If you subscribe to the “smaller is better” theory, finding the right small gun for your concealed carry needs might be a challenge. While there are hundreds of small guns on the market, most of them just don’t make the cut as a self-defense weapon. We have searched long and hard, and studied what goes into making a superb small gun for concealed carry. We narrowed the list to five picks, and have reviewed them in depth below!
What Made the List?
After testing out many weapons, we landed on five small guns that offer superb reliability for concealed carry. In no order, these weapons are:
- Ruger LCP II
- Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard
- Glock 42
- Beretta Pico
- Kahr Arms CT-380
Evaluating the Small Guns – Criteria
When talking about small pistols, we change up our list of what we look for in a concealed carry gun. The smaller the gun, the more we tend to put caliber at the top of the list. Our basic criteria, as usual, are:
You should notice that concealability didn’t make the list this time. Since we are looking at small pistols, the issue of concealability really doesn’t enter the process.
The Question of Caliber
Whenever we start thinking about small guns, the first thing that comes to mind is the caliber. There are lots of small guns on the market that are easy to pocket or purse carry. Many of these are chambered for .25 ACP or .22 rimfire. In our opinion, that just isn’t enough bullet to be reasonably considered for self-defense.
Yes, we know that any caliber can be deadly. However, the smaller the bullet, the more important bullet placement becomes to stop the threat. For most concealed carry license holders in the heat of a sudden threat, that kind of accuracy isn’t in the cards. In our opinion, the smallest caliber that anyone should carry is a .380.
Fortunately, there are many good choices for a small concealed carry gun in .380. With ammunition manufacturers turning out better bullets, and with more efficient powders, the effectiveness of the .380 has increased—as has its popularity among concealed carry license holders.
Reliability in a Small Package
Many of the problems that continually hear about small guns have to do with the issue of reliability. Some of these problems are related to ammunition choice, but most of the more serious issues are tied directly to the quality of the gun manufacture.
Reliability is almost always near the top of our criteria list simply because it is usually, for us, the most important thing you should consider. If you are carrying for self-defense and have to unholster your gun, you want to know with certainty that it is going to go bang when you pull the trigger.
The small guns we chose are not, by any stretch, the least expensive on the market. However, the guns we chose certainly fulfill our criteria for reliability. We value that above anything else for a concealed carry gun.
Finding the Right Fit
Your concealed carry gun should fit you. What does that mean? Every manufacturer of pistols or revolvers has its own idea about grip design, including the angle or rake on the grip. We know people who are excellent shots, but who couldn’t hit the center with a Glock to save their lives. It all goes back to the way the gun fits them. You need to find a small gun that fits your shooting style and will come to aim naturally and easily.
Your Self-Confidence is a Key Factor
Knowing that the gun you carry will fire when needed, fits your shooting style, and that you, after regular practice and training, can put rounds on target successfully, you should have the self-confidence that will stand you in good stead if you ever need to draw your gun in a self-defense situation. In that situation, things will be stressful enough without having to worry about a bargain-basement gun failing to fire.
Our Small Guns Picks
Because finding the right fit in a concealed carry gun is so important (especially in small pocket style guns), we have not ranked our list. These are our top picks among the array of small pistols that are available on the market and that meet our other criteria as well. Hopefully, you will find one that meets your needs on this list.
Ruger LCP II
Ruger hit a home run with the Ruger LCP II, the follow-up redesign of their original LCP pistol. This small gun—chambered in .380—is easy to shoot, easy to conceal, and easy to afford. Like any of our small concealed carry gun choices, this is not a gun with which you are going to be drilling bullseyes at 50 yards. This is a small gun that is designed to be easily carried and to put rounds on target at 7 to 10 yards.
That said, the Ruger LCP II is easy to shoot. The recoil and muzzle jump are easy to manage, even in a 9mm chambering. In .380, this is a gun that you can take to the range and have fun shooting while you are practicing.
We found that the LCP II was a fit for us, coming to aim quickly and naturally. The LCP also has a reputation for reliability, feeding everything that you can stuff in the magazine without fail. As with any pistol, maintenance and care are the critical factors in reliability. Pocket carrying exposes a pistol to all sorts of grit, grime, and pocket fuzz, so regular maintenance must be a priority.
For the price, the Ruger LCP II is probably the best value in a small pocket carry concealed gun. It may not be the most attractive small gun on our list, but who’s taking their pocket carry pistol out for a beauty contest anyway?
For more info, see our complete Ruger LCP II Handgun Review!
Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard
Smith & Wesson has a long and glorious history of building fine pistols and revolvers. The M&P Bodyguard .380 is no exception and won’t tarnish that illustrious history as time goes on. If you are looking for a pocket gun—or a small gun for a smaller framed person—the M&P Bodyguard .380 should be on your list.
Like almost all other Smith & Wesson product lines, there are many variations on the M&P Bodyguard available. From caliber to color, you can get these guns customized in almost any way you prefer. One of the most valuable add-ons available from the factory on the M&P Bodyguard is the integral laser sight.
In a defensive handgun, a laser sight can be a godsend. These tools are easy to operate and can even make those whose skills might otherwise be considered a bit shaky into a spot-on marksman. Put the red or green dot where you want the bullet to go, pull the trigger, and see holes appear in the right place on the target. For a self-defense small gun, this can be a lifesaver.
The M&P .380 grips are short. If you have large hands, you may have a problem getting a solid grip on this gun. We found that the little finger tends to float around in the air because there is nowhere for it to go on the grip. This can be a little disconcerting, but should not be something that can’t be overcome.
As far as reliability, the M&P .380 is a little picky about the ammunition you feed it. Mechanically, there is no question that the M&P .380 will function as it is designed; however, you may need to buy some different ammunition and go to the range for some tests with your gun. Find the best self-defense ammunition that feeds reliably and stick with that.
Price-wise, the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 is in the middle of the pack. There are cheaper small guns, but there are also many that are much more expensive. We are big fans of the M&P line of pistols made by Smith & Wesson, and we believe that you won’t be disappointed if this gun fits you.
It seems that when it comes to Glocks, people either love them or hate them. If you happen to fall into the “love ’em” category and are looking for a small concealed carry pocket gun, the Glock 42 .380 is going to be a favorite.
Like all Glocks, the 42 shares the same design principles and engineering. The rake on the grip is one of the things that makes or breaks the Glock for most people. We find that a Glock snuggles into the hand and aligns quickly and easily as it’s brought up to the target—but for many others, the same will not be the case.
Reliability with a Glock is never a question. We have found over the years that you can stick almost anything in a Glock magazine, and it will feed reliably through the Glock ramps. Many small and large frame semi-automatic pistols have trouble feeding self-defense rounds; you never need to worry about this with a Glock.
Some people have issues with the Glock 42 grips. The addition of an extended magazine with a place to put your little finger would make things a bit more comfortable, but overall we find them functional and adequate. Another issue that troubles some people is the trigger pull. The trigger pull is long and is not the crispest break you could expect.
Like the M&P, the Glock falls in the middle of the pack price-wise. The Glock 42 .380 gets high marks for reliability and functionality, and is simply one of our favorites. Of course, we are solidly in the center of that Glock circle.
My first concealable carry pistol was a Beretta .380. It was a model 81, and I carried for several years before trading it off for something else. For me, it was a good first small gun at the time.
Beretta has re-entered the concealed carry market with the Beretta Pico. Small and lightweight, the Pico was designed for concealed carry—especially for those who want to pocket carry where smooth, clean lines and no snag points are important features.
The Pico fills these criteria expertly and, in some cases, perhaps a bit too well. One of the least favored features on the Beretta Pico is the well-sculpted magazine release that fits into the curves of the grip to reduce snagging. The problem is that the release is so smooth that it is hard to find and manipulate, making magazine changes slower than on most other pistols of this size.
One huge difference between the Beretta Pico and the other small guns on our list is the quality of the sights. Beretta makes Trijicon sights available as a factory option, and these are well worth the small extra charge. Better sights mean improved accuracy, especially in low light or nighttime situations.
Like the M&P, Beretta also offers a laser sight as an integral part of the frame. Combine the laser with a set of Trijicon sights, and you have an almost unbeatable pairing for accuracy. Mechanically, the Beretta Pico is simple, easy to disassemble for maintenance, and decidedly reliable. The Pico seems to have no trouble feeding whatever ammo you decide to carry.
The Beretta Pico is near the lower end of the price range in our selection of concealed carry small pistols. It is a great choice for those on a budget. The fit and finish are high quality. The Beretta Pico gets our nod as a choice selection, especially for those who don’t like Glocks.
Kahr Arms CT-380
Many people will stop right here and say, “what?” Kahr is not as well-known a brand name as the other pistols on our list, but they build some of the nicest, easy to shoot pistols we have handled. The Kahr Arms CT-380 makes our list easily.
The CT-380 could very well be the smallest and lightest of the .380’s on our list. It weighs only 10 ounces empty, and measures in at 2.5 inches. That is a small gun, making it perfect for pocket or purse carry. If you want light and small, this is a good pistol to consider.
If you do choose the Kahr CT-380, expect to spend some time at the range finding the best ammunition fit with your Kahr pistol. The Kahr is probably the most finicky pistol on our list as far as ammo goes. Some types of high-end self-defense ammo of the hollow-point variety didn’t seem to work very well. Spend some time testing, and then stick with what you find works.
In addition to Kahr building great guns, they also build attractive guns. The Kahr CT-380 is as good to look at as it is to shoot. If being stylish is one of your criteria, the Kahr may be for you.
The Proof is in the Shooting
Before you launch a small gun purchase, we always suggest you find a firing range that has some rental guns that you can try before you buy. You really can’t judge the fit and shoot-ability of a small gun in a retail store. We hope that the information in this article points you in the right direction and helps you to make an informed decision when shopping for a small concealed carry gun.