By Dan Kidder
Managing Editor

I am no fan of the .380 cartridge. It has inferior penetration, minimal expansion, and lacks the power of more traditional full size calibers. The one benefit that .380 guns had over their larger caliber cousins was concealability – at least until recently with the advent of much smaller and more concealable guns in full size calibers. Here is a sampling of some of the great concealed carry guns to hit the market in the past couple of years.

Smith & Wesson Shield

Smith & Wesson Shield in 9 MM and .40 SW

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
The M&P Shield offers a small footprint, but still gives you enough to hold onto. One of the fundamentals of marksmanship is proper grip. While the trend in concealed carry firearms has been micro pistols in inferior calibers with inadequate sights and grips so small that you cannot properly control the pistol, Smith & Wesson has created a superior deep concealment weapon in a full defensive caliber.

Offering a much smaller footprint than a standard M&P pistol, the Shield provides a gun capable of deep concealment while not sacrificing sights, caliber or controls that are familiar to pistol shooters. The Shield is less than one inch thick, allowing a variety of carry options, including inside the waistband.

The Shield has a stainless steel slide coated with Melonite to protect it through years of use in all kinds of weather. Features such as simplified takedown, an extended trigger guard a flat profile slide stop and a textured back grip make the gun easy and comfortable to use every day. White dot front and rear target sights allow fast target acquisition. An external safety provides an added measure of reassurance.

This striker fired pistol is a mere 6.1 inches overall in length and only 4.6 inches tall.  Empty, the gun weighs only 20.4 ounces and came in at 1 pound 9 ounces fully loaded. The frame is a lightweight, but rugged Zytel polymer like all of the M&P pistols. The heavier 6.5 pound double stage self defense trigger is ideal for defensive carry.

The Shield comes standard with two magazines. The 9 millimeter with a one 8-round extended magazine with a grip extension and an additional 7-round magazine. The .40 caliber comes with a 7-round magazine with a grip extension and an additional 6-round magazine.

Smith & Wesson Model 340 in .357 Magnum

Smith & Wesson Model 340 in .357 Magnum

Smith & Wesson M&P Model 340 Revolver
The Model 340 M&P revolver, chambered in .357 Magnum brings tremendous power to a little package. Innovations in this little fistful of thunder include a Trijicon XS 24/7 tritium front night site, Centennial style hammerless frame, rubber molded grips and a barrel that is less than two inches long. Building on their AirLight technology, the M&P incorporates a Scandium alloy for the ultimate in weight reduction with a matte black anodized finish that cuts reflectivity to create an awesome personal protection carry gun.

Its small size and miniscule 13.3 ounces unloaded, let you hide this gun on your body in places you would never have been able to conceal a .357 before.

Such a light gun in such a large caliber will let you feel every bit of recoil with every shot and after 100 rounds, my hands were aching from the kick of this little lead launcher. But that is the price you pay for so much power in such a small package.

I was especially impressed with the little touches S&W put into this model. They have deepened the rear U-groove sight channel to provide easier sight acquisition. The large tritium front sight makes it a breeze to get proper sight alignment, even in little or no light.

Once I got used to the short grip and the slightly different sights, I was able to quickly place shots on target with excellent accuracy. Normally, a barrel this short will create shot deviations of several inches at even relatively short range, but I found this was not the case with this gun. Once you adjust to how to shoot it, you can rely on very consistent groupings at even moderate range of about 25 feet. This gun isn’t designed as a target pistol, but for personal protection. Even so, it does deliver when needed at short ranges.

The stainless steel cylinder holds 5-rounds of .357 Mag., .38 Special or .38 +P. The trigger pull is smooth, if a little heavy and the revolver doesn’t suffer from trigger lock-up as many small hammerless revolvers do when the trigger pull is aborted. As do most of Smith and Wesson’s Modern Style Revolvers, the 340 M&P includes an internal lock that allows the gun to be disabled with a turn of a key.
This is a great gun that delivers much more punch than many of the small .380s flying off the shelves of gun stores today, without any more bulk. Given the choice of 5-rounds of .357 Magnum or 7-rounds of .380, I’ll take the harder-hitting .357 any day.

Kahr CW .40 and 9 MM

Kahr CW .40 and 9 MM

Kahr CW40
I have probably sold more Kahr CW40s than many gun stores. I own this gun and carry it on a regular basis. The super thin profile of the stainless steel slide is less than an inch wide. The trigger cocking DAO trigger is a bit stiff, but this is desired in a self defense gun. The overall length of just over six inches and a barrel length of 3.6 inches makes this gun incredibly small, but without sacrificing grip.  While mine is a .40 S&W model, the Kahr CW series is also available in 9mm and .45 ACP. The .45 model is a bit of a handful to shoot, but occupies nearly the same footprint as the smaller versions, with just a slightly deeper grip.

Kahr designs quality firearms for the concealed carry market with an emphasis in female shooters, whose slighter builds and scantier wardrobes make concealing a gun more difficult. They have created an entire line of guns for those who are concerned with the size of a gun, but who still want to carry an effective caliber. Weight is light as well, weighing only 18.7 ounces unloaded.

White bar-dot combat sights easily acquire the target and are polished to avoid snagging. The 6+1 capacity is only a single round less than my .380 Sig Sauer and the rounds you are sending down range are far more effective, even if you are using the 9mm version.

My biggest beef with this gun is that Kahr only provides a single magazine with each gun and additional magazines are expensive and difficult to find. Otherwise, this is a reliable and ergonomic gun that is fun to shoot and comfortable to carry. Kahr’s P-Series pistols offer all of the features of the CW-Series, but with better machining and profiled contours on the slide. They also offer match grade polygonol rifling. They tend to add a bit to the price tag, but are a little bit higher quality.

Springfield XDs in 9MM and .45 ACP

Springfield XDs in 9MM and .45 ACP

Springfield XDs
As has been the trend of late, Springfield took their wildly popular XD combat/duty pistol and shrunk it to accommodate concealed carry. The XDs offers all of the benefits of the full sized XD in a much smaller package. Every gun from Springfield comes fully accessorized with a holster and a double magazine pouch. It also comes with three magazines. For the .45 ACP it comes with two flush-fit 5-round magazines and a 7-rounder with a grip extension.  The 9mm version comes with two flush fitting 7-round magazines and an extended 9-rounder.

Like most of the guns in this article, the dimensions are minimal. The forged steel slide is less than an inch thick and the overall length is just 6.3 inches. The barrel is a mere 3.3 inches and the overall weight unloaded is just 21.5 for the .45 ACP and 23 ounces for the 9mm.

Where the XDs really pull ahead of the pack is with its Ultra Safety Assurance Trigger. The USA Trigger is one of the crispest and cleanest on the market. Additional safety features such as the grip safety and a loaded chamber indicator, makes the XDs one of the safest guns to carry in Condition 1, which is how any gun worn for self defense should be carried – cocked and with a round in the chamber. Fiber optic front sights and an accessory rail on the front of the gun, provide even more value.

Springfield EMP in 9MM and Micro 45 in .45 ACP

Springfield EMP in 9MM and .40 SW and Micro Compact in .45 ACP

Springfield Micro Compact 45 and EMP
For those who love the feel and dependability of a 1911, Springfield offers their Micro  Compact 45, a standard 1911 built from the ground up to weigh a mere 33 ounces and occupy only 6.5 inches overall length. With all of the features to which 1911 shooters have grown accustomed, the Micro Compact 45 offers 6+1 capacity and comes with three magazines. It is available in parkerized finished or in polished stainless steel two-tone.

The Enhanced Micro Pistol (EMP) provides the familiarity of a 1911 in 9mm and .40 S&W. All models feature a dual spring recoil system to allow such a lightweight gun to easily handle heavier cartridges with less felt recoil. They have tritium combat low-profile sights for excellent target acquisition.

The 9mm version weighs 26 ounces empty and has a 9+1 capacity and comes with three magazines. The .40 S&W weighs 33 ounces and has a 8+1 capacity and also comes with three magazines. All models come with a stainless steel 3-inch barrel, 6.5 inches in overall length and come with single stage match grade 5-6 pound triggers.  Color accents and cocobolo wood grips make the guns as beautiful as they are practical. It almost seems a shame to conceal them.

With such a wide variety of quality firearms in full size calibers, carrying a substandard caliber pistol for defense should never be necessary again. However, just to keep the caliber warriors mollified, use whatever caliber gun you have available if your life depends on it. I still slip a Beretta Tomcat .25 ACP in my pocket from time to time as a backup gun. Any caliber is better than no gun at all. But given the great selection of full caliber guns to choose from, why would you settle for less? Keep Calm and Carry One.