The Semi-Automatic Pistol
Some people prefer to carry the semi-automatic pistol for defense. The semi-auto is flatter than the revolver, and generally has a greater ammunition capacity than does a revolver of the same overall size. I believe that it simply comes down to personal preference more often than not. Rather than advocate a specific brand or model, I’d like to offer some factors that might be to your advantage to consider when looking for a defensive auto pistol.
Is it of a size that you will actually carry it? I don’t mean can you carry it– will you carry it? I one had a +70 year old client show up for training with a large capacity .40 caliber pistol, which he proudly announced he intended to carry all day, every day. I suggested that he might be better served with a smaller handgun, and he became rather indignant. He protested that he was in perfect physical condition, and that he would have no problem carrying the handgun. He was in excellent shape, but his experience in carrying the gun was that he had hauled it to my concealed carry class in his lunch pail. I might be a bit sheltered, but I haven’t carried a lunch pail regularly since third grade. Sad truth to tell, my main reason for quitting was that my lunches quit fitting in a lunch pail, and I graduated to shopping bags to haul my chow. I have nothing against lunch pails and I’m not clairvoyant, I just doubt this old guy was going to start carrying it 18 hours a day.
It turned out that despite spending way too much money on an expensive holster he found that the gun was simply too large and heavy for him to drag around in the course of his normal workday. He ended up with a smaller handgun in a pocket holster. The gun should fit into your lifestyle, because you’re unlikely to alter much of your lifestyle when you begin to carry a handgun.
If the gun is too large, you’ll leave it elsewhere. If it isn’t with you, it doesn’t count. I don’t generally recommend tiny defensive auto pistols, but I sincerely believe you are infinitely better off with a .22 Short in your pocket than you are with a Combat Custom Big Name Whiz-Bang .577 Magnum Zombie Killer that is out of reach. For most people, a reasonable choice is somewhere between those extremes.
Is it reliable? If your gun shoots when you don’t want it to, it isn’t safe. If it doesn’t shoot when you want it to, it isn’t really a gun. I have heard seemingly-reasonable people say that they’ve never fired their defensive handgun because they “don’t want to break it”. Such behavior is lunacy. Shoot the gun, and then shoot it some more. If it isn’t reliable, and your best efforts cannot make it reliable, you’re not carrying a gun, you’re carrying a talisman.
Don’t take other people’s word for anything when it comes to defensive handgun reliability. Always err in your favor when making decisions that determine your future health. Reading a shooting test in a gun magazine might be interesting and a place to start, but test your own gun. If everybody you know has found a particular model to be perfect, you might be the person who is due to get a lemon. Don’t carry a defensive semi-auto until you’ve put at least a couple of hundred rounds through it.
I’m not a gun snob, but some brands I have regularly found to be unreliable. I don’t carry those guns defensively. Though there are brands I prefer, their guns don’t get a free pass with me. My ugly hide is too precious to me that I will trust some pencil-neck in Advertising or Marketing, whose job it is to sell guns. Its business to them– it’s serious to me.
A few words about inexpensive semi-autos might be in order. On most inexpensive auto pistols, the magazine is where the least attention is lavished. If corners are being cut, it’s on the mag. When I became a police firearms instructor, I was taught that probably 90-plus percent of auto pistol malfunctions were due to magazine spring failures.
Consider this: if you were to purchase a spare magazine for most semi-autos, it would run you about five percent of the cost of the gun. (Say, twenty-five bucks for a five-hundred dollar pistol.) Most magazine springs cost buyers about ten percent of the cost of a magazine. (Roughly two-and-a-half bucks for a twenty-five dollar magazine’s spring.) I’m betting most manufacturers have about a quarter of a dollar’s cost in that spring. So in a handgun that you spent half a grand on, your handgun’s reliability hinges on a two-bit spring. You can do the math– (I’ve depleted my skills for one article. I flunked Advanced Math in high school, but only took it because I had a crush on the beautiful brunette who taught it. It didn’t help my GPA, but it was a choice I’ve never regretted)– if you spent fifty bucks on your pistol, what are the chances it will be reliable?
Don’t get bogged down in details. I’ve seen folks refuse to consider a carry handgun because it didn’t fit into parameters set by alleged experts. One of the most-revealing articles I ever read was a set of interviews of several top model 1911 custom gunsmiths. After each maker enumerated the qualities that made his handgun a buyer’s best choice for defensive carry, each was asked which handgun he carried daily for defensive purposes. Not one daily carried a model 1911 he had customized. Most who regularly carried any handgun at all carried a 5-shot S&W J-frame revolver. Some freely admitted that they seldom carried any handgun, and one mentioned that he had an old war trophy Tokarev semi-auto somewhere in a closet at home. All seemed to agree that their beautifully-crafted masterpieces were worth more to other people than they were to themselves. Why carry something that expensive when folding money spends so much easier?
Don’t buy anything just because others write about it. I prefer a steel-framed S&W model 1086 double-action 10mm for defensive carry. I truly like the gun, and have taken several whitetail deer with it, one at a bit over fifty-five yards. Just because I like it doesn’t mean I recommend it to others. I’ve been carrying concealed handguns since I was 21 years old, which was roughly a million years ago. When teaching concealed-carry classes I ask that if anybody ever sees me without a handgun that they not mention it to my beautiful and long-suffering wife as she knows that if I’m not wearing a handgun, I’m not wearing trousers. In short, I’m not quite right. In addition to that, I wrenched my back a couple of months ago and have been carrying a much more lightweight S&W Chief Special 9mm CS9D, a double-action-only compact. Wimpy? Sure I am. But I don’t get paid if I don’t work, and I can’t work if I can’t stand up and walk around. The little nine will have to do until my back gets squared away. I’m not stopping car-loads of hostile people on dark freeways anymore, so the little Chief isn’t a bad choice.
I understand that most handgun tests delight in describing sizes of the groups of shots fired through particular models. Don’t get wrapped up in handgun accuracy. If you become an enthusiast, you can work on developing pinpoint of long range handgun accuracy. Until then, work on smooth and efficient presentation from wherever you carry it, and make sure you carry the darned thing.
Don’t choose a gun just because it’s pretty, and don’t reject one simply because it’s ugly. Consider the above-listed recommendations, and ignore what doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about public opinion or snide comments from buddies. Get what fits you and your life. Make sure it can be relied upon. Carry the gun as often as you can. Become proficient in its safe and effective handling. No rocket science involved in this equation, folks.
The fact is that anyone can effectively operate a defensive handgun at a basic level. You get a good grip, line it up, and put holes in the things you want holes in. As long as you have a tool that works, and it’s with you when you need it, the rest will likely take care of itself.
Mike Stamm is a retired Michigan State Trooper. He currently is the owner and chief instructor at DTOM Inc a Michigan based firearm training company. If you would like to contact Mike for training or if you have questions you may do so by email: Dtominc@aol.com