Tuesday, July 8, 2008

CHL Primer

I did probably about six months of looking at manufacturer websites and formal gun reviews in magazines and independent websites, but mostly i got on forums and looked at what people were saying about the various models I was looking at.

Ok, to be a fair and thorough assessment we need to establish some criteria and talk about a few other topics. I should also state that we're doing this evaluation for the purpose of concealed carry, not which gun to shoot a charging wild boar with or which one looks the most like a rocket ship or which one looks closest to something Batman would use. Those may be good points to you, but they're beyond the scope of this analysis and ultimately not important factors in a defensive situation. So here we go:

Big gun vs Small Gun:
For someone new to concealed carry this is probably one of the top issues. Most of us almost automatically think we need to carry a small gun because it needs to be concealed. Well, concealment is important yes, but what's more important is ability to shoot comfortably and accurately. A buddy of mine has a sub-compact. It's a tiny thing. I could put it in my pocket in a pair of baggy shorts or jeans and you'd never know it was there. However, if I take out my big clod hopper meat paws and try to handle that tiny thing in a hurry is a real pain for me. It's uncomfortable and makes me feel like a pro-ball batter using a little league bat. It's just way undersized for my hands and I can't get a good positive grip on it.

That bad grip translates to bad shooting. Because I can't get a positive and consistent grip on the weapon my shots are all over the place. That's VERY bad. You are legally responsible for each and every bullet that leaves your gun. If one of your rounds goes off target even in a justified shooting and you hit a bystander guess what? You're going to jail.

You can hem and haw about conceal-ability all day and all night but when it comes down to it you had better carry what you can comfortably and accurately shoot over what is easier to put in your pocket any day of the week. You can ALWAYS adjust your carry style to compensate for a larger weapon. You cannot, however, make the gun magically grow bigger when you really need a good grip to save your (or your family's) life. The moral of the story is carry what you are comfortable shooting. If you have smaller hands and you're more comfortable with a small frame weapon then use that. If you need a larger weapon then carry a larger weapon and figure out conceal-ability later. Your first priority is to be able to be effective with your weapon.

A quick word on concealment:
Every person I've ever seen get get a CHL has obsessed over printing and making sure nobody can see the outline or any random corner, bump or hit that there's something under their clothing. You begin to obsess over it. We all go through that phase. STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT. Give your situation the 10-year-old test. If you're carrying your weapon and a 10 year old child can tell that you're wearing a gun without telling them what to look for then you should re-think your strategy. Otherwise you're just fine.

A bump or two here and there is easily explainable and common in this day of pagers, cell phones and misc. bat utility devices on our belts. If anyone ever asks you "hey, is that a gun in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" then just tell them you're happy to see em. If you want to be more polite and throw up a big red social flag that you're not comfortable talking about it just say "it's a medical device" and leave it at that. Odds are they'll take the hint. If you don't think you can say that with a straight face just rationalize it to yourself. That weapon could one day save your life. That means it's a life giving device and that makes it a medical device. :)

Caliber (bullet size):
IMO you should always carry/use the largest bullet size you can comfortably control. For me, that's a 45. My wife can SHOOT my 45 but she's all over the target with it and it makes her jump every time. Now when she picks up her 9mm she can out-shoot me. With some practice on speed she cold be down right surgical with that thing. She tried a 40 and that basically felt the same as a 45 to her. She's very comfortable with the 9mm and it doesn't make her jump at all so that's what she carries.

I have no problem double or even triple tapping (shooting rapidly) a 45 and am fairly accurate with it so that's what I carry. I have the forearm strength to carry a .50 if i really wanted to but who can afford to practice with rounds that expensive and I would likely hesitate before pulling the trigger so the .45 is a good choice for me. You have to go out and shoot various guns with various calibers to find out what's right for you. Believe it or not different guns have radically different feels to them shooting the exact same ammo so go to a gun shop that lets you test shoot or talk to your friends and find out what is most comfortable to you.

As a general rule though I would not go any smaller than a 9mm because it's not going to have adequate stopping power and there's generally not much need to go above a .45 unless you anticipate being mugged by a raging water buffalo. That leaves you the obvious choices of 9mm, .40 and .45. There are other calibers out there but those are probably your best and most common options.

Asking how accurate a gun is, well that's actually kind of silly in most cases. So long as you pay over $250 or so for a quality pistol I can almost guarantee that the gun will always shoot more accurately than you can. Most pistols are usually capable of putting a 2 inch pattern in a target where most extremely accurate shooters are lucky to put a 3 inch pattern at the same range. The gun will almost always be more accurate than you. There are exceptions but that's a pretty safe general rule.

This comes down to two factors really. Don't buy a trash gun and put plenty of ammo through your gun to find out what it likes to shoot. A trash gun (super cheap... sub-$200 range) will almost always have problems even with good ammo. Likewise, even a good gun that you paid high dollar for may have a problem with certain ammo. Every gun is different. You have to try various types and manufacturers of ammo before you find what's reliable for you.

For instance, My Taurus 24/7 doesn't like range reloads or winchester white box (very cheap) ammo. The primers in those types of ammunition dont' always go off when the firing pin in my gun hits them. If I buy slightly better quality ammo than that the rounds go bang every time. A more expensive gun may fire the primers on the cheap ammo but have a problem ejecting or cycling other types of ammo. Each gun is capable of having unique properties so you need to find out what your weapon likes to use.

Magazine Capacity:
Without a doubt, the logic to go with here is "more is better". If you're an X Navy seal and you can kill 15 men with 9 bullets then you may be ok carrying a gun with 9 round magazines. But you need to ask yourself what you're going to do about that 10th guy when you're out of ammo. It's always better to have rounds left over than to face off against a bad guy and hear your gun go "click" when you pull the trigger. Choose a weapon with at least a 12 round capacity.

Quality weapons aren't cheap. You're going to probably sink at least $300 into your daily carry pistol and probably at least another $50 into a quality holster. Those aren't cheap investments (at least not on my budget). Do your homework and choose a weapon that's got a good reputation with the features you want and a manufacturer that will stand behind their weapon. This is one of the big reasons why I go with Taurus guns. They warranty the gun essentially forever no matter who owns it. That tells me they believe in their product and they stand behind it. If a manufacturer isn't willing to give their weapons a transferable lifetime warranty maybe you should ask em why they don't believe in their products. It should also be noted that Springfield Armory has a limited lifetime warranty but it is not transferrable to subsequent owners like the Taurus warranty does.
Beretta has a standard 1 year warranty. I am unable to find warranty info for Glocks or any other manufacturer please send it over and I'll add it here.
Safety Features:
This is hands down the most important aspect of the weapon you choose and will greatly dictate what weapon you ultimately go with. I tend to try and figure out what the worst case scenario might be and then try to plan for that. My worst case scenario involving having to use my gun to defend myself or my family involves me having to physically hold an attacker back (or maybe hold a door closed) while trying to draw and shoot at the same time. In such a scenario I want to be able to draw and shoot with one hand. I don't want to have to use both hands to chamber a round. I need the round to already be in the chamber.

That means I have to be comfortable carrying a weapon with one round in the chamber and cocked. However, I want some extra security. I want something that keeps some random bit of clothing (or anything else) from pulling the trigger unexpectedly and having the gun go off when I dont want it to. For that, I need a manual safety switch on the weapon that I can operate with the same hand i'm going to shoot with. That's basically a thumb safety.

To recap, my scenario rules state that I need to be able to draw and fire with one hand. That means I need a round already in the chamber with the weapon "cocked" and ready to fire. However, I don't want the gun going off prematurely so I want a manual safety that can be operated with the same hand I shoot with. A thumb safety (or maybe even a grip safety) will suit that well.

You want anything you're going to shoot to feel good in your hands. It should feel like a natural extension of your hand/arm. To me that means it should have a comfortable and natural/organic feel to it. It should curve to my grip instead of forcing me to curve to it's contours. This will allow for more comfortable practice as well as more accurate shot placement. A good that FEELS right is important. However, because this can be somewhat subjective and I can only give you MY opinion I will not rate this as pass/fail but will instead use poor, good, great.

Semi-Auto vs Revolvers:
Revolvers are the "old west" style guns. They were the original pistols. They have a round cylinder that holds the bullets and rotate the bullets around to the barrel every time a round is fired. Pros: very reliable. Cons: limited round capacity. longer on-average reload time
Semi-auto guns are the traditional guns we see in most modern movies and by far the most popular gun designs. They use magazines (aka clips) that usually hold more rounds than a revolver will hold. Pros: more likely to jam than revolver. faster reload time.
There will always be two sides to this thought. It boils down to capacity vs reliability. Semi-Autos will almost always beat a revolver in round capacity and usually in reloading time. However, revolvers operate on a simpler design principle so they're inherently more reliant and less prone to jamming. You could entertain both arguments and both would be correct, it's just a matter what you think is more important. I personally side with Semi-Autos so long as I put enough time in with my pistol to know what ammo it feeds reliably. I think that can be just as good as a revolver in reliability and give much more capacity for ammo. Your mileage may vary but that seems like the good choice to me. That being said, I would never smirk at someone choosing to carry a good revolver simply for reliability. I just hope they're REALLY good shots and don't run out of bullets before they run out of bad guys.

Popular Models:
I'm going to review the most popular conceal carry weapons that I'm aware of. Most of these will be poly(plastic) weapons due to a desire to carry a lighter weapon over a heavier one. Lighter weapons allow you to carry extra magazines/rounds for the same weight and are generally easier to conceal carry. I apologize to anyone who doesn't see their favorite weapon type/class/manufacturer listed. I'm just trying to cover all the bases without over complicating choices.
Because I'm only reviewing guns I have personally shot or have personal experience with some very good and popular models are missing. You may also want to check out these weapons: HK 45C, 45, P2000, and P30, Walther, Taurs PT145

The 1911:
Caliber: Pass - Available in several choices
Capacity: Pass - Although the standard magazines don't carry 12 rounds after market magazines with higher capacities are easily available.
Warranty: (depends on manufacturer)
Reliability: Pass - Several manufacturers make these
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - Grip safety and sometimes thumb
Ergonomics: Bad - It's a bit like shooting a 2x4, but remember this is just my opinion.

I did look at the 1911 and was honestly very impressed with the overall design not to mention a model that's been copied by so many different manufacturers has to have something going for it. what I didn't like was the weight vs magazine capacity. Most 1911 models have 9-10 round capacity. I want at least 12. I really liked the hammer and the grip safety though and that in itself almost sold me on a 1911. I could have went with a 1911 that had an aluminum body to save on weight but I wasn't sure I would be happy with weight. If I could have found a 1911 with the Taurus warranty, poly(plastic) frame and 12+1 rd capacity I probably would have went that way. Other notables on a 1911 are a distinctive trigger pull (the trigger pulls straight back instead of pivoting like most modern pistols) and they are generally on the heavy side from that perspective may not be ideal conceal carry options. If you don't mind the extra weight you'll find yourself a great many friends who carry these. It should also be noted that maintenance/cleaning is more intense with these and they seldom shoot excellent right out of the box. You may need to get it "tuned up" at a gunsmith for perfect performance. I don't know of many 1911 owners who have not had their weapons worked on at some point.

The Glock:
Caliber: Pass - Available in several choices
Capacity: Pass
Warranty: Fail - Not lifetime
Reliability: Pass - If you pull the trigger it's going off. Glocks are titans of durability and reliability. I just hope it's your finger that's on the trigger when it goes boom.
Thumb/Grip Safety: Fail - Neither option
is available without gunsmithing
Ergonomics: Bad - It's a bit like shooting a 2x4 even with after market grips

I looked at them VERY closely at Glocks because they're so popular. Several close friends either have Glocks are are big fans of them. Ultimately several things failed me on the Glock sale.

Lack of a thumb safety or grip safety. I know everyone talks about the trigger safety on the Glock but in my mind it's not really a safety in the traditional sense. If something, ANYTHING pulls that trigger it's going off. The Glock doesn't know the difference between my finger and a strap of stray clothing that catches when I'm re-holstering. That scares me. You could argue that it wouldn't matter if you didn't carry with one in the chamber. That's a valid argument, however a lot of the reason I went with a semi-auto over revolver was for capacity. If I can safely carry that one extra round that could mean the difference between life and death, i'm going to do so. I just don't feel that I can do that safely with a Glock. Also, as stated above, if I can't carry one in the chamber safely that forces me to use two hands to put one in the chamber. What if I'm using that other hand to do something really important to hold back a bad guy, hold a door closed on an intruder or something similar?

Ergonomics – I don't like the feel of a Glock in my hand or the overall styling of the gun. It feels like a 2x4 in my hand. I don't like that. Several models comparable to the Glock got the grip feel damn near perfect. The two that come to mind are the PX Storm by Beretta and the Taurus 24/7. They both feel very good in the hand. I would even venture to say that the Beretta is even more comfortable than the 24/7, though not by much.

Cost – Flat out, Glocks are overpriced compared to the competition. I will put my 24/7 against a Glock any day of the week in a defensive situation. If they both put holes in the bad guy I'm going to get the one that's easier on the pocketbook. You could argue that you could get an aftermarket grip to help with ergonomics and have a gunsmith install a thumb safety ($100-150) but by then you're several hundred bucks over the competition.

Warranty - Glocks don't have a lifetime warranty. They do have a decent warranty but it doesn't cover the lifetime of the weapon and I'm not sure it's transferable like some other manufacturers offer.

Beretta PX Storm & Springfield XD
Caliber: Pass - Available in several choices
Capacity: Pass
Warranty: Fail/Pass - The Beretta only has a 1 year warranty, not good. However the Springfield has a lifetime warranty for the original owner. It's not transferable though like the Taurus warranty.
Reliability: Pass - Several manufacturers make these
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - XD has grip safety and the new XD45 is available with a thumb safety, PX has thumb safety
Ergonomics: Great/Good - PX feels great, XD could use some work but isn't bad.

I'm grouping both of these together because they're very similar.

Both of these are fine weapons. I personally found that the beretta looked to be a bit more poorly machined than the Taurus or the Springfield, but I honestly only looked at one specific PX Storm. The Springfield XD is a fine weapon, but honestly I found the grip better than the Glock but still a bit lacking compared to the Taurus. I do consider the XD 9 about one notch below the 24/7. Unfortunately Springfield still isn't offering a warranty like Taurus does. That settled those two models for me. Though, I have to note here that I have a lot of respect for the Springfield name and I really liked the Beretta styling. I have respect for both of these guns (way more so than the Glock) but neither one met ALL of the criteria


Taurus Guns:

The Judge:
Caliber: Pass - 45 Long Colt or 410 shotgun or a combo.
Capacity: Pass - Doesn't hold at least 12 though you could argue that 5 rounds of 410 could easily stop a large mob.
Warranty: Pass - Taurus Warranty is lifetime
Reliability: Pass - Revolvers are simple so therefore fairly reliable
Thumb/Grip Safety: Not sure
Ergonomics: Great - feels good to me especially with that nice Taurus ribbed grip that comes standard

I didn't want a revolver due to capacity... the last thing I want in a defensive gunfight is to run out of ammo after 5-7 rounds. However, that being said.... The judge is a force to be reckoned with. I will eventually get one of these to put on my night stand or perhaps in my glove box or both. Any run that would let me alternate 410 rounds and Colt 45s gives you defensive power that I'm not sure I can find the words to describe. Lets just say if I would rather have the judge when facing down a crowd of people or a charging wild boar even over my 24/7 45. I honestly may end up switching to the judge as my regular carry weapon in the end. It becomes a very real question of "do I really need 12+1 rounds of ACP when I can have 5-6 rounds of 410 and colt 45 alternating. " That's something I have to think more on. The judge wasn't an option I was aware of when I bought the 24/7 and i'm still not sure i'd be happy giving up that many rounds.

Taurus 92/10o series
Caliber: Fail - Available in 9mm and .40 only
Capacity: Pass - Holds at least 12
Pass - Taurus Warranty is lifetime
Reliability: Pass - Quality manufacturing
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - Thumb safety standard
Ergonomics: Good - Not bad, not bad at all.

These are FINE weapons. I would opt for Taurus over Beretta any day because of cost and warranty. However I honestly had a hard time finding any of these in anything bigger than a 9mm and I had already decided on going with 45acp because it's the biggest round I can easily handle. I bought my mom a Taurus 92 and she damn near didn't get it after I took it to the range if that tells you anything. If I could find a 92/101 in 45acp I would probably own one. They're pretty, lighter than you would think and that trigger is SMOOTH.

Why the 24/7 Pro:
Caliber: Pass - Available in 9mm, .40 and .45
Capacity: Pass - Holds at least 12
Pass - Taurus Warranty is lifetime
Reliability: Pass - Quality manufacturing
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - Thumb safety standard
Ergonomics: Great - Feels surprisingly natural in the hand.

Well, at the time the OSS was still on the drawing board and the 809 wasn't even on the radar. Given a choice to buy fresh I would probably go with the OSS over the standard pro, though finding a good holster for the OSS will be even harder than it is with the Pro model because of the OSS's longer barrel. The 809 will be a better weapon than even the 24/7 Pro IF they release it in 45 acp.

Trigger is gritty, no hammer (purely personal preference), difficult to find aftermarket accessories for (though, that's not really the case anymore). The gritty trigger is a result of the 24/7's 2nd strike ability and is well worth tolerating the trigger feel for that ability.

Improvements on the 24/7 Pro:

The 24/7 OSS
Caliber: Pass - Available in 9mm, .40 and .45
Capacity: Pass - Holds at least 12
Pass - Taurus Warranty is lifetime
Reliability: Pass - Quality manufacturing
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - Thumb safety standard
Ergonomics: Great - Feels surprisingly natural in the hand.

If you look at the taurus 24/7 OSS I think they really improved on the basic design of the 24/7. I was actually going to trade up to an OSS because of the steel guide rod and the exposed hammer, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble because I was so happy with the gun I already had. I do consider the OSS a marked improvement over the basic 24/7 though. Don't worry about the larger slide/barrel. If you shoot better with it you can always work around concealment issues later.


Taurus 809 series (soon to be released)
Caliber: Unknown
Capacity: Pass - Holds at least 12
Pass - Taurus Warranty is lifetime
Reliability: Pass - Quality manufacturing
Thumb/Grip Safety: Pass - Thumb safety standard
Ergonomics: Great - Build on the same grip/frame as the 24/7

An even better improvement is the 809 that's on the Taurus website. that honestly looks to be the perfect self defense handgun. It has all the features you could want. Hammer, thumb safety, decocker, aggressive styling. You get that 809 in a 45 acp and you've got yourself one heck of a gun. The ONLY thing i dont like about the 809 model is the takedown pin they're using that's similar to the Glock. the 24/7's takedown bar is easier to use.


Merddyn -
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

1 comment:

protected static said...

Another reason to push the Taurus Judge lower down your list: check it out on The Box O' Truth. His conclusion: stick to the .45LC if you're trying to do anything other than ruin a rattlesnake's day.