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Improvements Made to Everyday Carry

Reflecting on how compact and concealable handguns have evolved, we can confidently say that EDC is better than ever.

Improvements Made to Everyday Carry

The SIG Sauer P365 series replaced the Glock 19 when it was introduced in 2018 to become the standard by which compact carry pistols are compared. For decades prior, the term “everyday carry” meant concealing a six-shot “snubbie” such as the .38-caliber Colt Detective Special. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

I spent most of a week in October 2023 filming segments for Guns & Ammo TV, which gave me the opportunity to discuss some interesting subjects. One topic that resonated with me was how carry guns have changed through the years. It wasn’t a discussion about the guns ostensibly built for concealed carry, but rather the guns carried when I was a young man versus those carried by Americans today.

I happily admit that I am an outlier. Not only do I carry a gun every day, I carry a full-­size handgun. For most of 2023, my carry gun was a SIG Sauer P226 with a spare magazine over the opposite hip. Most people aren’t like me, though. They never have been and never will be. As a rule, the average gun owner in the U.S. — when they bother to carry a handgun — wears one that is small and light. Most choose a gun that is convenient to carry, one that is small enough to stick in a pocket or purse, and some in a holster. Generally, people don’t want to have to change their manner or style of dress to carry a gun. 

For the purpose of this column, let’s call the median of the most popular carry guns the “average” carry gun. When I first started carrying a handgun in the late 1980s, the average carry gun was different than it is today. The number of reliable compact semi­automatics available was low by comparison, and a lot of gun owners didn’t trust pistols as compared to revolvers. Snub nose revolvers are still somewhat popular, but through the end of the 20th century, they were the number one choice for everyday carry. They were relatively small and light, simple to operate, and reliable. Even if you preferred bigger semiautos, your carry gun was probably going to be a “snubbie.”

The average snubbie in the ’80s and ’90s was a .38 Special, the Colt Detective Special or Smith & Wesson J-­frame for example. These guns were easy to carry, but hard to shoot fast and accurate. This was due to the typically long, heavy trigger pulls and minimal sights. Those guns were low capacity and cumbersome to reload. Handguns like the Detective Special having a six shot capacity, rather than five, was a significant selling point.

It wasn’t all wheelguns though. There were quite a few small, compact semi­autos that became available. Most had a bad reputation for reliability. There’s a reason you never hear of Raven, Jennings, or Lorcin pistols anymore. They went out of business in the 1990s. When it came to reliable semi­autos compact enough for concealed carry, the dependable choices were a Walther PPK/S, various Beretta models, and not much more.

The Walther PPK was reliable, and there was always a cool factor to the point that “James Bond” carried one, but it was heavy for its size being an all-­steel gun, had sharp edges, and a horrible double-­action trigger pull. The PPK/S only held seven-plus-one rounds, but compared to a five-­shot snubbie, that was a lot.

Beretta offered the ­Bobcat and Tomcat tip-up barrel pistols chambered in .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, as well as the Cheetah in .32 and .380 ACP. These were double-action (DA)/single-action (SA) semiautos with aluminum frames.

The larger 80-series Cheetah was an excellent carry gun, and the .380 versions were the most popular. The Model 85, with its single-­stack magazine, was more easily concealable than the double-­stack 84. The ­Bobcat and Tomcats were always popular, too, despite the diminutive chamberings, simply due to the size. For every person carrying a 9mm, .357 Magnum or .45 ACP handgun in a proper holster, there were 10 carrying a .22 or .25 in a pocket. Why? Convenience. Lots of people carried derringers, as well, simply because they can be quickly stuffed into a pocket. One, two, or a few shots, and you had to cock it each time. It was like living in 1887.

To sum up, the average carry gun of 40 years ago held five or six shots, and its power factor was closer to a .380 ACP than a .38 Special. We also can’t forget that these guns were all metal, thus they were heavy and had minimal sights, not to mention the unimpressive trigger pulls.

Today, the average carry gun is a micro-­compact, polymer-­framed pistol in .380 or 9mm. It likely carries a double-­digit capacity, has sights at least as good as those found on a full-­size duty gun from the Reagan era, and a better trigger. While there are a number of worthy competitors, the carry gun against which all others are judged seems to be the SIG Sauer P365, a 10-plus-one-shot 9mm with night sights, a great trigger and optic ready.

These changes didn’t happen in a vacuum. The number of citizens carrying concealed pistols is higher than it’s ever been. There has been a nationwide push toward shall-­issue and constitutional carry, and manufacturers have been outdoing themselves to attract new business. Compact handguns meant for concealed carry have been the biggest market segment for more than a decade. Forty years ago, women carrying guns were a rarity, but now they’re the fastest-­growing concealed-carry segment. Don’t think that gun manufacturers don’t notice! Many pistols are tailored to them, making them smaller, lighter, and easier to use.

gaad-hg-everyday-carry-02-1200x800
The Mossberg MC2sc 9mm is a micro-compact semiauto that feeds from either an 11- or extended 14-round magazine. Many contemporary carry pistols are also optic ready.

The improvements to handguns were accompanied by performance increases in defensive ammunition. Some ammunition manufacturers offer loads specifically engineered to work well out of short-­barreled pistols. Federal offers a Personal Defense HST Micro line, for example. In the ’80s, most carried ball ammo in their small guns because it was the only way to guarantee reliability. For others, full-metal-jacket bullets were the only way deep penetration could be achieved.

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I think the era of the modern carry gun didn’t start with the P365 or the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Rather, I credit the Ruger LCP. In 2008, Ruger wasn’t the first to market a reliable, micro-­compact, polymer-­framed .380, but it was the first to capture the public’s attention. Ruger has sold millions of these. The popularity of the LCP caused a prolonged shortage of .380 ACP ammunition. More importantly, its success made gun manufacturers reevaluate their catalogs, and we have reaped the rewards.

The average carry gun today is lighter than its predecessors. It typically features a molded polymer frame that was first designed and tested on a computer. They are so easy to make that these pistols are either cheaper than those older carry guns, or they include more features for the same price. Few still carry a .22, .25 or .32 these days because the .380 pistols are darn near the same size and weight, while 9mm pistols are only a bit bigger!

In terms of power, the modern carry gun in .380 or 9mm is not so different than guns sold 40 years ago, but new guns have good (or great) sights, a decent or better trigger, a corrosion-­resistant finish, a capacity at or more than 10, and boring reliability. The pistols that fall into the “convenient to carry” category are twice as good as they were in 1980, and there are a lot of them: FN Reflex, Ruger Max-9, SIG Sauer P365, Smith & Wesson Shield (Plus), Springfield Armory Hellcat, Taurus GX4, and so on.

For better or worse, Americans have never been more well-­armed than they are right now. Objectively, this is good news. Why do we need to be so well-­armed? Well, that news isn’t so good. I’ve written more than a few dystopian, apocalyptic — some would even say “realistic” — novels that address this very topic. As the saying goes, “It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” What we’re likely to have as far as an everyday carry gun is better than it ever was before. 




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