Kahr MK9 (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

Finding the perfect carry gun requires the successful selection of size, action type (semi-automatic or revolver), trigger function, caliber, brand and (let’s face it) style. It also depends on how you’re going to carry. Open or concealed or open and concealed? Will you wear your gun in an inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband holster? Leather or Kydex? And so on. Here’s one simple rule to guide you to your perfect carry gun . . .

Buy the heaviest gun you can carry comfortably.

The heavier the gun, the easier it is to control. The more comfortable it is, the more likely you’ll carry it. You want a carry gun that’s heavy enough to shoot accurately, but not so heavy you won’t carry it.

Obviously, this is general guidance. You still have to make some, most, maybe even all of the choices listed above. And then some. But these decisions shouldn’t be your overriding concern. Rest assured that the rest of your choices won’t be as important.

For example, a revolver is easier to manipulate than a semi-automatic. But a semi-automatic offers greater capacity and the chance to reload under pressure (assuming you can reload a revolver in a gunfight is the definition of optimism). So…choose one. Just make sure it’s the heaviest gun you can comfortably carry.

As I’ve pointed out before, when buying your first carry gun, you need to consider both the gun and the holster. The perfect gun in an uncomfortable holster is not the perfect gun. A really tiny, light gun that’s ever-so-comfortable to carry ain’t it either — given inherent controllability issues. Unless it’s the heaviest gun you can comfortably carry.

See how that works?

A famous gun guru named Clint Smith once said “a gun’s supposed to be comforting, not comfortable.” Nonsense. If a gun isn’t comfortable to carry, you will regret it. Maybe not now, but soon, and for the rest of your life. You could well stop carrying, and then you’re unarmed. And out of pocket.

Don’t do it. Don’t buy an uncomfortable gun. And don’t buy one that’s lighter than the heaviest gun you can tote comfortably. That is all. Well, it’s a start . . .

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62 Responses to One Simple Trick for Choosing Your First Carry Gun: Guns for Beginners

      • A 1911 is far more concealable than people suppose. Because it is single stack and has a rounded profile in easily disappears into your clothing. Now weight is another issue …”

        • I’ve IWB carried a 1911 for quite a few years now. One of the reasons I like the platform is how easy it is to conceal and it’s comfortable to carry. It’s one of gun’s biggest selling points.

        • Since moving to Wisconsin I carry my RIA 10mm Commander sized in the summer and a Springfield MILSPEC when Yogi goes to bed in the winter. Capacity is not an issue since the principlee threats are four legged and Yogi, Wylie and Slyvestor don’t shoot back.

    • It really depends on your method of carry. 1911’s being relatively thin guns, are great for IWB.

      I personally prefer pocket carry. It is just so darn easy and comfortable. Pocket carry is a good way for a noob to get started with CCW. I love the Air-weight J-Frame for pocket carry. A .38 snub-nosed revolver is generally powerful enough, and very comfortable to carry.

      The trade off is that I’ve only got 5 shots, and then I have to run like hell. Still, even a J-Frame puts me ahead of 98% of people who don’t regularly carry. I also have the option of stepping up to a double stack 9 or .40 IWB when I think conditions warrant it.

    • It’s not the gun itself that makes the EDC heavy. It’s the 17+1 rounds. Plus spare mags. Plus keys, knife, wallet, flashlight, and everything else. All concealed in business casual attire. I have an industrial strength belt just to keep my pants up.

      I was going to send in one of those pocket dump photos, but I figured no one would believe how much stuff I carry every day. That doesn’t even count the sometimes ankle holster BUG and all the stuff I carry in my jacket pockets in winter, which is nine months of the year here. I justify it by telling myself it’s cheaper than a gym membership.

  1. Thank you!!! Finally someone says it. People who are weak or are new to guns don’t need the lightest, smallest polymer in the largest caliber possible. That’s crazy.

    I hear people say in the same breath, “I want .40 in the smallest, lightest gun possible. I don’t want all that weight.” Really? You can handle .40 in a sub-compact polymer, but an extra 6 oz is difficult for you? Hmm.

    • Or maybe, just maybe, people rank their priorities differently than you? I am one of those people. I carry a Kahr CW40. One of the major reasons I chose it over other options was because it was a powerful cartridge in a very lightweight compact package. Is the recoil “snappy”? Well, I think most of .40’s reputation in this regard is exaggerated, but shooting my gun and my buddies CW9 back to back, sure, mine recoils a bit more. But even with that, I am able to consistently place a full magazine into center-of-mass from a variety of presentations/angles/scenarios within expected reasonable self-defense ranges within a competitively short period of time. So I am sufficiently accurate with it. Now, were I to follow your advice and get a bigger heavier gun, what would the benefit be? Even if i were twice as accurate, and could get shots off twice as quick… so what?? If I go from shooting 7 inch groups to shooting 3.5 inch groups? I can get 7 aimed rounds off in 1.5 seconds instead of 3? Realistically my improvements would be nowhere near as dramatic as that. And would come at the expense of a gun that was harder and less comfortable to conceal and wear daily, ALL THE TIME, EVERY TIME. So on the very very small chance I ever use the gun in anger, I can have marginal insignificant performance gains, at the expense of guaranteed increased weight and bulk EVERY TIME i carry it. That’s an easy call for me.

      • You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the trade-offs offered by different sized guns of various calibers. But it helps.

        Most newbies are not measuring group sizes or making accuracy – caliber – weight calculations. They buy a gun and carry it, and shoot once a month. Maybe. Sad. Dangerous. But true.

        Generally speaking and yes, caliber aside, a gun’s weight determines the amount of felt recoil. Recoil is far and away the most important variable for new shooters who, again, are not going to fire a range of guns in a range of calibers before making their first purchase. They should, but they won’t.

        Hence a simple rule to guide them.

        • I was mainly address the other commenter’s point: “I hear people say in the same breath, “I want .40 in the smallest, lightest gun possible. I don’t want all that weight.” Really? You can handle .40 in a sub-compact polymer, but an extra 6 oz is difficult for you? Hmm.”

          Namely, that being able to “handle” recoil from a normal/high-powered pistol round does not negate the benefits of a lighter carry gun, and that there are a LOT of people for whom sacrificing a tiny bit of accuracy/speed for a LOT more comfort and flexibility in carry options, EVERY DAY is a simple decision.

          As for first-time buyers with no experience, I think there are certainly pros and cons to larger/heavier carry pistols. I’m not so sure its the slam-dunk absolute rule you seem to, but I wasn’t speaking to that in my previous comment.

      • CM40 guy here as well. I primarily pocket carry it, with occasional IWB. I just love the trigger too much. I would much rather be shooting my Ruger SR40C, which I carry less since I don’t want to wear ballooning shirts all the time, and I am not comfortable with “soft” printing.

  2. I don’t notice much difference in recoil between my CW9 and K9. I would think that the extra grip on the CW9 / P9 makes it a better choice for a lot of people than the weight of a MK9.
    For a barbecue gun, the K9 is way nicer than my CW9. How do you like the G10 grips. Have you compared them to the wood ones. Also, depending on how I carry for the day, the extra weight of the K9 can kind of suck

    • The G10 grips are a big improvement for both shooting comfort and accuracy, IMHO. I’m used to carrying a Commander-sized 1911 or a SIG P229. They make the MK9 seem like a feather.

    • Good advice but — most new shooters don’t shoot a variety of handguns before making their selection. And even if they do, they don’t know how to choose between guns. Post on that topic to follow.

      • All of us have had to go through this process. How many of us are still carrying our first choice? As some have pointed out, such variables as season can dictate a change in EDC. My first carry gun was a SP2022 9mm. Why? It just worked out that way. Now I carry a BHP. Sometimes I carry a 1911. Never have I ever considered a subcompact. Even such issues as body shape can dictate how and what you carry. My body does not lend itself to IWB. How long were you carrying before you realized your holster and or belt were insufficient? I’m sure we have all gone through that exercise as well. I still have not upgraded to a quality belt and sag is an issue I deal with daily.
        I was recently approached by a woman who wants to buy her first handgun. She has no intention of ever carrying it. She only wants it at home. She also has strength issues for her wrists and hands due to health problems. I had her handle and dry fire all of my pistols and she cannot rack any of them. She seemed comfortable with a revolver though. Taking her to the range this week to try out real shooting and see how she does. Do you think I’m on the right track helping her out?

        • I was a gun salesman for several years, and I gave a great deal of thought to how a person with small hands and minimal hand strength could operate a firearm.

          1. There is a good video on YouTube showing an effective method for people with less hand strength to rack the slide of a semi-auto pistol.

          2. If strength and reach are still issues, try a small or medium frame steel revolver with exposed hammer. (Ruger SP-101, steel J-frame, or K-frame). Such a gun can be fired single action, using the off hand thumb to manually cock the hammer before every shot. This shortens the reach to the trigger, and reduces the trigger pull. And with practice, this can be quite fast – see any SASS match.

          3. Another possibility, if the person’s fingers are narrow enough, is to place both index fingers on the trigger, and use both to fire the revolver double action.

        • sensei – Thanks for the good words. Funny, I noticed that she instinctively used both index fingers on the trigger in DA; not sure how that’s going to affect her accuracy at the range. Time will tell…

  3. Buy the gun that you shoot well and are comfortable carrying. If you spend time shooting a bunch of guns you will find out that heavier guns are easier to shoot ’cause physics.

    Do not buy a gun just because all the cool guys have one, i.e. because Glock. Guns all do the same thing and there are lots of good guns out there to choose one

  4. That Airweight .357-type snubbie is quite seductive as a carry gun when you first pick it up.

    Then you go to the range and load a cylinder of full-house loads and take your first shot…

    If you fire all five rounds, you’re a better person than I.

    ‘Cuz, brother, (or sister), it’s a-gonna *hurt*…

    • Caliber is certainly an issue. In this gun store employees/advisors aren’t always helpful. “A .380 isn’t enough gun for self-defense.” “A .357 is too much gun. You’ll never get a follow-up shot.”

      No matter what caliber, the heavier the gun, the easier it is to control. So there is that.

      While I appreciate the challenge of caliber selection, newbies respond best to simple rules. As I mentioned, the above advice isn’t comprehensive. It’s a start.

      Also, I’d like to point out that halving your group size IS a big deal. Under stress you can lose 50 percent or more of your accuracy. If you shoot 3.5″ groups at paper, you’ll probably shoot 7″ groups during a defensive gun use. If you start at 7″ . . .

    • A .357 snub nosed are kind of a bad idea for any defensive due to guaranteed hearing loss. Din’t Yankee Marshal give them up.

    • Nice thing about them, though, is you can load .38s +p in there. Perfectly serviceable round.

  5. After carrying a Glock 23 and an airweight j-frame, I’m looking for a tiny nine. Something smaller than the j-frame and as light as possible. I don’t want to go down to a .380, but want something so small and light that I can carry everywhere with whatever clothes and without concern for printing.

    Of course it will be more difficult to shoot, but I’m willing to train. After competing in IDPA style matches with the 23 and shooting it regularly for about 20 years, I’m pretty good with recoil and quick follow-ups.

  6. I usually tell people to carry the biggest gun they are comfortable with provided they can shoot it well.

    If that means a 22 to begin then so be it. People serious about defense will usually graduate up over time.

    Many also find the different guns can serve as carry pieces depending on dress, locale, etc. The bottom line is have something with you.

    • The problem with that, is you end up with a too big of a gun that you think you will carry and don’t. I almost never carry any double stacks. I have one totally set up for carry and almost never carry it. Always have a Kahr om me though.

      • Point taken.

        I was referring to caliber not the actual size of the weapon.

        I figure most people have a better idea about the size of the gun they will carry.

        Caliber is often determined by experience and practice.

  7. I did it that way, hauling a 1911 around for 14-16 hours got old.

    Then I went the other way, and I think it’s the best way for us normal people who can go years without facing an emergency that requires drawing a sidearm:
    Carry the lightest gun that you can shoot effectively.

    For me, effective shooting means delivering multiple major caliber defensive hollow points on target without excessive delay between shots. (and I don’t consider a 95gr .380 to be major, let’s stick to stuff with enough momentum to meet the minimum power factor for ‘minor caliber’ IDPA competition)

    http://www.sigsauer.com/CatalogProductDetails/p938-brg.aspx

  8. To me, the primary thing is hand fit and naturally understood controls (presuming the gun has any). Rent guns, rent guns, then rent some more guns before you plunk down $500 to $1,000 on your own. Everybody I’ve given that advice to has been happy with the choice they made.

      • That I know of? 4 or 5 over the past dozen years. Probably a few more I talked too just casually about it and never knew what they decided to do.

        Last year I went through the “first gun” buying process with my friend and in the end, he agreed with me that renting 5 or 6 potentials before choosing was the best decision. He went with a P30 w/LEM though he said the Glocks were close in terms of hand fit and trigger.

        This year I went through the process with my ex- after we split, since she always just shot and relied on my guns. So she had a lot of experience with my Glocks over the years. She then shot most of the same guns my buddy did when he was looking so a P30, S&W, FN-something-or-other, a 1911. She didn’t really love any of them, even my Glocks, but when she held the Beretta 92 she said it was like it was meant for her. And that’s what she went with… a 92A1. She lives in MD so no CCW, but we attached a tactical light to it, worked out shooting lanes in the house and a plan, and she’s good to go if anybody every breaks in and isn’t deterred by the alarm system blaring away.

  9. Couldn’t disagree more.

    Odds of needing a gun is almost zero. We care them for the same reason we have fire extinguishers. A fire extinguisher is FAR FAR more likely to be used than a defensive firearm.

    Carry the LIGHTEST gun you can find in a reasonable caliber (.380 and up). Revolvers are an excellent option. You get 5 shots which IF you need a gun quite likely going to be all you will need.

    Weight is the real factor, you want a gun that you can carry without feeling like your hauling a cannon in your pant (Pun intended). Small is better so it wont print and get exposed in embarrassing moments (Do ya really want your boss to know you’ve got a gun?)

    Yes, you do need to be able to comfortably and accurately shoot the weapon. But typically at ranges much closer than you’ll ever train at (0-3 feet).

    Size and weight are the enemy, NOT your friend.

    • Weight is the least important factor in gun choice. The difference in weight between a pocket 380 and a 1911 is about 1.5lbs. If you can’t carry a pound and half then you have serious medical issues and self defense is the least of your worries. There are other more important factors like ballistic performance, sight radius and capacity.

      With the exception of those who live in gang infested neighborhoods or carry valuables for a living the chances of needing a gun are indeed very small. Most people carry as a hedge against the unexpected. If you knew something bad was going to happen you wouldn’t go there. So since you will probably never need a gun. You are just as a safe not carrying one. Not carrying equals 0 weight.

      I have said before pocket pistols are for people who would prefer not to carry but want to provide themselves with an option just in case.

      • I agree.

        I EDC a full size, steel frame double stack 9 IWB and with a good holster and belt, it’s NOT uncomfortable and get that “don’t even notice it’s there” stage.

        I’ve also carried smaller lighter guns IWB and OWB…still don’t have an issue with my EDC choice.

        I’ve personally never quite understood the “too heavy” or “too big” argument as an argument. {Shrug} To each his own, though. Just carry. That’s the first rule.

      • Can’t agree there either. In many states, mine included, the biggest danger to a concealed carrier is not a hypothetical bad guy, but in fact, a very real danger printing in front an LEO followed by the ‘felony face plant’.

        Size matters.

        Carry Small, shoot big. I like my .40 shield, my xds, and my S&W 340 pd. All very light, all very small with very little printing, and all very capable should the need arise.

        • You must live in Florida. Here in Wisconsin, Minnesota and back in Virginia printing doesn’t matter plus a full size 1911 isn’t going to print unless you wear a tight shirt especially when carried IWB.

    • YOur comment is akin to saying

      “Buy the fire extinguisher with the smallest controls because it’s unlikely you need it”

      Until you do and you can’t get the darn thing to put white foam where you want it.

      There’s merit to say you won’t have to shoot and just having a gun is “enough” but at the same time, why go half way and not finish the drill and get a gun that you can use effectively?

      I’ve carried a G19 for a couple years and now a CZ75Compact for the last year, I can put lead on target faster with more precision with the CZ 75. it weighs about 50% more than Glock, occupies about the same real estate. The G19 is a fine carry pistol, don’t get me wrong, but the CZ outclasses it. The CZ is actually more comfortable as the rounded butt it sports hits the low back less in the car/at the desk, but again, quality holster and quality belt.

      Vanity may command me to start carrying a CZ75B Matte Stainless. Because Stainless.

  10. Sound advice for beginners. If it’s too heavy you’ll leave it at home, but if its so small it’s completely unpleasant to shoot you aren’t going to practice with it.

    The main guns I carry, depending on the weather, are a S&W Shield with night sights and no thumb safety, and a Glock 22(or 17). Both have a similar manual of arms (point and shoot, no safety switch to deactivate).

  11. I’ve carried a P226, 6906, 638, P7M8 and now a Five Seven. I would still be happy with any of them. I could also holster my wife’s 4.2″ SP101 and be happy too. I never carried (but have owned) a 1911 but I am rather certain that would be fine for me and most others as well. There is such a wide range of comfortable, controllable and effective guns that it is not hard to choose a decent one on your first try.

    • My choice also Dan, weight doesn’t matter with the right holster and belt.
      I carried much more in the service far further so it doesn’t phase me in the slightest.
      Fn .45 is a great work horse.
      And a cop buddy of mine couldn’t pick up that i was carring it when we disscussed it, he was surprised to know i could conceal it so well.

  12. Good advice in general, I suppose, but not particularly helpful, since it’s sort of a chicken-or-the-egg problem. How does one know what’s comfortable until they’ve tried it? Nobody’s going to loan you a dozen carry guns and two dozen holsters to try out for a month, so you’re back to square one: buy something and find out if it works for you or not. There’s a reason most people who carry have a box of failed holster experiments in a closet somewhere. I suspect most people who have been regularly carrying for a few years aren’t still carrying their first choice of carry gun, either.

    It’s a nice idea, but I’m afraid there are just way, way too many variables to simplify it down to “one simple trick”.

    • Agreed.

      My advice is to folks new to every day carry: Pick a gun / holster combo to try and be prepared to rethink your decision and try something else.

      Good grief it’s weird, but people seem to think this HAS to be “buy once and done.” It’s nice when that happens, but there is nothing wrong with trying something else to see if there is a better fit.

      Applies to guns AND holsters. The important thing is to find something you WILL carry…no excuses. If first choice doesn’t work to your liking, keep looking.

  13. Or a newbie could start off with a light gun like the M&P Shield or Glock 43 chambered for the mild 9mm, and then work their way up to a man’s gun shooting a man’s cartridge like the .40 or .45.

    • Or purchase a .357 snubbie and work up to whatever power level you are comfortable with. Without ever being obligated to purchase another gun.

  14. Get any 9mm and be done with it. Learn to control it. Recoil comes back to point of aim (close enough) and then take the follow up shot. Control ability matters more in full auto. We aren’t talking about that. All calibers over 380 are going to scare first timers. Teach them to embrace the recoil and proper grip.

  15. I like pocket carry(with a nemisis type holster). Yeah it has to be little. 9 or 380 is ok.

    • “Yeah it has to be little. 9”

      I knew the .9 mm would catch on eventually. Kudos for being a trailblazer….

  16. Trying to answer the question of what gun somebody else should buy/ carry is like trying to answer what kind of automobile they should buy.

    There’s no “always buy this” kind of answer. There are just too many variables.

    It’s a great conversation to get into with folks though! And just having that conversation can help to put folks new to the idea of shooting, owning, and/ or carrying into a better frame of mind.

    That said, I understand Robert’s point and it definitely does have merit.

  17. “Buy the heaviest gun you can carry comfortably” is valid but incomplete. Size and recoil matter, too. Aside from questions of legality, different environments require different degrees of concealment. Your only practical option may be a tiny gun in a marginal caliber. Still, that’s better than nothing at all. A .32 in a pocket holster beats a 10 mm at home.

  18. Does it fit the person’s hand? Does it work with what the person wears most of the time? Can he or she control the recoil in a similar size/caliber rental weapon? Rental ranges have only so much inventory, they seem to prefer larger guns (likely for accuracy and maintenance reasons), and the one you want may be rented or out for repairs. I have to dress up most days. The SR9C is not so compact under dress clothes and I will not replace everything I own. I have relatively small hands and am not averse to recoil, so a Taurus 738 in a pocket holster works for me. I had thought I wanted an LCP, Went to a range that claimed to have one but it turned out they had a Smith and Wesson .380 Bodyguard instead. Determined that the accuracy and recoil on the Bodyguard were acceptable. Tried holding an LCP at a store. Much too small. Tried the Taurus. Fit better and cost a lot less. Upgraded it with Galloway trigger and recoil spring, and NiteSiter sight dots. It is very accurate within the distance of its intended use.

    • To me, that sounds like you justifying your purchase. To what range is it intended? Bad breath?

      Everyone’s personal requirements are going to differ, but for me, that’s going to be accuracy out to 25 yards at self defense speeds. I can’t even get my LCP on paper at that range. Wretched little thing.

  19. Agree 100%. That statement is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Clint said it a long time ago, but these days with the wealth of guns, holsters, and belts, there is no reason you can’t have a carry gun be both comforting and comfortable.

  20. That’s interesting to think about because what’s “comfortable” to different folks is different.

    I would say that the “optimum” weight for a handgun, from a shootability standpoint is somewhere north of a Glock (27oz unloaded for a compact/full size with a magazine), but less than a 5″ 1911 (42 oz w/ mag).

    The reason I say less than a GI 1911 is that there are guns in the 30 oz range that shoot as softly, or more softly. CZ 75 w/ mag is about 35-36oz. P320 FS/Compact 29ish oz, same as the P series guns from CZ.

    But none of that matters if all you can hang with carrying is 23 oz unloaded, in which case Glock is your huckleberry and is plenty competent to get on target with, but is less comfortable to shoot and less practically accurate for most (“why does my glock shoot left?”)

    An interesting paradigm. I could be a nerd, but it’d be neat to see like 5 people who are getting into EDC show up at a range and covered up with options and see where they land on carry gear.

  21. Having the right gun and being proficient is paramount but so is the knowledge of when to shoot or don’t shoot. The knowledge of when a good shoot goes bad. Shooting situations are fluid. Even some of the most trained let emotions take over rational thought. Practice in your head too.

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