After the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, one thing should have become clear to every American: there are no "safe spaces" in which shootings will not occur. Anywhere can be chosen by some deranged maniac or warped, twisted deviant to express his feelings by shooting a few (or a few dozen) people.
That being the case, the question arises of personal preparedness for such events. I've addressed personal safety concerns in a previous blog post. This morning I'd like to address the need to be armed and ready to defend ourselves and our loved ones. This article is directed primarily at those readers who haven't previously considered this, or who haven't had enough exposure to handguns to be familiar with the field.
During the heat of summer, it's not likely that many of us will be dressed in such a way that we can conceal a full-size handgun easily. The concealment aspect is very important, as noted previously, because if there's a "man with a gun" call, and you're visibly armed, you may find yourself targeted without a second thought. You need to carry your gun in such a way that it's not visible unless and until it has to be, to defend yourself. That means carrying something smaller and more concealable than a full-size handgun. It may mean carrying, not just a compact, but a sub-compact firearm. What's the difference?
A polymer (plastic) framed, sub-compact firearm may be so small and so light that it's very difficult to aim and fire it accurately and effectively. If you train often and long enough, you can overcome that problem, of course: but it takes hard work. I see a great many people carrying tiny firearms like the Ruger LCP or LCP II, or the Kel-Tec P32 or P3AT, who have never fired their guns. They find their mere possession comforting. Little do they know! I've owned all those models, and still own and carry the LCP, so I speak from experience when I say that even as a trained, experienced shooter, I find them very hard to use compared to larger, more ergonomic guns. The recoil is magnified, control is hard due to a minuscule grip surface, and the trigger pull isn't easily mastered if you have big hands. In particular, given my older eyes, I find their tiny sights almost impossible to use accurately. In fact, I won't carry any of those four models unless it's equipped with a laser sight, and I've confirmed on the range that it's sighted in for accuracy with the ammunition in the gun. To my mind, such tiny firearms should be regarded as backup guns rather than primary weapons. YMMV, of course.
The same applies, to a lesser extent, to small snubnose revolvers. They're larger than the ultra-miniature pistols listed above, but still small and light compared to their larger brethren. They can fire any type of bullet available in their cartridge and caliber range, offering greater flexibility, and they're combat-proven in performance. I sometimes carry a .38 Special snubnose revolver, usually loaded with Buffalo Bore's full wadcutter rounds, and I'm confident it'll do the job if necessary. However, their sights are still rudimentary compared to those on larger firearms, and their recoil is harder to control given their small size and light weight. Regular practice is necessary if one's to make the most of them. A laser sight is a valuable accessory.
It's increasingly common to encounter sub-compact single-stack semi-auto pistols specially designed for concealed carry. Examples include the Glock 42, 43, 43X and 48, the Springfield Armory XD-S, Ruger's LC9S and (very affordable) EC9S, Smith & Wesson's Shield, and others. I'd consider these the minimum serious concealed carry weapons out there. Even though I'm no longer actively involved in training disabled shooters, I have examples of most of the above models, and I train often enough to be able to use them effectively. They offer better sights than smaller weapons, plus in most cases the opportunity to fit better aftermarket sights if so desired. (Trijicon's HD XR range are a good example of the latter, and I like them very much. I find them clear and sharp, even if my eyes aren't!) Extended magazines are sometimes available if required, although the quality of some aftermarket offerings isn't always good enough to rely on for serious work.
I respectfully suggest that a firearm similar to those mentioned in the preceding paragraph should be the minimum we carry nowadays. If it's possible to conceal a larger firearm, with more rounds in the magazine, so much the better; but that's not always the case. I highly recommend trying as many of the above models as possible, choosing the one that best fits your hand, and training with it until you're satisfied you can put your rounds where they'll do the most good at ranges out to 15-20 yards, rapidly and effectively. (Most defensive encounters will be at much shorter ranges than that, but one can't rule out the need for a longer-range shot.) Remember, you'll be held legally accountable for every shot you fire. If you use your defensive firearm and hit an innocent bystander, it may go hard for you if it turns out you were never trained, or not trained adequately, in its use, and never practiced with it.
There's also the question of how and where to carry your gun. This is a vast subject in its own right, and I can't possibly do it justice in a short article like this. I strongly recommend on-body carry rather than off-body (e.g. in a purse or handbag), because it's too easy for a thief to rip a bag out of your hands and run off with it. A good holster is also essential, for your own protection as much as anything else. Greg Ellifritz had a good article about that recently; I strongly suggest you read it in full, and take note.
What's my personal choice? Until recently, when it came to pocket or deep-concealment carry, I used Springfield's XD-S. However, having been introduced to Glock's Model 48 and 43X pistols (the latter using the former's frame, but the half-inch-shorter slide and barrel of the Model 43), I'm beginning to make the switch to the 43X. Based on the firearms I've personally handled and used, I think it's the best compromise between concealment, controllability and magazine capacity currently on the market. However, others may hold different opinions, and that's OK. I'd certainly trust any of the other sub-compact models mentioned above to protect my life if need be.
Whatever you carry, practice with it, and make sure you know how to use it effectively if the need arises. Nowadays, there are no safe spaces - so be prepared, every time you enter the unsafe world out there.
(EDITED TO ADD: As a result of some comments and e-mails concerning this article, I've added a second dealing with ammunition selection. You'll find it here.)