Large-Frame Handgun? Small? What caliber? Glock? S&W? It’s all about Balancing ‘Comfort versus Lethality’
Large-frame handgun? Small? What caliber? Glock? S&W? It’s all about balancing ‘Comfort vs Lethality,’ says longtime Policeman.Story and Photos by Nick Perna
One of the best parts about being a cop is HR 218. This law allows officers to carry a firearm in practically every locale in the United States. “Carrying on your badge,” as it’s referred to, is one of the few perks law enforcement still enjoys. In 2020, the job lost a lot of its appeal, but I still appreciate the fact that I can carry concealed to protect others and myself. In a perfect world, these rights would be afforded to every law-abiding citizen. Maybe someday.
I remember as a new copper, excitingly carrying my department- issued Glock 22 in a Desantis black leather holster while off duty. Of course, I was packing an extra mag or two, a pair of cuffs, pepper spray and an incredibly shiny new badge. I had to buy an extra-large shirt to cover all of that gear but, by god, I was armed and prepared for the worst!
THAT WAS 20 years ago. A lot has changed since then. For starters, I dumped the Glock 22. I’m not a huge fan of .40 caliber. The recoil is sharper than what I would like it to be and there are better options out there. Now I carry a .45 (Glock 21), the official caliber of old cops. I’d consider switching to a 9mm but I don’t feel like shelling out the dough for a new gun, magazines, duty holster, tactical holster, mag pouches and so on. With the gun and all of the necessary accessories, you’re looking at a few thousand dollars to make the switch, so I’ll stick with the trusty .45.
Large-frame guns are the way to go while working the streets, but these days I don’t generally walk around with a large-frame handgun while off duty. It’s not practical and, obviously, difficult to conceal.
I am very picky, though, about what I choose to carry for protection. To me it comes down to comfort versus lethality. I want something that conceals well but will still do what it’s designed for if I need to use it. Something that won’t jab me in the ribs every time I sit down. Before I get into my choices for concealed carry, I want to point out some common errors I see.
- • Fashionistas: For some, a concealed carry gun is more of a fashion statement than a practical means of defense. “Accessorizing” a weapon to match your outfit is not a good idea. I remember having an instructor in the police academy who wore expensive suits, a Rolex watch and a matching H&K P7. Although a fine gun in its right, the detective wore it because, in his mind, it looked cool. A handgun carried for self-defense should be chosen for tactical reasons. So leave the pearl-handled revolver with satin finish in the safe, even if it matches your shoes.
- • Gun of the month club: The only thing better than owning one gun is two guns (or three, seven, 15). We all like buying and owning guns, there’s no denying it. But just because you own it does not mean you should carry it. You need to carry the most reliable, deadliest weapon you own. You also need to be hyper-proficient with it. The time that you need to use it will most likely be a very high-stress scenario, so the only thing you should be thinking about is getting off accurate shots to eliminate the threat. You need to choose a weapon system and stick with it. It might be fun to strap on your M1911A1 compact one week, then switch to a Sig P365 for awhile and maybe a Beretta Bearcat after that, but by doing so you are setting yourself up for failure. In times of extreme stress, 10 fingers can quickly turn into 10 thumbs, so you want to stake your life on something you are intimately familiar with. Take all the other guns to the range instead.
- • Getting too comfortable: If comfort is the biggest concern in terms of what gun to carry, you are making a mistake. A .25-caliber semiauto or a five-shot titanium-frame air-light revolver is like “wearing nothing at all,” but if you have the option to carry a more lethal firearm, you should do it.
My preferred carry weapon series is the Glock. I’m not advocating for it over the aforementioned brands or others. On the contrary. I carry Glock weapons because that’s what I was issued many moons ago, so I’m familiar with them.
And that’s the point, really: carrying a weapon system you are comfortable with. In times of stress, like when someone is trying to kill you, you want a gun that you are intimately familiar with. At that moment you don’t want to have a weapon that handles differently and has a different set of controls than what you are used to. For example, if you routinely carry a gun that lacks a manual safety, then you probably don’t want to all of a sudden opt to carry a gun that has one. You need to train extensively with that gun if you plan to have it with you as a way of defending those close to you.
Since I carry a Glock 21 at work, my preferred backup/off-duty carry gun is the Glock 30, the small-frame .45. This is the best-case scenario since my Glock 30 readily accepts Glock 21 magazines. The downside to the Glock 30 is that for a “small-frame” gun, it’s a little on the large side. This means it’s not as concealable as I would like it to be. I generally carry on the belt, in a Kydex holster. Tactically, this makes sense, but it makes it even more difficult to conceal since the holster and weapon tend to protrude out a bit. So when I need something a little smaller to conceal, I opt for the Glock 43, the small-frame 9mm. It’s my preferred IWB, or inside the waistband, gun. It’s not too small for my hands and with 9mm, it packs the necessary punch. With six-plus-one ammo capacity, it meets the basic load requirement; extended magazines are available that do not make a big difference in terms of concealability.
THE ONLY TIME I deviate from carrying a Glock is when I need an extremely small gun. This would be driven by wardrobe, if I’m wearing a T-shirt and shorts, for example. In law enforcement I’ve also carried smaller guns when working undercover. In those instances, I opt for the Ruger LCP. This .380 is small and is easy to hide IWB, or in a pocket or ankle holster.
This is a bit of a compromise, though (remember comfort vs. lethality?). Although a good round, the .380 isn’t in the same category as a 9mm or .45 in terms of stopability. It has no real sights to speak of, so this is pretty much a point-and-shoot gun. With all that being said, it’s better than no gun at all. In many respects, the fire controls and levers are pretty much the same as a Glock (no safety/decock; just a trigger safety).
The key is to practice routinely with all of the guns you carry and in all of the configurations you carry them in. Whether it’s outside the waistband (OWB), IWB, ankle or pocket holster, make sure you practice often with it. Don’t be a “range robot” going to your favorite shooting venue with your carry guns, firing them from a bench while never practicing drawing from the holster. If your local range does not allow drawing from the holster while firing, make sure you do lots of dry fire practice at home breaking leather (or Kydex). Wear what you would normally be dressed in when practicing getting your weapon out. Your life and the lives of others may depend on it.
Editor’s note: Author Nick Perna is a sergeant with the Redwood City Police Department in northern California. He previously served as a paratrooper in the US Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco. He is a frequent contributor to multiple print and online forums on topics related to law enforcement, firearms, tactics and veterans issues.