. Witness, for example, the Palestinian terrorist stabbing attacks in Israel over recent weeks - there are many videos of them on Youtube. Note how quickly the attacks happened, and how little reaction time was available to the victims. Some could not react in time to defend themselves. In those respects, the Palestinian attacks are similar to many criminal attacks in the USA, particularly in an urban environment where criminal 'flash mobs' may spring up seemingly out of nowhere with little or no warning, or the 'knockout game' (a.k.a. 'polar bear hunting') may become a popular pastime among gang-bangers and thugs in your city.
If I'm subject to a close-range attack of that sort, I need to have a weapon that will stop the attack as quickly as possible. The energy-limited, lower-power cartridges of the typical pocket pistol are less than optimum in such a scenario. Furthermore, the smaller weapon is usually slower and more difficult to produce and use to maximum effect. Those problems add up to a serious handicap in such a situation.
I want to improve my chances of survival. I've therefore decided to carry a more powerful pocket pistol, chambered for the venerable .45 ACP cartridge, to give myself more of an edge in such situations. The advantages of the bigger, heavier round have been discussed before; see in particular Jim Higginbotham's excellent perspective, quoted in this article. Here's the gist of his findings:
I can find no real measure - referred to by some as a mathematical model - of stopping power or effectiveness. And I have looked for 44 years now! Generally speaking I do see that bigger holes (in the right place) are more effective than smaller holes ... There are dozens of modifiers which change the circumstance, most not under your control. My only advice on this is what I learned from an old tanker: "Shoot until the target changes shape or catches fire!" ... With handguns, and with expanding bullets ... through years of study I have developed a general formula [of what it takes to stop an attacker], subject to the above mentioned unpredictable circumstances.
- 2-3 hits with a .45;
- 4-6 with a .40;
- 5-8 with a 9mm.
There's much more at the link. Highly recommended reading. For what it's worth, I agree with Mr. Higginbotham, based on my own experience of urban crime and violence in South Africa over an extended period.
There are two pocket-sized .45 ACP pistols that stand out on the market at present. One is the Kahr CM45 (shown below) and its more expensive sibling, the PM45.
The other is the Springfield Armory XD-S, shown below.
All are so-called 'single-stack' weapons (i.e. using a magazine that holds the cartridges in a single vertical row, rather than a double 'staggered' row), holding five rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber for a maximum ammo capacity of six rounds. All offer extended magazines that can hold additional rounds at the cost of increased weapon size and bulk, and hence decreased concealability.
I've tested both the CM45 and the XD-S .45. Neither is as easy to control in rapid, repeat fire as a weapon chambered for a less powerful cartridge generating lower recoil; but both are manageable with practice (the latter being essential to first master them, then to ensure that one's skills remain current and up-to-date). I find the XD-S to be more controllable, more comfortable to fire, and generally easier to handle than the Kahr pistol, and I prefer its bright, glowing fiber-optic front sight for rapid acquisition of a sight picture. However, to be fair, others have the opposite preference. Every shooter will have their own opinion. Be that as it may, I'm going to standardize on the XD-S in .45 ACP as my heavier-duty pocket pistol from now on. I hope and pray I never have to use it; but if I do, I want the maximum possible bullet energy and terminal ballistics on my side.
There are those who argue that the 9mm. equivalents of those pistols (e.g. the Kahr CM9 or PM9, or the XD-S 9mm.) can hold an additional one or two rounds of ammunition in a standard-size magazine, offering greater flexibility at the cost of only minimal loss of 'wounding power'. They're right, of course; but in the light of Jim Higginbotham's comments and my own experience, and the slower reaction time (and thus probably much closer engagement range) with which I might have to contend while carrying only a small pocket pistol, I'd rather have the greater power of the bigger cartridge on my side. I reckon, with 6 rounds of .45 ACP in the gun, I can be reasonably confident of stopping two to three attackers, provided I put the bullets where they need to go. With 7-8 rounds of 9mm., I may only be able to deal with one or two. (In a full-size handgun, where magazine capacities are much higher, the calculation changes, of course - there, I'm comfortable carrying a 9mm. with appropriate ammunition, as discussed earlier.)
Others will doubtless disagree with my perspective here, and that's fine. It's for each individual to form their own opinion in the light of the evidence available to them. I recommend to all my readers that they perform a similar analysis, re-evaluate their carry weapons in the light of the current threat, and take action accordingly.