The best pistol for self defense should fire a large enough projectile at a fast enough speed to stop an attacker. It is generally accepted that a 9mm is the minimum appropriate size. On the other hand, the popular advice, with which I agree, is that one should carry the largest caliber gun that they can shoot well.
This might mean that a weak-wristed arthritic person cannot handle even a .380. A .22 pistol is better than nothing. The 9mm is considered a minimum, and a movement currently exists saying that the 9mm is not enough. A .40 S&W, .357 Magnum or .45ACP is recommended. There are many more aspects to caliber selection, which we will not discuss in this article. In summary, I suggest 9mm, .40, .357mag or .45ACP.
I made this video as an update to this article.
The best pistol for self defense should be “handy.” By handy, I mean that it must be handy to carry, practice with and present. How do you plan to carry your defensive gun? Do you just want a gun to keep beside your bed? Do you live in Jackson Hole or Manhattan Beach? Having a 12” barreled .357 magnum is fine, but it is not as convenient as a sub-compact plastic pistol in regards to hiding in a purse, on a belt or otherwise.
On the other hand, a plastic compact pistol with a short barrel has a lot of recoil and is not “fun” or easy to shoot. Each of us has a different body type and personal preference. I am a big guy and personally dislike plastic guns. I am often beaten in IDPA matches in Jackson Hole by smaller-framed people shooting plastic guns, so I can not criticize any gun that YOU shoot well and enjoy shooting. It is truly a personal choice.
The most frequent mistake I see is the sale of lightweight revolvers to small-framed ladies new to shooting. The gun dealer assumes that the lady is not smart enough to figure out a semi-auto and sells her a small framed .38 Special revolver. This might be the right choice for some ladies, but for most it is not. We can discuss this in greater detail privately.
Guns range in cost from under $100 to many thousands of dollars. Depending on your financial situation, I suggest going for the best quality you can find. I purchased a Sig P226 pistol some years ago that had been used by a police department before being retired. I paid $350 and love the gun! Recently, one of my students purchased a Sig P226 from Sig’s Mastershop for about $3,000. His pistol is better, but mine is sufficient. Buying a new Sig P226 for $1,000 would also make a lot of sense. Most gun manufacturers have many levels or price/quality, sometimes for the same model as described above.
The bottom line is that it is wise to spend at least $600 to $1200 for a pistol for self defense. If you are in a financial position to buy the best – do it! There are some very poor quality guns in circulation, but most are decent. Sticking to a recognized brand like CZ-USA, Sig Sauer, Springfield Armory, Kimber or Remington will not guarantee quality, but is a good indicator. Some brands, like High Point, should be avoided at all costs! I like to look at the eBays of guns, Gunsamerica.com and gunbroker.com to determine what particular guns prices are THIS week in addition to consulting my Blue Book of Gun Values.
Another factor to consider is the fit and feel of the gun in your hand. If you ask other Top 25 shooting instructors which gun they prefer, you will likely get 20 different answers. Most of us do agree however that while we have our favorites, it is acceptable and advisable that your favorite is not my favorite. For example, my hand does not like the feel of a Glock, but many shooters love them. Gabe Suarez, a Top 25 CQB Shooting Instructor, loves the Glock and shoots very well with it. His arguments for it are as good as mine are for the 1911 or George Phillips for the Sig or Angus Hobdell for the CZ. We are all correct about our personal preferences and that you should choose what is best for you.
My experience has been that few grips feel better than the CZ-75, that few actions feel better than the Sig P226 and that few pistols are better for accuracy than the 1911. The Glock is easier to clean than the 1911, and the CZ is less expensive than the H&K. There are many other factors to consider including availability of replacement parts, availability of ammunition etc, magazine capacity, left –v- right handed, beveled magazine wells and many more. I strongly suggest having multiple guns, with one of them being a good .22LR target pistol.
The bad news is that selecting a new gun can be overwhelming, but there is also lots of good news! Gun enthusiasts love to give advice, you will buy many more guns after your next one and the internet machine has lots of great advice!
Following is a list of best pistols for self defense that I suggest including on your list for consideration.