[ 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.
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!