Never before have we had such a wide field of affordable, durable, accurate and dependable choices in defensive handguns, and that’s especially true of the new wave of small 9mms with a good amount of capacity. The ability to deliver a number of accurate shots against an attacker can be critical, whether your interest for such a gun is concealed carry or home defense.
A few things to keep in mind when making your decision. Today’s pistols are available with a wide variety of sights and sighting systems—night sights, red dot sights and lasers—that can improve and enhance your ability to deliver shots on target in all conditions. If you have any vision problems, take this into account.
While these are all “compact” guns, their grips and grip angles will all be different. Some will feel great in your hand, some may not, but if at all possible, try to shoot as many different models as you can. Ranges and gunshops with ranges will often have firearms you can rent, and this is the best way to find out what’s going to work for you.
In addition to being able to shoot the gun accurately, you want to find out if you can operate the slide and the controls easily. If you’re thinking about adding a light, laser or combo unit to a pistol’s rail—or purchase a gun with an integral system—experiment with them to see which might be most suitable for you.
Once you’ve made your purchase, you’ll want to shoot a number of different types of defensive ammunition through the gun to see what is most reliable and most accurate. Last, and most importantly, start looking for training classes in your area. You want to get off on a good foot with your new gun, and professional instruction will put you on the right path and give you confidence.
Sig Sauer P365 XL
One of Sig’s many home runs in recent years, the compact, high-capacity 10+1 9mm P365. The recent P365 XL version has a slightly longer slide and a longer grip as well, so it shoots more like a full-size pistol while still being extremely concealable. The P365 XL’s 3.7-inch barrel is long enough to deliver plenty of 9mm power downrange. The P365 XL comes with two 10- or 12-round mags, and extended 15-round magazines are available. The gun and two 15-round mags is almost a box of ammo on your belt! The XL is available with or without a manual thumb safety.
The polymer-framed pistol weighs just 20.7 oz. The barrel is carbon steel, and the slide is stainless steel with a black Nitron finish. While the slide and grip are longer than the standard P365, the changes add only about a half-inch to height and overall length. The P365XL is only 6.6 inches long and 4.8 inches high, with a width of 1.1 inches.
One thing making the P365 XL so controllable and concealable is the sharp angle to the grip. It gives you the ability to wrap all your fingers around the front, but it angles sharply up to the backstrap to conceal better.
The P365 XL comes with SIG’s X-Ray 3 day/night sights, but the XL’s slide also features a plate for mounting ared dot sight. Sig Sauer offers the Romeo Zero ($249) just for the P365 XL, and it is sculpted to fit the narrow XL slide. Better, the sight sits far enough back that it still fits in most standard holsters.
Prices for the P365 XL start at $579. www.SigSauer.com.
Springfield Armory Hellcat
A very small 9mm at only four inches tall, six inches long and one inch wide, Springfield Armory’s Hellcat offers 11+1 capacity and an optional 13+1 magazine. Weight is only 17.9 oz unloaded with flush magazine, making the Hellcat one of the smallest offerings out there. Eleven-round magazines are flush-fitting and most concealable, and they come with an optional extender floorplate to give your pinky extra purchase if you don’t mind the mag making the gun a little taller. The 13-round mag sticks out the bottom, but with an extension matching the grip shape and texture.
The polymer frame has Springfield’s Adaptive Grip Texture for a sure grip without abrading skin, a generous beavertail under the slide helps index the pistol on the draw and control recoil. Striker fired, the pistol has no manual safety beyond the safety lever in the center of the trigger. The three-inch barrel is hammer forged, and the slide billet is machined. Both have a matte-black Melonite finish, which is corrosion- and wear-resistant.
A variety of sighting options are available, and the OSP model is machined to take a small red dot sight, such as the Shield RMSc. All Hellcat frames are slotted for accessories such as small lights or lasers, with a single locking point at the front of the rail. Base models start at $569 and go to $599. www.Springfield-Armory.com.
One of the most affordable of today’s top-tier compact 9s is the Taurus G3c, a 10+1 or 12+1 polymer-framed pistol with a 3.2-inch stainless steel barrel, overall length of 6.3 inches, a height of 5.1 inches, width of 1.2 inches and weight of 22 ounces. The striker-fired G3c has an internal striker-block safety, manual thumb safety on the left side, a trigger block safety in the center of the trigger, and a loaded chamber indicator.
The slide is treated to a Tenifer finish, and it’s nicely sculpted to reduce its profile. It also features front and rear cocking serrations. Unlike its G2c predecessor, the sights on the G3c are steel, with a plain serrated rear sight and a white dot front sight. The single-action trigger has a restrike capability, something most guns lack.
The Taurus G3c’s polymer frame has a subtle palm swell and slight beavertail, and it features panels of aggressive stippling. The frame also has dished-out “memory pads” to help you locate your firing hand and support hand thumbs. It is slotted for a small light or laser with one forward locking point.
The gun ships with three magazines with yellow followers, and if you are able to get the 12-rounders in your state, they have a small cutout in their base plates to give you extra gripping room should you encounter a mag that’s being stubborn due to dirt or grit. Suggested retail is just $306. www.TaurusUSA.com.
Ruger American Compact
Ruger continues to innovate with entries like the American Compact. This isn’t an ultra-compact pistol and is on the larger side of all the offerings, but it’s still pretty appealing. With a 3.55-inch barrel, the standard payload of 12+1 rounds is complemented by a large extended magazine of 17+1 rounds in a package still only 1.05 inches wide, 4.48 inches tall and 6.65 inches long.
The stainless steel slide is matte black nitride finished. Novak Low Profile fixed sights provide a snag free draw. The glass-filled-nylon framed American weighs 29.2 ounces, has a wraparound grip module that will adjust palm swell and trigger reach to fit a wide range of hand sizes. The medium module comes installed, and a large module is included in the box. The under-frame rail mount has three locking points adaptable to a wide variety of lights or lasers.
It is a striker-fired pistol with or without an ambidextrous manual safety (the Pro Model pictured comes without the manual safety, and is about one-half ounce lighter), and it has a safety lever in the center of the trigger. The slide stop is ambidextrous.
An added plus, disassembly can be accomplished without pulling the trigger first and without tools. Price is a reasonable $579. www.Ruger.com.
Mossberg finally reentered the pistol market in a big way with the 6+1 round M1sc followed by the high-cap compact M2c 9mm. Unique in pistols today is the M2c’s optional crossbolt safety located behind the trigger and just above the reversible magazine release. A lever rides in the center of the trigger for added safety.
Capacity is a useful 13+1 rounds, with an extended 15-round magazine available. One of the larger guns, the M2c is 4.9 inches high, 1.1 inches wide and overall length 7.1 inches with a 6.4-inch sight radius.
The M2c has the longest barrel of the pistols here at 3.9 inches and should deliver full performance from the widest variety of ammunition. Barrel and slide are made from 416 stainless steel with a choice of black DLC finish or matte stainless. Low profile 3-dot sights are provided, and Truglo tritium night sights are available as an option. Trigger pull is set at 5.5 pounds, and trigger travel is a modest half-inch.
Takedown is as unique as the safety, requiring the pistol be unloaded and the slide locked back. The striker assembly is then removed from the back of the slide before finishing disassembly. The trigger doesn’t have to be pulled at any time during takedown. Retail is a very reasonable $490 ($595 with night sights). www.Mossberg.com.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ
Not necessarily a high-capacity arm at 8+1 rounds of 9mm, the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ is the one easiest to load, manipulate and one of the softest shooting major-caliber semiautomatics in its class. The EZ series is designed to appeal to people with less physical strength, including the elderly, women and many entry-level shooters. The magazines are easy to charge and even easier when the button on the outside of the mag body is used to depress the follower.
The slide is easy to retract due to “cocking wings” machined at the back, providing added leverage for those having less hand strength. All the controls are accessible and easy to manipulate and the overall design helps mitigate felt recoil.
The compact single-stack 9mm has 3.675-inch barrel, an overall length of 6.8 inches and a weight of 23.8 ounces. The 18-degree grip angle points naturally, the magazine release is reversible, and models are available with or without an ambidextrous thumb safety.
The three-dot sights are easily adjusted for windage, and the frame has a three-slot Picatinny style rail for a light or laser. One model (shown) comes with an integral Crimson Trace laser installed. The laser is instantly activated when the pistol is held in a natural firing grip, and it is easily adjusted for windage and elevation.
Disassembly of the M&P9 Shield EZ does not require pulling the trigger, and is as equally easy as manipulation of the gun itself. The captured recoil spring requires little effort to remove, and overall the disassembly/reassembly procedure is simple. Base price for the pistol is $475. The Crimson Trace version is $575. www.Smith-Wesson.com.