[Guest Post] Picking a perfect defensive pistol

[ This guest post was written by Chris Baker. ]

The elusive perfect defensive pistol; does it exist? Browse a few gun forums and you’re sure to run into more than a few people who are sure that does exist and that it’s a 1911. Or a Glock. Or… well, pick any pistol and it’s sure to have at least a few die-hard fans. But the more balanced point of view seems to be that there are different pistols suited to different purposes. Some are great for super discreet concealment. Others might make an ideal open-carry sidearm for law enforcement. The list goes on. But how about if you’re not interested in owning a full arsenal and you just want one gun to do it all? One pistol you can carry year round, and keep on the nightstand at home in case something goes bump in the night.

Even if you narrow it down to those criteria, you’re not going to find one gun that’s the “perfect pistol” for everyone. But I believe there’s a class of pistol that’s pretty close to ideal for a good chunk of the gun-owning population: the compact striker-fired polymer 9mm semi-automatic. Pistols like the Glock 26, S&W M&P compact, Springfield XD compact, and Ruger SR9c are lightweight, accurate, reliable, concealable, controllable, and pack a lot of firepower. Many will swear by the full-size older brothers of these compacts, and those are great, too. But to maximize concealability, a slightly shorter grip and barrel really go a long way. And where these pistols really shine is that you can still use the high-capacity magazines of the larger pistols for times when the concealment factor isn’t as important (like in home defense).

There are a handful of good options in this category, but I want to go into detail about my two favorite: the M&P9c and the Ruger SR9c. The M&P has been my personal go-to firearm for a while. It’s dead reliable, and handles better than almost any full size 9mm I’ve owned. The sight radius is slightly shorter than the full size, which makes those long distance shots a little tougher. However, having the shorter barrel actually makes the compact M&P a bit quicker out of the holster, and that faster draw-time is more likely to be meaningful in a gun fight than long distance accuracy.

Like several other guns in its class, the M&P has changable backstraps, which make the gun suited for people with all different hand sizes. The clever guys at Crimson Trace have figured out a way to engineer a really sweet laser grip that fits in place of the backstrap, a fact I have taken advantage of. This leaves the front rail free for mounting a white light, which many consider a must-have for a defensive pistol. The M&P ships with two 12-round compact magazines, but also accepts the 17-round full-size M&P9 mags. For a few bucks extra, I picked up some magazine “spacers” from X-grip, which fills the gap at the bottom of the higher-capacity magazines and really gives the pistol the same feel as the full size model. With the full-length grip, you forget that you’re shooting a compact pistol, but really, the M&P9c is still very controllable even with the 12-round mags.

I’ve had a lot of great range-time with my M&P, but I also recently got the chance to put a few rounds through a Ruger SR9c. I’ve heard great things about this gun from a lot of different people, and now I can verify that they weren’t exaggerating! In general, it has similar handling characteristics to the M&P, but the first thing I noticed when I fired it was how little felt recoil there was. Most of the compact striker fired pistols I’ve shot have had very manageble recoil, including the M&P9c, but the SR9c shoots softer than all of them, making it an attractive option for less experienced shooters, or those who are otherwise recoil sensitive. The trigger is also one of the better out of the box triggers I’ve experiened on a striker fired auto. The combination of a nice trigger and light recoil make the SR9c really shine when making rapid follow-up shots.

Smith and Wesson M&P9c vs. Ruger SR9c

On paper, the SR9c is slightly larger than the M&P in almost every dimension, but when you handle it, it just “feels” smaller. It lacks the removable backstraps like the M&P, but its slim grip is extremely comfortable and I imagine most would find the ergonomics agreeable, except perhaps people with very large hands. The tradeoff of the slim grip is that the compact magazines only hold 10 rounds as opposed to the 12 rounds on the M&P. However, Ruger made what I think is a smart marketing move and decided to ship the SR9c with one 10-round and one 17-round magazine. The Ruger 17-round magazine even comes with a magazine spacer, so there’s no need to purchase another accessory like the X-grip for the M&P magazines. If I had any gripe with the SR9c, it would be with the thumb safety. Besides not really finding it necessary, it’s small and difficult to manipulate. It flips on and off easy enough, but I believe a good thumb safety should be large enough to rest ones thumb on, like a 1911. As it is, the SR9c safety is just in the way, and I think Ruger would do well to offer a model that does away with it completely.

I really enjoy my M&P9c, and it rarely leaves me wanting for much else in a defensive handgun. After shooting the SR9c, however, I think Ruger also has a winner on their hands. If the SR9c can match the proven reliability of the M&P, then I would consider them near equals in almost every other respect. Of course, that’s not to say these are the only two viable choices in this category. There are a few other great compact semi-autos that offer the same kind of balance of firepower and concealability. If you only plan to own one serious self-defense pistol that does it all, look into a compact 9mm!

This article was written by a Guest Author. The views contained in this article reflect that of the author and not necessarily that of The Firearm Blog or TFBTV.


  • snmp

    Why not take an Makarov PM or PMM in 9x18mm

    * Enouth powerful like 38 Spl
    * concealable,
    * controllable,
    * Simple
    * Rugued

  • scurvy

    The best self-defense pistol in your home is a shotgun.

  • Russ

    to me, the SR9 has the trigger pull of a staple gun… other then that it fit well in the hand..

  • skipsul

    I still like the Glock 30, but I’m a die hard .45 ACP fan. Nothing against the 9mm, or the 40 sw either. Main rule is to carry whatever you can shoot well, and practice as much as you can. 1 hit with .22 short is better than 20 misses with anything (except 12 ga).

    Now when is Taurus going to release their Judgement-Day 4-Horsemen-of-the-Apocalypse judge in 12 ga / .50 bmg?

  • skipsul

    I should add to my earlier note that about the only wrong pistol would be a .50ae D’eagle, until someone comes up with a comfortable IWB rig anyway.

  • Best depends on what you need.
    Thank you for the detailed article.
    Both look like good options.
    I am a 1911 fan but these are worth a look for carry.
    The problem I have is nothing points the way the 1911 (flat ms!) does…
    I have tried them… glock, I can’t do it.. (the grip mods available are interesting) SA XD, good but not good enough.. The M&P may be the next to try..

  • Scorpio23

    I wish to quote user Scurvy, the perfect defensive pistol (not for carrying but for home defense) is a shotgun.

    Second pick of mine: whichever pistol you do own, as long as do you practise with it at least twice a month.

  • Distiller

    Neither can compete with a Walther PPS.

  • colin

    I love my M&P9c, everyone who shoots it loves it. The smooth trigger, tame recoil and excellent ergonomics make me completely uninterested in looking elsewhere, but props to Ruger for putting up some competition! However, I have to say for a CCW the M&P9c is absolutely as large as I would want to go and to me the SR9c looks considerably larger.

  • Anointedsword

    Smith and Wesson all the way!

  • fw226

    True, scurvy, but hard to conceal outside the house! (“Is that a shotgun in your pants or are you just…”)

    I like my Glock 26 well enough, and at $400 it wasn’t that expensive. It isn’t my favorite to shoot, but it conceals. I’ll have to try an M&P.

  • RollTide

    2 handguns made in USA! I would use either. I chose a revolver and a shottie for home defense. I feel that they fit my needs better than anthing else. Plus I already got em’!
    My questions : will the fact that the barrels are so short be a problem for “things” mounted on the rail? How about the flash/bang factor in low light/ confined space?

  • hacedeca

    These guns look like Chinese versions of the Glock with the enhanced magazine of the Springfield (XD?), especially the Ruger.

    • Jon

      HA! Another Glock snob proving he’s just another wannabe with a gun. You obviously don’t know shit about firearms to make such a stupid comment. You probably don’t even own a gun due to mental defectiveness. Go troll on a BB gun website where you belong.

  • TZH

    I’m a huge 1911 but the simplicity of snubbies make them quite appealing. they ain’t perfect, nothing is, but one’s lifestyle varies from another.

  • Bob Z Moose

    Great post, except I think (with a bit of training and familiarization) a lot of people would be better served with a pistol they can carry “cocked and locked”, like a CZ75 Compact or a Taurus 917C. I can’t say my Taurus has left me wanting for anything in a defensive pistol.

  • 762KLR

    I find the full size 1911 to be easy enough to conceal, though I rarely do anymore. Mostly Open Carry. Powerful, tried and true, single action, accurate…..eh, you’ve heard it all before. I’m in agreement with Jeff Cooper when it comes to handguns, 1911 .45; I did like my old CZ-75 clone, though not the caliber.

  • michael

    For out of the house it is very simple: whatever you can shoot accurately, and conceal properly when not in use. .22 may be too small for practical purposes, but a lot of people have been killed by this round, that much is certain. The idea that someone is going to be safer with a .40 or .45 than someone walking around with a .32 PPK is naive. Too many factors to consider, and it’s best not to kid oneself. And in the home, one is better off with a shotgun or rifle, probably.

  • crosswiredmind

    The only reason I don’t carry an M&P or the SR9c (or a Glock) is thickness. Double stack pistols pattern on my clothes. For that reason I chose to go with a single stack 9mm. At the time I started carrying the Kahr was my only viable option. I picked the P9 because it fit my hand and was wicked accurate. I really like some of the single stack 9s that have shown up in the last couple of years, with the Sig P290 and the Kimber Solo really piquing my curiosity.

  • John S

    “It lacks the removable backstraps like the M&P, ”

    Just like the full sized SR9, the SR9c does have a reversible backstrap. You can have either a flat or arched backstrap depending on which side you have facing outward.

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  • Jon

    I have an M&P 9c and my wife has the Ruger SR9c. I had a Glock for a bit and it feels like a toy compared to my M&P. That’s just me though, I understand a lot of people prefer a Glock. The problem is, that most people I know that own a Glock and others that don’t own any firearms but want one, have little to no knowledge of other alternatives, like these.

  • Jody Stomper

    Thank you for the great review! I appreciate the way you emphasized each pistol’s strengths, and didn’t imbue personal peaves onto otherwise objective statements of mechanical and ergonomic attributes. I went with the Ruger simply because of (1) rebate offer through the retailer made final price $50 under Smith & Wesson’s; (2) inclusion of the 17-round mag & adaptor that lets me turn my midget carry gun into a high-cap nightstand drawer go-to; and (3) Ruger’s 1 Million Gun Challenge last year, to raise funds for NRA. Were it up to just the pistol itself, all mags/adaptors/rebates/NRA donations out of the picture, I’d still be at the gun counter scratching my head. And yes, the trigger pull on the Ruger is a little spongy, but at least in my specimen, it’s extremely consistently so and the let-off is still exactly at the same point with every shot. Not at all unlike “Gen 1” Glocks. Not what I look for in a Bullseye Competition gun, but for something to carry concealed, locked & loaded with the awkwardly tiny safety button down, it was easy enough to master with practice. Extend, press, BANG, hole in target. Every time. Over 5,000 rounds through mine and no FTF/FTE yet. It carries easily in several modes. It doesn’t rattle, poke me, or snag on clothing. Cleaning the thing is a breeze. It goes BANG every time I pull the trigger, and puts a hole in the target right where I point it. I just wish I could find holsters for it online as easily as I can for the M&P.