One line of inquiry that we at PSJBGC frequently receive is around gear recommendations. Handguns, long guns, medical, armor, and general gear selection are all topics that have massive volumes written about them, so we decided to publish a series of blog posts to help demystify the nebulous question of “hey, what the heck should I get”?

With Congress talking about bailouts (at least one small part of the time), we have all already heard the joke that $600 isn’t enough to pay rent, but it is enough to help buy a weapon (and ammunition, and training supplies)!

Here are our recommendations for handguns and the accessories that go with them.


Handguns - Practical. Defensive. Smol.

(plus light, holster, belt, accessories)

Abstract:

A functional practical handgun is the most appropriate firearm for an average day-to-day routine because they are the most portable and concealable firearm type.

As a result of their smaller size, they do tend to be more challenging (versus rifles or shotguns) to use effectively. However, with some quality training/coaching and a good setup, one can reliably engage targets from 0-50+ yards with a handgun.

In addition to live-fire coaching, routine safe dry fire practice at home multiple times a week is absolutely vital to building muscle memory for effectively utilizing a handgun system. Your “system” includes not only your handgun itself, but all other aspects including: holster, carry belt, magazines, magazine pouches, ammunition, and clothing used to conceal the firearm.

Recommendations:

There is a bottomless well in gun-culture around the topic of what the “best” handgun is (the vast majority of which is of zero value at best). That said, a modern striker-fired 9mm from a reputable manufacturer (Glock, Walther, Smith&Wesson, Sig Sauer, CZ) and quality defensive hollow-point ammunition objectively strikes the best balance of user friendliness and performance for most people’s use cases.

What specific handgun will be best for you will be determined by your budget and defensive goals (concealed carry, open carry, home defense, or all-of-the-above). If a revolver or a different caliber is the only handgun you have available, then run with what you got.

It is advisable to test any firearm for fit before purchase if feasible. Different firearms can be differently appropriate for different sized hands and physiology. There are many indoor pistol ranges that offer a wide variety of rental handguns that you can try, and range days with friends are a good way to see how their guns feel in your hands.

Keep in mind that your budget should include not only your firearm purchase, but also ammunition and necessary accessories detailed below.

Here are handguns we recommend in compact and subcompact sizes:

“Compact” Handguns

Compact handguns are great beginner handguns, easier to shoot, have higher ammunition capacity, but are harder to conceal.

Glock 19

https://us.glock.com/en/pistols/g19
MSRP: $540 Sale:$450

The gold standard of regular sized handguns. The Glock “Blue Label” program offers significant discounts for active first-responders, firefighters, military, and former military (between Memorial day and Veterans day). For some reason, police officers qualify for this also.

Glock recently (as of January 2021) changed their Blue Label program so that EMTs/firefighters are not eligible for the program for purchases directly through Glock, but local blue label dealers will probably still offer that deal. You’ll want to call your local dealer and check. DD-214 holders are now permitted to purchase year-round instead of only between Memorial and Veterans Day.

Keep in mind that some dealers keep some inventory aside for their Blue Label program. If it seems like they have no stock and you’re eligible for that program, see if they might’ve held some inventory aside!

S&W M&P 2.0 Compact

https://www.smith-wesson.com/firearms/mp-9-m20-4-compact
MSRP: $570 Sale:$380

Highly regarded alternative to the Glock 19.

Taurus G2C

https://www.taurususa.com/firearms/pistols/g2c/
MSRP: $271 Sale:$220

Economical option. Taurus historically has had quality control issues, but the G2C is regarded as mostly reliable.

Hi-Point C9

https://www.hi-pointfirearms.com/hi-point-handguns/9mm-handgun.php
MSRP: $200 Sale:$120

You won’t make anybody at the range jealous with a Hi-Point C9, but this is by far the most economical option. Major tradeoffs in ammunition capacity, weight, and ergonomics. However, the Hi-Point is reliable, and, let’s face it, the most affordable option you will find.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Glock 17 (a full-size alternative to the Glock 19)
  • Glock 43X (a smaller alternative to the Glock 19)
  • Sig P320
  • CZ P-10C

Subcompact Handguns

More difficult to shoot accurately than a larger handgun, but easier to conceal. These have lower ammunition capacity, and will limit your flashlight options because of their smaller size.

Glock 43

https://us.glock.com/en/pistols/g43
MSRP: $540, Sale: $430

Decent small concealed-carry handgun.

S&W Shield 9mm

https://us.glock.com/en/pistols/g43
MSRP: $370, Sale: $275

Common and reliable. Well-liked.

Honorable Mentions
  • Glock 43X
  • Sig P365

Weapon Light:

Half of the day happens at night. In order to engage a target, one MUST be able to see it. Seems like an obvious point, but the majority of people concealed carrying at the time of writing do not tend to carry weapon lights.

Historically, there are techniques for using a handgun with a handheld flashlight in the off-hand, but generally speaking, a quality weapon-mounted light (and training) far outclasses these techniques.

One important consideration is that your holster choice will be determined by what light you are running. Concealed carry holsters fashioned out of Kydex (a type of polymer) will usually index and retain on the light itself and may not function correctly without the light attached.

Weapon Light Recommendations
  • Streamlight TLR-7A: Bright, reliable, compact, and ergonomic.
  • Surefire X300: Extremely bright, very well-tested.
  • Streamlight TLR-6: Fits on single-stack subcompacts like S&W Shield, Sig P365, Glock 43 - Extremely low power compared to the above two lights.

Holster:

Concealed carry (CC) is the most common option in most jurisdictions. For CC, a quality Kydex holster that fully covers the trigger guard is a must. This is of paramount importance in avoiding inadvertent discharge, potentially putting holes in things that should not have holes in them. Again, one should determine Weapon-Mounted-Light choice before selecting a holster.

CC holster manufacturers: G-Code, Vedder, Guerilla Tactical (there are hundreds of manufacturers)

For a open carry/tactical setup, we recommend a holster with active retention. Safariland is the gold standard for more popular full-size and compact firearm models.

In addition to a holster for one’s firearm, it is advisable to carry a spare loaded magazine, not necessarily because one intends to utilize all the ammunition, but for faster malfunction remedy.

Do we recommend leather holsters? We do not. We much prefer molded Kydex that won’t have slack and cause issues like this:

Belt:

A rigid belt designed for carrying a firearm will drastically increase the comfort and concealability of a carry system. There are many style and construction options available.

“Will the dress belt that I already have work?” Yes it will, but we promise: a quality gun belt is a massive quality-of-life investment for carrying a concealed firearm. You’re reading this for our recommendations; this is what we recommend.

Leather: Hank’s Gunbelts, Beltman, Magpul Tejas

Reinforced nylon webbing: Ciguera Gear - Emissary, Blue Alpha EDC, Applied Gear EDC

Other accessories:

Magazines

We generally recommend at least 5 magazines for any firearm intended to be used in a defensive context. 1 plus at least 1 spare for carry, 2 for training at the range, so one does not need to constantly unload and reload their defensive ammunition every range trip. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) magazines are usually the most reliable, with some aftermarket exceptions (Magpul, Mec-Gar are reliable).

Aftermarket Sights

For some firearms, (notoriously the Glock platform), the original sights can leave much to be desired. Quality aftermarket sights from a reputable manufacturer (Trijicon, Ameriglo, Holosun) can make target acquisition and accurate shooting easier.

Ammunition:

We recommend budgeting for 500-1000 rounds of practice Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition over the course of multiple practice sessions. Prior to COVID-19, practice 9mm FMJ could be acquired for 18-20 cents-per-round (CPR). At the time of writing, less than 40 CPR after shipping+tax is considered a decent “deal.”

For practical defensive applications, quality defensive jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) ammunition is a must. One will also want to test the function of any JHP with the firearm that one is running. Testing with 50 rounds or at least 2 full magazines worth should be sufficient.

Federal HST (124 or 148 grain) and Speer Gold Dot are the most highly regarded defensive cartridges. If your firearm does not reliably feed the above JHP rounds, consider looking for a differently profiled round or contact the manufacturer of your firearm.

More reading:

Above left: a melon shot with training FMJ rounds. Right: Shot with hollowpoints. Larger expansion means that rounds are less likely to overpenetrate and hit things behind your target!

Finding ammunition:

We’ll be frank: ammunition prices stink (at time of writing). Purchasing ammunition online is often the best way to get “good” prices. Big-Box stores like Walmart or Cabelas/BassPro are viable options when they actually have 9mm in stock, since they do not routinely gouge beyond their normal pricing. Do not purchase “reloaded” or “remanufactured” ammunition, due to its tendency to catastrophically blow up firearms, offsetting the minor savings with the cost of reconstructive surgery.

Sites for finding ammunition:

Training:

As with any other discipline or pursuit, simply owning a firearm is not enough to be effective with it. For beginners and experienced firearm shooters alike, quality coaching and training can massively increase the quality of learning and save on ammunition costs.

Training aids:

Laser cartridge

Fantastic tool for dry fire. Makes dry fire fun. Keeps the shooter honest in terms of point-of-impact and trigger control. Can be used with free software like SharpSpotter to practice timed draw-from-concealment.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/9mm-Laser-Cartridge-Bullet-Train-Dry-fire-Ammo-use-your-pistol-hand-gun/184547122230

Target stands

At a gun range, targets and stands are usually provided. For training on public land (Bureau of Land Management, Department of Natural Resources, National Forest Land) you need to bring your own stands and targets unless your plan is to dump ammunition into a dirt berm or shoot at rocks and logs. This should not be overlooked, because the types of targets you have dictate the quality of training you can pursue.

Large poster-sized 2x3ft targets are fantastic for training. They are 30 cents each (the cost of a single round of 9mm ammunition) and allow you to recognize where your missed shots are landing. One can learn as much from a missed shot as you can from a “hit,” but if the miss doesn’t at least land on the paper, it’s not useful as feedback for what you need to be doing better. Waste targets, not ammunition.

Optics

Handgun optics can be a tremendous benefit for effective utilization of the firearm. However, they will cost an additional $200-500 in machining and the optic cost itself. The current “good” handgun optics are the Trijicon RMR and Holosun 407/507.

Further Reading: