Enter into a conversation with anyone about concealed carry and the first issue will be what size pistol you should carry. My first recollection of that discussion was in 1983 with a police officer and Master Class IPSC shooter. At the time, semi-automatics were not approved firearms yet they were often carried “off-duty.” For many, policy violations were secondary to being properly armed. In this case, the other officer carried a lightly customized, full-sized 1911 in 45 ACP. Given that the issued weapon was a six-shot revolver, two extra rounds and a spare magazine were a huge advantage. To be honest, the “wonder nines” were not all that wonderful back then and 9mm ammunition was not what it is today. The huge number of compact and subcompact pistols that exists today was not even a consideration at the time. So for semi-autos, 1911s were still the choice of many professionals, and more often than not, full-sized versions were carried. Almost universally, the reasons were similar. They are 100 percent reliable, provide better ballistics, and were no more difficult to conceal than smaller pistols. This truly set the tone for me as a concealed carry professional, a tone that still exists to this day.

When it came to revolvers, the same was often true. My first real duty revolver was a 4-inch Colt Python. That revolver served me through the academy and my entire time as a reserve with the sheriff’s office. That did not change until my employment our department switched to the Smith & Wesson Model 686 by policy. Off-duty weapons were authorized, but only one: the five-shot Chief’s Special.

The same argument arose and the big revolver won the day. Sure, the five-shot was smaller and easier to conceal, but that is not the only issue. The move down to .38 Special, the loss of one round, and the ballistics of a 2-inch barrel made it a problem. If that pistol was necessary off-duty, it was probably for a really bad situation and every advantage was required. Lastly, there is the cost. As a rule, if an agency does not issue a second pistol for off-duty carry, an officer will carry their issue pistol. In 1989, my $15,000 a year salary all but precluded such a purchase, and the situation is the same today. Most officers simply do not have the money to buy a second pistol. It is no different for most concealed carry holders—most have the money for one pistol. The bottom line was simple. You had to find a way to comfortably carry and conceal your primary weapon, a full-sized pistol or revolver.

Compromise

From a purely practical point of view, as pistols get smaller you are making a compromise. To this day, the most effective self-defense pistols utilize 4-inch or longer barrels. The laws of physics are not altered by a need for comfort. For well over 10 years, this was evident on the range as a rangemaster for the police department. As convenient as our issued sub-compact 9mm is, many officers suffered malfunctions, and what ability they had to hit the target was flushed right down the toilet. Sure some were fine, but many had issues. It has a short sight radius, and like all small automatics, they are more prone to a less-than-firm grip. That is not the gun’s fault — it’s just physics.

Almost without fail that small pistol was sold to someone else and the move was made back to the full-sized pistol. That was true of all of them. A recent “off-duty” shoot made this even clearer. A solid 60 percent of the little guns simply did not run through the whole qualification, and many simply could not hit the side of a barn. It was almost funny to see those with five-shot revolvers trying to make it through a 20-round course of fire with speedloaders that never leave the range bag except to qualify. Not to mention the officer or two who had his pistol fall out of the $5 inside-the-pants holster he “regularly used.”

What you are willing to give up for comfort’s sake? It is no different for any concealed carry holder. Do you carry based on what is comfortable or what will win the fight? What are you willing to compromise in order to strike a balance? In truth, with a little bit of effort, you may not need to compromise.

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