The Ideal CCW Gun: My Quest for the Holy Grail

For many gun owners, obtaining their concealed weapons permit is a significant personal rite of passage. And it can be a monumental achievement or just a check in the box depending on the state you live in. Still, getting that permit is, for many people, arguably the easy part. Finding the right gun and method of concealment is where the real challenge begins . . .

The perfect concealed carry weapon would have a large capacity of relatively powerful rounds that would produce only a slight flip of the muzzle yet would be small and light enough to carry in almost any attire. Reality and physics unfortunately tend to rear their ugly heads at this point and any concealable weapon becomes of study in compromises.

Large capacity handguns tend to be, by their nature, somewhat less concealable than their smaller brethren. Guns capable of absorbing the kick of powerful ammunition tend to be heavier that what is likely comfortable to schlep around all day, particularly if you live in a hot weather climate and wear less clothing than is ideal for concealment. For many folks, these tradeoffs have been responsible for the phenomenal rise in the sales of .380s and sub-compact 9mm pistols.

I, too, found myself on this journey shortly after obtaining my concealed weapons permit.  My guns at the time were full-sized 9mm and .40 pistols that had plenty of ammo capacity, but pretty much sucked at the whole concealability thing. My next pistol, a 1911 with 5″ barrel, while fun to shoot, wasn’t much help either. At the time, I was of the opinion that mouse guns weren’t for me, either. So as small as the .380 pistols were, they were out of contention.

My solution, which I thought brilliant at the time, was to purchase a Ruger LC9. It seemed to be the ideal compromise – small, yet still capable of propelling 9mm rounds down range. Granted, it didn’t have a huge magazine capacity but with seven rounds in the magazine plus the option of one more in the chamber, it would probably meet my needs for most DGU incidents that I would be likely to encounter.

In retrospect, I liken the Ruger to the first time that you meet someone you have the hots for. That person looks really attractive, sounds reasonably intelligent, and seems like someone you wouldn’t mind spending some serious time with. But then you start dating and all the person’s annoying little habits start to make themselves known.

In the case of the Ruger, the annoyances became clear shortly after my first trip to the range. To say that the LC9 is not a fun gun to shoot would be like saying folks at the Brady campaign have a mild dislike for firearms. I liken it to lighting a small firecracker then holding it tightly in your hand. The Double Action Only (DAO) trigger pull was long and seemed inconsistent from shot to shot. These issues might have been forgivable if not for the magazine disconnect safety.

The mag disconnect safety is clearly the creation of someone who hates guns, gun owners, and anyone who has anything to do with guns. It assumes that all gun owners are idiots who, after ejecting their magazine, don’t have the sense to check that they’ve cleared their chamber. I liken it to including an ignition kill switch in your car wired to the seat belts – unbuckle and the engine turns off.

The problem with a magazine disconnect safety is that if the magazine is out, the gun won’t fire, even with a round in the chamber. In a defensive situation, you might be pulling this pocket pistol from – wait for it – your pocket, or maybe a bag and the possibility exists that the magazine release catch gets bumped and as you pull out your gun, the magazine drops to the floor. At that point, I hope you have a hell of an arm as the only use the gun is to you is as a projectile unless you have a spare mag ready to slam into the gun.

So . . . to make a long story just a little bit longer, my infatuation with the LC9 lasted about a month before I decided to sell the gun and look elsewhere. Around that time, I had just started taking classes at the Sig Sauer Academy and was just starting to familiarize myself with the P239.

The P239 is available in 9mm, .357Sig, and .40. Magazine size is eight rounds for a 9 mm and seven for the the other two. The overall dimensions of the gun are only slightly larger than the LC9, but the weight – nearly 2 pounds – means that the gun can handle the recoil forces of the more powerful rounds with ease.

The concealed carry problem, however, reared its ugly head as I tried to come up with a comfortable way to tote the heater. I tried a couple of the cheaper IWB holsters including DeSantis and Galco, but they really didn’t do the job. Ultimately, I purchased a Galco shoulder holster which works pretty well, but it of course assumes that I would always have a jacket on which meant that it’s not the perfect carry solution for all situations – not that such a thing really exists.

My next stop was the Sig Sauer P238. Going against my earlier feelings, I went ahead and settled on the .380 mouse gun. It’s relatively light, fits my pocket pretty well and even if I use the compact OWB holster that Sig provides with it, the gun is still easy to conceal.  While it came with a single six-round magazine, I went ahead and purchased a couple of seven round mags which added a bit to the height, but also gives me room for an extra finger on the grip.

Shooting the P238 is a dream compared to the LC9. I found that I could comfortably shoot 100+ rounds without needing to soak my hand in ice water afterward. And inside of 30 feet, the gun is phenomenally accurate.

I really like the gun, but two things remained at the back of my mind. First, the P238 is a mini 1911 style pistol meaning it’s SAO with a manual safety. Unlike my SA/DA P238, I would have to have the presence of mind to flip off the safety as I drew it, which, being different than most of the other guns I own, meant that I would need to dedicate some serious training time to teach my muscles the correct process to draw and ready the gun. The second and more insidious issue that I had with it was the the gnawing feeling that a .380 is simply not enough gun should I found myself in a DGU situation.

Much ink has been spilled on the pros and cons of the .380 and the fact remains that even with the newer cartridges available for that caliber, a .380 simply does not have the stopping power of a larger, more powerful round. Center mass hits with other calibers that have the potential to stop an assailant might not be effective with a .380. You really need to get a more precise hit – preferably a head shot – if you want to be assured of putting a bad guy down.

Add to this the fact that seven rounds is rather limited if you’re facing multiple bad guys and the result is that while a .380 is better than no gun, it really doesn’t provide the same peace of mind that a larger caliber weapon does. I still like my P238 but I was left wondering if there’s a better option.

Reading some posts here on TTAG led me to the Crossbreed Supertuck holster.  I promptly ordered one for my P239 and have been generally pleased with the results.  More testing is still required before I can comfortably say that I have found my Grail, but things look promising.

Sig Sauer, of course, decided to turn my world upside down with the announcement of the P938 at the 2012 SHOT Show. This gun is a slightly larger version of the P238, but one that packs the punch of the larger 9mm round. I have not yet gotten a chance to shoot it and believe me, after the Ruger I’m going to try before I buy. But if the feel and performance is similar to the P238, I might be putting the P239 on the shelf in favor of this new option.

My quest is not yet over, but hopefully I am getting close to the end.