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Choosing The Best Handgun for You:
A Closer Look at Semi-Automatic Handguns

By Dan S. Defense

The semi-automatic handgun consists of three main components -a frame, a slide (with a barrel) and a magazine. Just like revolvers, these self-defense handguns come in single and/or double action. The three components that make up a semi-automatic, must work together in order for it to go bang, when you want it to.

First we have the slide and frame assembled together to make up the body of the handgun. Then, we have a magazine that holds some number of cartridges. When a loaded magazine is inserted into the self defense handgun, the stage is set for the act of firing.

In both single action and double action self defense semi-automatic handguns, the operator must first load a cartridge into the chamber. To do so, the operator racks (pulls) the slide back, which allows the magazine spring to push a cartridge up.

The motion of racking the slide will also cock (pull back) the hammer on some semi-automatic handguns (e.g. 1911 (SA) or SIG SAUER P226R (SA/DA)) or, on striker fired handguns such as the Glock or Springfield XD, it will 'load' the striker, but in both cases, the gun will be capable of firing when the different safety devices are disengaged. As you can see, there are more moving parts here than in a self defense revolver.

Many self-defense semi-automatic handguns come with some sort of safety device to help reduce the odds of firing a round at the wrong time. Some have grip safeties, some external safety levers, and some have trigger safeties. At the end of the day, I'd submit that the only safety you really need to operate a gun safely is the one between your ears -the one that always follows the 4 golden rules of gun safety, given to us by the late Col. Jeff Cooper. But, because some sort of mechanical safety is provided in the self defense semi-automatic, some folks deem it to be safer than a self defense revolver.

In some areas, the self-defense semi-automatic has a clear advantage over the revolver--namely in cartridge capacity and ease of reloading an empty weapon. There are some semi-automatics that have 19 x 9mm rounds in their magazines! That's a whole lot of rounds, when compared to the typical 5-8 rounds self defense revolvers will hold. In addition, the act of reloading a self defense semi-automatic, entails pressing a button to release the empty magazine and pushing in a new one. That and releasing the slide, by racking the slide back or pushing the slide stop-whichever way your training says best.

In addition, semi-automatics are usually slimmer than revolvers and therefore print less (i.e. leave some tale-tale mark through the concealment garment). It is true that with an average holster, a self defense semi-automatic is easier to conceal, especially for folks with smaller frames.

There are certainly many more things to say here, but my goal is to get you going on the topic and therefore I'll jump into our closing arguments for the pros and cons of the self-defense semi-automatic.

On the positive side, self-defense semi-automatics hold more cartridges, are typically easier to conceal with an average holster and typically come with some safety device that will require the operator to disengage it prior to the gun being able to go bang. In a fire-fight that will consume a magazine, the act of reloading under stress is easier for most folks, with a self defense semi-automatic handgun. The last point is feel in hand -I can tell you that for me, no gun feels as good or as natural as a 1911 -as you can see lots of good things going for this family of self-defense tools.

On the cons we have a system that has several moving parts. This system typically fails to function when a bad magazine is used (poor springs and bad lips being most common). Clearly, getting good quality magazines will help mitigate this risk. But, if a round gets "stuck" despite malfunction clearing, you are out of the fight, at least with that given self defense handgun, whereas with a self defense revolver you just pull the trigger again.

Last but not least is the safety--while it offers a newer operator some level of forgiveness, most accidents start where thinking stops. And, as I have mentioned in the previous article, I have seen soldiers, good men but new to action, fumble with their weapon, unable to fire because they forgot to release their safety. Bad thing when your life hangs on the balance.

So... do you prefer a self-defense handgun that has more rounds in a fight and an easy reload? Do you think that you'll have an easier time concealing your self-defense semi-automatic when carrying with a legal CPL? Will a self-defense semi-automatic feel better in your hand than a self-defense revolver? It's up to you to decide.

If you want to know what I opted to do, I'll tell you in confidence that I cheated (again) --I usually carry a S&W revolver as back up to my primary self-defense semi-automatic--a 1911 with 45 ACP cartridges or a SIG SAUER P226R with 9mm rounds. Sometime my primary self-defense handgun is a 45 ACP revolver (S&W Robar or S&W Thunder Ranch). In any case, this is my solution to this second of five steps to finding the best self-defense handgun.

Until next time, stay safe by staying alert!

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