July 05, 2023
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Walk into any gun store in the U.S. and they will tell you that concealed carry pistols have been the big seller for some time. The upward trend in sales started shortly after the “fiery, but mostly peaceful protests” we saw during the last presidential election combined with Covid-era fear mongering. People quickly realized self-defense is ultimately on them, and there are multitude of situations where law enforcement simply may not be able to help.
Despite many states like Washington, Illinois and California aggressively and unconstitutionally attacking Second Amendment rights, many other states have passed Constitution carry or concealed-carry laws to make it easier to carry in public. So, that raises a great question. What’s the best CCW pistol for me? Without getting into a major debate between revolvers, hammer-fired semiautos, metal-frame versus polymer or cartridges, gun sales are clear that the 9mm striker-fired, polymer-framed subcompact semi-auto is the dominant choice.
There are a ton of great options in this category, and truthfully, they can be remarkably similar, so picking the right one for your needs can be a process. To help narrow down some of your choices, we’ve put together a list of 10 of our favorites amongst Firearms News staff that we’ve had the chance to use on the range and in the field. However, the best way to find what’s best for you is to test one out for yourself. Many indoor gun ranges offer rental guns, which are a great way to find out which pistol shoots best for you. There isn’t a wrong choice here, as it mostly comes down to personal preference. Regardless of the gun that works best for you, there is no substitute for effective training. So, try out some guns to find what fits your needs, then hit the range and sign up for some classes!
Shadow Systems CR920
Shadow Systems is a newer player in the firearms world, but its line of full-size and compact handguns quickly built a reputation for quality and performance. The Shadow Systems CR920 is a 13+1 capacity CCW pistol with tons of compatible holster options. What makes the CR920 truly stand out is the unique red-dot sight mounting system. Shadow Systems boasts one of the best direct-to-slide optics mounting interfaces available, offering an incredibly low mounting for red dots. It has a 4.5- to 5-pound, flat-faced trigger, which is right in the sweet spot for concealed-carry pistols. The CR920 line also features an Elite model with weight-reducing slide cuts.
SIG Sauer P365 Family
If you haven’t heard of the SIG Sauer P365, you’ve probably been living beneath a rock. SIG Sauer changed the CCW game with the P365, which offered unprecedented capacity in such a small pistol. Today, the line has expanded to host an entire family of P365 variants. Newer models offer features which include, compensators, optics-cut slides, improved triggers, larger magazines, color variants, and a lot more. Practically every holster manufacturer has multiple offerings for the various P365s, and there is an extensive aftermarket for other P365 accessories, including sights, triggers, controls and more. With so many different variants, they have solutions for every type of carry.
Mossberg is undoubtedly best-known for its shotguns, but they recently introduced a line of compact handguns ideal for concealed carry. The Mossberg MC2sc is optics-ready and set up for the Shield/J-Point pattern red-dot sights. It comes with an 11-round flush-fit magazine with an additional 14-round capacity extended mag, which is one of the best in this roundup. A 10-round state-compliant magazine is also available. Various models are available with TruGlo sights or a manual safety. The MC2sc uses a flat-faced trigger, and it has a short, crisp reset. The grip texturing is aggressive and ergonomic but still comfortable in the hand during shooting. At $550, the Mossberg MC2sc won’t break the bank, but it’s reliable and effective for concealed carry.
Springfield Armory Hellcat Family
The Springfield Armory Hellcat family has broken records on the number of units sold, making it one of the most-popular CCW pistols on the market. The Hellcat has excellent magazine capacity with mag options running from 11 to 14 rounds. One of the biggest standouts on the Hellcat is the Adaptative Grip Texturing, which uses a pattern of staggering pyramid shapes. The pattern offers an excellent grip in the hand without causing discomfort or clothing wear when carried. The line has expanded to include the Hellcat RDP and the Hellcat Pro, too. The Hellcat RDP boasts a unique, self-indexing compensator that notably reduces perceived recoil when shooting, and the new Hellcat Pro offers an impressive 15+1 capacity while maintaining a slim profile. The Springfield Armory Hellcat Family has extensive aftermarket support for sights, triggers, holsters and more. Most of the line runs between $600 and $675, with some optics-included models around $800. Regardless of which model works best for you, the Springfield Armory Hellcat is feature-packed and well-proven for CCW use.
Walther PDP Compact
Walther proved they can more than keep up with the modern expectations of CCW carriers with the Performance Duty Pistol Compact. The PDP Compact has a 4-inch barrel, new PDP trigger, optics-ready slide and one of the most-ergonomic grips on the market. This compact pistol still has room for a full-size rail for lights and laser attachments, and the rail boasts aggressive slide cuts. The optics-cut slide has multiple interface plate options for practically every red-dot sight on the market, and the iron sights are Glock-pattern if you want to swap them for one of the multitude of aftermarket sights available. With two 15+1 capacity magazines, the Walther PDP Compact is an excellent backup gun for law enforcement or civilian CCW use.
Smith & Wesson Shield Plus
Smith & Wesson has been in the concealed-carry game for many years. The Shield EZ9, Shield and extensive line of snub-nose revolvers have been a stable of the CCW market forever. Smith’s newest offering is the Shield Plus, which is available in a multitude of different models. Most models are chambered for 9mm, but the one featured here is even chambered for the all-new Federal 30 Super Carry cartridge. The Shield Plus is an excellent CCW upgrade for those already used to Smith & Wesson pistols. It uses a flat-faced trigger, 13+1 capacity magazine, thin profile, and Smith & Wesson boasts the Shield Plus has an 18-degree grip angle for a more natural point of aim. Coming in at $500, the Shield Plus sits at a great price point and boasts a lot of modern features.
Kimber R7 MAKO
Kimber has been in the CCW market for a long time. They make excellent snub-nose revolvers, and they have an excellent lineup of compact, hammer-fired pistols. However, Kimber has never had a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol, which is why they really turned some heads when they announced the Kimber R7 MAKO, a subcompact striker-fired CCW pistol. The R7 MAKO uses a 3.37-inch barrel with an 11-round flush and 13-round extended magazine. The slide is optics-ready, it uses TruGlo Tritium Pro night sights, too. The trigger sits between 5.5 and 6.75 pounds, and it’s a great out-of-the-box trigger. With a $599 price tag, the R7 MAKO is an excellent addition to the Kimber CCW lineup.
Taurus GX4XL T.O.R.O.
Taurus is known for its affordability, but the new lineup of GX4 pistols have proven to be reliable and practical for concealed carry. The new GX4XL T.O.R.O. offers some of the most modern features in a CCW pistol, and the XL slide is quite popular. T.O.R.O. stands for Taurus Optic Ready Option, which accommodates most modern micro red-dot sights, but the fixed iron sights work well on the longer 3.7-inch barrel. Capacity is standard for a modern subcompact pistol with a flush 11-round magazine and 13-round extended mag. The GX4XL comes with two backstraps for different palm-swell preferences, and it also uses a modern, flat-faced trigger. With an MSRP of $469, the Taurus GX4XL T.O.R.O. is one of the most affordable options in this roundup with all the included features.
The Ruger LCP, LCP II, Security and EC9 have been staples amongst CCW enthusiasts for years. Always working to keep up with modern expectation, Ruger recently introduced the MAX-9, a natural evolution to its polymer-framed, striker-fired CCW lineup. The MAX-9 has a flush 10-round or extended 12-round magazine, and it has a 3.2-inch barrel. It’s less than an inch wide, so it could easily serve as a pocket pistol or pull duty in an IWB holster. The MAX-9 comes with fiber optic front sights, and several models are cut for micro red dots or manual safeties. The trigger is solid with a short reset, and the grip texturing makes the MAX-9 a highly shootable pistol. Fans of Ruger pistols will quickly see it’s worth the upgrade, and this is an excellent option for first-timers, too.
At first glance, it’s hard not to compare the Stoeger STR-9C to a Glock 26, but this Turkish-made handgun arguably is more feature-packed. The STR-9C is definitely the most affordable option coming in with an MSRP of $329 by a lot, thanks largely to its Turkish origin, but they still have a solid reputation for reliability. One of its most-interesting features is the loaded chamber indicator, which actually raises for a tactical touch and confirmation, a nice touch when it’s dark. Speaking of dark, the STR-9C has a full-size rail for light and laser accessories, and it uses the classic white three-dot iron sights with some upgraded models offering tritium night sights. The Stoeger STR-9C is a no-frills but solid CCW pistol for those to whom simplicity is king and ease-of-use is a must. It may not have some of the features of the other pistols in this lineup, but good luck finding a CCW handgun with the STR-9C’s reliably at a better price.
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passionate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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