, , , , , ,

Single stack 9mm concealed carry pistols are inadequate–or are they?

Glock 43 9mm
Tamara Keel, a lady well versed in firearms who blogs at A View From The Porch, recently posted an article in Shooting Illustrated.com critical of single stack 9mm pistols, such as the Glock 43 (the SMM article on the 43 is available here). It should be noted Keel writes she routinely carries Glocks, as do I. In fact, in March of this year, Mrs. Manor and I switched from Glock 26s to Glock 43s, precisely the type of compact, single stack magazine 9 millimeter pistol Keel critiques. 

One of the things I’ve always found distressing about the legacy firearm press is the tendency of authors to make blanket pronouncements about guns, accessories and tactics. This is not a problem if the issue is an actual design flaw of a given product, but because of the enormous variability of individuals, a one-size/type-fits-all or doesn’t-fit-all approach is often misleading. One person may find a truly excellent handgun feels odd to them, while most people find it exactly meets their expectations and needs. Some may have difficulty shooting a given handgun accurately, while some find it easy to use to drill out the X ring.

Onward to Keel’s critique:

The Smith & Wesson Shield and Glock G43 are so ubiquitous now that there are people I know who were staunch devotees of never carrying anything smaller than a Glock G19 who are toting them. It’s not hard to see the attraction, either. You have service-caliber punch in a gun that is smaller than many classic .380 ACP pistols. The same mechanical efficiencies of locked-breech operation that allowed .380 and .32 ACPs to shrink down to the size of old-school .25 ACPs make pocket nines a real thing.

So, if these are the obvious upsides, what are the downsides to carrying one of these handy single-stack 9mms?

Well, for starters, they’re harder to shoot well than their larger kin, and for numerous reasons. The shorter sight radius is one, but probably the least significant. More importantly, the stubby, small-diameter grips of these guns generally mean a two-finger grip with the dominant hand and the support hand is unable to provide as much clamping force as it would on a larger gun. With less grip on the gun, small errors in trigger-finger placement can be dramatically magnified. I’ve found, for example, in my own Glock G43, that the addition of a flat-faced TAC trigger shoe from Overwatch Precision paid big dividends, since it gave more tactile feedback when my finger was in the right place on the trigger or not.

G17 and G43

While Keel is correct, the actual difference in sight radius between a Glock 17 and the 43 is less than one might think, and the addition of a laser sight completely negates it. A laser/light unit such as the Crimson Trace LL-803 Laserguard Pro provides greatly upgraded capabilities while still retaining a small profile. Keel’s critique of the length of the 43’s grip would be of concern if Glock didn’t provide a finger extension as the base of G43 magazines. These extensions allow full use of the strong hand. Even so, one can elect to have a smaller package by replacing the finger extension base with a flat one, and learning to curl the little finger under the base plate is less of a problem than Keel suggests. I have a Smith and Wesson Bodyguard—my article on that gun is available here–and choose to use flat magazine baseplates. Even though it is substantially smaller than a Glock 43 in every dimension, and the recoil is sharp, I manage to control it and deliver more than acceptable accuracy. This may not, obviously, be true for everyone, and the ability to use three fingers on the grip of any handgun is to be preferred, but it’s not so essential as to render smaller weapons dangerous, or of limited utility.

The small grip on a single-stack 9mm also affects recoil control, obviously, as do the lighter weight and shorter barrel. Multi-shot strings are going to be noticeably slower because of this. I’ve seen shooters turn in amazing performances with little guns like these, but much like the J-frame revolver, a mini-nine is not an easy gun to run well without a lot of practice.

The Glock 43 is not comparable to a J-frame Smith, a very small .38 special revolver, particularly with the diminutive grips that were, at one time, all that was available with such guns. Not only are revolvers, by their very design, inherently more difficult to shoot well, these difficulties are magnified in small revolvers. Even so, while the grip of a Glock 43 is smaller than that of a 17 or 19, it’s purposely designed to be so, and for many people, that’s a feature, not a bug. As Keel notes, shooters can do well with such guns, and I’ve not found the 43 to be slower, or more difficult to shoot well, than the 17, 26, or any other Glock, as I noted in my article on that gun:

Recoil impulse of the Glock 17 is famously mild. Glock polymer frames actually somewhat attenuate recoil that would otherwise be passed on to the shooter. It is very difficult, however, to quantify this effect. Felt recoil is largely subjective. Glocks tend to have less than some other designs because the bore axis relative to the hand is quite low. Felt recoil depends on the cartridge, the shooter’s grip, strength and experience, and other factors. That said, recoil in the 26, and the 43, feel the same to me, slightly sharper than the 17, which is much larger and heavier, but easily controlled and not at all unpleasant. Mrs. Manor is not particularly recoil sensitive, and the 43’s recoil is [equally] unremarkable to her.

Keel also brings up velocity. Shorter handgun barrels do produce slower bullet velocities, but such things are dependent on caliber and ammunition as well, and differences can be slight.

What this means is that most ammunition is going to be right at the ragged edge of expanding like it does in those advertising photographs, especially through much clothing, and that’s assuming a typical self-defense scenario in the 3- to 7-yard range. If one of those super-rare nightmare scenarios pops up—the crazy dude in a mall or movie theater—velocity is going to suffer even more at longer ranges.

This is a ballistic chart for Hornady’s Critical Defense 115 grain FTX 9mm ammunition, which I exclusively carry. At 50 yards, muzzle velocity drops 110 FPS and the bullet loses 61 Ft/LB of energy. Hornady does not publish figures for shorter distances, but out to 7 yards, any loss of velocity and energy is going to be a minute factor. Few shooters are comfortable with even 25 yard shots, and Hornady’s bullet design limits worries about heavy clothing penetration.

Particularly with the 9mm, a cartridge known for relatively high velocity and penetration, velocity loss is not a worry. One needs to approach or exceed 50 yards from the muzzle to reach a loss of about 100 feet per second with any ammunition. Take this link for a chart illustrating the issue. Of course, all firearms are about tradeoffs. Six inch or longer barrels are great–I wish I still had the 6″ Python I carried, lo those many years ago–but in many circumstances, impractical.

Glock 43 magazine
Keel also notes the smaller magazine capacity of the 43, six rounds (+1 in the chamber) compared with the 10 rounds (+1) of the Glock 26, and 17 rounds (+1) of the Glock 17, and finds it wanting, though she does qualify that:

Six rounds are likely enough for the vast, vast majority of violent criminal encounters, but there are always those exceptions and outliers. [skip]

To wit, if I’m carrying, say, a G43, I might think I’m carrying any Glock 9 mm and act accordingly.

Humorous. I’ll address that shortly, but let’s add Keel’s conclusion:

In a scenario such as one with a lunatic in a movie theater or mall, the little G43 can’t engage from ranges where I’d be perfectly comfortable making a shot with a G17. They may both say ‘Glock 9×19’ on the slide, but the gulf in capability between duty size and pocket size is broader than some people realize. The armed citizen who carries a single-stack 9mm owes it to him or herself to know exactly what can or cannot be done with it.

Quite so, but this is true with any handgun, and a full-sized duty handgun is not necessarily superior to smaller weapons. During my early police days, revolvers with the order of the day. I carried a 4” stainless steel Ruger Security Six–.357 magnum–on duty, and the same gun with a 2 ¾” barrel off duty. The full-sized weapon was also Magna Ported, but I consistently shot better with the shorter barreled weapon without Magna Porting, which would seem to be counterintuitive, except when the human element is factored in.

For several years, I carried a Glock 19, which served me well until the Glock 26 reached the market, but when changing magazines, particularly rapidly, I had to significantly shift my grip to keep from badly pinching my strong hand as I inserted a mag. I noticed no more difficulty shooting well at any range with that gun than I did with my full-sized duty Glock, and the same was true with the Glock 26. All are different ergonomically, but human beings are adaptable.

The 43 does have only a six round magazine capacity, but no one should carry any semiautomatic pistol without at least one spare magazine. Magazines are the weakest link, and if one’s sole magazine malfunctions, any semiauto becomes a very hard to load single shot weapon. The 43’s magazines are sufficiently small that two can easily be carried, for a total of 19 rounds, only two fewer than a Glock 26 with one spare magazine.

Keel’s movie theater scenario is reasonable, but that, including the ravages of age, is why I chose the Crimson Trace unit. With its light and laser, I’d have no hesitation in engaging a theater shooter. Of course, much would depend on the situation, but the most important quality involved is always marksmanship. Bullet placement is final.

G43 and S&W Bodyguard

Keel’s final sentence bears consideration:

The armed citizen who carries a single-stack 9mm owes it to him or herself to know exactly what can or cannot be done with it.

This is true of any gun. This is why I carry only a single gun, and use only a single brand of ammunition, in my case, Hornady’s Critical Defense.  Because I don’t switch guns and ammo like some people change shirts, I know precisely what I can do with that combination.

Handgun choice is very much an individual matter. No brand, caliber or model is perfect for everyone. One must choose a weapon that fits them well in every respect, and that meets their concealment needs. The most powerful and accurate handgun that produces the greatest bullet velocity available is of little use if it’s inconvenient to carry and conceal, or if its ammunition is too expensive for regular practice. Thus are very popular single stack 9mm handguns on the market.

The Glock 43 or similar weapons are obviously not for everyone, just as the venerable 1911 is not for everyone, but suggesting such weapons are inadequate, or to be avoided, is unnecessarily alarmist.