When civilian concealed-carriers choose a pistol to serve in a defensive role, they will fall into one of two distinct camps. The first will have one pistol to carry for all occasions and situations. The other will have a multitude of pistols to accommodate any possible situation they may find themselves in.
Our first group may have access to other guns, or they might not, eschewing a variety of pistols for the One True Gun that they then carry through thick and thin, hot and cold, rain and shine. Whatever the outing, attire and circumstances, if they are carrying, it will be their trusty and well-worn blaster.
The second group does own a selection of guns, and they all get used. They will have summer and winter carry guns, beach carry guns, formal attire guns and casual guns. Some misguided souls even carry a different gun for different days of the week. Usually though, these carriers are choosing a specific gun to serve a specific need.
So which is best? Or is one better than the other? Is this a case of “to each his own?” What if anything is to be gained from the “One Gun” mentality and does a “carry selection” have any merit? I’ll expound on this very question in today’s article.
Concealed Carry Precepts
Before we can really dig into the meat of the matter, it is helpful to understand just what will be required of ourselves and the gun we carry should we ever have need to draw against someone bent on hurting or killing us.
No matter where you are, what you do, or what your level of training is, there are some performance standards you must be able to meet in order to assure yourself of a good outcome. At least, you must be able to meet those standards if you don’t want to trust the outcome to luck, the ineptitude of your attacker(s) or providence.
You must be able to both access and get the gun into gear quickly in order to meet and hopefully stop the force being used against you, and again, hopefully before it is used against you. Part of this depends on intimate familiarity with your equipment, and is the result of long practice with it.
You must be able to wield your pistol effectively, both accurately and quickly, to bring your counterforce to bear and change the outcome of the attack.
Accuracy is indeed final but does no good if it is too late to the fray. Speed is the key absolute in many forms of combat but is worthless if your hits are marginal. Accuracy at speed is typically only achieved after much practice, both live and dry, with your pistol.
You must also strive to keep your pistol as concealed as possible. Obvious printing and lack of care over a flashed or inadvertently revealed gun is the sure mark of an amateur or slob.
Whatever pistol we carry, and no matter where we locate it, we must be able to conceal it effectively. The size and type of pistol and its holster are an important part of that equation.
We must also consider that the above points are both moot if the gun is absent from your person, or is carried in such a way as to completely preclude swift access in order to keep it concealed.
A large fighting handgun has many advantages over smaller guns, but it may as well be on the moon if you leave it behind at home or in your vehicle.
A smaller or second choice handgun is still comforting indeed if you have it when you need it. We must balance our wants and preferences against the realities of our situation.
So in short summary, no matter what we carry for defense or how we carry it we must be both fast and accurate in order to influence the event in our favor. And forget not that Rule #1 of gunfighting is, as always, “Have a gun.”
So we arrive at a bit of a crossroads: one gun may not allow us to effectively cover all eventualities of carry, but rotating between multiple guns to cover those eventualities “dilutes” our effectiveness by splitting practice and training time across multiple weapons.
So what is a savvy concealed carrier to do?
Concealed carry, effective concealed carry, of a pistol is not as easy as some would have you believe. Except when it is!
Okay, it can be complicated: the variables are significant, and you would be wise to consider them because the stakes for failure or mishap are high, legally and socially, to say nothing of the fact you might lose your life if you screw up your encounter with a scumbag.
It seems that either of the ideologies I described, One Gun carry and using a Carry Selection, both have drawbacks associated with them. They do.
What you have to do is work to overcome those drawbacks wherever you can, and through a combination of intensive self-awareness and a thorough analysis of the situations and environment you carry in, you can determine what method is best for you.
Before we get too far into the weeds, I want to make sure we are clear on a couple of specifics regarding these concepts.
When I refer to One Gun carry, I am referring to a shooter who is eschewing the use of alternate pistols, not folks who own or can only afford one pistol. In the latter’s case, the choice is made for them, good or ill; they’ll carry what they have or not at all.
A Carry Selection adherent has multiple guns for multiple purposes, not because it is cool and neat to change handguns like you change ties or shoes. A person who carries a variety of guns will do so to attain maximum advantage in one environment to another, depending on what is important to them.
So with that out of the way, what advantages and disadvantages are to be had with both methods?
Fear the Man with One Gun
A One Gun shooter may have additional pistols, but excepting a dedicated backup gun, or BUG, he or she relies on the One Pistol to Rule Them All, and carries it to the exclusion of all others, changing attire, carry location and other factors about their attire and equipment to make it work.
This means little in the case of a subcompact pistol which is easily hidden and carried in nearly any environment and wearing all kinds of clothing, but means they will often jump through hoops to keep on trucking with a fullsize pistol at, say, the beach, or in business casual attire.
That may mandate a very special holster or perhaps even off-body carry. Simply put, most of us who choose to carry one gun will not have our lives so easy as to allow us the same holster and same clothing day in and day out.
The plus side is substantial, though: a One Gun adherent will practice religiously and remorselessly with their chosen handgun. This will, all things equal, result in a shockingly high level of proficiency, with the gun coming to hand and being fired with all the ease and familiarity of the shooter’s beating heart.
They will never suffer a glitched draw from snatching a grip with different shape, or attempt to decock or safe a pistol that has neither hammer nor safety because they switched pistols on this outing. Definitely all good things.
The minimalist nature of such a method will also save money and time: fewer holsters, little to no variety in ammunition, and no need to stock multiple sets of mags, speed loaders, spare parts and other support equipment. There is less to keep track of, and less to fiddle with. Just a person and their trusty pistol.
The bad news, though, is that like many “purity” founded methods that are only so flexible, it is not at all uncommon to see yourself maneuvered into a no-win situation.
A One Gun shooter may very well be forced into seriously compromising control of the gun for concealment, or perhaps even having to make the call to leave it behind if going into a seriously sensitive area where detection can mean major consequences.
It is easy to say you’ll never go unarmed, but quite another when you are sweating through your suit carrying a Beretta 92 knowing trained eyes are looking for any sign or trace to indicate the presence of a weapon and are conducting “bump frisks” to confirm the presence of suspected ones.
Pick the One Right Tool
Quick aside: guns are not, ARE NOT, fashion accessories, and are not toys, no matter how enjoyable the hobby aspects of ownership are. You are carrying a firearm into a public place. You have a major ethical and legal requirement to do this safely and ethically.
If you switch guns simply on a whim, for novelty or variety, you are wrong and need recalibration. Changing guns must always be done deliberately to attain some real, practical advantage with work put in to overcome the software failures associated with changing tools, not for fun. Moving on.
A Carry Selection proponent may very well have a go-to gun, for instance a do-all gun like a Beretta PX4 Compact, but they are likely to fall back on a tiny Ruger LCP II for pocket carry in an office setting where they absolutely must not get caught, or in a situation where discovery could lead to total embarrassment.
Perhaps they jog or workout regularly, and do not give up their firearm to do so. The Glock 19 would likely be a pain in the butt when jogging in lightweight attire and the bouncing around, and so our intrepid carrier switches to a flyweight S&W 340PD clipped inside their waistband or in a fanny pack, as even the diminutive LCP will bounce and flop precipitously in a pocket when running or engaging in exercise.
Seems like quite the motley brace of pistols! And 3 different manufacturers to boot. But a smart shooter who has a selection of carry guns will take pains to minimize teething problems.
Did you by chance pick out any common characteristic with the guns above? They are all double action on the first shot, and in the case of two of the, (LCP and 340PD) double-action only. While not a hard rule, trying to maintain similarity as much as practical between carried pistols is oftentimes beneficial.
But there is no escaping the obvious flaw with this plan: multiple guns carried regularly means more time must be devoted to practice with each of them and their respective carry solution to maintain the same level of proficiency with each.
Assuming only a fixed amount of time and funds to train and practice, this means that your average shooter relying on multiple guns will not be as proficient with them as they would be with only one.
The choice then becomes one of hedging bets: do you practice the most with the gun you carry the most, or split time evenly among the pistols to be at least equally practiced on all of them?
Should you practice more or less with the gun carried less often? Not easy choices to make, especially when the overriding mandate is “you better be competent with whatever is in your hand when the fight kicks off.”
Figuring Out the Optimal Approach for You
There is no right or wrong answer here, only the wrong potential solutions for you. I admonished my readers earlier to know themselves and what they are setting out to accomplish when carrying, and you should do that now.
Let’s consider what your average day looks like when carrying, and I am assuming here that you carry every day so long as you are in a place where it is legal to do so.
What does your work attire look like? Your average casual or daily attire? How often does it change or are you ever forced into attire where it works against standard carry methods, i.e. OWB or IWB carry? What is the usual weather like? Larger outer garments furnish plenty of opportunity to carry even large guns on the beltline with no one the wiser.
Do you carry in a highly permissive environment, a definitely non-permissive environment, or something in between? A permissive environment is never an excuse to be sloppy or careless, but it does mean the penalty for discovery is lower, and may give you the confidence to push the envelope a little with a bigger gun.
An environment that will see you severely punished legally, socially or physically will mean you positively must not be detected, and that my friends mandates a very small gun or one that is sublimely easy to conceal deeply.
Consider the what our One Gun might be: do we go with a compact or full-size pistol to afford ourselves maximum performance under most conditions and then work hard to carry it with more risk on those occasions where maximum concealment is a mandate, or do we go all in on a very small pistol to ensure we can always hide it if needed, and accept its shortcomings and also work harder in practice to shoot it to standards? Decisions, decisions.
If you decide that a brace of pistols will solve your problems, you must know how much you are willing to spend to cover your bases, and how precisely you are willing to cover them.
Do you get compact pistol and a subcompact to accompany it, like the Glock 19 and Glock 26, also keeping their form, function and handling as close as possible to one another, or do you branch out further? Understand that the more dissimilar each of your carry pistols are the more practice with each is required to obtain anything like proficiency.
Having a smorgasbord of handguns does not mean you are “ready for anything,” it just means you have more chances to pick that just-right handgun to do the job you need it to do.
I would call myself nominally a One Gun guy, as I carry my fullsize 9mm pistol whenever possible. But I do have a snubbie revolver, a lightweight LCR in .357 Magnum that I carry when dressed for a workout or dressed sharp with no coat.
That puts me firmly in Carry Selection territory. For really deep concealment, like when I am at the beach or pool in just trunks, or in a highly sensitive environment, I carry a little bitty Beretta Tomcat.
I always, always attempt to carry my fullsize handgun as it gives me the most conceivable advantages that a pistol can: I shoot it the best, the farthest; it carries a substantial amount of ammunition, it is surpassingly reliable. But I am not willing to give up proper concealment and risk discovery no matter how much I want the performance of the “big gun.”
That is actually a rarity, as my lifestyle, location and self-employed profession make those times, thankfully, quite rare. Even so, I have those smaller, special purpose guns that are the best in their respective classes of compact revolver and pocket pistol respectively for those occasions.
Notice again: the guns are all similar in function, at least as far as the trigger is concerned. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the firearms and personal security field long enough that being good was and is part of my job, so I have enjoyed a great amount of training and practice with all of my “social” pistols and shoot all of them to a very high standard, though no other so well as my fullsize gun.
What I want you to take away from my disclosure is not that I am necessarily advocating for multiple guns for any one reason, or that choosing a single gun to bet the farm on is the way.
See that my methods have been chosen because they fit my specific requirements, my mission, if you will. Your mission and setting may and probably do look very different. The obstacles you face may be substantially more challenging than mine.
Swapping between guns for no reason is foolish and wasteful, just like sticking with a less than optimal gun is foolish when you have the skills to make use of a better one. Assess your situation, skill, time and resources and outfit accordingly.
- Devoting yourself to one gun will see you increase skill more quickly than if you practiced with different guns.
- Multiple guns may allow you to remain armed in a wider variety of possible circumstances.
- You must have a gun on you for it to do any good in your time of need.
- Careful analysis of your lifestyle and environments will show you the right approach. Train and equip for the most common settings, not the one-off or rare occurrence.
- A larger gun is almost always better when the fight is on, but small guns will do if you can do.
- It is far better to be more proficient with a lesser gun than to be less proficient with a better gun.
Sticking with one pistol or swapping between two or three are both acceptable methods for concealed carry success so long as the shooter understands the reasons for his or her choices and works to minimize shortcomings whenever possible.
Every person’s situation, skills, resources and obstacles are different, and require a different proscription for their needs.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.