The Best Self-Defense Handgun?

It’s a perpetual argument: whether the 9mm or the .45 ACP is the better cartridge for a self-defense handgun. Nobody can argue intelligently about ballistics without referring to math and physics, and they both favor the .45 ACP.

However, there is some room for discussion about the guns. Here's my argument for why a single-action .45 ACP in general, and the STI Tactical DS in that caliber, is the best defensive handgun available today.

The Trigger

The .45 ACP advocates love the 1911 handgun and its single-action trigger. Most of the 9mm high-capacity advocates yak back that the 1911 is an old design. They favor plastic, double-stack, striker-fired handguns. There is much to be said for these guns, but a world-class trigger is not on the list.

The STI 2011 Tactical DS in .45 ACP.

Sure, a lot of good shooting has been done with striker-fired handguns, but there is no real or logical argument about shooting that says a trigger on a striker-fired handgun is superior to a single-action trigger. There is a reason you see the top competitors (at least those not restricted by sponsors) shooting handguns with single-action triggers. They simply are easier to shoot well.

The argument that a striker-fired trigger is better for defensive work because it pulls harder and longer, and is less prone to a negligent discharge, has some validity. If I were in charge of a large police force with a diverse group of officers I might favor the striker-fire trigger to keep those on the bottom of the bell curve out of trouble. The truth, though, is that this is a training issue. If you train hard and learn your firearm, a single action trigger is just as safe—and you have a better chance of hitting your target.

Magazine Capacity

So, then the argument invariably takes a turn to magazine capacity. The plastic-gun 9mm disciples always dash to that one when they get into trouble.

My response is to laugh and tell them that I don’t plan my tactics around how many times I am going to miss, or how ineffective my cartridge of choice might be. Usually that’s where they point out that “new bullets” make the 9mm just as effective as the .45—but forgetting that those new bullets are loaded in the .45 too. End of argument.

If you like the 9mm, by all means carry it, but you can’t argue that it’s just as effective as a more powerful cartridge with a bigger bullet. (It just makes you look like you’ve been tutored in common core math.)

The Trijicon-Heinie rear sight on the STI 2011 Tactical DS. The white dot is tritium and matches with a tritium front sight.

However, my thinking has evolved a bit on the capacity issue, as the world around us is changing. Back in the day, trouble was usually expected to come in small doses. It was one, two or maybe three assailants that you needed to worry about. Today the threats can be larger. Terrorism, mass shootings, and the potential for social unrest create a much different situation than a goofball who’s trying to rob you at the ATM.

A good shooter can reload pretty quickly when a gun goes dry—and they all can go dry. If you carry a double-stack high-capacity handgun and two spare magazines, you will have a lot more ammo with you. For example, a Glock 17 9mm holds 17 rounds in each magazine. So with three mags (one in the gun, two on the belt) and a cartridge in the chamber, that’s 52 rounds. A 1911 holds eight rounds in the magazine, so with two extra mags, you will have 25 rounds with you. There are, of course, lots of double-stack .45 ACP handguns out there. They don’t have quite the capacity of the 9mm wonder-guns, but the effective striking power of the .45 counts for a lot anytime you are shooting to save your life.

Most .45 ACP double-stack handguns are striker-fired. Those that aren’t are either double-action only or double action/single action, and both are abominations in my never humble opinion. If you like them, fine; I am never going to dictate which gun anyone else should choose. But don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you can argue they are better. They are designed to appease the politically motivated and do nothing to promote better shooting.

The STI 2011 Tactical DS in .45 ACP with a Blade-Tech holster and mag pouches. This gear works well for carry or of competition.

One issue with many big double-stack, striker-fired guns in .45 or 10mm is trigger reach. The striker-fired design will have a very long trigger pull, which positions the trigger forward. When this is paired with a large grip frame, resulting from a double-stack magazine, it can be difficult for some people to reach the trigger properly.

Double-Stack Capacity, Single-Action Trigger

But what if you could have the best of both worlds in a defensive handgun? The magazine capacity of a double-stack, striker-fired handgun, with the slick, single-action trigger of a hammer-fired pistol like the 1911?

That would be perfect for me, and that’s why I think the STI Tactical DS in .45 ACP is the best defensive handgun available.

This is a full size, grown-up handgun, and won’t easily conceal in yoga pants or skimpy summerwear. But when it’s in a holster from Blade-Tech, it still hides under my jacket just fine. If we define a defensive gun by how well it can win a fight rather than how easy it is to hide, I see little room for improvement. I can hide a micro-size .380 in my underwear, but this is the handgun I most want in my hand if trouble comes visiting.

This and others in the line are referred to as 2011 models. The 2011 is essentially an updated version of the 1911, with the primary difference being that the 2011 uses double-stack magazines for higher capacities. This, of course, results in a larger grip frame. However, STI designed their double-stack guns with the smallest possible grip frame, so even stubby fingered hands can manage the guns easily, and the single-action trigger is placed where you can reach it correctly.

The Tactical DS (Double Stack) is a steel frame gun offered with a 4- or 5-inch barrel. The latter size model checks in at 43 ounces, which dampens recoil for fast follow up shots. It’s offered in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45ACP, and of course I have the .45. It has a tough Cerakote finish and my gun is fitted with a threaded barrel, so I could install a suppressor if I wanted.

The magwell on the STI 2011 Tactical DS is small enough for concealed carry, but allows fast reloads.

The double-stack, higher capacity magazines hold 14 .45 ACP rounds. That computes to 43 rounds with three mags and one in the pipe. The STI DS Tactical has a full-length rail, so you can easily add a light or laser. The optional front sight on mine is a ramped tritium, while the rear sight is serrated black with a small tritium insert. They are easy to see in daylight, and in the dark I just place one dot over the other and it’s good to go. The Hinie rear sight can be moved in the dovetail to adjust for windage. While I didn’t conduct any formal accuracy tests, I’ve found through sighting in and other shooting that the gun is very accurate.

The gun has a tactical magwell that is smaller than those found on STI competition guns, but still allows for fast reloads. In fact, I have used this gun in a few matches and never felt I was compromised. Of course, it has an ambidextrous safety, as should all fighting guns. It’s not about discrimination against us lefties, but rather that you must be able to run a fighting handgun with either hand effectively.

My only serious complaint is that the trigger is a bit stiff, just over six pounds. That’s probably to appease the political side of law enforcement departments that will not allow a light trigger because of perceived safety issues. I prefer a 3.5 to 4 pound trigger pull on my carry guns, and the one on the STI is easily adjusted by a competent gunsmith.

The STI pistols are works of art. The fit and finish are superb, they balance perfectly and they run like a Swiss watch. I don't think this one has ever jammed, and I've put about 400 rounds through it. This gun retails for $2,199 with night sights.

The Trijicon-Heinie front sight on the STI 2011 Tactical DS in .45 ACP. The white dot is tritium for night and low light use. Also note the threaded muzzle for adding a suppressor.

That’s not inexpensive, but like most things in life you get what you pay for. And if you are serious about defense, it’s worth every cent.