The question of what is the best gun is a debate that rages on in gun stores and on ranges daily, nationwide. A more specific question these days is “What are the best handguns?” It is worth noting from the outset that “best” can often be subjective and when referencing firearms, it is usually a term used by people who are new to shooting and not familiar with firearms, their proper usage, or mechanics. If there was a “best gun” everyone would have it. It would be the best, at everything, including but not limited to concealed carry, self-defense, competition, price point, etc…This gun does not exist, rather, think of guns like shoes. Would you wear a pair of open-toed sandals to shovel snow? A pair of steel-toed work boots for a night of dancing? A handgun is a specific tool, generally with a specific usage.

Many firearms can be good at multiple things, but no firearm is good at everything. Therefore, the best pistol is the one that is best for the specific job it is needed for. If someone is looking for a concealed carry gun (CCW), a compact pistol is probably the first choice, as it would be much easier to hide. However, with a compact pistol, performance and oftentimes ammunition capacity is sacrificed in order to improve concealability. If performance is the goal, for self-defense, or competition, a full-size semi-automatic pistol is preferred by most professionals. However, a full-size semi-auto might be ideal for a police officer in uniform but is not as easy to conceal or hide for a private citizen.

A full review is usually not hard to find before choosing which pistol to purchase, that being said, conferring and talking with professionals or gun store staff about specific needs is what will ensure a customer ends up with an appropriate firearm…or in most cases, firearms.

The Criteria for Excellence in Handguns

Criteria for choosing a handgun can vary greatly, but can usually be simplified into four simple categories, including:

  • Reliability
  • Will the firearm function and function well in stressful situations, in non-optimal environments such as wet and rainy or extreme cold or heat? For modern firearms, especially handguns, there has come to be a direct correlation between simplicity of design and reliability. In recent decades, heavy steel complex large caliber firearms have been replaced by much simpler lighter alloy metals and polymer-framed options such as Glock and Sig-Sauer. This has improved reliability drastically for combat and defensive pistols, where functioning in harsh and rugged conditions is imperative. Simpler designs allow for easy maintenance and part replacement. Most professionals prefer a “striker” or hammerless design eliminating one more variable that can malfunction or be interfered with by clothing or other materials.
  • Accuracy
  • Being able to engage and score hits on a target at different ranges usually has more to do with the shooter than the hardware. Due to modern design advancements such as rifled barrels and improved ammunition design, a high level of precision can be achieved with a handgun at distances of over one hundred feet. However, velocity is directly affected by barrel length making longer barrels optimal and preferred. Concealability will be affected by a larger firearm, making this a critical compromise when choosing. The larger firearm will have better performance but will be more of a challenge to wear and conceal. This must be taken into consideration with regard to accuracy. Another good consideration, however, would be how much accuracy is required. For a defensive pistol, the majority of self-defense shootings take place within ten feet or less. Is a large optimal barrel necessary? For a performance competition firearm where the shooter will be challenged with different distances and when wearing concealed is not a requirement, it would make sense to get as long of a barrel as practical
  • Ergonomic Design
  • Ergonomics is generally an overrated aspect of firearms, as many firearms can “feel” great in the hand when in a non-stress environment. Much more important than the feel of the gun would be the mechanics. How easily does the slide engage? Does the firearm have ambidextrous controls? For instance, a slide stop or magazine release that can be engaged from both left and right? Adjustable backstraps (Grip pieces that can change out the size of the pistol grip to accommodate different hand sizes) are another great option that has been introduced to many modern handguns, giving a level of customization for gun owners that comes stock. Also, cuts and stippling in the grip or slide allow for greater control and handling by improving grip in areas where the handgun needs to be handled or engaged.
  • Versatility
  • Many handguns designed for self-defense can pull double duty as high-performance range guns. Generally, large handguns that emphasize performance and are used for self-defense are also enjoyable to shoot recreationally or in competition. However, It is important to keep in mind that many competition pistols are tuned for speed and can have very lightweight triggers making them more sensitive in a controlled environment.

Detailed Review of Leading Handguns

Glock 19 - The Versatile Defender

  • Specifications
  • Caliber: 9mm Barrel
  • Length: 4.02 inches
  • Capacity: 15 Rounds (Can feed larger Glock Magazines)
  • Performance Insights
  • The Glock 19 is arguably the most popular Glock 9mm pistol amongst American civilian and police self-defense use, although its origin had plainclothes law enforcement and military personnel in mind. Essentially a smaller-sized Glock 17 designed to be more comfortable for everyday carry (EDC). Even though Glock was not the first company to use a striker fire design, no one would argue that they aren’t responsible for the overwhelming popularity and takeover of the market using the internal firing system.
  • Coining the term “Safe Action”, Glock pistols use a passive safety lever that engages when the operator presses the trigger correctly, in theory minimizing negligent discharges. The “trigger pull” of the Glock pistol also is unique and uses a 5.5 lb connector. Despite this relatively smooth trigger, many Glock owners use customer aftermarket triggers and even Glock has its own proprietary performance trigger to decrease weight.
  • Glock now releases options for its pistol with a plate system enabling the installation of red dot sights and other holographic options for tactical and competition use. Simple, reliable, and with new ambidextrous controls on the newer Generation 5 models the Glock 19 would be heavily recommended by most professionals. An effective system for self-defense and a solid option for concealed carry with multiple safety features the Glock receives a 9/10.

Sig Sauer P365 - High Capacity in a Compact Frame

  • Specifications:
  • Caliber: 9mm, Barrel
  • Length: 3.1 inches
  • Capacity: 10 Rounds stock (12 and 15-round mags available from Sig)
  • Performance Insights
  • Lightweight, slim, and with high ammo capacity, the P365 is a new breed of concealed carry options that look to address some of the weaknesses that come from using smaller firearms and also are symbolic of the move away from double action/single action (da/sa) pistols towards striker fire systems by Sig Sauer.
  • A truly compact pistol, the P365 easily fits into pants or jacket pockets and conceals as well or better than most concealed carry handguns on the market. The P365 also comes stock with night sights and a chamber cut allowing for easier brass checks. The trigger is relatively light, however, there is no safe action or passive safety features.
  • An option with a manual safety is available, however. Also, important to note that the very light weight of the gun makes it great to carry and wear, it also causes the gun to have substantial recoil when fired which is a negative aspect for many new gun owners. Well made, easily concealable with advanced features with high round capacity, the P365 receives a 7/10.

Springfield Armory XD-M - Precision and Power

  • Specifications
  • Caliber: .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol)
  • Barrel Length: 4.5 inches
  • Capacity: 13 Rounds
  • Performance Insights
  • Since 2002 HS has been marketing and selling their pistols in the United States using the Springfield Armory name which resonates strongly with American gun owners. The marketing relationship has been a great success as the XD (eXtreme Duty) line of pistols has become some of the most popular duty and defensive firearms on the market. With a semi-auto striker fire design, the XD-M chambered in .45 ACP is a high-quality and high-powered option. In addition to superior ergonomics, including deep cuts on the slide grooves for enhanced grip, the XD-M also features more passive safeties than most handguns on the market.
  • There is a pistol grip safety (similar to a 1911 style), a trigger safety lever (similar to a Glock), a conspicuous chamber, and a charge indicator that can be touched and felt in low-light conditions. These make the XD-M a very safe handgun without adding clunky manual safeties that can slow the user down in a high-stress situation. The XD-M also comes stock with High visibility sights stock, further enhancing the feature-loaded system. The .45 ACP is a large slow bullet unlike a 9mm, but functions well in this platform, and unlike a traditional 1911, the XD-M is designed for jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammo.
  • However, despite being feature-rich, the XD-M is a very heavy platform and not optimal for concealed carry. Also, customizing or tuning the pistol has been reputed to be arduous and time-consuming. The XD-M receives a 7/10.

Ruger SR1911 - Classic Design Modernized

  • Specifications
  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Barrel Length: 5 inches
  • Capacity: 8 Rounds
  • Widely considered to be the quintessential American handgun, the classic design of the 1911 and its long reign as the issued sidearm for the US military, along with its stellar single-action trigger all contribute to the popularity of the 1911 pistol and its preference amongst many competitive shooter’s. For a century the various models of 1911, mostly from Colt but with other clones, were a go-to choice for defensive shooters and law enforcement, however, in the late 90’s the full-size 1911 that had been immortalized in pop culture by Dick Tracey and endless war movies from Vietnam to WW2 enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance. With modern manufacturing and a high level of customization available, most of the big players, including some new ones, seemed to get on board and started producing their own variants including Smith and Wesson, Sig-Sauer, Kimber, and finally Sturm Ruger.
  • Ruger as a company has a knack for taking a design and gradually improving it over time giving consumers the most bang for their buck. Many advanced features come stock with the SR1911 including a skeletonized hammer and trigger, an oversized beavertail and grip safety, and an oversized ejection port and magazine release to address reliability.
  • There are few systems that shoot the .45 ACP as smoothly as a full-size 1911, however, in the last ten years, the system has started to be considered antiquated and anachronistic. This makes sense when considering newer systems and the wide array of options available to modern gun owners. The design has simply run its course as a duty or defensive weapon but will continue to enjoy huge popularity amongst recreational shooters for generations to come. The Ruger SR1911 receives a 6/10.

Comparative Analysis: Striker-Fired vs. Hammer-Fired Handguns

Glock entered the gun scene and started its takeover in the late 1980s with some unique design features that still get debated to this day, long after Glock has established itself as the dominant service handgun globally. With a polymer frame that no other manufacturer offered and an internal striker system in place of a traditional hammer and firing pin. Law enforcement immediately was taken by the Glocks’ simplicity and superior durability which simply wasn’t offered in handguns at the time.

The safe action trigger also was a unique system that helped ensure the firearm wouldn’t engage accidentally leading to negligent discharges. Versus hammer-fired pistols the Glock trigger was double-action only which was also unique amongst service pistols of the time. This platform really spread like wildfire and currently, all major manufacturers offer a striker-fired design. The benefits are durability in that there are fewer moving parts and less exposure to clothing or the elements that you get with an exposed hammer and firing pin. In addition, it is a simple function, instead of the complicated double-action and single-action systems most hammer-fired guns use, striker-fired systems use the same action every time.

As an explanation, take a common hammer-fired gun, a Beretta 92FS for instance, when the weapon is loaded and the slide is engaged to chamber a round, it will go into a lightweight single-action setting, the user needs to engage a de-cocker mechanism to put the trigger into a double action setting. If the Beretta is drawn and fired, the first shot is going to be a long, heavy double-action trigger with each following shot being a light short-action trigger. This is an incredibly simplified explanation, but demonstrates how complicated this system is for a new shooter, versus a striker-fired system.

Hammer-fired handguns enjoy a comeback every now and then however, with new improved options from Beretta and Sig-Sauer, but fewer and fewer new hammer-fired designs appear on the market every year, and most of them are old designs enhanced with new features.

Striker-Fired Pros

  • Simple, durable, modernized safety system. Easy to maintain and easier for those new to firearms to learn. Oftentimes superior performance and feeding.

Striker-Fired Cons

  • No versatility, the trigger is the same, no alternate settings.

Hammer-Fired Pros

  • Has a reputation for feeding more types of ammo, and a short single-action trigger is a benefit for many shooters.

Hammer-Fired Cons

  • Complicated. Prone to malfunction due to exposed action.

Protecting Your Hearing: Axil Leading Hearing Protection

Regardless of handgun choice or purpose, shooters need to protect their hearing and make sure to use high-quality hearing protection. Axil offers the best and highest quality ear protection available with everything from simple plugs to advanced earmuffs and earbuds. Axil products provide protection from high decibel noise as well as enhancement with some of the highest level noise reduction ratings (NRR) on the market today.

Many new gun owners will invest much time and research in choosing a handgun but put no thought into hearing protection. Considering many people purchase hearing protection along with their new firearms, this should be as weight of a decision as purchasing their handgun. Even using a suppressor, Axil can enhance hearing and improve spatial awareness with products like the XCOR or Trackr Blu, increasing hearing while protecting it.

Enhancing Handgun Performance with Upgrades and Accessories

In addition to quality hearing protection, many tactical aftermarket upgrades such as red dot sights, enhanced slide serrations, or kits for improved trigger pull are available for modern handguns. It is important for new potential gun owners to make sure that if they plan to enhance or tune their handguns they look for features such as a universal rail system or slide slots for plate installation or for a dove-tailed front sight for easy removal and replacement.

Handling and Maintenance Tips for Optimal Performance

Maintenance is a critical and largely overlooked aspect of gun ownership and affects not only the performance but also the life of a firearm. A skilled and knowledgeable gunsmith will strongly encourage new gun owners to properly clean and apply quality lubrication to their firearms to avoid malfunction as well as premature wear and aging. It is also generally recommended by professionals to use high-quality factory ammo versus reloads which can be unreliable and potentially dangerous. Most instruction manuals will include important information on cleaning as well as preferred ammunition.

Making the Pro-Choice for Your Next Handgun

The best place to start when it comes to choosing the “best” handgun is with a lesson from a skilled and experienced professional instructor. Instructors can not only help with information on which gun is best suited, oftentimes instructors will make a variety of handguns available for their students to try. This exposure and experience, while safe and informative, also provides a level of comfort and familiarity to a live fire shooting range. Interestingly enough, it is very common after a gun purchase and subsequent trips to the range, for a new gun owner to find themselves in the market for an additional firearm that does what their first firearm doesn’t do.

New shooters should focus on safety primarily, technique and performance secondly, and make sure to handle and maintain their firearm regularly and often to ensure important lessons are not forgotten. Finally, continue to learn and continue to train, with colleagues and professionals. All of this in combination will help ensure optimal performance and safety for all gun owners, regardless of the type of gun.

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