Best Concealed and Compact Handguns/Pistols for Home Self Defense and Protection 2017

Best Concealed and Compact Handguns/Pistols for Home Self Defense and Protection 2017

Best Handgun for Home Self Defense and Protection

1. Glock 35 Review

  • Model: 35
  • Action: STR
  • Caliber: .40 SW
  • Barrel Length: 5.31 inches
  • Special Features: White outline, adjustable rear sight


This is the largest .40 SW that Glock currently makes, giving it a sight radius of 7.56 inches and a 5.31-inch barrel that raises the velocity of its 40-caliber rounds over shorter barrel lengths. They call this model the Practical/Tactical, as it and its 9 mm counterpart (the Glock 34) are among the most popular pistols used in Limited Class in action pistol shooting. Some police departments issue it as well, as the longer, heavier barrel and slide-decreasing muzzle flip increases both accuracy and the speed of follow-up shots.

There is an accessory rail under the barrel in 3rd and 4th generation models that will gladly accommodate a tactical light, laser or combo. It’s too big for most shooters to comfortably conceal, but it functions identically to the concealed Glocks many shooters carry daily … and for self- defense use, it’s hard to beat its 22+1 magazine capacity of +P personal defense rounds in a factory-made, extended capacity magazine. You can even add a Scherer or Glock +2 round magazine extension for 24+1 capacity.

2. Glock 31 Review

  • Model: 31
  • Action: STR
  • Caliber: .357 SIG
  • Capacity: 15
  • Barrel Length: 4.49 inches
  • Special Features: Gen4 models have interchangeable backstraps


This full-size duty pistol is standard issue for many law enforcement agencies, as its controls are intuitive—nearly all Glocks have functionally identical controls and ergonomics, individual frame/slide/grip length dimension not withstanding, and its specialized caliber is desirable for protection and occasional use against dangerous animals (think dogs, bores, wounded deer, etc.).

The .357 SIG cartridge produces terminal ballistics very nearly identical to .357 Magnum rounds, but this Glock packs 15+1 rounds when fully loaded … three times what many defensive .357 Magnum revolvers hold. Super capacity .40SW factory magazines work just fine with the .357 SIG cartridge when you want to keep a 22+1 at your bedside.

3. Beretta 96A1 Review

  • Model: 96A1
  • Action: DA/SA
  • Caliber: .40 SW
  • Capacity: 12
  • Barrel Length: 4.9 inches
  • Special Features: Accessory rail, ambidextrous safety-decocker


The Beretta full-size service pistol family includes many similar styles of handguns that are centered around the design used for the M9—the military’s 9 mm sidearm. These pistols come in 9 mm and .40 SW, which is essentially their only difference. The 96A1 is their current .40 SW version of the military arm, and features a 12-round magazine (the original 96FS magazine was only 11 rounds), which is an improvement … but the big improvement is Beretta’s inclusion of an accessory rail on modern 96A1 and 92A1 pistols.

4. Browning Hi Power Mark III Review

  • Model: Hi-Power Mark III
  • Action: SA
  • Caliber: 9 mm
  • Capacity: 13+1
  • Barrel Length: 4.6 inches
  • Special Features: Ambidextrous safety, locked breech, ergonomic grips


John Browning designed the Colt 1911. Then he designed the Hi-Power, though he passed away before finalizing the Hi-Power (which was completed by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium). This is his refined version of the 1911, and as it was available in 9 mm originally, it went into widespread use with police forces and militaries around the world while the 1911 caught on here.

While his 1911 design solidified his fame in the US, it was the Hi-Power that garnered much of his fame abroad, for the same reasons it serves you well today: solid construction, 13-round magazine, intuitive thumb safety (that is ambidextrous), and locking breech that make it an accurate and reliable defensive pistol that fits most hands very well.

5. Colt Delta Elite 1911 10mm Review

  • Model: Delta Elite 1911
  • Action: SA
  • Caliber: 10 mm
  • Capacity: 8
  • Barrel Length: 5 inches
  • Special Features: Standard 1911 controls, powerful cartridge


The Delta Elite is Colt’s 10 mm, full-size defensive pistol. The ballistics of the 10 mm are very similar to those of the .41 Magnum, but as a semi-automatic, magazine-fed pistol, the Delta Elite packs 8 rounds into easily swapped magazines. The recoil is stout, but the defensive power is solid, and as a Colt 1911, the design is the standard to which all other full-frame pistols are compared.

6. CZ 97 B Review

  • Model: CZ 97 B
  • Action: DA/SA
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Barrel Length: 4.5 inches
  • Special Features: Loaded chamber indicator, cocked-and-locked capable


This is a full-size CZ .45 ACP handgun with robust, fixed sights and a 10-shot magazine that puts it two rounds ahead of the average 1911 magazine. This is one of the rare .45 ACP pistols that offers true DA/SA operation. The CZ 97 B also offers a firing-pin block safety and frame-mounted manual safety that allow it to be stored either hammer-down for a double-action first shot or cocked-and-locked for a single-action first shot. The grip feels akin to a Hi-Power, the frame-mounted safety is near where you find it on 1911s, and the DA/SA operation makes it similar to many smaller caliber duty pistols … making it truly intriguing.

7. Heckler and Koch Mark 23 Review

  • Model: Mark 23
  • Action: DA/SA
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 12
  • Barrel Length: 5.9 inches
  • Special Features: Cocked-and-locked capable, high capacity standard magazine


A dream pistol for many, this is nonetheless an elite personal protection gun for those who take absolute reliability seriously. Designed for Special Forces use, but available to civilians, this 12+1 capacity, .45 ACP is a very, very large handgun … and its weight, combined with H&K’s internal recoil dampening technology, helps deliver comfortable handling and quick follow-up shots. Its accessory rail takes many aftermarket lights and lasers, and its DA/SA (with safety-decocking lever) mechanism can be carried cocked and locked, 1911-style for a single-action first shot.

8. Ruger SR1911 Review

  • Model: SR1911
  • Action: SA
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 8+1
  • Barrel Length: 5 inches
  • Special Features: Skeletonized hammer and trigger, oversized beavertail grip safet


This handsome stainless-steel pistol features an extended thumb safety, oversized beaver-tail grip safety to ensure that the safety is disengaged no matter your heat-of-the-moment grip (unless it’s really off, in which case you don’t want the pistol discharging anyway), and Novak three-dot fixed sights—all of which combine to make this a premium 1911-pattern pistol for less than a premium price.

9. Sig Sauer P226 Tactical Operations Review

  • Model: P226 Tactical Operations
  • Action: DA/SA
  • Caliber: .357 SIG
  • Capacity: 15+1
  • Barrel Length: 4.4 inches
  • Special Features: Short reset trigger, accessory rail


This powerhouse pistol is available in 9 mm, .40 SW or the very appealing .357 SIG—from the company that pioneered the .357 SIG cartridge, which is designed to reach near-.357-Magnum performance from a rimless autoloader cartridge. With 15+1 capacity for those hot rounds and four magazines arriving from the factory, this pistol is ready to go for personal defense right out of the box. The SIGLITE Night Sights with TruGlo tritium fiber optic front sight certainly help. The accessory rail is just icing on the cake.

10. Smith & Wesson M&P 45 Review

  • Model: M&P45
  • Action: STR
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Barrel Length: 4.5 inches
  • Special Features: Interchangeable back-straps


The M&P series from Smith & Wesson has been making big waves in the law enforcement, personal protection and even competitive communities … at least in defensive pistol competitions. This offering is their full-size, modern-duty pistol, a striker-fired part polymer, part stainless-steel handgun with a 10-shot magazine and Novak sights. Chambered in .45 ACP, it has all the stopping power a modern defensive pistol should have, and is backed by the legendary Smith & Wesson name

10. TAURUS The Judge Review

  • Model: The Judge
  • Action: DA
  • Caliber: .45 Colt/.410 Bore
  • Capacity: 5
  • Barrel Length: 3 inches
  • Special Features: Fires shotshells, slugs and .45 Colt bullets interchangeably


This double-action revolver has been a darling of personal defense magazines and instructors since its introduction a few years ago. The original Taurus Judge kicked off a revolution in the .410 shotshell, personal-defense loads optimized for their 3-inch barrels. After the initial skepticism wore off, its innovative concept earned solid footing in the tough personal protection market.

Its rifled barrel is grooved in such a manner that spin-stabilizes .45 Colt rounds and shotshell slugs, and also disperses the shot in a useful spread—read, not too loose at pistol combat distances. That means it’s less likely to penetrate your walls and pose hazards to family members than a .45 Colt slug, and the ability to score multiple buckshot hits from a single pull of the trigger—even if you miss center mass just a little bit—makes this an appealing choice. Many other shooters agree; you’re free to disagree.

Not long ago, I was looking at the display case in a gun store. In the section containing used handguns, there were some almost new models, mostly large autos in 40 S&W and 45 Auto calibers. I made some comment to the dealer about the handguns and was told most had been traded in for something smaller. The dealer’s comment was that “everyone wants one of these until they carry it for a while and then reality sets in and they want smaller handguns.” The truth is that unless the handgun is part of the gear required in a job description, most people do not want to carry a two-pound handgun on a regular basis. Moreover, a small handgun fits better in concealed carry, an emergency kit, or a backpack. The desirability of a small handgun is based on practical considerations, and the same characteristics that make a pocket handgun a good choice for carry also make it a good choice for nightstand duty. Whether an autoloader or revolver is the small handgun chosen depends on the personal preference of the user.

The Small Handgun

Having concluded a small handgun is the right tool to have available, what are some of the practical considerations? The first is the choice of type of handgun because that will dictate the choice of caliber. Assuming an autoloading handgun is being chosen for its defensive capability, the logical caliber choices are the 380 Auto and 9mm Luger.

A recent FBI report based on analysis of a lot of data obtained from cases in which a handgun was used concluded the 9mm fared about as well as the 40 S&W and 45 Auto. The conclusions were based on the effects produced by the bullets and the controllability of the handguns. Having tested some of the modern 9mm defense loads, the results came as no surprise to me. However, the same high tech principles that have elevated the performance level of the 9mm Luger have also been applied to the 380 Auto making it far more effective than it was a few years ago.

My wife and I tested some of the premium 380 ammunition and it provides impressive performance. The 380 Auto today is probably as effective as the 9mm was a generation ago. A 380 Auto represents about as much recoil and blast as many shooters will tolerate and control, and those attributes are significant when shooting some of the tiny 380s.

The Right Ammo

When it comes to compact revolvers, the 38 Special and 357 Magnum get the nod. The 32 H&R Magnum and the 327 Federal simply have not caught on, and some gun makers who introduced models in these calibers have discontinued them. If the revolver has a barrel length of three inches or less, the blast and recoil of a full power 357 Magnum are going to be very severe, likely so severe that most shooters will not become proficient with the gun.

The word I hear from dealers who sell small revolvers for discrete carry is that they are almost always loaded with 38 Special or 38 Special +P ammo rather than magnum rounds. Frankly, I prefer a 380 Auto or 38 Special handgun rather than a magnum because such guns are at least moderately comfortable to shoot. Of course there are other possible calibers for both compact revolvers and autoloaders, but those mentioned are encountered in the vast majority of compact handguns that are of a size that allow them to be carried in a pocket. One reason is the wide range of handguns in those calibers. The number of models available in 380 Auto is very large and it seems that new models are introduced frequently.

Most are fixed barrel models operating on a simple blow back design. Pistols more powerful than the 380 (such as the 9mm Luger, 40 S&W, and 45 Auto) are designed so the barrel and slide are locked together at the time of firing. The result is that a 380 Auto pistol is not simply a scaled down version of a more powerful pistol. Small 38 Special revolvers have been around for a very long time.

For many years, the small frame Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief’s Special and the Colt Detective Special were popular sidearms for off duty officers or civilian defense. Although Colt is out of the business of making small revolvers, such guns are still produced by Smith & Wesson, as well as by Charter Arms, Taurus, Rossi and others. Models are available in both 38 Special and 357 Magnum calibers holding either five or six cartridges. The S&W Model 36 has been discontinued, but the stainless steel Model 60 is a similar gun with a three-inch barrel, and it can be obtained with other features such as adjustable sights, target hammer and target trigger. The current S&W Model 60 is chambered for the 357 Magnum, but it also works well with all 38 Special loads. Although a three-inch barrel is more versatile, a wheel gun with a two-inch barrel is also suitable for short range defensive situations. Numerous models are available from the major manufacturers.

My current compact gun is a Taurus Model 85UL rated for +P 38 Special loads but weighs only about 17 ounces. Not an accurate target arm, the 85UL is nevertheless sufficiently accurate for defense use and it has
proven to be completely reliable.

Double action vs auto

When it comes to compact autoloaders, my preference is for one of the double action models that has an external hammer so it can be cocked manually for single action shooting. The most common calibers for such guns are 380 Auto and 9mm Luger. In order to function reliably, most autoloading pistols must be used with essentially full power loads. As a result, my preference is for a 380 Auto because the 9mm operates at a pressure of approximately 35,000 pounds per square inch so it generates a lot of blast from a short barrel.

Pistols chambered for the 9mm are available with barrels as short as three inches. My own 9mm pistol has a four-inch barrel and I would not want to shoot full power loads from a shorter barrel. As mentioned earlier, the choice of pistols chambered in 380 Auto is very large. At the top of my list is the famous Walther PPK, primarily because of the overall style and the fact that it is very comfortable in my hand.

However, pistols of the same basic configuration are available from Bersa, and the one that my wife has functions flawlessly while costing less than half as much as the Walther. A less expensive option is the Walther PK 380, but all major manufacturers produce pistols in 380 Auto caliber. Glock recently entered that market and Ruger offers some diminutive 380 pistols. Colt produces the tiny Mustang autoloader in 380 caliber.

In order to make an appropriate choice, the shopper should visit a dealer with numerous models available and see what feels good in the hand with conveniently operated controls. Many 380 Auto pistols have no hammer and have a striker firing mechanism that operates simply by pulling the trigger. Recently, I have been reading a book called Gun Talk, edited by Dave Moreton (Winchester Press, 1973).

The book is an anthology consisting of 17 articles written by noted firearms authorities. An article on handguns was written by the late Major George Nonte and deals with numerous aspects of handgun use. At one point (page 144), when dealing with selection of a handgun for protection, Nonte states “…I’d give him (her?) a Smith & Wesson Model 36 …with a three-inch barrel, and loaded with 38 Special 148-grain wadcutter ammunition.

As a second choice, I’d make it a 380 Walther Model PP and standard factory ammunition.” More than 40 years later, that is still good advice with respect to the types of firearms and calibers, but there are currently many more models from different manufacturers to choose from. For defense situations, it is hard to select more appropriate handguns than those recommended by Nonte.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.

Self-sufficiency extends beyond disaster preparation, heating your home and growing your own food
It’s also critical to be able to defend yourself and your family. To help you do that safely, intelligently and efficiently, we went straight to one of the nation’s most knowledgeable gun experts—Dave Spaulding—owner and chief instructor at Handgun Combatives. The former police officer guides you every step of the way.

  1. Q: How does one decide if gun ownership is right?
    A: The first thing you need to understand is that a gun is not something you use to scare someone away. You have to consider very seriously the following question: Am I willing to take a life? A gun for a home defense scenario is for that alone. If you’re not prepared, a gun is not a good choice.
  2. Q: Should one buy a handgun, shotgun or rifle?
    A: It depends on the environment you live in. If you’re a homeowner or an apartment dweller in a large urban area, then getting a long gun may not be a good choice because of the close confines. In this case, a handgun would probably be your best bet.
  3. Q: What are the steps to purchasing a gun?
    A: If you’re buying your gun from a licensed gun dealer, you’re going to fill out Form 4473 to confirm your identity and where you live. Then you’re going to answer a battery of questions. The dealer is then going to go to the NICS (National Instant Criminal Back-ground Check System) to see if you have a criminal record.
  4. Q: How does one choose the right caliber?
    A: Please understand the gun store clerk will try to sell you what they have in stock. Take your time, be informed and select a gun. It’s really easy to go in and buy a .22 because it’s relatively cheap and easy to shoot, but keep in mind it’s a really small bullet. It’s not going to be one to count on to rapidly stop an assailant. The larger the bullet, the better effect it will have. A .38
    special is good to look at.
  5. Q: How does one know what gun will work best for him?
    A: My suggestion is try to find a gun store that also has a range facility where you can actually try the guns. You can also try the guns of trusted friends and see what works best for you. You’ll want to see if you have the hand strength and upper body strength.
  6. Q: What ammo should be used?
    A: You want to look for the most effective ammunition you can get. You’ll want to pick a hollow point cartridge (a hole drilled in the end of it). It expands, it dissipates and it creates a larger wound cavity to stop the assailant.
  7. Q: What kind of maintenance and cleaning do guns require?
    A: Read the owner’s manual of the gun. Keep in mind it’s a machine, and it needs to be lubricated. The best rule of thumb is that if it looks dirty, it probably is. Lubricate sparingly with a cloth with a bit of oil on it. The owner’s manual will have recommendations.
  8. Q: How does one become proficient at handling the gun?
    A: You have to consider, am I going to train with this gun or am I going to fire it a couple times to makes sure it works and then throw it in a drawer? You can go to one of the better known training schools. There are also a large number of regional instructors who do a very good job. They can give you the ins and outs.
  9. Q: What accessories should one buy?
    A: You’ll need ammo, a gun cleaning kit and if the gun is going to be carried, additional accessories like a holster. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money, you just have to take your time and select wisely.
  10.  Q: What kind of safeguards do guns have?
    A: Understand that all guns come with gun locks. Understand that safe handling of a firearm is something that comes from awareness. The gun should be your center of the universe. Nothing that surrounds you should distract you from it.

Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.