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As mentioned earlier, size can be an important factor in handgun selection. If you are shopping for concealed carry, you should look at compact or subcompact handguns that will fit with your body type and clothing choice. It’s easier to conceal larger pistols in colder climates since layers will obscure a pistol’s silhouette. If you’re in the southern states, you may favor a smaller pistol to carry with a thinner t-shirt.


If you do not plan on carrying this pistol concealed, you should look at full-size handguns, since they will give you less recoil with better capacity and a longer barrel. All these features contribute to a faster-shooting, more precise handgun with a better sight radius.


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Once you’ve settled on a size, you should choose a frame material. Some pistols use a polymer or alloy frames to reduce overall weight. Once again, for concealed or duty carry, a lighter pistol will be more comfortable to wear throughout the day. On the other hand, if you can tolerate the weight, a steel frame reduces felt recoil for faster follow-up shots. It’s no coincidence that many top competition pistols feature steel or weighted frames.


Ultimately, the benefit of frame weight is only marginal, so don’t eliminate top-performing polymer handguns solely for a few added ounces. After all, good technique will eliminate most of the perceivable recoil—regardless of overall weight.


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You will also have to choose between three common action types: Double-Action/Single-Action (DA/SA), Single-Action Only (SAO), and Striker-fired.


To understand the benefits, you must know the difference between double-action and single-action. In double-action, you pull the trigger to both cock and release the hammer. In single-action, pulling the trigger will only release the hammer. Since single-action only releases the hammer, a single-action trigger pull is considerably lighter and shorter than double-action, which has to overcome the hammer spring weight.


A DA/SA handgun can fire from either double-action or single-action and usually features an exposed hammer with a safety and/or de-cocker. When carrying these pistols, you can either cock the hammer and activate the safety, or you can carry it de-cocked and use the double-action trigger pull. Since double-action pulls are a lot heavier, DA/SA pistols can be challenging for novice gun-owners, who are unaccustomed to trigger- pull technique.


An SAO handgun (such as the venerable M1911) will only fire from single-action, so they must be carried with the hammer cocked. Since a single-action trigger pull is so short, most SAO pistols feature a manual safety, which is used to carry ‘cocked and locked’. To be effective in self-defense, the user will need to build a habit of activating and deactivating the safety whenever they draw or reholster.

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