Most people who carry never have to draw their gun—nor do they want to—but when it happens we must be prepared to respond effectively. We all have a responsibility to choose a dependable firearm that can do the job when engaging a deadly threat.
Some folks claim pea-shooting rimfires serve their purpose just fine, while others won’t leave home without a J-Frame in their boot and a 1911 cocked and locked on their hip. So it stands to reason asking a shooter to name the best carry gun would simply be an exercise in determining personal preference.
Luckily, the Handguns editors have fired and reviewed all these pieces, and we’re here to help you choose the best sidearm, while also stirring a healthy debate on the subject. Take a look at the 10 options below and find the carry gun that works for you, then make sure to vote for your favorite.
For those seeking an even lighter version, Colt recently introduced the polymer-framed, 12-ounce Mustang XSP (pictured), which also sports an ambidextrous safety and dovetailed sights. As with any single-action pistol with no grip safety, be sure to carry it in a holster that completely protects the trigger guard from snagging on clothing or getting bumped in a purse.
Price: Mustang Pocketlite, $599; Mustang XSP, $649
Commonly available drop-in parts allow people to make simple modifications without any gunsmithing experience. The Gen 4 model comes with an extended magazine catch, rough textured frame, dual recoil spring assembly and modular backstrap. If you could only have one pistol for carry, home protection and IDPA competition, the Glock 19 will get the job done.
Price: $333 to $390 (depending on frame finish)
The LC9’s safety features include an external safety selector, magazine safety, loaded chamber indicator, as well as the long pull on its 7-pound trigger. Several accessories are available for the LC9, including an array of holsters and trigger guards with built-in lasers from Crimson Trace, Lasermax and Viridian.
With a barrel length of 3.1 inches and a consistent 6.5-pound trigger pull, the Shield would serve well as a primary carry gun for civilians, or an effective option for a backup duty weapon. Take your pick between 9mm and .40 S&W—both of which load from staggered-stack magazines, though the .40 S&W holds one less round in the flush-fitting and extended magazine variations. Look to the Shield as one of the best all-around values in a carry gun.
The fiber optic front sight post and crisp trigger make the XD-S feel more like a competition-tuned pistol than a carry gun. Its ambidextrous magazine release is inviting to right- and left-handed shooters. Interestingly enough, the XD-S is available in 9mm and .45 ACP—both of which have exactly the same external dimensions. The 9mm holds seven rounds in the flush-fit magazine and nine rounds in an extended version, while the .45 holds five and seven rounds, respectively. The magazines also fit standard 1911 mag pouches. Its integral Picatinny rail allows users to attach lights and lasers as necessary. The XD-S essentially sets the stage for what users should come to expect from an out-of-the-box concealed carry gun.