How do I chose a defensive handgun?

This is one among many questions I get asked by students during my classes. It is a critical decision and deserves serious attention. There are a few critical areas you need to pay attention to when making this decision.

You are betting your life on the choice you make, make it a good one. Whatever handgun you choose needs to meet the following requirements.


The most important trait of a defensive handgun is reliability, by this I mean both the mechanical reliability of the handgun and the ease of operation that means you will reliably be able to make the handgun function properly. Two choices top the list; modern striker fired semi-automatics and double action revolvers. The striker fired semi-autos are on top, due there smaller profile, larger capacity and simple operation. You pull the trigger they fire, you don’t pull the trigger they don’t fire. The double action revolver earns a spot here for many of the same reasons, you pull the trigger it goes bang. It has a limit on capacity and a bit larger profile, but is still a solid choice because of it’s extreme reliability.


This is the measure of the handguns ability to be used in all plausible circumstances related to defensive action. The most important aspect of shootability is the fit to your hand. It is vital that the handgun you choose fits your hand appropriately, a poorly fitting handgun will be difficult to consistently operate, especially under stress.

The first thing you want to look for is the ability to get the handgun

Proper dominate hand position

Proper dominate hand position

centered in the V formed by the web between your thumb and forefinger and your finger is comfortably on the trigger. Be sure there is no gap above the web of your hand and the bottom of the beavertail. It is also vital that the knuckle at the base of your thumb be beside the gun, not under it. If you are holding the gun and find that the top of the grip area is above your knuckle, you need to move your thumb around toward the weak side of the gun. While in this position, your index finger should contact the trigger with its last pad.

Now you must check to see that you can operate the magazine release, slide lock and any safeties or de-cockers with minimal movement of your dominate hand. Pay attention to how well both of your hands fit on the grip simultaneously, this is important, as it provides stability and controllability for your handgun, giving you greater consistency.


Inside the waistband Hybrid Kydex and leather holster

Inside the waistband Hybrid Kydex and leather holster

Your choice of handgun should also consider carryability. You should consider how you dress normally and how easy it would be to conceal the handgun. Lets face it, we probably will not change the way we dress in order to carry. Choosing a handgun that has the appropriate size and weight and holsters that will allow you to carry comfortably is vital. If you aren’t comfortable carrying your handgun, chances are you won’t carry. A defensive handgun in your safe is no more valuable than an empty fire extinguisher at a fire.


My belief is the most effective caliber for a defensive handgun is 9mm. I may get some hate mail because of that statement, but facts are facts. 9mm is smallest caliber that meets the requirements of defensive ammunition. Why would I use the smallest if I can use larger?, you ask. Simply put you will be more accurate and be able to put more shots on target, faster, due to reduced recoil and ease of follow-up shots. The myth of one shot stopping power falls short. If you can’t reliably put multiple rounds on target quickly, you need to reconsider you choice.


Today it is nearly impossible for you to find a handgun that is not defensively accurate, that has meet the previous criteria. In a defensive encounter you will be far less accurate than any handgun suitable for carry.


If you are considering the purchase of a defensive pistol, you need to make a commitmentHandgun Safety Certificate
to learn proper safety and handling, how to properly use the handgun and practice often. You cannot expect to purchase a handgun that makes you a skilled user. This must be earned through proper instruction and diligent practice. Don’t expect that going to the range or quarry and turning money into noise is going to give you the skills to bet your life on. You owe it to yourself and everyone you love to make the commitment to become a safe and skilled shooter.


A reason benchmark is $1000, this should get you a quality defensive pistol ($500-$600), extra magazines or speed loaders, a good holster, some quality defensive ammunition, a couple hundred practice rounds and some instruction. When selecting your practice ammo, be sure to get the same weight bullets e.g. if you use 124gr hollow points, use 124 round nose for practice. This will give you the same feel when practicing.


Any defensive handgun will be a compromise of reliability, shootability, carryability, comfort and other factors. No single handgun is likely to top out in every category for any given individual. Choose your compromises carefully and keep these concepts in mind when you make your defensive handgun purchase.

As Always,

Stay Vigilant and Be Prepared


Founding member at NW Survival LLC

Latest posts by scott (see all)