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Choosing a Sensible Pistol for Self Defense Situations

Compact Single Stack Pistols are commonly carried for defense but far too often, people don’t train or practice with them as much as they should.

Smaller guns are harder to shoot, less fun to shoot and more work to run… but, that’s no excuse not to spend time working with and thinking about the gun that you are actually relying on when carrying in the public space. In this blog, I’m going to cover three topics related to Compact Single Stack Pistols (CSSPs): why they are a great choice for Personal Defense, why you really do need to practice with them and what special considerations you might make in regard to ammunition & accessories for smaller guns. Choosing a Sensible Pistol for Self Defense Situations

The best reason to choose a CSSP for defense is convenience.  I can already feel the disturbance in the force as people scroll to the comment section under this article to berate me for daring to have typed that. “Armed Defense isn’t about ‘convenience’ Mr. Pincus!” … well, in my experience and observation, the more convenientwe can make the preparations for personal defense, the more likely someone is to be prepared. I carry a CSSP, and have for years. The number one reason that I cite is that a single stack pistol is more comfortable and convenient to carry. Would I be better off with a full size pistol in the event I needed to confront a threat? Probably….but, knowing the circumstances that I am most likely to face and the conditions under which I would be likely to use a firearm to defend myself or someone I cared about, I feel confident in my ability to use my CSSP effectively.  

Shooting three to five rounds rapidly into the high center chest of a target at 9-15’ under defensive conditions is something that just about any human being should be capable of after a moderate amount of skill development and practice - even with a CSSP. If you aren’t there yet, you should be practicing until you are or re-thinking your choice to carry a defensive firearm in the first place. If you aren’t there with your compact carry gun, but you can do it with a larger gun, carry the larger gun until you put the time in.

There is nothing special to training or practicing with a compact gun. The same regimen that you would follow with a full size single or double stack applies. Keep in mind that the likely circumstances of your defensive gun use don’t change just because you choose to carry a smaller gun.  If you would be firing 3-5 round bursts with a full size double stack, do the same with your CSSP. Will you need to reload more often during training? Of course. That’s okay, reloads will be more likely in the real world too. Get the reps!

When it comes to accessorizing your CSSP, there are two things I think you should consider: a laser aiming device and extended spare magazines. 

Laser Aiming Devices expand the circumstances under which you can responsibly use a defensive firearm. This may be especially true for a CSSP, with a short sight radius and/or substandard sights. Too often small guns have poor sights. Thankfully, modern options such as the Sig P365 do tend to come with better options than classic models such as the Walther PPK or Ruger LCP. Regardless of the types of sights you have on your CSSP, the short slide is going to offer less potential for precision because of the shorter side radius when compared to a full sight gun. I prefer to carry a 4” slide CSSP, which helps in this area, but there is a still a noticeable difference between those and a pistol with a 5-6” barrel. Especially if you carry a shorter barreled CSSP, your ability to hit targets reliably can be greatly increased with the addition of a laser aiming device. The laser does not replace kinesthetic alignment or your sights as primary and secondary aiming options. It adds a third option for situations where the first two won’t allow you to fire an accurate shot. The laser aiming device also allows you to aim the gun when it isn’t extended in your line of sight as well.

Conceal Carry

Extended Spare Magazines not only give you more rounds in the gun when you reload, they also make your reloads more reliable and possibly faster by giving you more to hold onto when obtaining the magazine and inserting it into the empty gun.

When it comes to choosing ammunition for your CSSP, reliability is obviously the most important factor to consider. Not only reliability in regard to the functioning of the gun, but also the reliability of the hollow point round inside the threat. Remember that many rounds are designed to work in full size pistols with longer barrels and, likely, higher muzzle velocities in typical defensive calibers like .380, 9mm and .45acp. I have found that my primary defensive choice is Winchester 9mm +P Defender 124gr rounds – it performs very well out of 4” barrels. These rounds should perform well out of your 9mm CSSP as well. If you have concerns about muzzle velocity out of short pistols, you might also consider the classic Winchester Silvertip Hollow with its thin jacket and soft lead alloy.

Shooting your CSSP is more like “work” than shooting a full size gun, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect practicing with the tool you actually use. Take that gun out of the concealed carry holster the next time you go to the range and get some appropriate practice in!

Rob Pincus
Rob Pincus
Rob is a leading international personal defense educator specializing in the area of Defensive Shooting. He has conducted training courses around the world for armed professionals and people interested in personal or home defense for over two decades. He is the author of several books and producer of over 100 DVDs on self-defense topics. He has spent thousands of hours researching, developing and teaching the courses that he and his team of certified instructors offer.