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Yesterday, RF linked to a Top Ten List of Handguns and asked TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia for their picks. Missing from the original selection and this website’s second guessing: any criteria for making that selection. While many of you explained your choices, I was thinking that your selection process was just as interesting as the actual list. How do you go about choosing the “best” handguns? So here’s my top three criteria for picking a top ten handgun (i.e. what I look for in a handgun). What’s yours?

1. “Legs,” for lack of a better term. Were/are people still carrying it and its clones 25 years after its introduction? 50? 100? Were they still carrying it into combat? There’s no better indicator of greatness than longevity, unless you’re in a Soviet command economy. The Walther PP, Browning 1911, S&W J and K frames, and the Colt SAA score big here. The P-08 Luger and Webley revolver fare almost as well.

2. Ubiquity: did/does it securely occupy a prominent place in the world’s market for handguns? The Colt SAA, Webley, 1911, Walther, Beretta 92, Glock, and Hi-Power have ruled the planet for almost 140 years in terms of huge production numbers and widespread adoption.

Various Soviet designs also flooded the world’s centers of conflict, but these were clones of Browning designs (Tokarev) or Walther patterns (Makarov). The Nagant revolver was built by the millions only because the monolothic Imperial Russian and early Soviet procurement system had no other options.

3. Innovation: it’s not quite true that there is nothing new under the sun, but truly innovative successful handguns are somewhat rare. The Luger, 1911, Hi-Power, P-38, CZ-75, Glock, and the the FN 5.7 are standouts in this category. A rare non-military entry in this category is the Thompson/Center Contender. The Rhino is truly innovative, but it is not yet successful. The XD is truly successful, but it is only an evolutionary design, not revolutionary.

These are only my suggested criteria. What are yours?


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  1. In addition to the authors criteria:

    pedigree- does it come from a good manufacturer, are these firearms of good quality material, reliable, accurate
    Is the manufacturer known for the quality of their designs.

    ergonomics- does the weapon feel right in your hand? -thats why I picked the H&K P30. Felt good in the hand and was easily useable by a lefty shooter.

    Accuracy/Power – Is the weapon accurate? Is it round sufficiently powerful? Where is the tradeoff? .22 tack driver or .500 that can’t hit the broad side of a barn?

    Cost – Is the weapon worth the price?

    Cool Factor – While not a critical criteria, it does play a role in decision making. Be it Jack Bauers USP compact or Dirty Harry’s M29, or just a classic like a SAA or Luger. If Cool and Cost weren’t issues we would all be running around with HiPoints or cheap makarovs.

  2. My top nine picks are QUALITY, then I fall in love and I buy it. I don’t care what it costs as long as I really love the gun.

  3. 1. Ergonomics (handling and firing) – If a handgun doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t handle recoil well, I won’t be accurate enough with it, I won’t want to practice with it and I won’t become instinctive with it.

    2. Reliability – Both by reputation and experience.

    3. Price – If it’s too cheap, I don’t want it. [NB: I’m one of the guys with one gun.]

  4. I like your criteria Chris. If I was going for a list based solely on the world’s “best” that would be a great jumping off point. Honestly my list, with 2 exceptions, was soley based off of what I have actually shot, how comfortable I am with the weapon and how well I shot it.

  5. I think the original question was pretty vague, which is why there was such a huge range of pistols. The question could just as easily been worded as “top ten handguns to shoot”, or “top ten handguns for CCW”, or “top ten handguns for hunting”, etc. likely resulting in quite different lists. The list of criteria I have is different for each category. CCW guns need to be >99.9999% reliable and comfortable to carry. Of course, “comfortable” means different things to different people. I don’t mind heft in a CCW pistol; actually, I prefer it! For hunting, caliber and size depends on game species. I usually prefer a large-framed and accurate pistol. “Accurate” here means something different than “accurate” for a CCW pistol. I can live with a 3″ grouping at 25-yards with a service pistol, but for hunting I may need 2-3″ grouping at 100-yards to be effective and humane. For “coolness” of “fun to shoot” factors, blackpowder, SAA, and other “odd” or non-traditional (or very traditional) pistols can add excitment and a welcomed change of pace to a range visit.

    • BTW – keep an eye out for a new TTAG Gun Review of the XDM 3.8 Compact in .40S&W. Using full-size (16 round vs the compact 11 round) magazines and no “gap fillers”, I won my Division in our local Limited-Class Steel Match. Accurate, comfortable, and reliable… a damn good CCW pistol by anyones standards!

  6. My problem with this is and yesterdays listings is “best” for what?

    If it is a top ten list of handguns I like to shoot my list is going to be completely different than top ten I would conceal carry. And neither of those would compare to top ten I would pick to have if a worldwide SHTF event occurred. At first I thought about trying to come up with a list, but I couldn’t because how do you merge what is really apples and oranges?

    I was honestly surprised to see the 1911 make the top of the list more often than not. Don’t get me wrong, the 1911 is a great gun and fun to shoot. But it is (and I know I am going to take a lot of flak for this) not the ideal gun for CC or when the SHTF, for several reasons. It has a lot of history, especially American history, and it has a really high cool factor. It was one of the first handguns I shot, and I suspect the same is true for many American shooters, so it has that nostalgia going for it. But in the end a gun is a tool, and I for one believe in using the most efficient tool for the job.

    Also when looking over the lists I was left wondering if many of the shooters here have an understanding of the different handgun calibers and their limitations and capabilities. Almost everyone lumped all the Glocks together as one entry. Glock is a manufacturer, not a gun. And there is a huge difference between the Glock 17, 20, 21, and 22.

    In a SHTF event the FN Five-SeveN is actually probably right near the top or at the top of my top ten list. It is somewhat overpriced currently, and is a little too powerful for conceal carry. But it has incredible range, penetration, and stopping power which is exactly what I would want in a SHTF event (assuming I don’t have a rifle handy, which of course would be the real first choice). The 1911 has incredible stopping power, but really lousy range and penetration capabilities. If I am in RFs SHTF scenario where everyone in my house is my friend and everyone outside my house is my enemy, I sure the heck don’t want to have to wait for enemies to close to under 50 meters before I even have a snowballs chance of stopping them, under 20 meters for a decent chance. But that is exactly what the 1911 gives you.

    So I guess I am saying I think effective range should be criteria. I would say penetration, but in some cases, like CC and defending from an intruder in your home, penetration is a bad thing.

    • In a SHTF scenario, you’d pick the FN? Really? I visit 3-4 gun shops on a regular basis (not including Cabela’s and Bass Pro), and I RARELY find 5.7 ammo available… usually just empty spaces. I’m not sure how effective a 30-40 grain bullet traveling at 2500+ ft/sec would do against a medium to large thin-skinned game animal (which now has me curious!). I would rather a magnum revolver with a chambering that can be found anywhere. Assuming that we aren’t in a post-Apacolyptic all out war with neighbor shooting at neighbor, we’ll likely need to use a pistol mainly for hunting. In either case, and as you said, a rifle is the preferred firearm anyway… but if say a post-Katrina event occurs, the FN isn’t a bad option (assuming you can or have stashed enough ammo aside).

      • True, I should have made clear I tend to be an ammo horder, I always have as a goal to have at least 1000 rounds for any gun I buy withen a year of buying it. Once I reach that, then I never go below it, at least not because of target shooting.

        I figure 1000 rounds is enough to last me until someone gets me, or if I run out there should be lots of other guns and rounds lying around for easy scavange. Plus I have lots of guns, each with their 1000 rounds.

        Before anyone thinks me crazy, the real reason is you just never know when getting ammo is going to become difficult for whatever reason, better to stock up now then scramble then.

        Oh, and yah I was thinking more for humanoid targets, the Five-seveN is not a good hunting gun. At least I don’t think it is, I have never actually tried to be honest.

  7. When they say Top Ten Handguns, I ask myself, “Did the design and/or usage of this handgun change history?” My number one on the list was the Colt Paterson, simply because it was the first combat effective repeating handgun. Everything else that we have today is a descendant of it. That’s also how I ended up putting the Nagant on the list (it would have been an odd choice otherwise), and I probably should have added the Webley as well, but it slipped my mind.

    Reliability, accuracy, firepower, and sheer awesomeness are secondary concerns, unless I was to be specifically asked about “Top Ten CCW Handguns”, or “Top Ten Hunting Handguns”, etc.

  8. Proximity. Which one can I get to fastest? And allow myself to fight my way to my shotgun and/or rifle.*

    Won’t matter to me what logo is stamped on it: Smith, Colt, Beretta, Browning, Springfield. Like the dogs, all are equal here at the homestead.

    *If it becomes necessary. An early ending to the action scene would be an even more satisfactory outcome.

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