I’m often asked a question very much like this: “What’s the perfect gun?”
The answer I usually give isn’t ever what they want to hear because there’s no specific answer. Instead, I end up asking them more questions to find out what they want to do. Then they walk away with more questions of their own.
But, because my last little rant was about how I think unscrupulous dealers and salesmen, in my opinion, appear to be directing a specific demographic toward what I believe to be lesser-powered firearms for self-defense, let’s keep with that theme and look specifically at some options for everyday carry.
- I’m not recoil-sensitive and I’m comfortable with many more energetic calibers, but let’s focus only on the 9mm.
- It cannot be so small that it’s uncomfortable (or dangerous!) to grip effectively and shoot.
- Given a similar firearm size and function, primary capacity wins.
- Overall cost — who isn’t on a budget these days? Let’s say no more than $500.
- Fit and finish — it may be lightweight or even have a polymer receiver, but it needs to be well-made.
- Availability of holsters and replacement sights.
What Do You Use?
My defensive firearms:
Kel-Tec P-11 9MM. My primary reason for carrying this particular pistol is because it was offered to me at an incredibly low price, and was in a useful caliber. The P-11 is a small-frame semi-automatic, has no mechanical safeties to fumble with other than the reasonably stout Double-Action Only trigger, and uses compact 12-round magazines. It also has very nice three-dot sights. For the price I paid, and all features considered, this is my Go Everywhere pistol. It does have a few quirks — all firearms do — but I’m pretty comfortable with it.
I also often carry an inexpensive Commander 1911 in 45 ACP. I very much like the 1911 as it has a single-action trigger, very effective caliber, and fits much nicer in my hand. However, it is nearly a full-sized handgun and there is a great deal of energy in that 45 ACP cartridge. And, as is the nature of 1911s, it has a single-stack magazine, which means that it carries far fewer cartridges than the double-stack in my P-11; as a Commander-sized 1911, I’m limited to 6+1 in the pistol, plus whatever magazines I can carry. Those shots need to count every time.
But a 45 ACP isn’t for everyone and today we’re looking at compact handguns for smaller-framed adults.
A Few Options
This is not the only list of compact 9MM pistols that are available. It’s just a starting point of some of the compact 9MM pistols that I’ve had some direct experience with.
Photos shown are not representative of the physical differences in size between each of these pistols. Take the time to check out your local dealers and try the fit of each pistol in your own hands to see how they fit you and how you fit them.
Kel-Tec P-11: $275
Already mentioned this one earlier. Double-action only and does have a relatively stout nine pound trigger pull for each shot. No mechanical safeties — just like those cute little hammerless revolvers that the gun store guys keep trying to get you to buy. The difference here is that this has better than twice the capacity. Pick up a pair of 12-round after market magazines for this one and you’ll have a heck of a regular use pistol. [Edit: I just learned that the P-11 accepts the S&W 15-round magazines. Kel-Tec even offers an extension sleeve for those magazines to use effectively in the P-11. Magazines here. Extensions here. Another option here.]
Kel-Tec PF-9: $300
The PF-9 is a single-stack 9MM pistol and is rather slim — she comes in at about 7/8″ thick. At an eighth inch thinner than the P-11, the PF-9 still gives the owner 7+1 capacity. After-market magazines are still limited to only the 8-round variety. The PF-9, like the P-11, is Double-Action Only. The trigger is only 5lbs instead of 9 like the P-11. There are no mechanical safeties on the PF-9. For those with the tiniest of hands, the PF-9 may feel just about large enough to grip effectively.
Diamondback DB9: $350
Curiously, Diamondback only makes two pistols: the DB9 and the DB380. The DB9 is available in all-black, or with an orange, teal, or pink receiver! That said, I would only have one of the multi-color options as a novelty firearm, preferring instead black only for defensive purposes. Windage adjustable rear sight for a little tunability. The DB9 is quite small for a 9MM and due to its size — and the laws of physics — it is a bit punchy. Somebody who’s recoil sensitive may want to consider a larger-framed pistol. The DB9 is a single-action-only pistol and does have a rather long trigger reset: a full squeeze for the shot, then a full extension for the trigger to reset for the next shot. There’s no slide lock on the DB9 — after the last shot, you’ll only get the click of the hammer falling. Still, at $350, it’s a rather good pistol.
Ruger LC9: $380
Has a thumb safety of the same function as the 1911 platform — but much more stout. Fits my hand quite nicely. Windage-adjustable three-dot sights. Large, tactile loaded-chamber indicator on the top of the slide. Single-stack magazine in a 7+1 configuration. In my experience, the Ruger firearms are quite well-made. Two things I don’t like about the LC9: magazine disconnect, so it cannot fire without a magazine seated; and its disassembly pin, which is rather small and in my opinion could be very easily lost. Keep your disassembly and cleaning area clean, well-lit, and organized with this little guy.
Glock G26: $500
What can I say? It’s a Glock. It’s in 9MM. The difference here is that this one is a compact so it has a shorter grip and a shorter barrel. The G26 is delivered with a 10-round magazine with options for 12, 15, 17, 19, and 33-round varieties. Glocks are indeed sturdy and reliable. They’re also relatively inexpensive as far as handguns go. My primary quibble with Glocks is their laughably-named “safe-action trigger”, which is a mechanical safety on the trigger itself, which in my opinion, really defeats the purpose of “safety”; on all guns, keep your finger off the trigger unless you’re on your target and ready to shoot. Otherwise, they’re definitely well-made and reliable. You’ll also have no trouble finding a purpose-made holster for your new pistol.
S&W M&P Compact: $500
- M&P Compact