Top Ten Handguns for Self-Defense – Part II – Semi-Automatic Pistols

Prepared as guidance for my brother, who’s shopping for his first sidearm.  He lives in a suburban community on the outskirts of Chicago.  Living in ILL-n-NOY(‘d), he’s not likely to be allowed to carry concealed.  He may not be able to interest his wife in training.  What should he buy?
 

Part II – Semi-Automatic Pistols -  Best applications:  For more advanced users, concealed carry for larger-bore and/or increased capacity, and full-on combat.  I generally don’t like the smaller semi-autos….I’ve tried many, mostly in .380 ACP, such as the Walther PPK.  It’s just my opinion now, but I’ve come to believe that smaller revolvers serve this niche a little better.  Ham sized fists can interfere with proper slide operation, you don’t get much (if any) more in the way of magazine capacity, and smaller cartridges may not have enough stopping power.

As for the 9mm, sorry, I’ve just never seen the point; yes, you get more (often lots more) capacity but you might as well use a cartridge that has better stopping power in more or less the same sized frame.  Obviously, opinions vary on this issue and, naturally, there are today many good 9mm defensive loads to use.  Still, how much magazine capacity do you really need? 

But, in my opinion, the real advantage of a semi-auto is for larger bore, large capacity, rapidly reloadable firepower.  Today, I’d probably stick with the .40 as the best combination of terminal ballistics and magazine capacity.  But, still, I love the .45 ACP and went that route before the .40 had gained any real traction, and when (mostly) 9mms were impacted by the assault weapon’s ban on high-capacity magazines.  So, I guess I’ll “dance with the girl I brung”. 

Regardless of your preference, however, the NUMBER ONE BIGGEST ISSUE for semi-autos is RELIABILITY.  They MUST FEED EVERY ROUND EVERY TIME or they just don’t qualify as a reliable defense weapon.  I would not carry anything that is overly particular when it comes to ammunition or magazine, requires feed ramp or other modifications to function reliably.  

Frankly, that’s the biggest reason my Walther went away…. I just couldn’t trust it.  Don’t settle for second best with semi-autos, otherwise go with a decent revolver.  They will almost always work with any ammo without a hitch.  No jams to clear, no problems.  The recommended models below tend to be very well-regarded and reliable.  (See this very good article on the “Care, Feeding, & Reliability of the Semi-Auto Pistol at Chuck Hawks site.)

The only other factor worth considering is trigger pull.  Revolvers are generally limited to “harder” double action triggers in fast firing situations.  This does reduce accuracy.  Among the biggest advantages enjoyed by semi-autos is the lighter single action trigger pull, usually after the first shot (except for 1911s, which is one big reason why they remain very popular, especially with competition shooters).  The lighter single-action trigger pull results from these being “self-cocking” when the slide blows back during the shot, which tends to dramatically enhance accuracy.  I noted that I like exposed hammer revolvers, which means you can manually cock the weapon if you want/need the more accurate lighter single action trigger pull.  Doesn’t help you in a combat situation, but it’s nice for target shooting, etc. 

I recommend that you stay away from DAO (double action only) semi-autos, typically law enforcement models from socialistic jurisdictions.  If you’re in a semi, stick with the standard double action first shot, followed by single action second shots (DA/SA).  The 1911, as stated above, is single action only (SAO).  It must be pre-cocked before firing, hence the term “cocked and locked” for a weapon with a round in the chamber, hammer cocked, with safety on.  These SOA advantages are biggest reason why they remain so popular.  Note:  The Glock is, in effect, more akin to a DOA, but it’s a unique design that enables a lighter trigger pull than most.  (Again, more good info from Chuck Hawk’s site on this issue.)

Pistol Brands in order of Quality and Value Rating

1.  Sig Sauer – Quality A+  (Very well made, very reliable, very simple, very perfect) Value – B- (Often the most expensive, except for those very high-end custom 1911s or other, more esoteric competition guns)

2.  Beretta – Quality A+ (Civilian models typically very highly finished, very pretty, very reliable, some unique features)  Value B+  (not cheap, most common models not small really, matter of taste)

3.  Glock – Quality A  (Ugly, unique, but relatively simple design, notable reliability)  Value A+ (May takes some getting used to, but the prices are very good for the quality and reliability.)

4.  Colt or Springfield – Quality A/B+ (1911s only, the Springfield is more mil-spec rough, but both tend to be very reliable)  Value B-/B+  (Nothing like a Colt, but buy the Springfield for value)

5.  Taurus – Quality – B+ (Well executed Beretta copies, not quite as nice) Value – A- (You just won’t love it like a Beretta, sorry, may not be as reliable, not sure.)

My Favorite Models

Note:  These reflect the above noted “rules”, but some exceptions are included.

In order of desirability and cost:

1.  Sig Sauer P226 or P229 (compact), DA/SA, 10 or 12 round mags, tritium night sites, tac rail option, MSRP $1050 w/ night sites, typically available for $825 or so.  I’m interested in their new DAK trigger system, which may be more like the Glock’s.  I personally carry the P220 in .45 ACP.  It’s never ever failed to feed and fire and that’s worth a lot to me in a semi (see comments above).  These are the models most relied upon by the most hard-core special forces units.  Some may argue for the H&K (below) or whatever, but Sig Sauers are simply “just right”.  They look right, fit right, work right.  Used models usually can be found at gunshows for around $700 or so.  (Note:  I’d love to get some feedback on the now-all-Exeter- made models such as the P250C, which have compelling prices….)

1a. (honorable mention)  H&K USP – DA/SA, 13 rounds, $800 at discount shops, sort of esoteric, but also favored by some special ops units.  Less common, but probably nearly as “perfect” as the Sig.   

2.  Beretta 92A1 in .40 cal., DA/SA, 12 rounds, biggish framed without offering any additional capacity.  I’ve got it listed here because there is, admittedly, something special (more pretty and refined) about anything Beretta makes.  These (92s in 9mm, 17 rounds) are what the army adopted to replace the 1911 and they are very reliable, very pretty, but very large.  Too large for the job, in my opinion, but as a matter of taste, I can’t fault those that choose them.  MSRP in the range of $700+, depending on options, but can be had for $600 at discount shops, used for $525 or so at shows.

3.  Glock 22 or 23 – DAO, .40 caliber.  Either/or, a bit longer, a bit shorter, both ugly and very dependable, despite a slightly complicated design.  Very ergonomic, looking like it was designed for 100% for function and not beauty.  Lighter than most full-sized service pistols due to the high polymer content.  Still, a remarkable value at $500 more or less, used nearer $400-$450.  Night sites available and generally add $100 or so to the price.  Favored by the FBI.  The “hands down” winner for value.

4.  1911s – Love ‘em or leave em alone – Colt is the mainline name, but these are made over and built up by more companies than you can shake a stick at.  The best “value” alternative is probably Springfield, who offers a stripped down mil-spec model at about $540 or so.  Sometimes you can find them used, but Colts are more common at roughly the same price range.  Para-Ordinance also offers some very nice models, including double-stack magazine models for those with larger hands.  All of these are traditionally available in .45 ACP (with some exceptions), seven round magazines, specialized maintenance and operating skills.  They’re pretty cool (I’ve had three over the years), but not for everyone.  Single action only (SAO).

5.  Taurus PT940 – A slightly lighter and more compact version of their copy of the Beretta 92.  I might even like the SAO “cocked and locked” option, I suppose, but it may be just one more complication to a proven design.  Taurus tends to copy other company’s successes, with a bit less refinement and quality control.  This model makes the most sense as it does tend to improve on the features of the Beretta, at a much lower price point.  Consensus is that they are reliable, but I don’t have any real first or good second-hand experience here. BBW, I guess.  Can be had in the range of $500 new.

There are many, many others, but that’s a reasonable “short list”.  Good hunting.

85 responses to “Top Ten Handguns for Self-Defense – Part II – Semi-Automatic Pistols

  1. HI Harry, I made the mistake of purchasing a H&K USP 9mm Compact as my first handgun. I have never been able to bring myself to buy anything but H&Ks since (and paying the price for my affliction). My new favorite is the HK45c, it is simply amazing! I assume you bin these in with the Sigs since they are very similar. Nice Article!

  2. I own a S&W 40.cal(springfield) and itz divine. Shoot fast as you can pull the trigger no jam but I maintenance it very well. compact in size light in weight hold 14 rounds 15 with round in chamber. Couldnt ask for a better weapon and I owned several. 40.cal is my favorite bottom line!

  3. Great article…enjoyed the comments. I’m in the market for a gun and am down to an HK p30, sig p229 or a concealed carry 1911 by Springfield or sig. I’ve owed an hk usp before but ended up selling it. I hate to say I have not yet shot any of the guns I’m interested in but the hk feels outstanding in my hand. I am curious why you are anti lem models. The hk has an lem trigger that sounds appealing in lieu if the da/sa version. Also, between the hk and sig, which one do you believe is a better shooting weapon…meaning easier to shoot, better accuracy, less recoil, great trigger and reset, more consistently on target? I’m having a hard time making my final decision without shooting these guns so I’m now off to find a rental somewhere to give them a go. All the best…Double A

    • AA – Thanks for the great questions. You picked up a lot of nuance, it seems. First, in regard to the LE models, these often exclude single-action modes and, as you note, tend to have a modified – though usually somewhat – stiffer trigger pull, both of which are intended to lessen the risk of unintentional firing (under pressure). They also impede accuracy. While I tend to recommend the venerable and reliable revolver for most (even experienced) shooters, one of the common trade-offs is that you’ll get a somewhat stiffer double-action trigger pull. For any sort of close-in combat shooting, there may be little problem with this issue, but it’s nice to have the option of retaining a light trigger pull in a single-action mode. That’s one of the reasons that the 1911 has been so popular…its single-action all the time. In a semi-auto, I personally prefer a double-action first shot, followed by single-action, although the consistent Glock trigger pull has much to be desired. Among the list you presented, I may be a bit biased towards the P229, although there’s not a thing wrong with the HK. I tend not to recommend 1911’s as a matter of course, unless you’re a very experienced and diligent shooter. Recoil will always tend to reflect the cartridge and the size and weight of the platform. Smaller cartridges and larger guns = less recoil. Felt recoil, of course, can be influenced by ergonomic factors, such as the size, fit, and/or padding of the grip. Some cartridges, due to their design, produce a bit sharper recoil, even if their size (caliber) is smaller…a bit more complicated than I’d get into here, but can recommend that you can do a little comparative research on the typical differences in muzzle energy produced by different rounds. Lots to consider, but your idea to try a variety at the range is a good one and something often overlooked. Good hunting. – HT

  4. Hi Harry… Great blog and interesting reading (your info as well as some of the comments). To Michael Clark, if you are still following this blog, I would highly recommend a S&W 686 if you are still looking for a .357 Magnum revolver. I’ve had mine for over 30 years, never had a problem, totally stock (4″ barrel, wooden grips), lots of fun to shoot, chambers .357 Mag and .38 (not sure about +P), and deadly accurate. I also have a Sig P228 which is awesome to say the least. Will never get rid of that pistol. Again, dead on POA, nice size for my hand, recoil isn’t bad, and features are great, too. Recently purchased a Sig Sauer .22LR conversion kit for it, which allows for some relatively cheap shooting, while maintaining the same platform. Nice.

    Now Harry, for my question to you. I’m in the market for a new pistol (just because). I’m considering both the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP calibers. Main use is home defense, but I may want to conceal carry one day and would want something reasonably easy to carry/conceal. I’m considering the following and would like your opinion:

    – Ruger SR40C
    – Glock 23 Gen 4
    -Glock 30S
    – Springfield XDm 3.8 Compact .45 ACP
    -Springfield XDs .45 ACP (concerned with limited mag capacity, but nice and small)

    Also, any other recommendations to consider would be welcome.

    Thanks in advance.

    Rich

    • Hey Rich – Thanks for chiming in. As it happens, I too have a 686, which just might be my all-time favorite, full-size service revolver. Since moving to the country, I tend to think to grab it before anything else, including my trusty Sig and is one of the reasons I started thinking about pushing the argument in favor of revolvers to begin with.

      As to your search, I suspect that I’d choose either of the Glocks over the other choices and, very probably, go with 23. Although I’m a die=hard .45 fan, the .40 makes tons more sense for anyone serious about concealed carry. Stray thoughts…love many Ruger single-action revolvers and rifles, but have never cared for their semi-auto pistols. I’ve owned a Springfield or two and they can be good and reliable, though often strike me as lacking finesse. These may be more aesthetic and/or ergonomic concerns, but tend to defer to the Glock path when seeking the best bang-for-the-buck. Hope that helps. – HT

      • Just wanted to follow up since my initial post. I went with a Glock Model 30 Gen 4 and couldn’t be happier. Did some modifications on it to suit my taste, and really love the size, accuracy, reliability,and fairly light recoil (considering it’s a .45 ACP).

      • Rick – Thanks for checking back. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed there, very good value. As I’ve noted before, I have a personal preference for the .45 ACP, for which recoil in a full sized semi-auto seems, to me, to be quite tame and actually less pronounced than the .40 cal. – HT

  5. The USCG adopted the Sig P-229 DAK .40. Not my favorite trigger and most of us that had the Beretta M9 agree. It is a very heavy trigger and most of the women in the service have a very hard time qualifying on it.

    • Adam – Thanks for the input. That POV sort of jibes with my own experience. While not personally familiar with the P-229 DAK, I understand it has (like quite a few LEO models) a somewhat stiffer (6.5 lb spec) trigger pull. Not sure the same difference is there between the M-9 and my own P-220, but the M-9’s I’ve tried were very smooth nonetheless. Cheers – HT

  6. jerome b thomas

    Im looking for the short semi auto not big as rifle not short as pistal

  7. I have a Glock 17 and love it. It’s reliable and a lot if fun. It’s perfect for home defense and to keep locked in the car. I personally leave mine at home, due to three small kids, I can’t see anything better for the value and reliability. I will say that I have recently bought a M&P PRO CORE and might become a convert. Either way, the 17 is perfect for my needs.

  8. My wife and I both have our CHLs. I carry my Springfield 1911-A1 for it’s hitting power with these 230 grain FMJ, but my wife’s hands are too small for one so I bought her a Taurus .40 cal. – The Taurus is a LOT easier to break down and clean than my ‘old slab sides.’ — BUT, I wouldn’t care to have one.

    • Hey Ron – Good to hear from someone from my old stomping grounds, sort of (SW Ohio). Ahh, yes, another 1911 fan….however despite the appeal to you personally, it seems you are more-or-less on the same page regarding my recommendations here, at least for your wife? Thanks for chiming in. – HT

  9. sig sauer p229 compact is very nice
    .i want buy.

    • Hey Michael: And, I miss mine, ha, ha. Still, my recommendations stand, for “most” folks, a 1911 should not be the first choice. – Regards, HT

      • Why not for everyone?

      • Hey Michael – As I noted in my article, in my humble opinion, the 1911 – while an excellent (if dated) combat sidearm – requires more range time to learn to handle safely and effectively. Most folks simply don’t have the dedication or, frankly, the money to afford of that sort of practice. And some, like those poor unfortunate souls in places like Chicago, have no place at all, ha, ha. And, while more range time would benefit all of us, the reality is that it just doesn’t happen. For those folks, I sincerely and consistently recommend a good, old, reliable, revolver in a modest chambering like the .38 Special. And even for those who insist on a semi-auto (which itself requires more training to handle safely), there are many other models out there that are vastly simpler to maintain and operate safely. Cheers – HT

        Oh, PS: I did check out your blog and sounds like you’re on the right track there. Thanks for the tip.

      • Thank you. I’m new at the blogging thing. But I aim to move the debate. Thanks for listening. And you have made some good points.

        I want a revolver. A .357 mag preferably to be able to shoot 3 different rounds through: .357, .38, .38+p. I have shot a .44mag and honestly it way too much gun for a hand gun as far as I’m concerned.

      • Michael: Yeah, I’m a .357 kind of guy myself, though I’m still looking for the perfect 5-shot, lightweight, snubby to fill out the armory. I expect to be doing a bit more trading this winter and we’ll see what we end up with.

        Regarding the “blogging thing”, hang in there. It can be worthwhile, depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. I’ve never given any great thought to trying to monetize any of my sites and, like most, have competing interests. Still, at the risk of merely “adding to the noise” that seems to grow each and every day, it’s good to have folks out there who are willing to speak to the truth. Keep up the good work. –HT

  10. Nice list. I have the S&W 686 in .357, the Colt .45 (2 of them), a Browning Hi-Power in 9mm and the Springfield Armory XDS in .45. All are great shooters, but I am impressed with the XDS. Not as accurate out to 45′, but under 25′ it is a tack driver. The XDS is actually my wife’s gun and she is very comfortable and deadly with it. I am impressed enough with it to start looking for the XDM .45 compact.

    • Chris: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. As always, I appreciate the input on the XDS. I’ve read very interesting reviews on this pistol. Like you, I share a weakness for Browning designs, notably the 1911, though the Hi-Power may be his most elegant. As noted, I have opted for the simplicity and reliability of the more modern Sig Sauer P220 for my semi-auto needs. There are others that fill the bill and most of the offerings provided by Springfield are a good place to start when looking for affordable quality. Cheers – HT

  11. This was some excellent information that I took several notes on since I’m getting ready to go gun shopping this weekend! However, there’s one gun that you didn’t mention that I personally think that you should consider. I absolutely LOVE the Beretta PX4 Storm. 40 S&W!! The PX4 Storm series are beautiful looking guns, comfortable, smooth shooting (thanks to the rotating barrel. ) and very reliable! I’ve turned several of my friends on to this particular gun once they had an opportunity to shoot mine! Thanks again for your review of all these guns mentioned! It helps

  12. Harry:

    Have you had a chance to try the Beretta 92FS or the CZ 75?
    If so; I would like your opinion as to reliability and durability or glitches.

    Thank you

    Lawrence Marc

    • Hi Marc: Yes on the Beretta and no on the CZ. I’ve been very impressed with any Beretta I’ve ever used, held, or read about. As I recall, many reviews of the CZ were on the positive side with credit for value. I can’t verify those opinions. Hope that helps. =- HT

  13. I have recently purchased a Glock 17 (Gen 4) and LOVE IT!! I am looking for a smaller 9mm compact for my wife and cannot seem to find one that I like, other than a Ruger. Any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Hey Mikey: Sorry for the delay, been up to no good. Love Glocks generally for full-sized service weapons. As noted in my articles, however, I don’t typically like or recommend many compact semi-autos. Again, the reasoning here is that, ergonomics and reliability issues aside, achieving the reduced scale typically requires a corresponding reduction in capacity and/or caliber. I’d rather not compound these factors with the ergonomic and reliability issues. So…..hence…..thus…..ipso facto, etc., etc., I prefer a snubby revolver. If you have your heart set on a compact semi-auto, I’d probably look at a number of .380 versions by Glock, Sig, etc. Cheers, HT

    • Hey, Mikey if you are looking for a gun for your wife, The Ruger LC9 is great. That is the second gun I carry. Hope this helps. Don, Texas

  14. My new S&W Walther PPK works great. Up to around 500 rounds without a hickup. Hollow Points, FMJ’s, of multiple brand, and all feed fine. Solid gun, and has been accurate for me. I’m a Private Investigator and it conceals easily.

    • Hey Greg: Yes, the PPK is – in my humble opinion – the best of the .380 semi-autos out there in ergonomic/CCW terms. I had great hopes for mine, but I’m glad to hear that yours is feeding well. As smallish matters to me, I did find it annoying that the slide could not be locked back manually and, frankly, I’d rather not have a manual safety. Still, a great and timeless model. Actually, I once owned a Hungarian copy that was also very nice…sold it to my boss and have hopes that he’ll return it to me someday….alas. Cheers – HT

  15. prVacationRental

    buying me another home revolver?.. anything to look for in these models? I am looking for a revolver for recreational, home protection, animals on my land messin with the guys and of course the range, withstand heavy use, accuracy to about 100-150 yards..
    Looking at:
    -S&W Model 686 plus
    .357 Magnum- .38 S&W Special +P, 7 Rounds, 4″ Barrel
    -S&W Model 629
    44 Magnum- .44 S&W Special, 6 Rounds, 5″ or 4″ Barrel
    -S&W Model 460XVR
    .460 S&W Magnum—5 Rounds, 5″ or 4″ Barrel
    as I was looking into the 460, as it takes several types of ammo,

    and yes I am with you, some guns just look so dam ugly…

  16. This is honestly one of the best “Top 10″ posts on this topic that I’ve seen in quite a while, & though noted lack of hands on/experience with Taurus (both revolvers & semi-autos) & the almost non-existent Rossi brand of snubby revolvers. I hope I can help with that area.

    I have owned a Taurus Model 85, .38 Special, stainless steel, my first one was a regular 85 w/ hammer, & later I purchased one with the bobbed hammer. Prior to that, I had been given a Rossi .38 spl in blue finish w/ hammer. I also own a SP101in .357 mag (short barrel – w/ the grip inserts replaced with a set of faux ivory & the Masonic Square & Compass – contrasting the stainless, it POPS out & get more compliments on it than anything else in the safe).

    As far as the Taurus 85, it’s only available in .38 spl (I tried their 5 shot snubby in .357, & it was too difficult to control when reaquire target), but it is rated to toss .38 Spl + P lead down it without issue. Biggest hurdle, only 2 finger grooves for grips – easily fixed by a set of Hogue extended grips – most notable difference in the bobbed hammer version. As good quality wise, IMHO, as any of the old Smith’s. Simple polishing of the trigger, smooth as silk. The Rossi, not fun to shoot, but if that’s all you’ve got, better than nothing. I would advise against + P ammo.

    As far as Taurus semi-autos, with a little polishing of the trigger, & feed ramp, you’d really not notice the difference between it & a Beretta 92FS. Just a little bit of finesse on polishing the internal components, & I’d stake my life on it. Did not care for the PT111. The mag release was in a position that would cause it to engage & clip would drop out.

    I have Model 10 S&W made in 1914, a Colt Detective, 619 S&W, Ruger Super Redhawk 44 mag, Vaquero, 1st generation 32.20 Colt SAA nickel plated, Sig P239, Springfield Officers Model (1911 style), early ’80’s mil spec Colt 1911, Beretta 92fs, Glock – model 26, 19, 23, & 31C – I found the .40 model 27, a bit too much for such a small light frame, & went with the 26. At the time, I already had the 19, & could use its mags to fill up & shoot more between refills – plus several long guns.

    For a novice, 5 – shot snubby, as hot as you can control reasonably, for one familiar with carrying – Glock 23 or 26 depending on attire, someone whose had a gun on them if they had on pants for 18 years (part of my profession), can’t beat a cocked & locked 1911. Even with the small frame .45 Springfield, good chance I’ve got a snubby or Glock 26 stuck in a pants pocket, vest pocket, or on my ankle – usually a snubby. Hell, if I don’t get the point across with 25 rounds of .45 (8+1, & 2 extra mags) I don’t have any business with it in the first place…the snubby is in case I don’t make my point & gotta haul rear outta there. Hope this helps.

    • Matt: Hey, thanks for the input…good to get some hands-on perspective on these Taurus and Rossi models. Sounds like we’re in general agreement on the best applications for different levels of experience. And, to be sure, even with the Rugers (for which strength is rarely an issue), a little bit of fine tuning may often improve performance quite a lot. As I believe that I noted, I’ve generally been impressed with the execution (fit and finish) of the Taurus revolvers and do need to re-examine the Rossis. Thanks again for chiming in. – HT

  17. I bought the s&w sd40ve. Im wondering what your thoughts are on this gun? Its my first firearm purchase. Seems pretty badass to me. About 300 rounds fired without any issues. Pretty accurate after about 25 rounds. I didnt see it mentioned anywhere in your article …..

    • Hiya Jay: I don’t really know much of anything about this model. I’ve not had great luck with S&W semi-autos, although I absolutely love their revolvers. From what I’ve read, this is a fairly affordable model, with those who either love them or hate them…par for the course. I’d be somewhat concerned about reported failures to feed, which – as it happens – corresponds with my giving up on my own S&W licensed PPK. This is always a deal-killer for my with any firearm, so if yours works reliably, and is accurate, it might well be a keeper. Good luck. – HT

      • Gun seems sweet. Bought a jic ii so accuracy doesn’t matter now. Both guns have fired without a hiccup ….you should check em out…..

      • Hey Jay: Sorry, been engaged elsewhere. Love the 500, though many folks are sometimes hard on Mossberg. I’ve got a couple, including the 590, which could trigger a divorce were I to sell, my wife loves it so much. Have always meant to throw in a Defender type model and the JIC II would certainly do the trick. Good luck. – HT

  18. It is entiterly up to you whether to continue or not. However, I have just “discovered” you and hope that I will be able to keep reading your comments.

  19. Thanks for the good advice. I appreciate it.
    In the world today it is difficult to find someone like you that provides the service and information that you do without a “catch” or cost. I believe you represent some of the values that our fathers and grandfathers had that are missing in folks today. Thank you.
    Coach

    • Coach – Hey, that’s awfully nice to hear. As you might notice, I’ve not been posting lately…taking some time off to attend to other pressing matters, but have also been rethinking the role of this blog. No sane person wants to waste their time simply adding to the noise in this world. It’s always nice to know you can help. Cheers – HT

  20. I am a 71 year old retiree that Is considering a hand gun. I am leaning towards a Glock, but not sure what caliber 9mm, 22 or 40. I am on a limited fixed income and am not able to afford “the best”.
    What are your suggestiions

    • Heya Coach – Well, as noted in my article, the Glock – in my humble opinion – offers the best value for those who insist on a semi-auto. Similarly, of the calibers you are considering, I believe that the .40 provides the best compromise between stopping power and magazine capacity. BUT, before you choose anything, you really should take the time and, though it may seem like false economy, spend some time at the range (or in a class with range time) to sample a few of your options.

      I gather (perhaps incorrectly) from your message that this might be your first handgun. If so, I do very strongly reiterate the above recommendation. Perhaps you have a (knowledgable and helpful) shooting friend that can assist you. Either way, I’d also reiterate what I believe is the single most important point from my article. That is that most people (and especially novice, older, and/or women) would be far better off considering a revolver. For what it’s worth, that goes double for those with a constrained budget. Here, I’d recommend any servicable .38 Special revolver (five or six shot) that fits your hand. If the budget was particularly tight, I’d consider a used pistol, but you would benefit from having that expert friend help you judge the quality and condition of any prospects. Ruger is a strong candidate for durability and value.

      Best of luck to you and thanks for your question. – HT

  21. Harry, I disagree with some of the subjective (subjective is subjective) stuff that you bring up, but am impressed that you reply to almost everyone. I agree with you on Ruger, but I am function over form any day (and price). I am a big Springfield fan. The USP second to the SIG….no….USP pver the SIG, but I dont have the money. If I had that money I would buy the FN 5.7.
    Anyway, you wrote well thanks.

    • Lance: Hey, well, thank you very much and I do try. You bring up a good point here, that to one extent or another these are all pretty much subjective opinions…based on my own personal experience. And, I’m definitely not a “gun pro” so, well, “you get what you pay for”, as it were. Like you, I’m a big Springfield fan and, one day, would like to put one of their 1911’s back in my safe. The USP is definitely a fine weapon. Having shot the FN 5.7 not that long ago, it would be make another fine addition. But, as you say, there’s only so much money to go around these days. Good shooting and thanks for chiming in. HT

  22. Mike 3/21/13. I am a newbie with a hand gun. I have inherited my Grandfather’s Colt 38 Police Special that was made in the 50’s . Have had it serviced but have not fired it yet. Your reviews have been very helpful and I now feel better about the revolver for a new owner

    • Hey Mike – That thought should give any burglar pause…”newbie with a handgun”. I’m glad to know you’re being thoughtful about what that means and, yes (if I understand you correctly), some of these old revolvers can be very “serviceable” indeed. They were designed as a service weapon, after all. With any older service weapon, however, it does behoove you to make sure that it has been properly maintained, as they often have seen a lot of use over the years. Good shooting. – HT

  23. I agree with the choice of a revolver. I had a nice S&W M39 9mm, until it started jamming regularly and the problem could not be identified. I like the look of Colts so I carry a snubbie .357 Magnum Carry loaded with Buffalo Bore 158gr. SWCHP +P .38s. I have as a house gun a 4″ Anaconda in .44 Mag, loaded with .44 Special 200 gr. Silvertips.with the Magnum Carry as backup, or left with my wife. Not too much blast, recoil, or overpenetration for inside the house, but still decent stopping power with both. They have ALWAYS went BANG when I pulled the trigger and have always hit what I am aiming at if I do my part. With Magnums the Anaconda has also anchored a nice buck.

    • Right on Rob. Nice to hear all of that. ALWAYS is a very reassuring word when it comes to self-defense. Airplanes and SCUBA gear too, come to think of it. The Colts, by the way, are very nice choices and, perhaps, should have been given some attention in my article. I may also have to write something in the future on ammunition, but I’m glad that you stressed the key points regarding blast, recoil, and penetration. The goal is to effectively and efficiently dump everybit of needed power into the target. For now, I’ll just refer my readers to Chuck Hawks article on the subject. Cheers – HT

  24. Buying a handgun in many respects is like buying a car, you buy what you can afford and what suits your needs, I have shot handguns from the .22 rimfire short Beretta Minx all the way up to the S&W .44 magnum, some were fun to shoot and others down right painful, try shooting a .44 magnum derringer ! One weapon I owned which I found reliable(atleast for me)and very reasonably priced was the Hi-point automatic pistol,$179 for the .45ACP also a 9MM and .380 version, and the best part about the Hi-point, no matter if you are the first or the tenth owner of one of their weapons, if anything goes wrong with your gun Hi-Point will fix the weapon free of charge no questions asked ! During these hard economic times it is good the people on limited income or fixed income can still buy a reasonably priced self-defence pistol, prices on the Sigs , Glocks and other big named weapons are becoming very pricey !

    • Thomas: As I noted before, prices are high and only going to get higher. Unfortunately, that’s the world we’re living in. (Hopefully, you’ve checked out the rest of this site, so you know how/why I think thats happening.) It’s no surprise that it’s particularly challenging to find good value in shopping for a reliable personal defense weapon….not to mention the ammunition to feed it. Regulation and litigation, meet dollar devaluation. Welcome to the new world.

      While this challenge will, unfortunately, lead many toward various compromises – such as buying cheap and/or poorly maintained used handguns and/or not spending enough time on the range – these choices can and often do end in disappointment (or worse). I’ve not personally tested any Hi-Point models, but can’t say that I’m terribly impressed with the reviews I’ve read (such as this one from the very good site The Truth About Guns).

      For what it’s worth, in this day and age, no handgun shopper should be without excuse…there are plenty of good reviews available on the web for those who take the time to do the research. I don’t purport to be an “expert” in this field, just another fellow who’s made a few mistakes and a few happy discoveries along the way. Based on those experiences (and my general philosophy), I highly recommend keeping it simple and to always try to buy the best you can afford. One older, but good quality and well maintained used revolver is worth any dozen of a newer, but cheap or poorly made semiauto model. When even the “best” of these can (so frequently) fail to function reliably due to cheaply made magazines or ammo, you’ve got a bigger problem than how much you spent.

      So, while I sympathize (really I do) over the expense challenge, I highly recommend – for most of my readers – that they simply “bite the bullet”, so to speak, and find the best new or used revolver available from well-reputed “mainline” manufacturers, as featured in this article. For instance, there are plenty of used Ruger SP101’s floating around out there that should be available for $400 or less which would (almost certainly) be safe and accurate and reliable. More to the point, I can’t (generally speaking) recommend many choices that would cost much less than that. Sad, but true.

      Consider it as you would the notion of owning one good suit, one reliable car, a good pair of boots, one good hunting dog, one fine guitar, or (one might hope) finding and keeping one good wife. Sometimes you just don’t need more, rather you need the best you can afford, the one that’s always there for you. Cheers, HT

      • HT…
        You, my friend, are so damn poetic and funny and at the same time make excellent points! You should consider writing a book or something! Anyway, I wanted to chime in real quick on my personal experience with the Hi – Point. I, like many others who purchased a Hi-Point, saw an opportunity to purchase a gun on the cheap end of the spectrum because I don’t really have much in the way of finances. However I wanted SOMETHING to protect my daughter, myself and my property. Let me tell you, it took not 20 mins at the range after I picked the gun up from the FFL dealer to determine that it was just a poorly put together firearm. I was actually pretty disappointed and quite honestly I felt taken advantage of by the company that makes them and the dealer that sold it to me! Unfortunately I think Hi – Point preys on the lower class civilian… And that’s just wrong! I think that if you’re going to manufacture a gun, the FIRST thing that you should consider is safety before anything else! And personally I did not feel safe firing that gun any more than I already had! I promptly took it to the nearest gun shop and sold it (the same day I picked it up) and got a measly $50 out of it simply because I didn’t feel like dicking around with the people from the website that I purchased it from.

      • Hey Jim: Thank you for your kind words. Your experience will, I hope, resonate with many first-time buyers who might hope to minimize their investment in a life-critical tool. Some things you just don’t mess with. This, of course, is another reason that I strongly recommend revolvers for most first-time (and even experienced) buyers. Generally, decent revolvers are much more affordable, safe, and reliable than comparably priced semi-autos. In regards to your thoughts on the Beretta, I’ve not tried the Storm, but would expect it to be a decent full-sized sidearm and, yes, I would concur on the .40 also. -= HT

  25. My comments now on the automatic pistols, you forgot to mention Ruger which makes excellent automatic pistols, I own the P97, .45 automatic, accurate and reliable, and for the new gun owner there is no better automatic to learn with than the Ruger 22/45 or the MKIII in .22 automatic, just always remember to use original Ruger magazines not cheap copies which many times are unreliable with the Ruger automatics .

    • Thomas: Ruger makes a fine semi-auto, however, I’ve always found them a little on the clunky/utilitarian side of the scale…perfectly serviceable, mind you, but I have a stronger affinity for their robust revolvers, notably the very fine Blackhawk and the single-six, mentioned before. The 22/45 model does make a certain amount of sense for those with Colt-styled .45 as the grips angles are very similar. It’s also a fine plinker in it’s own right, although I’ve only had the pleasure of owning a nice match-grade, slab-sided Mark II….very nice. Cheers, HT

  26. Sir I have to strongly disagree with your list and you showed your ignorance at revolvers are for females. Your wife’s may prefer revolvers but not all women should be placed in the 38 special is it catogory. Did you ever do any gunsmith ing sir? I highly doubt it because you would understand the revolver is more complex then a semi. Ease of use has to go to the semi. Sig sauer was a great company 10 years ago , lately their QC has dropped and they are overpriced. The ballistic difference between 9 and 40 is almost non existent. Please before giving others advice read up on what are common myths and accepted lies.

    • Nicole:

      Well, thanks for sharing your opinions. I’ll just stick to mine, thanks.

      Mostly this:
      1. Revolvers are a great choice for anyone (not just women), for all kinds of reasons.
      2. Everyone should find the handgun that fits their unique body and needs and train appropriately.
      3. Your mileage may vary.
      4. Consider learning to be a little more polite. You seem to have reasonably well informed opinions, but it serves no useful purpose to be intentionally rude.

      But, as to a couple of your more useful points (included in comments that I’ve left unpublished):

      1. Yes, the Glock factory trigger pull is 5.5 lbs (not 2.0 lbs as stated by one reader). The point, however, is that a heavier DA trigger pull (10 lbs on the Sig Sauer’s first shot, which is similar to many revolver DA triggers) is inherently more safe, if at the expense of accuracy. And, yes, your finger shouldn’t be anywhere near either type unless ready to shoot. My concern, obviously, is mostly with the risks associated with under-training and the stress of an actual confrontation. For most part-time shooters, any trigger pull in the 4-5 lb range will feel quite light.
      2. Modern magazine springs do resist fatigue better than those in the past and can often be left fully loaded. Older magazines should not be stored fully loaded.
      3. Standard Blazer 9mm 115 gr. JHP energy = 335 ft/lbs. Blazer .40 S&W 155 gr JHP energy = 475 ft/lbs. I call that a fairly significant difference. But, in the grand scheme of things, even the 253 ft/lbs of the .38 Special +P in 158 gr JHP might have to suffice.

      cheers, HT

    • @Nicole – Revolvers are NOT more complicated than semi auto. IDK if you’re working on playskool pistols or what, but there’s a reason revolvers were around long before semi-autos were and it wasn’t b/c people didn’t think of them…

      You lost all credibility with that comment.

      @Harry – Good list. I like your picks agree with them (for the most part). This was a good read :)

      • Greg: Hey, thanks. I avoided getting into a rant response to Nicole, who did have some useful comments (mixed, unfortunately, with a bit of nastiness). But, you’re right on this, I believe. Her point, I imagine, is that, as with any firearm, revolvers have various small parts that must be machined to an exacting tolerance to properly function and time the weapon. That’s a fine point, as far as it goes. And, anyone who’s ever disassembled/reassembled/repaired any firearm, regardless of design will attest to it.

        My perspective addresses the “relative” simplicity of operation and maintenance. For what it’s worth, I’ve had a few stuck revolver cases (from overcharge and/or brass fatigue) and one apparent timing issue. But, these were quite rare in comparison to the number of stove-pipe jams that seem to plague even high-end semis, which can be quite finicky about their ammunition, feed ramp design, magazine spring and follower functioning, etc. For the “average” shooter, troubleshooting (hey, no pun intended) these issues can be a problem, even a dangerous problem. Add to that the complexities of safeties (when present), decocking levers, positive magazine insertion, and determining whether or not there is a cartridge in the pipe and you’ve got just a bit more hassle than most (again) “average” shooters can cope with safely, especially in an actual defensive situation.

        All of these issues can/should be overcome with training, maintenance, and careful selection. But, for most folks, a good quality revolver is just simpler to learn to use and maintain safely and, in the end, often the best value. Your mileage may vary. My list isn’t intended to be definitive by any means, hopefully just a useful guide or starting point. Cheers, HT

  27. One thing you failed to go over is safety. A glock is notoriously unsafe. It has a two pound trigger pull that any child could pull. The sig on the other hand has a double action trigger on the first shot that pulls at 12 pounds and is then 2 after that. The upside to this is that a child cannot have the motor skills to pull a 12 pound trigger before they are mentally capable of realizing that it is a firearm.

    • Buddy: Actually, I sort of agree with you here. One of the reasons I had personally chosen the Sig (for me and my wife) over the Glock is this very reason. The Sig is also, to my eyes, more aesthetically pleasing, not that it matters greatly. You have to concede, however, that lighter trigger pull does tend to aid accuracy. That said, I can’t help but imagine the sort of stresses involved in an actual confrontation and the risks associated with that first shot. Furthermore, the degree of accuracy that might be lost is not terribly critical at the typical distances involved in such close-quarter situations. So, yeah, I’ll go along with you here…and note that it’s yet another reason (for the average under-trained shooter) to consider a revolver. Thanks for chiming in. – HT

  28. One advantage revolvers have over semis that wasn’t mentioned is that revolvers can be left, for loaded, for an eternity; but if you leave a semi loaded for a long time (not quite sure how long) the magazine spring ‘sets’.

    Not gonna be fun in a self defence situation.

    • James: Thank you for that, and yes, you are absolutely correct. Those with semi-autos should either rotate their magazines or short-load them to relieve spring tension, which sort of defeats the purpose of higher capacity, don’t you think? – HT

  29. Rugers aren’t good handguns?

    • Dee: They are perfectly fine, but as with Smith & Wesson, I much prefer Ruger’s revolvers. None of their designs are particularly elegant, mind you, but generally stout and reliable. Thanks for visiting. – HT

  30. I have Taurus 9 mm,24/7 PT DA/SA 17 plus 1 for self defense ,it’s looking good but not like Bretta , glock,colt,Sw, here in Pakistan it’s cheap but all others 3 to 3.5 thousands usd due to heavy duties,is this reliable as others?? Regds, syed Salim Javed

    • Syed: Hey, first international comment (that I’m aware of)…and from P’stan no less. Wonders never cease. Hey, you gotta live within your means and still be adequately prepared for “conditions on the ground”, as it were. Everything is a compromise. Taurus pistols can be fine, just be sure to find good magazines and ammo that will feed reliably. Several of those that I’ve tried have suffered from heavy use, deferred maintenance, or both and did have occasion to produce stovepipe jams. Good luck. – HT

      • I have new Taurus 9mm 24/7 SS G2 40 caliber, looking very nice fired about 60 bullets with out any trouble here price is issue in Pakistan about 700$ where as Glock Gen 19 is 4000$ Bretta 3500$ , I can purchase easily expensive one but no with Taurus present pistol even beautiful too just weight problem 5-6 oz other wise all are good but both last very expensive why to keep nonsense . Syed Salim Javed

      • Syed: I’m sorry, but I don’t have a clue what other choices you might have that are legal and affordable. Good luck. – HT

  31. Sean Michael Hartman

    No CZs? The 75 action is a proven, reliable and accurate pistol. Believe the late Jeff Cooper even called it the best of the “Wonder Nines” and they do have the 97 in. 45ACP. Absolutely beautiful gun it is.

  32. I pretty much agree with your choices (might change the order slightly…) I don’t get how people so often refer to Glocks as being “ugly”, admittedly, they don’t have shiny blued finishes, but none the less, I think they are a great looking handgun. (To whatever extent looks matter in a handgun…)

  33. What about Wilson Combat?

    • WG: Yes, yet another great version of the good old 1911….with all of the noted caveats regarding the 1911. Again, the purpose of this article was guide my (novice) brother in the purchase of his first personal sidearm. I still consider the 1911 to be better-suited to “expert” users and, even for many such experts, not the best all-around 24/7 carry piece. Just one man’s opinion, of course. – HT

  34. What is your opinion regarding the Kimber Ultra Carry II (LG)

    • Hey Norman: I’m not personally familiar with that particular model, but have been generally impressed with any and all Kimber models that I have seen, including several fine rifles. Obviously, their “bread and butter” has long been fine 1911 copies, including very popular competition models…so any and all comments/caveats made thus far for 1911’s would still apply here. I might add that as an aluminum framed compact model, the Ultra Carry would better fit my ideal for a personal carry sidearm. Thanks for checking in. HT

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