Concealed carry is a very personal choice. If your local laws allow law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed firearm, choosing the right handgun to defend your life outside of the home depends on many factors. The size, weight, caliber, and capacity of a handgun all come into play. These are all measurable pieces of data, and WhichGun.com includes these specifications for all of the most popular and common firearms available (and some not-so-common firearms as well). But with so many quality handguns on the market, both new and used, comparing these specifications in an effort to make the best choice can be difficult and tedious.
With 40 U.S. states having "shall-issue" concealed carry laws, and Supreme Court rulings absolving police forces from a legal obligation to protect individuals from criminal attack, more and more citizens are accepting responsibility for their own personal protection by obtaining a concealed carry permit.
In order to help you choose a handgun for concealed carry, WhichGun.com has created Concealed Carry Factors™, three simple ratings on a 1–5 scale that take all of the physical specifications of each firearm into consideration.
Concealability Factor™ is a measure of how easily a handgun is concealed. Overall length, width, height, and weight all come into play here. Some of these specifications are more important than others — for example, a small change in width can make a very large difference in the concealability of a handgun, while a change in overall length does not, since a long barrel or slide simply extends further down the thigh of a person using an IWB (inside-the-waistband) holster, the most common method of concealing a handgun. Width and weight are the two most important specifications for concealbility, and a relatively small difference in width or weight will quickly lower the Concealability Factor™ of a handgun. Changes in height, or grip length, will not affect a handgun's Concealability Factor™ as much as width or weight, and changes in overall length has the least effect on this rating.
Firepower Factor™ measures handguns' effectiveness for self-defense. The caliber a handgun is chambered for, and the number of rounds a handgun can hold, is used to calculate this datapoint. More powerful calibers, like .45 ACP and .357 Magnum, will give a handgun a higher rating than less powerful calibers, like .380 ACP and .38 Special. A larger magazine or cylinder capacity will also result in a higher rating for that firearm. Many firearms are available in more than one caliber, so for these models, a separate Firepower Factor™ is calculated and displayed for each version.
(For those interested, a more detailed look into how the three Concealed Carry Factors™ are calculated is at the bottom of this page)
These two values are combined in the CCW Factor™ (Carry-Capable Weapon). The CCW Factor™ for a handgun takes everything into consideration: overall length, width, height, weight, caliber, and capacity. This gives you a single number that shows each handguns' suitability for concealed-carry usage, freeing you from the tiresome task of manually comparing the specifications of a dozen or more handguns in order to narrow down your list of choices. Smaller and lighter handguns with a larger caliber and capacity will receive a higher CCW Factor™ than larger and heavier handguns with a smaller caliber and capacity.
Of course, personal preferences matter a great deal when choosing the right handgun for concealed carry. By giving you separate ratings for concealability and firepower as well as a combination of both, WhichGun.com's Concealed Carry Factors™ help you make an informed decision based on your own priorities. If ease of concealment is most important to you, and you are willing to make some compromise on caliber or capacity in order to have a smaller and lighter handgun, you should focus on Concealability Factor ™. If you feel that a larger caliber or capacity is more important, and you are prepared to sacrifice some concealability, then Firepower Factor™ is for you. If however you are "on the fence" between these two ideals, and simply want a quick and easy way to reduce a long list of potential choices for a concealed carry handgun to a more managable number of handguns for further research, you can simply look for a handgun's CCW Factor™ with confidence knowing that all of the important specifications — width, weight, height, length, caliber, and capacity — have been taken into account.
Detailed Explanation of the Concealed Carry Factors™ Calculations
- Caliber: While caliber effectiveness is greatly disputed topic, the .380 ACP (for pistols) and the .38 Special (for revolvers) cartridges are generally considered the minimum effective calibers for self-defense. Handguns that are chambered for calibers smaller than .380 ACP or .38 Special, such as .25 ACP or .22 LR, will see a significant drop in Firepower Factor™. Correspondingly, handguns chambered for calibers much more powerful than .45 ACP (for pistols) and .357 Magnum (for revolvers) are often difficult to control due to significant recoil, muzzle blast, and noise. This is especially apparent in the smaller and lighter handguns designed for concealed carry use. While a hit with a .50 AE or .454 Casull will certainly be devastating to an attacker, excessively large calibers will not earn a handgun much of an increase in Firepower Factor™ due to diminishing returns.
- Capacity: The minimum number of rounds that a concealed carry handgun should hold is also greatly debated. There has been no definitive studies on the average number of rounds fired in a successful self-defense shooting, mostly because there is no "average" self-defense shooting. Every situation is different. There might be only one attacker, or there might be several. The attacker might be 30 feet away when you realize that your life is in danger, or he might be at contact distance. The stress and adrenaline surge may cause you to miss 3 times before hitting the attacker, or you may connect with your first shot. The obvious truth is that more rounds is better than less rounds. But a 2-round increase in ammunition capacity makes much more of a difference in a 5-round gun than a 15-round gun. Therefore, an increase from 5 rounds to 7 rounds will have a larger impact on a handgun's Firepower Factor™ than an increase from 15 rounds to 17 rounds.
Calculation process and weighting:
- Each specification for a handgun (overall length, width, height, weight, caliber, and capacity) is translated into a rating between 1.0 and 5.0.
- Concealability Factor™ is a weighted calculation of the ratings assigned in step 1 for (in order from highest to lowest weighting) width, weight, height, and overall length.
- Firepower Factor™ is a weighted calculation of the ratings assigned in step 1 for (in order from highest to lowest weighting) caliber and capacity.
- CCW Factor™ (Carry Capable Weapon Factor) is a weighted calculation of both a handgun's Concealability Factor™ and Firepower Factor™. The concealability of a handgun is weighted more than its firepower, because a large, heavy handgun that is not carried at all times does no good regardless of its firepower. Any gun is better than no gun — a very small and light .25 ACP pocket pistol (or even a absolutely tiny single-action .22 LR mini-revolver) on your person is much more effective than the large and heavy high-capacity 10 mm Auto pistol sitting in your gun safe.
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