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10 Best California-Compliant Handguns for Defense

There are many unlawful firearm restrictions in California, but here are 10 great defensive pistols that are still possible to own. 

10 Best California-Compliant Handguns for Defense

(Alfredo Rico photo)

Handguns available for sale in California can be found in California’s Roster of Certified Handguns. To make it on the roster, it must abide by California’s Unsafe Handgun Act. For revolvers, this means a safety test conducted by one of two approved laboratories. For semiautomatic centerfire handguns in addition to the safety test, they must have the following features: loaded chamber indicator, magazine disconnect, and microstamping. Microstamping is a feature in which the handgun must stamp the handgun’s make, model, and serial number onto the cartridge. It is this requirement that has prevented new semi-automatic handgun models after 2013 to be sold, because it is technologically impractical for firearm manufacturers to implement, and it can’t be certified by California’s safety standards. To date, no manufacturers offer this feature.

California’s restrictive compliance has weaned out handgun models introduced after 2013. As each year passes, the handgun roster shrinks as manufacturers discontinue a model or the models inexplicably are removed from the roster.

Despite having a limited and dated quantity of pistols to choose from, I’ve gathered a list of my favorite handguns. I’ve avoided covering pistols that were too similar and confirmed with Jesus Guerrero, assistant manager at 29 Outdoor Gear, that these firearms were readily available and not unicorns in the wild. He cautioned that, “not everything on the roster is available, but there are good alternatives.”


1. Kimber Pro CDP II - $1,440

Kimber Pro CDP II
(Alfredo Rico photo)

There are many Kimber 1911s available in California, the Pro CDP II is one of my favorites due to its contoured edges, two-tone color scheme and generous checkering. Although Kimber makes both a .45 ACP and a 9mm, only the .45 is on the California-compliant roster. Available in a 4-inch barrel, the Pro CDP dons Meprolight Tritium3-dot night sights making this a great self-defense handgun. The slide, frame, and sights are rounded making them snag-free for concealed carry. I’ve taken several firearms training courses with this pistol and it has run like a champ.



2. Glock 19 Gen 3 - $520 (guess)

Despite the Glock Gen 4 being introduced in 2010, only the Glock Gen 3s are available in California.  The good news is that there are many Gen 3 models available from the 17 to 39. One of the favorites of this polymer icon is the Glock 19, the 9mm concealable semi-automatic. There’s a reason why other polymer-framed pistol manufacturers use a Glock as their benchmark to beat.


3. Browning Buck Mark Contour Gray URX 5-1/2" – $699 MSRP

Rimfire handguns make great training firearms for young and old. What makes this Browning Buck Mark a standout, is that it is great for shooting precisely out to 50 yards. Its 5-1/2-inch contoured barrel is weighty enough to keep an optimal balance and minimize recoil. The blow-back pistol includes an adjustable Pro-Target rear sight, gray anodized Weaver-style optics base, and nicely contoured grip. The weight, feel, and precision of this pistol will have you testing your skills.


4. North American Arms NAA-22MS - $249 MSRP

North American Arms NAA-22MS
(Alfredo Rico photo)

This mini-revolver is the underdog of the group. If I hadn’t shot it, I would have dismissed it as a novelty. What makes it worthy of contention is that it’s chambered in 22 WMR, exudes craftsmanship, and at 4.63 inches total length is easily concealable as a backup gun or a backup to your backup. A 30-grain bullet leaves the 1-1/8 muzzle at a velocity of 800 fps. Its optimal accuracy is 5-7 yards where it can shoot a 5-shot group in a 4-inch circle. The cylinder must be removed to reload it. The quality components and fit and finish of this revolver sealed the deal on why it’s a good gun to have in your collection. My friend, Paul, carried this revolver in his jacket pocket when he was an Alaskan State Trooper.



5. CZ 75 SP-01 - $899 MSRP

The 75 SP-01 is a full-size, semi-automatic pistol that is the precursor to the highly popular CZ Shadow models. Its steel frame gives it the mass needed to reduce muzzle rise and has an impressive DA/SA trigger. This model has its roots in the special-ops community who demanded a CZ 75 with a pic rail. It later gained massive traction among competitive shooters.


6. FN Five-SeveN - $1,320 MSRP

The FN is a polymer-framed, striker-fired, semi-automatic handgun that is chambered in the unique FN-designed cartridge 5.7x28mm. The cartridge was developed to be superior to the 9mm and combines fast speeds with small projectiles. Its 30- to 40-grain projectiles launch twice as fast as a 9mm 115-grain projectile. Although the 5.7x28mm is longer than a 9mm, you wouldn’t guess it by comparing the Five-Seven’s grip to other similar-sized 9mm pistols. Californians are limited to 10-round magazines, but the standard capacity magazines hold 20 rounds.





7. Smith & Wesson M&P Shield $569 (guess)

The M&P line is built for toughness. This single-stack, compact, polymer-framed semi-automatic handgun made its debut in 2012 and became an instant hit with male and female shooters looking for a great concealed carry pistol. With an overall length of 6.1 inches, a height of 4.6 inches, and a width of 1 inch, this pistol is easily tuckable for men and women. The striker-fired handgun has a 3-inch barrel and includes two magazines, a 7 and 8-round for 9mm, and a 6 and 7-round for .40 S&W. The pistol features a take-down lever and sear deactivation system that allows for disassembly without pulling the trigger. It also includes a thumb safety and three-dot sights.


8. Kimber K6S DCR 2 in. .357 Magnum - $1,117

If you’re looking for a light, modern, sexy revolver, the Kimber K6s Deluxe Carry Revolver is it. Touted as the lightest production 6-shot, .357 Magnum revolver, this stainless-steel handgun is a beauty to hold and shoot especially with its wood grips. Decked out with a 2-inch barrel, hammerless design and chamfered corners, this is a highly concealable revolver with little chance of snagging when drawn from a holster. The rear sight is notched and blacked-out with a front red fiber optic, making for a quick sight picture. What makes this revolver extra special is its match-grade trigger, it is silky smooth.


9. Ruger Birdshead Wrangler - $279 MSRP

Ruger Birdshead Wrangler
(Alfredo Rico photo)

No firearms collection is complete without an Old-West-inspired, single-action wheel gun. The Ruger Wrangler is affordable and a great training tool to practice shooting fundamentals, especially with its smooth trigger.  Chambered in .22LR and available in several Cerakote colors, this fixed-cylinder revolver shares the same barrel with its pricier brother the Single-Six. The 3.75-inch barrels are hammer forged and yield sub-3-inch groups at 20 yards with the right ammo. The contoured synthetic grips combined with the birdshead grip make for a comfortable and firm hold. The groove and blade sights have a low profile making them sensitive to small changes, but that will help a shooter focus on getting a smooth trigger pull.

Recommended



10. Beretta 92FS M9A1 - $750 (Guess)

The list would not be complete without including a Beretta 92, the pistol that replaced the M1911, the sidearm of the U.S. Army. Built to be a workhorse and suffer high round counts with ease there’s hardly a pistol out there that is more battle-tested than this semi-automatic, double-action/single-action pistol. With an all-steel frame and slide, 4.9-inch barrel, and chambered in 9mm this handgun is soft and easy to shoot. The exposed barrel looks sleek and allows it cool off more quickly. The frame includes a rail dust cover for mounting lights and lasers.

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