Choosing the Best Handgun for Your Carry Mission

No, it’s not a trick question. Your author is asking you precisely what mission you carry a handgun for. And merely answering, “Well, for self-defense. Duh!” is not good enough. I already know you carry a handgun for self-defense, the same as I do. That goes without saying.

Do you simply have one pistol that serves every one of your defensive needs? If so, I won’t poke fun at you because thousands of people fit into that category, and I’m sure many are satisfied with their choice.

Beyond that, it’s good to take a look at why we’ve chosen the weapon(s) that we have and what scenarios and mission(s) they are intended to address.

Ruger MK IV 22/45, Glock 19X, Glock 43X, S&W 642, and S&W CSX.
Several pistols meet all the author’s needs: Ruger MK IV 22/45, Glock 19X, Glock 43X, S&W 642, and Smith and Wesson CSX.

Recently, I saw a conversation by one of my very respected friends about this topic, and it got me thinking quite a bit about the issue. One of his missions, I realized, falls incredibly close to what I need out of a carry gun for self-defense. Some of his other uses do not match up to what would fit my needs. This got me to thinking a little more in-depth about what I carry a pistol for and what, exactly, I expect to be able to do with it.

Have you ever bought a gun (any gun) just because it was neat and looked cool, and you simply liked it but gave very little thought as to the firearm’s practical use? I have.

Break Contact

If I happen to be working a job where I want to be able to protect myself and my family is not along with me, my main mission is to be able to engage a threat and break contact quickly. In this mode, it’s not likely that I will go hunting for any threats to save other people, as my family will not be with me. My concerns will be basically for myself and getting out of harm’s way as expeditiously as I humanly can (hopefully without having to ventilate anyone in the process).

Also in this mode, I will not likely want anyone to know that I am armed, since people get all kinds of squeamish and hinky about guns. After all, guns are icky, and we all know that. As such, it’s usually better that no one realizes that the carrier of such a weapon of mass destruction even has one. So, concealability is paramount here because many employers will fire a worker on the spot if they find out he or she is carrying a weapon.

What options does that leave us with, weapon-wise?  Well, little ones. And frankly, for a very long time, I had little use for firearms that were on the smaller side. As I get older, carrying large, clunky pistols has become a real pain in the ass, and I no longer care to do it. As the old saying goes, size does matter!

No, I’m not talking about tiny derringers. I know some folks who use them and love them dearly, and perhaps I’ll get there one day (I’ve learned to never say never, so that chapter remains open for perhaps another article down the road, dear reader). They do have the advantage of being probably the most concealable, practical firearm in existence, for the most part. However, I like something with a bit higher rate of fire currently. Nevertheless, I do have one friend who I hold in very high esteem, who really loves his little NAA revolver. Normally, he carries it with the .22 Magnum cylinder, as he likes the Magnum for stopping bad guys more than the .22 Long Rifle caliber.

Two of my carry choices:

A snub-nosed revolver

Currently, mine is an S&W 642 Airweight. It has no hammer, so there’s nothing to snag up on the draw and it has the added advantage that it can be fired right through the pocket of a coat while still concealed. It is also extremely light, at 14.4 ounces. And small (6.3 inches in length)! It holds five rounds and is rated for .38 Special +P ammunition.

I can tuck it away in an IWB holster (appendix carry is my choice) and no one is the wiser that I have it with me. I also just got a pocket holster, so I can slip the little revolver into a pocket and the holster breaks up the outline perfectly, yet stays inside the pocket when the revolver is drawn. I can tuck it away in an IWB holster (appendix carry is my choice) and no one is the wiser that I have it with me. I also just got a pocket holster, so I can slip the little revolver into a pocket and the holster breaks up the outline perfectly, yet stays inside the pocket when the revolver is drawn.

S&W 642 snub nose revolver
I carry some 5-round speed strips with spare ammo, just in case. 

Now, five rounds is not very much ammo to have on tap, I’ll grant you that. Remember, though, I’m only looking to be able to break contact and get out of Dodge; my intent isn’t to engage in a drawn-out gun battle. Could that happen? I sure hope not, given the limited ammo supply of this revolver. Life, however, is not perfect, so anything is possible. Sometimes you just have to hope for the best and say screw it. Five rounds is a whole lot better than no rounds. I carry a couple of 5-round speed strips with spare ammo with me, just in case.

As an aside, I carried a revolver throughout my law enforcement career, and put more rounds through them than I can count. As such, I’m extremely comfortable with running a revolver. I count my willingness to carry a revolver as being largely due to that training and familiarity.

Smith & Wesson 642
Smith & Wesson still puts out excellent revolvers. The author began his law enforcement career in 1990 and he was issued a revolver back then. Throughout his career, he put more rounds through revolvers than he can count. Confidence is one’s weapon means a lot.


My next choice for an extremely compact, concealable pistol is the little CSX from S&W. No, S&W is not paying me to say this, I’ve never received a dime from them. I merely seek out what I think will work well. I’d heard so much about the little CSX that was positive, and the pistol intrigued me, so I traded another firearm that I wasn’t using and got a CSX.

I’m glad I did! It carries like a dream and is about as concealable as the Model 642, except that the CSX is a 13-shot auto. It is a single action, so it can be carried “cocked and locked.” The capacity is really nice (it’s amazing that they packed 12+1 rounds into this little pistol) because I can carry more than twice the amount of ammo onboard as I can for the revolver.

The weight of the CSX is slightly more than the 642 at 19.5 ounces. The length, however, is almost the same, at 6.1 inches. Their footprints are relatively similar, so both get similar scores in the concealability department. The grip of the 642 is a bit smaller, so it does get a slight nod in that category. The CSX, however, uses the more powerful 9mm round, as compared to the .38 Special for the 642.

Either of these handguns fills the bill for me as far as being very concealable and allowing me to get away from trouble if it comes looking for me.

Where you go influences your choice of carry gun.

Sometimes we go out with a group of people, be it family or friends. Maybe we’re food shopping, eating dinner, or a hundred other scenarios, and we’re with people whom we love and care for. People whom we’d go after if they were in peril.

grocery store aisle
The grocery store can be a real hot spot in the event of a mass shooting. Imagine a bad guy coming around the corner with a weapon and you’re partway down the aisle. There is nowhere to go and the range might not be very close.

Uh-oh, this is starting to sound like a rescue mission. Let’s suppose you’re at the food store with your wife, and she’s gone a few aisles over to grab that gallon of milk while you’re browsing through the candy section looking for something to make you fatter. Gunshots erupt.

If you were by yourself, you’d beat feet to the nearest exit and hopefully not have to use your blaster to dispatch a goblin. But guess what — you’re not going to just leave your wife in the middle of the store with lead flying, are you? Well, ARE you??? Gosh and golly, you’re suddenly on a rescue mission.

For such an instance, what sort of pistol would you want to have with you? I’d be wishing for my Glock 19X with the 33-round magazine. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have such firepower with me in my everyday carry package.

More than likely, I’d have my Glock 43X (with 10+1) and two spare magazines. The 43X allows me to engage hostiles a bit farther away because of its longer sight radius. However, it’s not quite as concealable as the two handguns mentioned at the start of this article. And that’s okay because I’m not after deep concealment for food shopping or being out on the town.

Is there a chance I’d have my CSX or revolver in this scenario? Possibly, because I do carry them at times. But they’d not be the tools of choice for this scenario. At any rate, I often carry what I feel like at the time, so it’s possible that I’d have any of those three pistols with me.

Could my CSX fill the bill in this scenario? Although, as I mentioned, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it does carry 13 rounds on board, so it could be pressed into this role. I remember long ago that the Sig p228 also carried 13 rounds and was considered quite capable as a handgun.

Other scenarios

Maybe you’re at the mall with your kids, and they’ve gone off to check a new store out. Again, you hear gunshots. Now you’re on a mission to find your children and get them to safety.

How about church? We’re seeing more and more church shootings these days. How far of a shot might you need to take if your church is attacked? Getting everyone to safety before the bad guy(s) attack will likely be impossible. Imagine having to engage a few gun-toting attackers.

church sanctuary

There really are an unlimited amount of scenarios where you’d be with family and possibly have to get them out of harm’s way. Will any handgun fill the role of this mission? Sure, because as we said, something is better than nothing. But you might want to select guns that have capabilities and features that you deem important for these types of scenarios. That derringer probably is not going to cut the muster very well. The snubby might not be the greatest, either. A longer sight radius for extended range accuracy will help. And when you think about it, how long are the aisles in your grocery store? Why is that relevant? Suppose the bad guy pops around the corner and he’s 30 yards away and bearing down on your position—can you hit him? How about the shopping mall or other venues where you frequent—how long of a shot might you need to take? In some places, the shots might be quite a bit longer than most of us anticipate.


I own a Glock 19X for a couple of reasons. A full-size handgun can do things that little ones cannot, so its capabilities are above and beyond. Sometimes we can’t take a rifle into what might be harm’s way, so a full-size handgun could be the next best thing. The sight radius is longer than micro-compacts, so it’s easier and faster to shoot accurately.

The capacity is also better than the little guys, in most cases. The 19X carries 17+1 or 19+1, and can also accept larger magazines such as Glock’s 33-round masterpiece, which elevates it to a serious-firepower level.

Occasionally, I’ll carry my 19X simply because I feel like it and I can. Also, if I’m going into an area that is really dicey (not very often for me), it’s a comfort to have with me. And as I said before, if I were trying to rescue loved ones and unable to be armed with a long gun, it would be The One for all the reasons mentioned before.

People who are on duty in law enforcement would be hard-pressed to find a better handgun (in my humble opinion). The military would also be served well with it (since it was a major contender for the military handgun trials).

Glock 19X handgun
For tactical work, it’s hard to beat the Glock 19X for capacity, sight radius, accuracy, and a host of other factors. It performs at the top of its league.

For things that go bump in the night, were I to grab a handgun, it would definitely be my 19X with a weapon light attached. It simply outperforms all my other pistols and the capacity would be more of a comfort when facing an unknown number of opponents.

Glock 19X handgun with a Blackhawk chest rig, Tops Steel Eagle knife, and Mechanix gloves
Home Defense, Military, Law Enforcement, Concealed Carry…the Glock 19X will do it all. Here it’s seen with a Blackhawk chest rig, Tops Steel Eagle knife, and Mechanix gloves.

It might be time to take a look at what you expect from your handgun and ascertain whether or not it’s a realistic expectation.

Other Roles

There are a couple of other roles that I like to have a handgun fill: training, survival, and recreation.


We all know how expensive handgun ammo is nowadays (not to mention most other ammo). One round that is still reasonably inexpensive is the .22 LR caliber, so it makes a good training round. We can do a good amount of training with the .22 and then finish up with our caliber of choice that we normally carry for self-defense. This can save a lot of money in the long run.

The handgun that I chose for this is the Ruger MK IV 22/45, one of the company’s most classic designs. It’s not expensively priced and is extremely reliable with a wide range of ammunition, which is something that many .22 LR firearms cannot lay claim to. So far, I have not experienced a single stoppage with this pistol despite using several types of .22 ammo in it, including some of the cheap bulk pack ammo. The grip is identical to the 1911 platform, which will endear it to many shooters. It is also convenient to field strip and clean.

Ruger 22/45 MK IV .22 LR handgun
Ruger’s 22/45 MK IV .22 LR pistol is a perfect bugout pistol, allowing the user to carry hundreds of rounds for not a lot of weight. It also excels in the training role.

So while it’s not a great handgun to carry concealed because of its larger size, it’s great for training. It’s especially beneficial for new shooters because there is almost no recoil with this pistol, so newbies won’t develop a flinch like they might on more powerful handguns.


One other area where the Ruger Mark IV excels is as a survival firearm. It will fill the role of a bugout gun that can be thrown into a pack along with a brick of ammunition. You can hit the woods and have enough ammo to last for quite a while. It can be used for hunting small game and, if necessary, for defense. Many people will laugh at the idea of the .22 LR for defense, but those bullets won’t bounce off of your skin and this round has made many birth certificates expire since it was invented in the late 1800s.


Finally, the MK IV is great for plinking and for having a good time at the range. The entire family can enjoy an afternoon of fun with this pistol and not go broke doing it.

Well, there you have it. That’s my battery of pistols. It’s not a lot, but I have what I need to fill every role that I could conceivably need at this point in my life. It’s a good idea to fit the firearm to the mission, rather than buying a firearm and coming up with a mission for it. Trust me, I’ve done that in the past. I get a lot more for my money now that I fit the tool to the job.

What about you? How does your carry mission help you choose your handguns? Let us know in the comments below.


Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing the Best Handgun for Your Carry Mission

  1. You should proof read your posts. I won’t bother to disagree with some of your points because your are entitled to your choices and you did not suggest any of mine were wrong.

    1. If it works for you, then it is your right choice. If I had more handguns, I’d have included more. But alas, I have only so many to work with.

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