On Home Defense Handguns

A Brief Primer On Home Defense Handguns

You’ve made the determination that a handgun is a suitable home defense solution for you. Whether it’s due to familiarity, or confined space such as an apartment or condo, you’ve decided to go this route for the all-important task of securing your domicile against unwelcome attention.

In close quarters, handguns (and by handguns we mean pistols and revolvers) excel. Compact, easy to use, and maneuverable, handguns are typically the go-to home defense weapons for those who reside in urban environments.

Handguns have a marked advantage in some cases with regards to home defense. Your typical modern handgun holds between 10 and 15 rounds in a given caliber, allowing for more chances to deliver incapacitating shots to an assailant. Their small size allows for easy maneuverability in close quarters – it’s much easier to manipulate a handgun with a six-inch overall length than a thirty-five inch overall length rifle or shotgun. Also, modern pistols and revolvers are the ultimate in ease of use, there’s typically less steps to achieve a firing state in a handgun than a shotgun or rifle. The classic revolver is the simplest yet. Simply load up your ammunition into the cylinder, safely aim for your target (while observing the Four Rules!), press the trigger, and fire.

And some of the most exciting technological advances in the firearms field are happening with handguns. The “polymer revolution” has taken hold, with every manufacturer offering lightweight and robust models in every caliber. And some innovators, such as Silencerco out of Utah, are bringing integrally-suppressed handguns to the market, which basically means a pistol within a built-in suppressor, which will be extremely effective for home-defense use, as the deafening report of the firearm will be subdued to hearing-safe levels, allowing the operator to be more effective in an emergency.

Below, you’ll see over a dozen handgun models, sortable by various criterion such as ammunition and action-type. The models we’ve chosen here vary widely on price and expertise required, but we’ve provided brief descriptions and specs to help make your gun shopping easier, and to allow you to explore the differences between major models and manufacturers.

At the very bottom of this article we have an additional section on “Ammunition Selection” and “Handgun Actions”, in addition to a robust “Resource Guide” of links for people who’d like to learn even more.

1. Action

2. Caliber

3. Capacity

4. Price Range

Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver)

Action: Revolvers   |   Cost: $430-$500   |   Capacity: 5 rounds   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

Product Details:

ruger_LCR

While not as well-known as Smith & Wesson to the public, Ruger is one of the quintessential firearms companies in the United States. Founded by Bill Ruger and Alexander Sturm nearly 70 years ago, they have been cranking out quality revolvers and semi-automatic pistols for a long time. They are also one of the few firearms companies to be traded on the NYSE. Some stock advice, for you all.

The LCR has been well-received since it’s introduction back in 2009. Except for the barrel and cylinder, the LCR is made from aluminum alloy and a glass-filled polymer, allowing for this compact wonder to barely tip the scales at 13.5 ounces unloaded. That’s less than 1 pound. Even loaded, it’s barely over a pound. Unlike a traditional revolver, the hammer is concealed within the frame for even more reliability, and also to reduce the chances of a snag for those who choose to carry the LCR outside of their home as a concealed-carry firearm. The LCR also ships with rubber Hogue grips for increased ergonomics. A variant, called the LCR-LG, ships with a red laser sight (i.e. the laser dot projected on the point of aim) integrated into the grip.

Accurate enough for self-defense use, the simplicity and reliability of the LCR lends itself to being a great firearm for everyone in the household to use in an emergency. Load this diminutive wheelgun up with plentiful 9mm ammunition and it’s ready to fire. No cocking, no safety to engage – just one step to deployment.

Smith & Wesson Performance Center 929

Action: Revolver   |   Cost: $1150   |   Capacity: 8 rounds   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

Product Details:

smith_wesson_PC_929

When most people think revolvers, they are thinking of a Smith & Wesson piece whether they know it or not. From the mid 1800s onward, S&W has produced some of the most iconic firearms in the United States. Dirty Harry famously used a Model 29. The various Police Special revolvers steadfastly served the boys and girls in blue for decades, and many a civilian shooter swears by a S&W wheelgun to this day. The tradition is continued by the S&W Performance Center 929.

Chambered in 9mm, the “PC” 929 originates from S&W’s Performance Center division. From hand-cutting and fitting to fine tuning for precision, these firearms are top performers. Products from the Performance Center are the ultimate expression of old-world craftsmanship blended with modern technology, to quote the company’s literature. And the 929 is no exception. Blending the classic looks with modern engineering, this premium revolver is crafted from stainless steel, with a titanium cylinder to save weight. A synthetic ergonomic grip rounds out this elegant package.

Technically, this piece is designed for competition, with each piece being optimized for accuracy and reliability – two things which carry well over into the world of home and personal defense. Though the premium price point and target market of this firearm may dissuade some people from purchasing it, this could be a perfect fit for those who want the ultimate in accuracy and reliability, combined with the simplicity in operation of a revolver. Plus, with 8 rounds on tap, the user has two more to utilize than your average wheelgun.

Taurus Judge

Action: Revolver   |   Cost: $550   |   Capacity: 5 rounds   |   Caliber: .410 bore   |   Manufacturer: Taurus

Product Details:

taurus_judge

One of the most famous revolvers in recent history is the Taurus Judge. Manufactured in Brazil and imported via Taurus’ US subsidiary in Miami, the Judge started life as the “4410” until Taurus learned that judges in Miami kept the revolver hidden at their bench for emergencies. With a decisive stopping power courtesy of being chambered for the .410 shotgun caliber (yes, this revolver takes shotgun shells…), the Judge truly lives up to it’s name.

Though for obvious reasons, the recoil can be problematic for some users, this firearm is relatively easy to become proficient with, especially with it’s large and highly-visible sights, lending itself handily for emergency home defense (and courtroom, it appears…) situations. Load this literal hand cannon up with buckshot and overpenetration ceases to be a major concern. Additionally, this beast can be loaded up with the more esoteric .45 Colt ammunition for some variety, though most users choose to stick to the .410 caliber.

Taurus has a history of bringing unusual handgun designs to the market, and the Judge certainly qualifies. While some of their offerings have been best consigned to the dustbin of history, the Judge has proven it’s mettle in the decade or so since it’s introduction. We don’t recommend this for novice users, but the sheer power and simplicity of the Judge makes it a worthy contender for a home defense handgun for those who may have previous training.

Heckler and Koch VP9

Action: Semi-auto   |   Cost: $600   |   Capacity: 15 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Heckler and Koch

Product Details:

heckler_koch_VP9

For decades, Heckler and Koch catered mainly to the military and law enforcement market. The German gunmaker’s output mainly consisted of pieces like the MP5 and UMP-series submachine guns, as well as handguns designed with law enforcement in mind. Civilians could purchase the handguns (the submachine guns are restricted by federal law) but H&K didn’t market to that sector in any major way.

Enter the VP9. With the expansion of the civilian firearms market in the US, H&K decided that they couldn’t leave money on the table and started work on designing a truly ergonomic and reliable striker-fired pistol. When gun guys think “striker-fired”, they think GLOCK, but it was actually H&K that invented the mechanism in the 1970s. Building on their expertise, they debuted the VP9 in 2014, and aggressively marketed the firearm to the civilian market. Even the name was influenced by marketing, as “VP” stands for Volkspistole, which is German for “People’s Pistol”.

Don’t let the name fool you though, the VP9 fully benefits from H&Ks decades of experience building firearms for the military and law enforcement market. H&K took some design cues from their proven P30 9mm design, and built on that to bring the world the VP9. Ergonomic in every sense, from the customizable grip (the VP9 ships with several grip panels) allowing for the firearm to be customized to the user’s hand, to the generous serrations and “ears” on the slide, allowing for decisive manipulation in a crisis. Even the magazine release is conveniently located by the trigger guard, allowing for an empty magazine to be dropped with either the thumb or the forefinger. The VP9 is fully ambidextrous as well, with all controls being replicated on each side of the gun.

On the operational side, the VP9s highly visible sights (they glow in the dark after exposure to light) allow for fast target acquisition. The recoil is very manageable, with the low bore axis (i.e. the barrel sits low on the slide) and weight of the gun soaking up most of it. Utilizing proper stance (link to Braden), the operator can attain accuracy at most distances that would occur in a home defense situation. Experienced users report highly accurate shots out to 25 yards, which is about the maximum distance for handgun use.

Novice users may shy away from the VP9 due to it’s lack of an external safety, but one only need to follow standard safety rules to not have a negligent discharge. The VP9 is equipped with a trigger safety to guard against accidental manipulations, and there are numerous safeguards within the gun to prevent a discharge if the firearm is dropped. With these mechanisms, and the “draw-and-shoot” simplicity of the VP9, it can be a recommended gun for all capable users in a household.

GLOCK 17

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $580   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: GLOCK

Product Details:

glock17gen4

This is the handgun which launched the “plastic revolution” in firearms design. Though polymer handguns had been developed and sold prior, the GLOCK 17 was the first to reach the mass market. With Gaston Glock’s genius for engineering and marketing, the 17 was the first polymer handgun to reach the masses. Now in it’s fifth generation, the “Gen5”, the GLOCK 17 is the standard law enforcement sidearm in the United States. Talk to a cop, and he’s undoubtedly got a GLOCK 17 on his hip. As the Gen5 GLOCK 17 has only been previewed, the version spoken of here will be the equally-capable “Gen4”.

The GLOCK 17’s biggest selling point aside from it’s lightweight construction was it’s simplicity. With no external safety, this handgun is truly a draw-and-shoot model. During the engineering phase, Glock himself (note, the handgun is GLOCK, the man is Glock…) demanded a low parts count, which resulted in a handgun with less than 40 parts. The action is reliable, repeatable, and easily explained. The handgun is meant to be adopted by a wide variety of users, with a wide variety of skill levels. With proper grip, the novice can attain functional accuracy with the 17 after 1 session. The Gen4 model also includes improved ergonomic features, with a rough-textured grip and finger grooves, in addition to swappable grip panels for fine-tuning to the user. Disassembly is a breeze, for ease of maintenance.

The rapid trigger reset (trigger reset is when a trigger goes back to being able to fire again) and low bore axis allow for a very controllable firing experience, permitting rapid follow-up shots on target, which could prove decisive in a home defense engagement. If it’s any indication, competitive shooters sometimes choose the GLOCK 17 with minimal adjustments for their matches. With a huge history of professional and competition use, one can’t go wrong with the GLOCK 17. Simple and reliable, this GLOCK will function all the time, every time.

Beretta Px4 Storm 9mm

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $570   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Beretta

Product Details:

berettapx4storm

Beretta is the oldest continuously-operating firearms manufacturer in the world. In one way or another, they have been delivering firearms to civilians, the military, and police for over 500 years. Based out of Gardone, Italy (along with a brand-new US factory in Gallatin, TN), Beretta has centuries of experience in constructing quality firearms, including the Px4 Storm.

The Px4 Storm, chambered in 9mm (though there are .40 S&W and .45ACP variants), was a groundbreaking pistol for Beretta. Long known for their robust all-metal pistols, the Px4 was their first venture into the polymer-framed market. With the action straight out of their venerable 92 model, and the ingenious rotating barrel mechanism out of their 8000 model, the Px4 Storm fuses the old with the new, for a unique and aesthetically different handgun. The curves and graceful lines of the firearm lend it a futuristic look, as compared to the boxy affairs offered by other manufacturers.

Unlike striker-fired handguns, the Px4 Storm is a hammer-fired pistol, where the first press of the trigger engages the hammer, and subsequent shots return it to a proper firing position. This is called traditional double-action. The advantage here is that when not ready to fire, all the internal parts are at rest, for a safer handling experience. However, additional steps must be taken, i.e. cocking the hammer, to get the firearm ready to fire. Along those same lines, the Px4 possesses a robust external safety switch, which takes some direct manipulation to disengage. For the novice, this may prove comforting.

Operationally, the Px4 Storm has proven itself to be a reliable and accurate handgun, as befits the world’s oldest firearms maker. Though the bore axis is high, with training, the user can overcome this design characteristic, and attain sufficient accuracy for real-world situations. Disassembly is trouble-free, with the firearm disassembling into only a few parts for expedient cleaning. Though built with a more traditional design despite it’s futuristic aesthetics, the Px4 Storm offers some unique features for the buyer, which could make this a viable contender for a reliable and robust home-defense handgun.

Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $470   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

Product Details:

smithandwessonmp9

The Smith & Wesson M&P series of handguns are the storied American gunmaker’s response to the public’s desire for striker-fired polymer pistols, as popularized by the ubiquitous GLOCK. Available in several calibers, including 9mm, the M&P represents decades of research and real-world testing and use on the part of S&W.

The version described here is chambered in 9mm, and is arguably one of the most successful handguns offered by Smith & Wesson today. And for good reason, the ergonomics are nothing short of superb. Having already perfected the engineering of the firearm action with their earlier handguns, S&W invested a significant amount of time and money into ergonomic research, and in the M&P, it shows. With swappable and adjustable grips shipped with every model, the firearm will fit just about any shooter perfectly. The slide itself has ample serrations to allow for easy racking and clearing, and the frame itself is textured for a superb, positive grip. The firearm ships with accessory grip panels for an even more precise fit if desired.

Reliability is unquestionable, as befits a premiere firearms maker with over a century of experience. The M&P 9mm has been fired for thousands of rounds in real-world testing environments without a single malfunction. Home defense purchasers can rest easy, knowing that a (properly-maintained) M&P 9mm pistol will be ready to go at a moment’s notice if needed.

Operationally, the pistol’s trigger is not as crisp as a GLOCK or an H&K, but for typical use, this isn’t a huge drawback. More experienced users can choose to have the existing trigger refined by a competent gunsmith, or they can purchase a superb aftermarket trigger from Apex. Regardless of trigger, the firearm is accurate enough for close-in defensive purposes. The M&P 9mm has seen some uptake in the professional market as a duty sidearm, with no reports of major issues. Thus, the home-defense user can rest assured that this modern firearm from one of America’s most storied gunmakers will serve them well.

CZ P10C

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $500   |   Capacity: 15 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: CZ

Product Details:

CZ P10 CTo the unschooled, one doesn’t associate the Czech Republic with firearms manufacturing. Most think of the US, Austria, and Germany when it comes to quality gunmakers. However, Česká zbrojovka a.s., aka CZ, bucks the trend. Almost a century old, CZ has a storied history in the firearms world, both as a government-owned entity during the Cold War, and as a free-market enterprise after the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. After this momentous event, the Czech Republic enacted very liberal (for Europe) firearms legislation, allowing for a significant “gun culture” to develop in the nation. Local users demanded quality, and CZ complied, producing top-notch handguns and rifles for eager citizens. Soon after, CZ became a force to be reckoned with, marketing their reliable and affordable pistols to the US. Their latest offering is the full-size P10C.

Taking design cues from successful polymer pistols around the world, the P10C builds on these elements with superb ergonomics and handling. A truly “grippy” texture assures for solid contact between the user and firearm, even in stressful situations. And like most modern handguns sold today, the P10C ships with customizable grips and backstraps so the user can fit the firearm to his or her hand with more precision.

Internally, the pistol is best described as “overbuilt” with each and every component being as generous as possible to ensure trouble-free operation. With it’s roots in Cold War Eastern Europe, where spare components and maintenance was often at a premium, CZ pistols have always been built with the “worst-case” in mind of mild operator neglect. The home defense user can be assured that a P10C will be ready to go at a moment’s notice, even if the firearm has (hopefully not – always be training!) been untouched for months at a time.

Operationally, the P10C is superb. A lightweight and crisp trigger allows for even a novice user to attain reasonable accuracy, along with being able to deploy follow-up shots in a rapid and accurate manner. The overbuilt nature of this firearm allows for a softer recoil impulse, so users of all skill levels can confidently operate this firearm, even in an emergency. For an affordable home-defense handgun, the CZ P10C is a definite recommendation.

GLOCK 30

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $600   |   Capacity: 10 rounds   |   Caliber: .45 ACP   |   Manufacturer: GLOCK

Product Details:

glock30gen4

When most people think GLOCK, they think of their ubiquitous GLOCK 17 9mm pistols. However, GLOCK has many offerings in other calibers, including that all-American one, .45 ACP. Big and burly, the .45 ACP load has it’s adherents proclaiming it’s effectiveness due to sheer size. Typically, .45 ACP handguns tend to be large affairs, relying on mass to soak up the notable recoil of the round. In the spirit of innovation, GLOCK chose to offer a compact .45 ACP pistol, the GLOCK 30.

While the 30 looks pretty much identical to every other GLOCK out there, one can’t argue with the familiar ergonomics of the firearm. For experienced users and novices alike, the GLOCK 30 falls into the hand with little adjustments needed. Like all GLOCKs, there’s no external safety, though with GLOCK’s patented safety mechanisms, the user can rest assured that the firearm will be a safe and effective defensive companion. Generous texturing on both the frame and slide ensure that the pistol can be operated quickly, even under stress.

Like every other GLOCK, the 30 presents itself as a simple handgun to operate and maintain. Simplicity is the name of the game, with “draw, aim and fire” being about the extent of it. Maintenance is a snap, with the firearm disassembling into only a few components for routine cleaning. Properly taken care of, the GLOCK 30 will serve well for the home-defense user, and be ready to go and place those big .45 bullets on target at a moment’s notice.

Operationally, the pistol is surprisingly accurate despite it’s comparatively small size. One would think a compact pistol shooting .45 ACP would be hard to control, but this small wonder effectively soaks up the recoil of the big round, ensuring operational accuracy for experts and novices alike. Real-world testing has the GLOCK 30 positioned as a proven performer, with professional users reporting that it’s difficult to even force a malfunction, i.e. by feeding the firearm substandard ammunition. This GLOCK simply keeps on ticking. With this kind of track record, coupled with a sure fight-stopper like the .45 ACP round, the GLOCK 30 makes a superb defensive firearm for a wide range of users.

Springfield XDm

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $550   |   Capacity: 19 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Springfield

Product Details:

springfield_xdm

Despite the name “Springfield”, these handguns are manufactured in Croatia by a company called HS Produkt, and are imported by a US firm with the rights to the storied Springfield Armory name. However, one shouldn’t be fooled by the Eastern Bloc origins, as HS has been manufacturing quality firearms for decades, often at a lower price point than their similarly-appointed Western counterparts. And the XDm is no exception.

At first glance, the XDm looks like yet another polymer pistol. Operational considerations only allow for so much variation in the design after all. It is more than sufficient in the ergonomics department, with generous texturing on the grip and slide, ensuring that the user is not fumbling around with the firearm in times of stress. The firearm also ships with additional grip panels to allow for a more precise fit if needed.

Taking a cue from some American classic handguns like the Colt 1911, Springfield also includes an ingenious grip safety, where the firearm will not operate unless it is gripped properly. The trigger simply won’t move unless the handgun is in a proper grip, i.e. ready to fire.

Beyond the ergonomics and safety, the XDm has proven itself a reliable performer. Novice users are often surprised at how accurate they are, and expert users have struggled to even force the firearm to malfunction, even after hundreds of rounds “down the pipe”. With this kind of track record, the home defense user can be assured that a properly-maintained XDm will be there and ready to go in times of crisis.

Smith & Wesson M&P 45

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $550   |   Capacity: 10 rounds   |   Caliber: .45 ACP   |   Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

Product Details:

smithwessonmp45

For those who want to step up to a larger caliber of handgun, but also seek to maintain a certain familiarity of operation, Smith & Wesson offers their M&P handgun in a .45 ACP variant, aptly named the M&P 45.

Users of the M&P 9 will instantly feel at home, with near-identical ergonomics and handling, benefitting from S&W’s decades of research into the subject. This full-size firearm fits comfortably to almost any user, and it can be tweaked with included accessory grip panels for an even more precise fit, which is critical when firing the big .45 ACP cartridge. Comfort equals confidence. Aggressive texturing and serrations on the slide ensure trouble-free operation in a stressful situation.

On the operational side, this handgun ships with only internal safeties, or an optional external safety if the purchaser desires. Accuracy has been described as almost “match-grade” out of the box, which is understandable as the M&P 45 is a relatively large pistol and has excellent factory sights, along with a trigger operation that users describe as crisp and precise.

At this affordable price point, the M&P 45 is a worthy contender for the home defense user looking to step into that classic American caliber, the .45 ACP.

GLOCK 22

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $600   |   Capacity: 15 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: .40 S&W   |   Manufacturer: GLOCK

Product Details:

glock22

The GLOCK 22 was introduced in a small way to be the spiritual successor to the ubiquitous GLOCK 17. In the 1990s, the FBI was seeking a more powerful replacement for the 9mm round, but not something as unforgiving as the 10mm Auto caliber. So the .40 S&W was born, which was a compromise. A 10mm bullet (.40 is around 10mm if you do the conversion math) loaded up into a shorter cartridge. The idea was to produce a load that was friendly to all agents, rather than a robust few. GLOCK, which by then was the premiere firearms vendor for US law enforcement agencies, answered the clarion call and produced the GLOCK 22. Coupled with the master stroke of a trade-in program where agencies could trade in their GLOCK 17s for GLOCK 22s at a steep discount, or even no cost, the GLOCK 22 helped popularize the .40 S&W cartridge in law-enforcement circles. To this day, many agencies still swear by the .40 S&W, even though the 9mm has made a resurgence due to better ballistic technology.

Now in it’s fourth generation (Gen4), the GLOCK 22 has become one of the most well-regarded firearms for the .40 S&W caliber. Like every other GLOCK out there, the genius lies in it’s simplicity. GLOCK’s patented safeties ensure the firearm will not discharge unless deliberately operated by the user, and the operational procedure is the simplest of all – draw, aim, and fire. When it comes to defensive situations, seconds count.

On the operational side, the GLOCK 22 manages to tame the snappy .40 S&W cartridge well. The handgun is sized as a “duty weapon”, though it can be carried concealed with a proper holster if needed. Professional and civilian users alike report that the firearm is plenty accurate for real-world work, with the factory-installed night sights being sufficient for use at any given moment. The trigger is GLOCK standard, with a crisp and authoritative operation, leaving no question as to the accuracy and operation of the firearm.

With a substantial professional pedigree and thousands of real-world uses under it’s belt, purchasers can rest assured that the GLOCK 22 will be there and ready to perform in any defensive situation.

H&K VP40

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $700   |   Capacity: 13 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: .40 S&W   |   Manufacturer: Heckler & Koch

Product Details:

heckler_koch_VP40

One of the benefits of developing a handgun in the .40 S&W caliber is that often, frames and slides from a 9mm pistol can be reused in the construction. This is what enabled the early success of the .40 S&W in the 1990s. Manufacturers could simply take their 9mm pistols, create new barrels for them in the caliber, fine-tune some existing components, and introduce a whole new firearm. When H&K refocused on the civilian market in 2014 with their VP9, fans immediately predicted, and asked for, a VP40. And in 2015, the German gunmaker obliged.

From the outside, the VP40 looks just like the VP9. H&K didn’t reinvent the wheel, they just improved on it. Fans of the VP9 will immediately feel at home. The ergonomics are phenomenal, with the firearm shipping with optional grip panels and backstraps for further user customization. Aggressive serrations and texturing on the slide allow for further ease of operation. And much like it’s 9mm sibling, the VP40 has no external safeties. Simply draw, aim, and fire. This simplicity of operation has led to the VP40 being adopted by some forward-thinking law enforcement agencies, despite the pistol being marketed to civilian users.

Operationally, the firearm is a sure winner. The trigger has a short and consistent takeup, with a solid break. With an authoritative feel, accuracy becomes easier to master. If your trigger is “mushy”, it is harder to figure out where in the pull it’s going to fire. Having a quality trigger ensures consistency, and repeatable action, leading to better accuracy. H&K’s proprietary flat captive recoil spring tames the .40 S&W somewhat, but it is highly advised to train regularly to master the unique characteristics of the round. Reliability is unquestionable. H&K has been building firearms for professional users for decades, and the engineering expertise trickles down. Each gun leaving the plant in Ulm, Germany, is thoroughly checked and test-fired, and only the best make it into user’s hands.

If and when it comes time for decisive defensive action, the VP40 will stand ready for the user to deploy with confidence.

FNX-9

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $650   |   Capacity: 17 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: FN

Product Details:

fn_fnx9

Formed in 1889 as Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, “FN” is unique amongst the European firearms makers. Despite being located in Belgium, FN has been significantly influenced by the US, since they hired the “Jesus” of firearms designers, John Moses Browning (the same person who designed the .45 ACP round) in 1897 to design some of the world’s most famous firearms. In the decades that followed, FN increased their American presence, culminating with the opening of a major assembly plant in Columbia, South Carolina. Having a Stateside plant enabled FN to cater more responsively to the unique needs of the American market, including producing some excellent defensive handguns such as the FNX-9.

The first thing the user will note about the FNX-9 is the hyper-aggressive texturing on the grip. FN has been designing firearms for the professional user for over a century, and things like robust ergonomics are the norm, so it’s not surprising that this carried downward to the civilian market. Like a lot of polymer guns, the firearm ships with swappable grip panels and backstraps for a more comfortable fit. Old habits die hard, and the FNX-9 is hammer fired, with a large external safety mechanism. While this isn’t a deal-breaker, it is advisable to train extensively with this mode of operation to develop familiarity. Oddly enough for a pistol with professional/military roots, the FNX-9 is surprisingly lightweight. Picking it up for the first time is a bit of a surprise.

On the operational side, the handgun is a very stellar performer. Designed for wide-ranging uses, from law enforcement to civilian use, the firearm is easy to master, with the forgiving recoil of the 9mm load not presenting an issue to even novice users. Weight isn’t the sole determining factor for recoil management – ergonomics and the operating system come into play.

With a professional pedigree from one of the world’s greatest gunmakers, the FNX-9 will stand and serve for any defensive use, for the widest range of users.

SIG P229R

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $1000   |   Capacity: 15 rounds (standard) 10 rounds (restricted states)   |   Caliber: 9mm   |   Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson

Product Details:

SIG P229RThe SIG Sauer P229R has a heck of a pedigree. A variant of this pistol chambered for the .357 SIG cartridge (basically a hybrid of the .40 S&W and 9mm) is the current duty sidearm of the United States Secret Service. The Federal Air Marshal Service uses the 229, as do the State Police forces of Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Delaware. Numerous other police and military units around the world depend on this handgun to safeguard their lives and those they are sworn to protect. Produced by the US subsidiary of Switzerland’s SIG Sauer, the P229 has rapidly climbed the ranks to be one of the most popular handguns around.

Those unfamiliar with the SIG will at first think this hammer-fired pistol is conventional. The P229R has an exposed hammer and conventional magazine release button at the left rear of the trigger guard like many other semi-autos, however, there is no external safety. The engineering represented is a mix between the old and the new, something that certain law enforcement agencies call for in order to ease the transition from older firearms to newer models. The P229R itself sports SIG’s aggressive texturing on the grip, along with a notable bulk, imparting a confident and sure handling experience to the user. The slide, frame, and barrel are all precisely machined and mated, giving the firearm itself the appearance of being milled from a single block of material in a certain fashion.

Operationally, the P229R is a tried-and-true winner. SIG conducts rigorous and extensive tests to ensure reliability, and in addition, the real-world professional users have conducted their own extensive trials, reporting their findings back to SIG for further improvement. The recoil when shooting most 9mm loads is inconsequential, and easy for even a novice to master.

The true selling point, other than the excellent engineering of course, is the P229R’s professional accolades. Unlike most government agencies, constrained by budgets, the USSS typically gets what it wants, and they selected the P229R after extensive testing and trials. If it’s the go-to handgun for these elite operators, it will definitely be a star performer in the defense of your household and “protectees”.

Ruger American Pistol (.45)

Action: Semi Auto   |   Cost: $580   |   Capacity: 10 rounds   |   Caliber: .45 ACP   |   Manufacturer:

Product Details:

Ruger American Pistol 45 ACPOver the past few years, Ruger has definitely moved out of the past with regards to their semi-automatic handguns. They retired most of their older designs, most hailing from the 1970s and 80s, and introduced a new line of firearms – the “American Pistol” series. Coupled with moving their facilities to a more firearms-friendly state, North Carolina, the “new” Ruger is bursting back onto the scene and clamoring for market share. Already, the American Pistol line has made a splash on the scene, with new shooters and old hands alike snapping up the latest offering from this storied American gunmaker.

Not content to just make another polymer striker-fired pistol, Ruger set out to innovate. The polymer frame and wrap-around grip modules are formed from black glass-filled nylon. This material is stronger than traditional polymers which, in turn, allows the frame to be thinner and lighter. The layout is very ergonomic, with the requisite grip panels and backstraps shipping with the firearm for further ergonomic refinement if desired. Ruger’s “Purpose Oriented Texture” completes the ergonomic feature set, allowing the user to have a sure grip on the handgun.

Operationally, the handgun is a solid performer. The trigger action is crisp and smooth, and racking the slide is not an issue with it’s prominent texturing. Adjustable night sights from Novak allow for superb accuracy for each individual user.  A Ruger-patented modification to the action is scientifically designed to reduce felt recoil by controlling rearward movement of the slide as a cartridge is fired. By spreading the recoil impulse out over a longer (in milliseconds) time, the felt recoil is reduced, allowing for more accurate follow-up shots, which can be critical in a defensive situation.

For those looking for a reliable and tested striker-fired pistol that just isn’t “yet another (insert big German/Austrian gun company here) gun”, the Ruger American Pistol, chambered in that all-American cartridge, the .45 ACP, is a superb choice

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Pistol Actions

Actions

Revolver – A revolver works by having several firing chambers arranged in a circle in a cylindrical block that are brought into alignment with the firing mechanism and barrel one at a time. There’s two methods by which a revolver operates – single-action and double-action.

Single-action revolvers were the first kind of revolvers developed. These are the classic models one often associates with Western and cowboy films. A single-action revolver requires the hammer to be pulled back by hand before each shot, which also revolves the cylinder. This leaves the trigger with just one “single action” left to perform – releasing the hammer to fire the shot – so the force and distance required to pull the trigger can be minimal. Today, single-action revolvers are relegated to replica and historical collector items. We certainly can’t recommend a single-action revolver for home-defense, but if you want to re-enact your favorite films (safely of course!), we won’t stop you from buying a classic Colt.

Modern revolvers are all double-action, which means that pressing the trigger cocks the hammer and fires the weapon, in a semi-automatic fashion. The drawback of course is that the force to press the trigger is a little more significant, in the 8 pounds or more range. As a reference, this action is measured in pounds, i.e. the amount of pressure it takes to fully engage the firing mechanism.

Compared to autoloading pistols, a revolver is often much simpler to operate and has greater reliability, given proper care and maintenance. For example, should a semiautomatic pistol fail to fire, clearing the chamber requires manually cycling the action to remove the errant round, as cycling the action normally depends on the energy of a cartridge firing. With a revolver, this is not necessary as none of the energy for cycling the revolver comes from the firing of the cartridge, but is supplied by the user either through cocking the hammer or, in a double-action design, by just squeezing the trigger.

The simplicity allows for the double-action revolver to be a recommended choice for an all-around emergency firearm. With no confusing safeties to engage, or slides to rack, a revolver can be left (in a safe of course!) loaded and ready to go for just about anyone in the household to employ. For decades, police-issued sidearms were almost always revolvers since they offered the greatest versatility for users large and small, and the greatest reliability. The GLOCK may have become the go-to police weapon in the 1990s, but that doesn’t mean revolvers are any less reliable and usable.

Semi-auto – A semi-automatic pistol is a type of handgun that uses the energy of the fired cartridge to cycle the action of the firearm and advance the next available cartridge into position for firing. Typically, the first round is manually loaded into the chamber by pulling back and releasing the slide mechanism. This is called racking the slide or racking the gun. After the trigger is pulled and the round is fired, the recoil operation of the handgun automatically extracts and ejects the shell casing and reloads the chamber. This mode of operation generally allows for faster reloading and storing a larger number of cartridges than a revolver.

Most modern handguns sold today are of this type. Whether it’s a Beretta 92 (for those Die Hard fans out there), or a GLOCK 17 (the gold standard of professional handguns these days), the semi-automatic handgun is the market leader. Semi-autos also have more robust safety features, which provide some measure of defense against negligent handling. Plus, as was stated above, your average semi-auto has a greater ammunition capacity, with a given piece holding from 10 to 17 rounds per magazine. A higher capacity can prove useful in an engagement, allowing for more follow-up shots before reloading.

Of course, all these developments have lead to an inherently more complex piece of equipment. Which means more points of failure. Manufacturers stress-test their semi-autos to the breaking point each and every day, leading to the development of modern pieces which can fire thousands of rounds with minimal maintenance. However, failures will happen more often given the design versus a revolver.

Handgun Ammunition Selection

Ammunition

For handguns, there’s two major bullet types – full metal jacket (FMJ), and hollow point (HP). There’s a few other variations in there that you may notice such as total synthetic jacket (TSJ), wadcutter, and so forth, but for clarity we’ll keep it to the two majors. And in this case, “bullet”, means the projectile itself, not the entire object, which is referred to as a cartridge.

Full Metal Jacket – FMJ projectiles are what people most commonly think of when you say “bullet”. The tip is either round or flattened, and there’s no “cup” in the nose. FMJ cartridges are cheap and easy to produce, so they are most often used for training. If in fact they are used for a defensive application, they will most likely go through the target, leaving a small wound channel, and aren’t likely to incapacitate the target. And yes, the risk of overpenetration is high, i.e. the bullet will keep going and strike something else, whether you intend it to or not. Common brands of commercial FMJ ammunition are Federal “white box” and Speer Lawman.

Hollow Point – This is the go-to ammunition for home and self-defense. Observe the pit in the tip of the projectile, along with the small lines emanating from it. This is to facilitate the expansion of the projectile when it strikes a target, which means there is a larger wound channel created, increasing the chances of incapacitation. Also, since the bullet is rendered un-aerodynamic upon impact, it is far less likely to overpenetrate and strike something unintended. For this reason, they are the ideal self-defense round. You hit what you intend to, and there’s little risk of an unintended strike on something beyond it. All law enforcement officers carry hollow points as their duty ammunition. Hollow points are legal for carry in every US state except New Jersey. Common hollow point brands include Speer Gold Dot, Federal HST, & Hornady Critical Duty. Due to the shape of the projectile, which requires more machining and “lost” material, hollow points are always more expensive than FMJ.

Bullets aren’t just a uniform chunk of lead and copper in front of some explosive powder. They’re of different diameters and weights, as well.

Caliber

Caliber is the diameter of the barrel of the gun, and the diameter of the bullet going through said barrel. The units used depend on where the bullet was developed. In general, if the bullet was developed in Europe, the measurement is in millimeters, i.e. the 9mm. If the bullet was developed in the US, the measurement is in hundredths of an inch, i.e. the .45 ACP, which means the bullet is 45 hundredths of an inch in diameter.

Grains

Often abbreviated “gr”, you’ll see the term “grains” on the sides of every box of ammunition on the shelves. This number tells you how much the bullet itself weighs, in the antiquated unit of “grains”. A grain is 64.798 milligrams. One thing you’ll learn is that the firearms industry, no matter how high-tech the guns get, the industry will still use some positively antiquated measurement schemes. Even European ammunition manufacturers use “grains”. In general, the heavier the bullet, the slower it goes as compared to a lighter bullet with the same amount of propellant behind it.

The major handgun calibers

Here in the United States, there’s three calibers in common use amongst civilians, law enforcement, and the military. 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. There’s others, but most beginners stick to the “Big Three”.

9 millimeter – Technically referred to as the 9x19mm Parabellum, (the 19mm part refers to the length of the overall cartridge, and Parabellum means ‘for war’ in Latin), the cartridge was developed in 1902 in the German Empire by a fellow named Georg Luger. You’ll often see on the headstamp (the rear of the cartridge where the firing pin strikes) the phrase “9mm Luger”. This refers to the inventor, of course. 9mm is the most common pistol round in the world today. It’s used by civilians for recreation and self-defense, major-league doorkickers in law enforcement, and just about every modern military unit out there today. It’s cheap, standard, and easy to find, even in a crisis. It’s low recoil and effective stopping power usually make it the first pistol round people shoot and purchase.

Your projectiles weigh in at anywhere between 90 grains and 157 grains for some subsonic (suppressor-optimized) rounds. When in doubt, go with the 9mm.

.40 S&W – Back in the 1980s, law enforcement guys at the federal level, mostly the FBI, had it in their heads that they needed more powerful ammunition beyond what their .38 Special revolvers could deliver. The original candidate was the powerful 10mm Auto cartridge. Fun fact, Don Johnson used a 10mm Bren Ten in Miami Vice. But anyways, the 10mm proved a handful for all but the most robust Fed cops, so they contacted Smith & Wesson to figure out an alternative. S&W figured if they reduced the power of the 10mm load, it could be manageable by most agents. By reducing the power (i.e. less propellant in the case), they could also reduce the size of the case. Their work begat the .40 S&W, which conveniently fit into their existing 9mm pistol frames, so the only real investment needed was on the of the ammo manufacturers, and all S&W really had to do was invest in some new tooling for the barrels and other associated parts.

Note that the measurement is in inches, since the round was developed here in the US. The Feds scooped up the guns and the ammo, along with a lot of state & local agencies. It proved somewhat popular in civilian usage, as well. However, recent advances in 9mm bullet technology have made the choice between it and .40 S&W more of a personal choice rather than a performance choice.

.45 ACP. – This is the quintessential American cartridge. Designed by John Browning (the “Jesus” of American firearms engineers) himself in 1904, the .45 ACP was designed, as most ammunition is, to address the shortfall in older military loads, notably because the Army’s prior choices proved ineffective in taking down determined Moro warriors during the Philippine conflicts from 1899-1902. After much testing, “JMB” came up with the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge. Big and burly, the “45” is known for it’s moderate recoil and effective stopping power just by virtue of it’s sheer size. The wound channel from .45 ACP in hollow point is simply stupendous. However, .45 pistols tend to be larger and more cumbersome for novice shooters. This is definitely not something you want to start someone off with. Bullets weigh in between 185 and 230 grains.