Want to start a regular brawl on social media? Jump onto a Facebook gun group and proclaim, “A 1911 in .45 ACP is a heck of a lot better for self-defense than any lousy Tupperware 9mm!”
Or vice versa. “The 9MMs are the best pistols ever—get a clue 1911 Dinosaurs!” And within 18 seconds, the verbal punching will begin as the 1911 “Fudds” duke it out with the 9mm “Whiz Kids.”
It’s lots of sound and fury that doesn’t signify much, because actually, both calibers work fine for those of us who practice concealed carry. Both calibers, and the handguns in which they are chambered, can and will protect us in case of an emergency. And both calibers and handguns have their plusses and minuses, relative to each other that are simply inherent in the way they are designed.
Take the case of the .45 ACP for example.
Developed over a century ago by John Browning, the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) was made to work in a semi-automatic pistol Browning had designed for a U.S. Army handgun competition. The cartridge was built around a large bullet (230-grains, or just over 0.5 oz.) that left the muzzle at a relatively slow 830 feet-per-second.
The pistol and cartridge were accepted by the Army in 1911 and the pistol was dubbed the Colt M1911. For a good 100 years, the term .45-caliber pistol” and “1911” were pretty much interchangeable.
The 1911 and the .45 ACP became so synonymous with each other that when someone suggests using a .45 for concealed carry, a whole lot of people still respond with, “Screw that! A 1911 is too big and bulky for carry!” before a chorus of arguments about magazine capacity.
However, dozens of modern carry pistols chambered in .45 ACP sport polymer frames and striker-fired actions. In fact, most popular handgun platforms offer variants chambered in at least three cartridges: 9mm, .40 S&W (less so these days), and .45 ACP. And a good number of us (myself included) use a .45 ACP pistol as their EDC.
Why choose a .45 over its insanely popular 9mm cousins? For me, the best reason is that the newer .45 ACP self-defense loads are pretty awesome and very powerful. I’ve done and observed ballistic tests with 9mm and .45 ACP rounds that follow the FBI protocol of firing rounds through various barriers (heavy clothing, drywall, automobile glass, etc.) and into ballistic gel. The .45 ACP self-defense rounds always come out on top.
Nine millimeter and .45 ACP self-defense rounds produce very similar penetration depths, usually in the 13- to 15-inch range. But the .45 ACP bullets are larger in diameter (.451-inches versus .355-inches for 9mms) and expand to be much larger as they pass through barriers and gel.
I’ve seen 9mm self-defense bullets expand to .70-inches and a bit more—which is very good. But the .45 ACP bullets of the same ammo brands regularly end up at approximately .90 inches. That’s huge.
Larger diameter and better expansion mean bigger wound channels. All PC squeamishness aside, we carry handguns against worst-case scenarios where lives are in danger and we need to stop an attacker. A larger wound channel hurts more, causes more damage to tissue, nerves and bone, and therefore has a better chance of stopping an attacker a little to a lot faster–depending on shot placement, of course.
Which doesn’t mean the .45 ACP is perfect. Handguns chambered in .45 ACP (especially lightweight, small handguns) generally recoil harder than their 9mm counterparts and with more muzzle flip, both of which can make them difficult to shoot accurately, especially without frequent training.
Compact 9mm carry guns usually hold at least a couple more rounds than compact .45 ACP’s. Larger 9mm carry pistols can hold three to five rounds more than their .45 cousins, especially since many .45s designed for carry use single-stack mags to reduce the gun’s overall width.
The 9mm’s are often a little smaller and less bulky overall, too, making them more comfortable to carry.
Yet, a carry handgun chambered in .45 ACP is a fearsome weapon and, within its own limitations, can be an excellent choice for those of us practicing concealed carry.
If you’ve thought about a 45 ACP for carry, consider this list of handguns, arranged alphabetically. If you are willing to go one or two rounds less, and can handle the additional recoil—welcome to the world of .45 ACP carry!
Beretta Px4 Storm
Beretta’s Px4 Storm is a DA/SA semi-automatic sporting a snag-free, modular design that’s easy to carry and draw. Beretta reports Px4 Storm’s can shoot off up to 150,00 rounds without parts breaking. Ultra-safe, the PX4 features an automatic firing pin block safety as well as a slide-mounted flip-up, ambidextrous manual safety (M9 style).
The PX4’s modular design lets you change out backstraps for the best fit. The rotary barrel design works more like a bolt-action rifle action than a tilting barrel design—this rotating action helps dissipates recoil away from the shooter’s hand, reducing muzzle jump. Available with 9-round flush fitting mags and 10 round extended magazines.
Because the safety lever also acts as a decocker when it is moved to the “safe” position, this gun can’t be carried cocked and locked like a typical SA/DA pistol with a manual safety. MSRP: $700
Charter Arms Pit Bull
The Pit Bull from Charter Arms is a revolver chambered in .45 ACP that works WITHOUT moon clips, which are notoriously a hassle to deal with. Charter Arms
Forget the singer—this Pit Bull is all about .45 ACP power in a handy revolver.
Unlike other revolvers chambered for rimless cartridges, Charter Arms made the DA/SA Pit Bull Revolver to use .45 ACP without needing those annoying moon clips.
The unique design provides a dual coil spring assembly located in the extractor that allows for the insertion and retention of the .45 ACP cartridge in each chamber of the revolver’s 5-round cylinder. Brass ejects easily, too, for quick reloads.
Made with a slick-looking stainless-steel finish and a 2.5-inch barrel—at 22 oz. unloaded, it weighs less than many semiautos. MSRP: $489
Dan Wesson Enhanced Compact Pistol
So, we couldn’t do an article on carry .45’s without a 1911 variant or two, and Dan Wesson makes some of the nicest 1911’s on the market today, including the Officer-sized Enhanced Compact Pistol or ECP.
With its four-inch, match-grade bull barrel, the single-action ECP is very accurate. Tapered G10 grips and a bobtailed frame enhance this pistol’s ergonomics, affording shooters with smaller hands an easier reach to the trigger. T
he ECP features a tri-topped slide with aggressive side serrations and a top rib to knock down glare; the generous U-notch rear sight is matched with an easy-to-see brass-beaded front sight. 8+1 capacity, too. MSRP: $1800
The Glock G30S is slimmer than the original G30 and weighs just 20 oz. It accepts 9-, 10-, and 13-round magazines. Glock USA
With the G30S, Glock successfully combined a short pistol frame with a reduced grip size and a slimmer slide than the original Glock 30. Its compact design allows smooth drawing, in pistol that fits the hands of almost any user.
The G30S weighs only 20 oz. unloaded and it accepts 9-, 10- and 13-round magazines.
Like all Glocks, it features a striker-fired action, so there are no external hammers, different trigger pull weights, or manual safeties to deal with.
Various sight options are available, too, including steel night sights. Shooters with smaller hands will find the G30S especially comfortable. MSRP: $655
Heckler & Koch HK45 Compact
The HK45C features a slimmer profile than the full size HK45, with replaceable grip panels to better fit different hand sizes. Heckler & Koch
Smaller in length and height than the standard HK45, the HK45 Compact features a slim-line grip profile, with interchangeable grip panels so users can adjust the grip for individual hand size and shooting preference.
The DA/SA pistol features an integral Picatinny rail molded into the polymer frame dust cover for mounting lights, lasers, or other accessories.
The HK45 Compact features fully ambidextrous controls with dual slide releases and an enlarged magazine release, as well as a frame-mounted manual safety.
An 8-round metal magazine is standard for the HK45C, though common high-capacity (10-round) magazines fitting both the HK45 and HK45C are also available. The low-profile, adjustable 3-dot sights pop nicely. MSRP: $1191
Kahr Arms CW45
Though it looks plain, the Kahr CW45 has the features where it counts. Kahr Arms
The Kahr Arms CW45 is a short-slide striker-fired pistol with a black polymer frame, a matte stainless slide, and a 3.6-inch barrel. The CW45 weighs under 20 oz., unloaded.
To cut costs, some sculpting and machining was skipped on the slide, which gives the pistol an overall plain look, but the front edge of the slide is tapered in a chisel shape toward the muzzle allowing for snag-free holstering. It comes with one 6-round magazine. Though its a plain-looking gun, the stainless slide on the black frame does give it a little nudge in the looks department.
The design of the CW45 puts the shooter’s hand higher up and closer to the bore than most pistols, creating better control and reducing muzzle flip. It also points naturally and is very accurate. MSRP: $449
Smith & Wesson M&P 45 Shield M2.0 with Thumb Safety
Ultra slim and easy to conceal, the 45 Shield has very aggressive grip texture for a solid grip. The polymer frame is embedded with a stainless-steel chassis for strength, and the striker-firing system provides a short, consistent trigger pull.
The 45 Shield M2.0 is also available without a thumb safety. Both ship with two magazines—a flush-fitting six-rounder and a seven-round mag with a bottom extension to provide a fuller grip. MSRP: $479
Springfield XD-S MOD.2
Springfield’s XD-S MOD.2 in .45 ACP is a slim, single-stack semi-auto pistol that holds 5+1 rounds with its flus-fit magazine and 6+1 with a slightly extended mag.
It’s perfect for concealed carry and features a higher hand position that most semis, and enhanced grip texturing. The XD-S MOD .2 is available with an Ameriglo Pro-Glo front sight with tactical-rack rear sight. The gun features a loaded chamber indicator and a grip safety, like most XD models. Dual springs and a full-length guide rod manage the .45 recoil nicely.
Springfield also offers the slimmer XD-E in .45 ACP with an exposed hammer and a SA/DA action. MSRP: XD-S MOD .2 – $568; XD-E – $580
Taurus 1911 Officer
This 1911-pattern pistol from Taurus features Novak sights and a steel frame. Taurus USA
For those who prefer 1911-style pistols but don’t want to tote a full-sized version, consider the Taurus 1911 Officer 45 ACP with a 3.5-inch barrel and a shortened grip.
The single-action Officer features a discreet black on black finish, Novak drift-adjustable front and rear sights and checkered black grips.
It’s not super light at 35 oz., but the steel frame and slide mean it is very durable. Street prices are at or even below $500. Capacity of 6+1 rounds. MSRP: $639
Walther PPQ 45
Walther’s popular striker-fired polymer-framed PPQ pistol is available in a .45 ACP model, holding an impressive 12 rounds in a flush-fit magazine.
The PPQ 45 is the first .45 ACP pistol ever released by Walther. Its larger than many concealed carry pistols, at 7.4-inches long and nearly six-inches high, but it’s also only 28 oz. empty and features the push-button magazine release found on the PPQ M2 line.
It ships with two magazines and two interchangeable backstraps, the later so shooters can fine-tune the grip to their hands. The black Tennifer finish is good looking, while fully ambidextrous controls and adjustable sights round out the PPQ M2 45 features—not to mention the PPQ’s stellar ergonomics. MSRP: $520