An excerpt from the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.

Few decisions are as personal as selecting your sidearm. Whether you go revolver or semi-auto, remember to focus on what’s best for you.

As an American, you have a huge advantage when you want to carry a concealed pistol. Every law-abiding citizen and legal resident has the right to keep and bear arms. And there are more firearms available to the average U.S. citizen than anywhere else on the planet.

Defensive carry handguns will typically be one of two types: revolver or semi-automatic pistol. While available calibers range from .22 LR to .50 Action Express, the usual caliber range for serious self-defense starts at .380 ACP and goes up to .45 ACP.

Revolver or Semi-Automatic?

Until police departments moved to the semi-auto pistol to arm their officers in the 1980s, the six-shot revolver, usually in .38 Special, or its more powerful big brother, the .357 Magnum, was the standard sidearm for America’s thin blue line. The modern double-action revolver is inherently safe. It is simple to operate, easy to learn to use (but difficult to shoot well), capable of excellent accuracy and, when loaded with today’s ammunition designed specifically for self-defense, gives good service to the responsibly armed citizen. The chief drawback of the revolver is its capacity of five or six rounds, which some find to be too few.

The other choice is a semi-automatic pistol, most commonly in calibers .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP. The advantages of the semi-auto are larger ammunition capacity, faster reloads and greater ease of concealment. Since a semi-auto does not have a bulky cylinder, it is flatter and a little easier to conceal than a revolver. The downside is it having more moving parts and thus more things to go wrong. This makes for a greater tendency to malfunction than a revolver. But with modern production techniques, proper training and proper maintenance on the part of the owner, semi-automatic pistols are capable of great reliability and are widely chosen for concealed carry.

Try Before You Buy

Try out several revolvers and pistols in the different recommended calibers. While shopping for your carry gun, you should know that what you enjoy holding in the shop might not feel quite so good in your hand when you shoot it. For this reason, if possible, get to a shop that allows you to rent firearms and try them out on the range before you buy. Your choice for a self-defense sidearm should be one you can shoot comfortably and accurately and that you will carry every time you walk out your door.

Given careful shopping and the wide range of handguns developed and tailored specifically for the U.S. concealed carry market, there is no reason your choice of a daily carry gun cannot be powerful and concealable. After you choose one, practice with it until you can quickly and consistently hit the center of a man-sized target at ranges from 3 feet to 25 yards.

*Read the full version and learn more about concealed carry in the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.

What About Ammo?

From hyper-modern frangibles to traditional jacketed hollow-points, there’s never been a wider selection of defensive ammunition.

Self-defense ammunition is the next important component of a self-defense system. It must be accurate, reliable and capable of delivering a hard hit. Any effective defensive round must hit its target, preferably stay inside its target and deliver enough power on impact to stop that target from continuing aggressive action against the intended victim.

Nine rounds of ammunition of differing calibers and bullet types aligned from smallest to largest on a plain white backdrop.

Your best bet for defensive ammunition includes a hollow-point bullet, which is designed to expand on impact. You might also choose ammunition with a frangible bullet, which is designed to come apart on impact. Both of these ammunition types dump the bulk of their energy into their target and deliver that energy with maximum force where it is needed most. Both of them put the brakes on when they hit the target, so they are less likely to go through the bad guy and hit an innocent bystander. All these factors combine to make hollow-point and frangible rounds good choices for civilian self-defense. Modern hollow-point and frangible rounds hit the target accurately and provide a good chance of stopping an aggressor.

If you’re not sure which ammunition or bullet shape to choose, check what your local law enforcement agencies are using. Police officers carry guns for a living, and their departments have a strong interest in ammunition that will help their officers stay safe. Whatever ammunition they adopt is likely a decent bet for you.

*Read the full version and learn more about concealed carry in the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.

Ammo Glossary


The military nomenclature for full metal jacket ammunition, as in “ball ammo.”


Bonded-jacket hollow-point. A style of self-defense projectile in which the jacket of the bullet has been specially bonded to the lead core, making for more reliable expansion and energy transfer.


Enclosed base. This means there is no bare lead on the base of the bullet; it is jacketed in order to minimize lead exposure.


Full metal jacket. These are bullets that have no exposed lead on their noses or sides and do not deform as dramatically as hollow-point or bare-lead bullets. These are the standard training load for semi-automatics and are not preferred for self-defense.


Foot-pounds energy. This is the measurement of the energy the bullet delivers to a target upon impact when fired from a test barrel at the factory. Your mileage may vary.


Feet per second. This will be the velocity at which the projectiles left a test barrel at the factory when samples from each lot of ammunition were tested. As above, your results might differ due to firearm barrel length.


These are target rounds that are specifically designed to break apart on impact with a backstop. They are widely used at indoor ranges to reduce the risk of ricochets.


An archaic unit of measurement that is still used when referring to weights of projectiles (437.5 grains equals 1 ounce).

Hardened Lead

An alloy of lead and antimony. This alloy is used for bare-lead projectiles, providing better expansion control and less fouling in barrels than unalloyed lead.


Hollow-point. This is a bullet that has a cavity carved out of its nose. The intent is to make the projectile open up upon impact with a target in order to expend all of its energy in that target without passing through.


This is a hollow-point bullet that is also jacketed. This is done to reduce fouling in the action and barrel of the firearm and to provide more consistent bullet expansion.

Low Flash

These are cartridges that have been specifically loaded to reduce the visible muzzle flash when the gun is discharged.

Low Recoil/Managed Recoil

These are cartridges that have been specifically loaded with a lower-powder charge to reduce the felt recoil when the gun is discharged.


Long Rifle, as in .22 LR. This is the most common type of .22 ammunition. Before it became the industry standard, there was also the .22 Long and .22 Short, both of which are still available but not nearly as common.


Lead round nose. These bare-lead, unjacketed bullets are most common in revolvers and are mostly used for target shooting.

+P and +P+

These are designators identifying ammunition as carrying a heavier than normal powder charge. Certain firearms are designed to fire +P and +P+ ammunition, but not all are. Always consult your owner’s manual before using any ammunition not specifically designed for use in your particular sidearm.


Semi-jacketed hollow-point.


Semi-jacketed soft-point. These are projectiles that look like a SJHP but without the hollow points. These are commonly used for big game hunting and self-defense when increased penetration is desired.


Special, as in .38 Special or .44 Special. Pay close attention, as cartridges marked “Special” are very different from other rounds with the same numeric designation but a different suffix, such as .38 S&W or .44 Magnum.


Semi-wadcutter. This is a type of flat-nosed bullet used mostly in target shooting but also for self-defense with hardened lead bullets.


Semi-wadcutter hollow-point. These are bare-lead bullets with a hollow point; picture a SJHP but all lead. These are more common in the bigger-bullet, lower-velocity cartridges like the .45.


Truncated Cone. This is kind of the autoloader version of a wadcutter in that it has a flatter nose than a standard ball round.


Total metal jacket. These projectiles are completely electroplated with copper so there is absolutely no exposed lead.


Wadcutter. This is a flat-nosed, usually unjacketed projectile common in revolver cartridges that is usually used for target shooting but is also popular for self-defense in snub-nosed revolvers.


Winchester Magnum Rimfire. Also known as .22 Magnum or .22 Mag, it is a longer-cased .22 rimfire round. It is often used for target shooting and small-game hunting, though some self-defense-oriented sidearms are chambered for this powerful little round.

NOTE: There will be acronyms and terms that are used to describe proprietary technologies. GDHP, for example, refers to the “Gold Dot Hollow-Point” bullets loaded in some cartridges sold by Speer. These aren’t exactly universal cartridge nomenclature; they’re marketing tools and will often have an explanation on the box.

*Read the full version and learn more about concealed carry in the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.