» QUESTION: A few years ago, when I decided to join the ranks of responsible citizens owning and carrying handguns, the rage was high-capacity handguns with calibers starting with a 4 as a minimum to be effective. I read Concealed Carry Magazine, as well as other magazines related to handguns, from cover to cover for education and to keep up with the trends popular with the handgun society. Recently, it seems the tide is turning back to low-capacity, single-stack semi-automatics in smaller calibers, such as .380 ACP and 9mm Parabellum. I’m having a difficult time making sense of this retro swing because, just a few years ago, I would be laughed at by my contemporaries if I told them I was carrying anything less than a .40 caliber with a 10-round magazine. Am I misinformed or has something changed that I don’t know about?
» ANSWER: You have a valid point that there seems to be a move back to the 9mm and perhaps smaller guns in the market of the responsible citizen. Even in the law enforcement community, many agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are abandoning the larger calibers in favor of the 9mm. It seems that the “if some is good, more is better” crowd is losing ground to the folks touting statistical likelihoods, hit probability and convenience in carrying.
What this means is that history is about to repeat itself in the resurgence of compact, single-stack-magazine pistols in calibers with power sufficient to stop an assailant in a lethal-force encounter. There are diverse reasons for this turn of events, and I’ll cover a few to give you some perspective on why single-stack semi-automatics are making a comeback.
In the last few years, the ammunition companies have improved their 9mm ammunition to the point that many of the projectiles used will penetrate and expand similarly to their larger-caliber brethren in a side-by-side comparison. Even the less powerful .380 ACP is considered up to the task of personal defense in some of the newer loadings by many of the experts in the field. Both of these rounds are smaller in diameter than the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP, which means one of two things.
Single-stack pistols have less girth around the grip, which actually enhances the fit of the gun to the hand.
In a similar sized gun, the magazine capacity is greater with the 9mm or .380 ACP than with the .40 S&W or .45 ACP. Even though this might be only one or two rounds in a single-stack pistol, some feel the tradeoff is worth it. The smaller diameter of the 9mm and .380 ACP rounds allow manufacturers to shrink the size of the pistols accordingly, enabling the concealed carrier to pack a viable round in the smallest package possible. In fact, the size reduction, in some cases, has made the smaller pistols more difficult to shoot, diminishing hit probability. Of course, this creates the conundrum of possibly needing more ammunition to accomplish the task at hand because of a lower shot-to-hit ratio due to the small size of the gun.
Fit of the pistol to the shooter’s hand is of high importance to hit probability. It is true that a handgun should be an extension of the shooter’s hand to capitalize on an individual’s eye-hand coordination. Single-stack pistols have less girth around the grip, which actually enhances the fit of the gun to the hand. We find this to be true with many women in our Females and Firearms classes.
However, grip length plays an equal part in the equation. If the shooter’s dominant hand size only allows the middle and perhaps the ring finger to rest on the front strap of the frame, control of the pistol for multiple shots becomes more difficult. This translates to a need for additional capacity, which in turn dictates a longer grip in a single-stack pistol. This is a win-win situation, as the longer grip enhances control of the pistol with more fingers on the front strap and an additional round or two with the added magazine length to match the increase in grip length.
Contoured magazine floor plates sometimes called “pinkie extensions,” which provide a place for the little finger of the shooting hand to rest, do help in controlling the pistol but add enough dimension that one should consider the longer grip if available. It occupies almost the same space but adds extra ammunition as a benefit.
This brings us to a very difficult question: How many rounds is enough to face all eventualities as we walk out the door with our concealed carry pistol? That’s really an individual choice based mostly on opinion, perhaps favored by our own experiences or those of others who’ve had to employ their firearms in a defensive manner.
More guns are carried in pockets, inside waistbands and on ankles than ever before. Why? Thickness of the overall package makes the difference.
Single-stack semi-automatic pistols with flush-fit magazines usually max out in the neighborhood of nine rounds, which equates to 10 rounds total in the gun with one in the chamber. Carrying additional magazines for reloads is an option when trying to figure out how much ammo for daily carry is really enough as, of course, the smaller the gun, the lower the ammunition capacity. This increases the number of reloads necessary to fully utilize the ammunition carried in the gun and spare magazines, and reloads mean more training.
Space and convenience of carry, in my opinion, are the primary reasons for the resurgence of single-stack semi-automatic pistols. With the way many of us dress these days, it becomes a challenge to carry concealed without looking like we are carrying concealed. The old photographer’s vest that many of us wore to cover our belt-mounted armament is passé these days, especially in warmer climates and without the obvious presence of a camera. Clothing worn that isn’t compatible with the weather conditions of the day has the tendency to draw attention, which is not something desirable when carrying concealed.
More guns are carried in pockets, inside waistbands and on ankles than ever before. Why? Thickness of the overall package makes the difference; just a few millimeters seem to make all the difference in the world. As an example, presently the Glock 43 is taking the concealed carry world by storm. Almost every Glock carrier that I know has bought one. Many have forgone their faithful Glock 26 in favor of the Glock 43.
In a side-by-side comparison, the Glock 43 is just a few millimeters thinner and shorter than the Glock 26 and, in fact, is slightly taller, according to the Glock website. The Glock 43 gives up four rounds of magazine capacity and the ability to use the higher capacity magazines of the Glock 17 and Glock 19 pistols, which the Glock 26 is compatible with. Yet, there are many shelving their Glock 26 models in favor of the Glock 43.
There are a couple of reasons for this, and both emanate from the modern lifestyle to which many of us have become accustomed.
To some, just having a gun is comforting, much like a pacifier for a baby. Both give a sense of security but have a minimal effect on safety.
At the top of the list is convenience. Convenience seems to rule our lives these days with convenience stores, fast food restaurants and drive-through businesses dotting the landscape almost everywhere we go. In discussions about a past article for Concealed Carry Magazine, a good friend of mine said that if you can’t put the gun and associated equipment on as easily as you can put your wallet and keys in your pocket, you are as likely to leave it at home as to carry it with you, especially on short trips.
Statistics also have an influence on what and how many of us carry in our everyday lives. Statistically speaking, we are more likely to be struck by lightning than we are to be in a gunfight on the streets of America. Most of us don’t know anybody who has been struck by lightning or been in a gun-fight, which has the downhill tendency for the mindset of “it won’t happen to me” to encroach on our preparedness — which is why we are carrying a concealed firearm in the first place.
To some, just having a gun is comforting, much like a pacifier for a baby. Both give a sense of security but have a minimal effect on safety. With a mindset such as this, a single-stack pistol with no reload will do because the carrier doesn’t believe that he will ever have to use it anyway. The thinking is just the mere presence of a gun will ward off evil spirits and keep him safe. Unfortunately, we see too much of that thinking (or lack thereof) among gun owners and CCW holders.
Properly marketing a product through the many media outlets available today is the best way to maintain and increase sales of a company’s products. Some companies do so well and some … well … not so much. The key is to attack the potential customer’s senses by way of “new and improved,” “better fit,” “more convenient,” “lighter weight,” on and on ad nauseam. I know people who buy every new thing that interests them only to cast the thing aside when a newer one comes along. That’s what keeps manufacturers in business.
The reality of your question is it depends on what works best for you and not the personal opinion of others or the current trends in the market.
Single-stack semi-automatic pistols are fine for most applications. The shooting fraternity did just fine with them for decades until higher-capacity sidearms and magazines were introduced. The firearms industry has done about all they can do with double-stack magazines for now. So, the focus on single-stack pistols for all of the reasons listed above and a few more is why single-stack semi-automatic pistols are becoming popular again.