Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts on Concealed Carry--Updated
I was inspired to examine this topic after an episode of Guns & Ammo Television broadcast on the Outdoor Network a couple of months ago. The host stated that, in their articles most gun writers say that their concealed carry handgun is some version of a .45 Caliber 1911 with most of them claiming that it is no problem to conceal a full-sized service model. He went on to tell us that when meeting them in person and asking to see what they are carrying, most of them, unless they are also an active duty police officer, produce a small .38 caliber Smith & Wesson J-framed revolver.

This provoked me to examine what I carry (when I do carry) and why. The handguns reviewed herein are an NAA .22 Magnum Black Widow, a Colt Pocket Lite Government Model in .380 ACP, a Smith & Wesson M&P 340CT in .357 Magnum, a Wilson ADP in 9mm, and a Glock Model 36 in .45 ACP. In all honesty, although I want to carry the Glock, so far I have not. The G36 is a good pistol in a great caliber and I have added Tru-Glo Hi-Viz sights to improve it even further. It is, however, too large to carry in a pocket holster and I need a pocket pistol. I have never been a police officer so strapping on a holster is very foreign to me. It feels odd, cumbersome, and despite the ability to wear a jacket over it in cooler weather, I am afraid of it printing against the jacket or showing when I reach or bend over. Additionally, I may eventually want to take the jacket off which would expose a holstered handgun. SIG Arms produces the Sigtac jacket which has a built-in holster concealed within the hidden breast pocket inside the jacket. This provides excellent concealment, however if you need to take the jacket off and hang it up, the pistol is no longer under your control. So I am including the G36 in this examination as I am always in the process of finding a personally convenient way to carry it.

I will rate these pistols on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the “best rating”) in the categories of ease of concealment, weight, caliber, capacity, tactical operation (a fancy way of saying “ease of reloading”), sights, and intimidation factor. Intimidation factor simply means; the pistol does not look like a toy and the mere presentation of your handgun is sufficient to deter whoever is trying to do you harm. I think this is a fairly important issue. Some time ago I wrote about an H & K .32 ACP I had come across that had been refinished in some type of gold coating. Although very lightweight and superbly accurate I wrote that I would not consider carrying it as it appearance might cause an assailant to think it was a toy and, aside from not providing any deterrent value, it might actually encourage the assailant making a shooting almost inevitable. Unfortunately, decorative handguns are becoming an ill conceived trend. Taurus is producing their smaller Millennium models with an optional pink frame. Just because polymers can be manufactured in a rainbow of colors does not mean that they should. A concealed weapon is a tool to be employed in the direst of circumstances; I want mine to have as much of an intimidation factor as possible. It seems obvious that Taurus is trying to woo females and create a new niche market for their product line however; concealed weapons are not fashion accessories. The mere fact that a handgun is concealed (ergo hidden) clearly removes it from the classification of being a fashion accessory. I am really afraid that a fairly determined man intent on assaulting a woman will not be deterred by the presentation of the pink pistol and could force the shooting scenario. In the civil aftermath, plaintiff’s attorney would undoubtedly allege that if the woman had produced a pistol that looked like a pistol she might not had to shoot and therefore she is guilty of all the twisted legal idiocy that makes a mockery of our judicial system.

Tactical Operation, or the ease and efficiency of reloading, is also an important consideration. I used to think that the primary purpose of a concealed handgun was to prove to the criminal that had sized you up as a weak and venerable target that they were very wrong and I thought that this could be accomplished, in the best case scenario, by the mere presentation of the weapon and, in the worst case, by firing one or two rounds. The Trolley Square Mall shooting in Salt Lake City last February changed my thinking. If you recall the incident; an emotionally disturbed 18 year old eastern European immigrant rolled into the mall at dinner time intent on recreating his own St. Valentine’s Day massacre. When the shooting began, an off duty Ogden Police Officer (who was celebrating the romantic holiday with his girlfriend at one of the mall’s restaurants) responded to the gunfire armed with his Kimber .45 ACP. He was certainly well equipped with a fine and very accurate pistol chambered for a combat proven caliber. However, he did not have any spare ammunition and the Salt Lake City cavalry arrived just as he had shot his pistol dry. Now, don’t get me wrong…if I am in a public place and someone begins shooting I am heading in the opposite direction and using my concealed weapon to cover my family’s retreat Nonetheless the Trolley Square incident has caused me to re-evaluate my thinking and while my original premise is certainly true there are additional factors that I did not consider such as encountering multiple assailants, an irrational and determined killer, or even terrorists. Many of the gun writing professionals proscribe that you should carry two complete reloads and that is probably sage advice.

I am purposefully not rating these pistols on reliability or accuracy. If the pistol is not reliable you should not depend on it. Accuracy, in many instances is as much a factor of the shooter as it is the handgun. I am able to shoot all of the handguns mentioned herein with more than enough accuracy for their intended purpose. Again, if I couldn’t they would not be included in an examination of concealed carry guns. Guns in all categories will be rated 1 through 5 giving each handgun a possible rating of up to 30 points.

How the pistols rated:
NAA Black Widow
Size and Weight: 5.78” long, 3.58” high, 1.03” at widest point and 8.8 ounces.

Concealment: 5 points
Weight: 5 points
Caliber: 2 points
Capacity: 2 points
Tactical Operation: 0 points
Sights: 3 points
Intimidation Factor: 1 point

Total: 18 points

(Target on the left: 20 rounds of Winchester Supreme fired at 21 feet. Target on the right: 20 rounds of Remington Premier fired at the same distance.)

Despite the diminutive size of the North American Arms mini-revolvers they are extremely well made stainless steel handguns. Of the five weapons tested the Black Widow is clearly the most easy to conceal in the pocket. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, there is no pocket holster made for the Black Widow. The NAA website shows pocket holsters for their other models but they clearly state that they do not fit the Black Widow. They have inside-the-waistband holsters for the Black Widow as well as hip holsters, flap covered hip holsters, and shoulder holsters—all of which seem like a ridiculous amount of over-kill. If you are going to go to the extent of wearing and concealing a shoulder holster why in the world would you not choose a more potent weapon than a mini-revolver? I use the smallest Uncle Mike’s pocket holster they manufacture. It is not a tight fit but it does keep the revolver in the upright position in my pocket. Clearly the .22 Magnum is not an optimal self defense caliber but, if the circumstances dictate that a larger handgun cannot be carried, the .22 Magnum is a better choice than the .22 Long Rifle or the .25 ACP cartridge. The Black Widow (as the target below shows) is more than accurate enough at 21 feet to produce decent combat accuracy. This is helped by the oversized grips and the sights which are actually very good. On the negative side the BW only holds 5 rounds and Tactical Operation (reloading) under self defense shooting conditions is nearly impossible. You must first place the hammer on half-cock and pull down and twist the underlug 90 degrees. You then pull the underlug, which is connected to the cylinder pin, straight out. The cylinder will then roll out of the frame unless you forgot to move the hammer to half cock (and the cylinder will be hot). You must then poke the empty shells out of the hot cylinder by using the cylinder pin. From there you can load five more cartridges into the cylinder, put the cylinder back into the frame (making sure to line it up with the cylinder pin hole), slide the cylinder pin back in, reverse the underlug and you are ready to re-engage. Hardly a fast process and as you essentially disassembling the revolver into three pieces it is way too easy, under the stress of the situation, perhaps further complicated by darkness, to lose they cylinder pin or the cylinder itself (if you set it down on its side it just might roll away from you).

In terms of the intimidation factor there is not much to speak of. If you come to engage a criminal who is not firearms savvy (and many aren’t) they may perceive that you have produced a toy. Once the shooting begins the intimidation factor may increase as the .22 will produce a loud report and if it is dark there will be one hell of a big fireball. Unfortunately the presentation of the Black Widow will not produce much pre-engagement deterrence.

Colt Government .380 ACP Pocketlite
Size and Weight: 6.1" Long, 4.3" High, 1" wide and 14.75 ounces

Concealment: 4 points
Weight: 4 points
Caliber: 3 points
Capacity: 4 points
Tactical Operation: 5 points
Sights: 1 point
Intimidation Factor: 1 point

Total: 22 points

(Target on the left: 50 rounds of Remington 95 grain FMJ ammo fired at 21 feet. Target on the right: 20 rounds of Cor-Bon 90 grain JHP ammo fired at the same distance.)

This is an excellent pistol, one that Colt should not have discontinued and one that Kimber, Springfield, or some other forward thinking company should reproduce. It is small, light weight, accurate and is the thinnest pistol examined in this report. The width of the slide is well under one inch and the thickness of the grips pushed the calipers just out to the one inch mark.

The Government .380 looks like a baby 1911 .45 ACP. Unfortunately, this hinders the intimidation factor as it looks a little too cute and one might mistakenly think it was manufactured by Hasbro. Another negative factor is the sights. They are all black and almost too small to be practical. On the indoor range I have a difficult time aligning them to the target if the bullseye is also black. Lastly, in the 70 rounds fired for this report, my thumb engaged the safety during the recoil of the previous shot. This is disconcerting during informal shooting and I could only imagine would cause a certain amount of distress in a self defense scenario.

In terms of Tactical Operation this may be the best of the bunch. The seven shot .380 magazines are small enough that you can easily carry two spares in your opposite side pocket and there is enough enhanced efficiency ammunition (manufactured by Cor-Bon, Mag Safe, Glaser, etc.) that one need not fear that they are under gunned in most circumstances. However, I rarely carry this pistol. I am primarily put off by the sights and by the fact that I do not like carrying a cocked and locked pistol in my pocket. Although the safety on my model is very stiff and sure I have a phobia of doing something that might inadvertently release the safety. This would be helped by a well designed pocket holster however, since Colt discontinued this pistol years ago, no one is manufacturing anything specifically for the Colt .380. There are many multi-use pocket holsters which will fit it, but none of them cover the safety with a very snug and protective fit.

Smith & Wesson M&P 340 CT
Size and Weight: 6.31" long, 1.3" wide and 13.3 ounces

Concealment: 3 points
Weight: 4 points
Caliber: 4 points
Capacity: 2 points
Tactical Operation: 3 points
Sights: 5 points
Intimidation Factor: 5 points

Total: 26 points

(Target on the left: 50 rounds of American Eagle 158 grain LRN ammo fired at 21 feet using front sight. Target on the right: 50 rounds of Remington 158 grain LRN ammo fired at 21 feet using the Crimson Trace Laser Sighting System.)
This lightweight Scandium J-framed revolver has a hidden hammer concealed inside the frame making it very streamlined and rendering its operation as double action only. It is chambered in .357 Magnum which has an outstanding reputation as an effective cartridge. Only a true sadist however, would actually fire .357 Magnum ammunition in a 13 ounce handgun. I tried this once and even though I was wearing a shooting glove, I could only manage three rounds before the experience became just too painful. Fortunately any firearm that can shoot a .357 Magnum can also handle a .38 Special and in the +P variety they are effective enough to be considered a very good choice for a defensive handgun.

Smith & Wesson has been producing five shot short barreled revolvers since the late 1800’s. These were break-top revolvers chambered in .38 Smith & Wesson which was a rather underpowered cartridge. These revolvers were also made with the concealed hammer and for a short time period S & W produced them with a very short barrel and marketed them as their “Bicycle Gun” since their compact size made them perfect for carrying in your back pocket and if you fell off the bicycle, there was no exposed hammer which might cause an accidental discharge.

In 1899 Smith & Wesson produced their Military & Police revolver which was made on their new “K” medium sized frame. This model included the new swing out hand-ejector cylinder and was chambered for the new .38 Special cartridge. The M & P has been in production for 108 years and is now catalogued as the Model 10. This six-shooter has been made with barrel lengths of 2, 3, 4, and 6 inches (three inch barrels are rare and coveted by collectors).

In 1950 Smith & Wesson representatives attended the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and unveiled a 2 inch barreled .38 Special 5 shot revolver manufactured on their smaller “J” frame. They surveyed the attendees to come up with a name for the new handgun and the “Chief’s Special” was born. This compact revolver became an instant hit with administrative personnel and plain clothes detectives. Eventually Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday traded in his 4 inch Model 10 for a Chief’s Special. This later became the model 36 and in the late 1960’s they introduced the Chief’s Special as an all stainless steel handgun catalogued as the model 60. Airweight models made with aluminum frames were tried but unfortunately, the aluminum could not hold up to anything more than occasional use and they were eventually discontinued due to lack of consumer interest.

Smith & Wesson has recently utilized Scandium to manufacture very lightweight revolvers and they have introduced quite a variety of small “J” framed revolvers in versions with or without an external hammer and with different sight configurations.

The M&P 340 CT has an Xpress tritium dot front night sight and as an added bonus, it comes with a set of Crimson Trace Laser Sight Grips. This package gives the M&P 340 CT a very high rating on the intimidation scale. Due to the long history of Smith & Wesson’s small revolvers being used by law enforcement and being prominently displayed in the popular media any criminal will instantly recognize that they are facing a serious handgun. Just a few years ago on the Soprano’s young Jackie Aprile Jr. asked Ralph Cifaretto for guidance in choosing between a semi-automatic pistol or small revolver. Ralphie told him that revolvers were more reliable and were better for scaring people by holding it so your victim could see the bullets in the cylinder. I mention this not as any endorsement of the firearms expertise depicted in this fictional Cable Drama but merely to illustrate that the small S&W revolver is well recognized and respected within the popular media.
The Laser Sight Grips only add to the intimidation factor as, according to gun writer Massad Ayoub and the good people at Crimson Trace, quite a number of resisting criminals have peacefully surrendered when they noticed the laser beam’s red dot centered on their chest. Also when using the laser sight I was able to produce more consistent groups (see target above). I think this points to the value of the laser as a training tool. The red dot clearly shows you how your trigger pull is affecting the point of aim. If the red dot was moving too much during my pull then I needed to adjust my grip and smooth out my trigger pressure.

The negatives about this revolver are its capacity, tactical operation and width. It only holds five rounds and reloading, while certainly many times faster than the NAA mini-revolver, is not nearly as quick as inserting a fresh magazine into a semi-automatic pistol. Speed loaders are available but they are large and rather cumbersome to carry in a pants pocket. A more acceptable option is the Bianchi Speed Strip. They are more convenient to carry and two of them will easily slip into your opposite side pants pocket. While not as fast as a semi-auto’s magazine, they are much faster than fumbling for loose rounds in your pants pocket. In terms of width, with a cylinder width of 1.3 inches it is the widest pocket handgun reviewed in this report. In practicality it is only negligibly wider than the Colt Government .380 however, in terms of perception it feels much wider.

Wilson ADP 9mm
Size and Weight: 6.3" long, 4.2" high, 1.2" wide and 16.6 ounces

Concealment: 2 points
Weight: 3 points
Caliber: 4 points
Capacity: 5 points
Tactical Operation: 5 points
Sights: 4 points
Intimidation Factor: 2 points

Total 25 points

(20 rounds of Mag Tech 115 grain FMJ fired at 21 feet)

The ADP has a lot going for it. It is fairly small in size and holds 10 + 1 rounds of 9mm ammunition. There are excellent 9mm loads available and the ADP tends to favor lighter bullets. In terms of capacity and tactical operation this pistol rates very high. The capacity is the largest of all handguns reviewed in this report and with one extra magazine you are carrying a total of 21 rounds (including the 10 + 1 already in the pistol). This is six more rounds than you would have available if you were carrying the .38 special 5 shot revolver with two full reloads. As the ADP is a magazine fed semi-automatic pistol the tactical operation, from a concealed carry standpoint, is much faster and more simplified than attempting to recharge a revolver.

The sighting system also gets high marks as they are easy to see 3-dot tritium night sights.

The ADP does not earn much on the intimidation scale. The design is new and has not gained much popularity with shooters, gun writers, or the popular media. Therefore, when presented, most criminals would merely see a small black polymer pistol that they can neither identify in terms of caliber or in terms of being a real handgun.

Glock Model 36 .45 ACP
Size and Weight: 6.77" long, 4.76" high, 1.13" wide and 20.11 ounces

Concealment: 1 point
Weight: 2 points
Caliber: 5 points
Capacity: 3 points
Tactical Operation: 5 points
Sights: 4 points
Intimidation Factor: 5 points

Total: 25 points
(Target on left: 20 rounds of Remington 230 grain FMJ at 21 feet. Target on the right: 30 rounds of the same ammo and the same distance.)

Glock recognized that the consumer wanted smaller more concealable handguns met the demand with their “baby” framed pistols. For the G36 they produced it as a single stack with a six round magazine capacity so that the grip frame was no wider than the slide. The single stack grip frame is also easier to hold onto. Unfortunately, despite those considerations, I find it still too large for pocket carry both in terms of size and weight (it is the heaviest of all handguns reviewed in this report).

The concealment advantage of being a single stack is a trade off for capacity. The G36 holds 6 + 1 in the pistol and the magazine is large enough to make it difficult to be able to carry more than one spare in your opposite pocket.
On the plus side, the G36 is chambered for my beloved .45 ACP which is both time and combat tested as an effective cartridge. Also, I added Tru Glo Hi-Viz sights both front and rear and they are an improvement over the stock sights standard on Glock pistols. In terms of intimidation; any Glock is huge on the intimidation scale. Glock pistols are a staple in the law enforcement community and generally accepted by the civilian population. Glocks are also widely shown on Television and in the Movies and they have become a media icon within the Rap culture. The Rapsters idolize the Glock .40 in their lyrics (and I use the term “lyrics” loosely in this context). Unfortunately the Rapsters also tend to show up with their Glocks in places that they shouldn’t like airport security checkpoints and award shows where metal detectors have become common place. Rapsters also seem to have a difficult time keeping them concealed during routine traffic stops.

If anyone has a convenient way to conceal the G36, please let me know.

Concealed Carry Favorite
The Smith & Wesson M&P 340CT revolver has been my personal choice for concealed carry and this bias probably influenced my rating since it scored the highest of those reviewed. The straight lines of a semi-auto pistol seem to produce a square imprint in my pocket telegraphing that a handgun is inside. The rounded contour of the revolver along with the slight bulge provided by the cylinder does not give the same telltale imprint. The M&P 340 CT provides me with confidence that it is acceptably concealed in my pocket and has the power necessary to provide protection to myself and my family.

Upon reading postings on several websites ( and I found that about a third of the model 340 owners regularly fire .357 magnum ammunition through them. Now, I am not saying they fire a large quantity through them at any one time, but do shoot enough to develop proficiency and ensure that the ammunition choosen does not have a weak crimp that allows the bullets in the chambers to loosen from their shell casings during recoil. So, on Saturday I looked through my ammo shelf and found a box of Mag-Tech .357 magnum 158 grain semi-jacketed soft points. The experience was both challenging and rewarding. I fired three cylinders full (15 rounds) with all shots being pretty well centered and landing in a 3" x 2" grouping.

While this certainly makes the 340 a force to be reckoned with; there is a trade off of speed for the power. While the recoil was not unmanageable, follow-up shots are not going to be quick. Maybe the best course of action would be to load the first 4 chambers with .38 + P and save the .357 Mag for the last round. This will be some more fodder for testing consideration and discussion.