Despite the interweb claims to the contrary, no two handguns are created alike. They might be chambered in the same cartridge or appear similar at first glance but when it comes to the sensation of the grip in your hand, the press of the trigger, and accuracy the differences become clear.

At SHOT 2019 I devoted time to taking a closer look at a wide variety of handguns. Dozens of booths later, I have one thing to say: this is looking like a banner year for handgun aficionados. Here’s a closer look at my selection of the 20 best defensive handguns that were on the show floor.

Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 442 with Crimson Trace Lasergrips

smith and wesson performance center handgun
The Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 442 with Crimson Trace Lasergrips is a nice little snubby chambered in .38 Special. Kat Ainsworth

Snubbies have their place in the world of concealed carry. In non-permissive environments or other situations where deep concealment is a necessity, they fit the bill nicely—and discreetly. The Smith & Wesson Model 442 in .38 Special is a good example of a well-made, compact revolver made with self-defense in mind.

It has an overall length of 6.3-inches and an empty weight of 15 oz., meaning it can be carried a variety of ways with different clothing while remaining fully concealed. The barrel is 1.875-inches long—it is a snubby, after all—and it has an aluminum alloy frame with a stainless steel cylinder.

This is a revolver made with attention to detail. The cylinder does not rattle or shift and the chambers align properly with the barrel with each pull of the trigger. It has a five-round capacity which is a factor in its compact size; if you carry this gun for self-defense you need to learn to use and carry a speed loader or speed strips.

The Model 442 has a double-action-only trigger with a moderately heavy pull and clean break. There is slight stacking ahead of the break. Features include a snag-free enclosed hammer and no internal lock. The Model 442 is rated for continuous +P use.

A nice extra on this particular revolver are the Crimson Trace LG-105 Lasergrips. The laser is pressure-activated and both turns on and remains on easily. It’s a red laser and works well for rapid target acquisition in low-light and no-light scenarios. Having a good laser on your carry gun is a wise idea, as long as you train with it. This is a nice little snubby with an MSRP of $742.

Nighthawk Custom Firehawk

nighthawk custom firehawk
The Nighthawk Custom Firehawk is a quality 1911 available with optional IOS (interchangeable optics system). Kat Ainsworth

When you hear the name, Nighthawk Custom, you immediately know it’s going to be a high-quality, well-made 1911. Of course, the models do vary, and as soon as I saw the Firehawk, it was love. Nighthawk has released quite a few guns in recent years, but the Firehawk has become my favorite.

The Nighthawk Custom Firehawk is a Government-sized 1911, meaning the bull barrel is five inches long and the frame is full-size. It has an overall height of 5.6-inches, an overall length of 8.47-inches, and an overall width of 1.30-inches.

Perhaps the gun’s most interesting feature is its single-port compensator which works with the lightened slide to reduce felt recoil and increase accuracy. The compensator transitions smoothly to the slide thank to the use of a French Border. Attention has been paid to detail; to facilitate a smoother draw the compensator is bull-nosed and the mag well is one piece for fast reloads. This is a 1911 clearly designed as the ultimate full-sized self-defense gun.

Aesthetically, this is a beautiful gun. It’s offered in stainless steel or with a black nitride finish, the latter of which is my personal preference. The stainless gun has G10 grips with Nighthawk Medallions and the black model has Agent1 grips.

Both versions ship with solid black Heinie ledge rear sights and gold bead front sights. This gun can also be shipped with an optional IOS – Interchangeable Optics System—for quick-change of iron sights to red dot and back again.

Other features include serrations at the rear of the slide, an Ultra Hi-Cut front strap, and a beveled and recessed slide stop. The solid curved trigger has a crisp, clean break, a short reset, and a feels made for my trigger finger. All in all a gorgeous, precisely-made 1911. MSRP: $4199.00; IOS inclusion is an additional $350.

Smith & Wesson Performance Center Ported M&P 9 Shield M2.0

smith and wesson performance center
The Smith & Wesson Performance Center Ported M&P 9 Shield M2.0 is a fantastic update over the original model. Kat Ainsworth

The pictured pistol is chambered in 9mm, but what warmed my heart was that this striker-fired gun is also available in .40 S&W and .45 ACP. As the name suggests this is a ported Shield created to be a flat-shooting self-defense gun. It was engineered for superior ergonomics and designed with an eye for performance. And although I am not part of the cult of Shield, I readily admit this is a quality, fantastic pistol (okay, I do own an M&P45 Shield).

The 9mm model of this handgun has a capacity of 7 +1 with the flush magazine and 8 +1 with the extended magazine. It has an empty weight of 18.2 ounces. This model is designed for concealed carry with a 3.1-inch stainless steel barrel and an overall length of 6.1-inches. No, it isn’t a sub-compact, but it remains highly concealable.

Features include a thumb safety, synthetic grips, and front and rear cocking serrations. The manual thumb safety is positioned in such a way that you will need to adjust your grip to operate it, so make sure you practice. I also love that it ships from the factory with high-visibility tritium night sights. The trigger pull is relatively smooth and has a clean break.

This is a great gun for concealed carry. It fits my long-fingered hands well and the slight and magazine release can be easily manipulated. The grip is textured aggressively enough to ensure you’ll keep your hold on your gun even if your hands get wet. Yes, it’s narrow, but it feels good in my hands. This gun has an MSRP of $623.

Dan Wesson ECP

dan wesson ecp
The Dan Wesson ECP is a high-quality, concealable 1911 made to exacting specifications. Kat Ainsworth

On the compact-1911 side of the handgun market we have the Dan Wesson ECP. The ECP is an Enhanced Commander 1911 with a match-grade bull barrel and a compact forged aluminum frame. It’s offered in 9mm and .45 ACP; today we’re taking a look at the 9mm model.

The 9mm Dan Wesson ECP is ideally sized for carry with an overall length of 7.64 inches and an overall height of 5.4 inches. It has an empty weight of 29 ounces and a 9 +1 capacity. The gun has cocking serrations at the rear of the stainless steel slide only which is exactly where you need them. Beautifully cut, tapered G10 grips and a bobbed mainspring housing give the pistol improved ergonomics and slim down its profile making it easier to run for shooters with smaller hands. That said, it fits my larger hands quite well.

It comes as no surprise that the trigger is a standout feature of the ECP—it has a brief pull, a crisp, clean break and a blessedly short reset. Also of note is the flat wire recoil spring which is rated for 15,000 rounds, three times the round count of the average dual-recoil 1911 spring. The gun ships with a blacked-out, U-notch rear sight and brass front sight. Safety mechanisms include a thumb safety and grip safety. This is a solid carry gun with an MSRP of $1,575.

Ruger SP101 Match Champion

ruger sp101 match champion
The Ruger SP101 Match Champion is a five-shot revolver chambered in .357 Magnum sporting beautiful hardwood Altamont grips. Kat Ainsworth

Ruger has a well-deserved reputation for manufacturing handguns that out-perform their price point and this gun is no different. The Ruger SP101 Match Champion is an enhanced version of the original SP101, taking the existing reliable platform a step further for precision and durability. It’s chambered in .357 Magnum, has a full-lug 4.20-inch barrel, and has a five-round capacity. But wait, there’s more.

The Ruger SP101 Match Champion is made to last with a stainless steel frame with a high gloss finish and custom Altamont hardwood grips. Altamont is known for high-quality grips; with their stippling and checkering these gorgeous grips are a testament to their work. The angle and feel of the grips is natural and ergonomically correct. I tend not to like finger grooves but the grooves in these Altamont grips are positioned well and comfortable.

Other features include adjustable rear sights and a fiber optic front sight, polished and optimized internal components, and a triple-locking cylinder. Cylinder alignment on the Ruger SP101 Match Champion is precise and the cylinder remains firmly in place with no shifting or rattling. The trigger has a steady, smooth double-action pull and a crisp, clean break. For an additional layer of safety there is a patented trigger bar mechanism designed to prevent accidental discharge. It’s a bit large for concealed carry for most people, but makes a fine bedside or general home defense gun, and will fill an open-carry holster just fine. This revolver is well-made and a model I happen to love. It has an MSRP of $859.



This is a gun I was looking forward to getting my hands on and it did not disappoint. The CZ-USA P10s is a part of the P10 line; this is the subcompact model but there are also full-size and compact offerings. The P10s fit my hands exceptionally well. The pebbled grips do leave a bit to be desired, but the overall fit is excellent. It has a barrel length of 3.5 inches and an overall length of 6.6 inches. If you’re looking for a quality subcompact this model from CZ-USA is worth a closer look.

The P10s has a variety of features that make it ideal for concealed carry. It’s chambered in 9mm, of course, and has a 12 +1 capacity which doesn’t mean you should forego a spare magazine, but does give you more options. The frame is fiber-reinforced polymer for durability and an empty weight of 24.4 ounces.

The P10s is a striker-fired pistol with a firing pin block safety and trigger safety; speaking as someone who got their start carrying without an external safety, I have no issue with this particular feature. These guns have been thoroughly tested for safety and deemed reliable. The trigger itself has slight grit, but does deliver with a clean break.

This is an optics-ready model and ships with a blank filler plate. Plates for the Trijicon RMR and Leupold DeltaPoint Pro are immediately available; plates for additional models are currently being developed. Matching sights are also offered to allow the shooter to co-witness. The CZ-USA P10s is an awesome subcompact 9mm with an MSRP: TBD.

Beretta APX

beretta apx
The Beretta APX is a compact, reliable pistol chambered in 9mm. Kat Ainsworth

Beretta’s latest semiautomatic handgun is a home run for the legendary company. It’s no surprise, really, considering the company was founded in 1526 in Italy. They’ve had some time to fine-tune their firearms.

The Beretta APX is a striker-fired, full-sized handgun offered in 9mm and .40 S&W. Thanks to its removable, serialized chassis frame the APX is customizable; replaceable grip frame housing are available and easy to install. The gun ships with a trio of interchangeable backstraps.

This pistol may be full-sized but it’s still sized for concealed carry (if you’re sensing a theme, yes, I looked specifically for self-defense handguns at SHOT). Shared features between the two calibers are a 4.25-inch barrel, overall height of 5.6 inches, and an overall length of 7.55 inches.

Both have empty weights in the 28-ounce range. The 9mm has a 17 +1 capacity and the .40 S&W has a 15 +1 capacity. One of the interesting features of the APX is the broad, aggressive slide serrations; I find they fit my fingers well and give me a solid grip on the gun. The trigger has a six-pound pull weight, a crisp break, and an audible reset. The magazine release is reversible to accommodate lefties. It’s a standout handgun for Beretta and has an MSRP of $575.

Dan Wesson Wraith

Dan Wesson Wraith
The Dan Wesson Wraith is not only aesthetically appealing but well-made and features an excellent trigger. Kat Ainsworth

Dan Wesson is well known for their precisely-designed, carefully-built firearms and the Wraith is no exception. The Dan Wesson Wraith is a Government-sized 1911 immediately available in 9mm, .45 ACP, or 10mm; I have a soft spot for 10mm but admit the 9mm is a better option for self-defense.

It has a distressed version of the Duty finish, giving it a slightly worn charcoal appearance; components not distressed are blacked out. Black, stippled G10 grips complete the aesthetic of a streamlined 1911 covered in the shades of the night sky.

The Wraith ships with high rear and front night sights that draw the eye for rapid target acquisition and precision. It has the manual thumb safety and grip safety expected from a 1911 and a beavertail extended far enough for a secure, comfortable grip. As for the trigger, it’s so fantastic I spent extra time dry-firing it just to enjoy its glass-rod break.

The magwell is designed for fast reloads and the square butt profile gives the gun a more traditional appearance. Other features include a ball end mill cut, front strap 25 LPI checkering, mainspring housing checkering, and a square hammer.

If you have the opportunity to get your hands on a Dan Wesson, do it. These are 1911s as they are meant to be made. The Wraith is easy to manipulate and the controls can be operated without significantly adjusting your grip. It has an MSRP of $2,077.

Devil Dog Arms 1911 5 Tactical

devil dog arms 5 actical handguns
The Devil Dog Arms 5 1911 Tactical is a Government-sized 1911 ideal for OWB carry. Kat Ainsworth

Devil Dog Arms has been under new ownership since 2017. The company itself is not a newcomer, exactly, but their handgun offerings are relatively new. They’ve done well re-structuring the company and launching handguns such as the Devil Dog Arms 1911 5 Tactical, a Government-sized 1911 that immediately impressed me.

I’ve run their handguns before and this latest gun drew my attention the moment I approached the booth thanks to its Picatinny rail and battle-worn finish.

The Devil Dog Arms 1911 5 Tactical has a frame manufactured using domestic investment cast steel. The slide is made from domestic 4140 bar stock and is heat-treated. From its five-inch, 416 stainless steel, match-grade barrel to its extended beavertail it’s a solid, well-designed gun. It has an overall length of 8.75-inches. Weight varies ever-so-slightly by caliber with the 9mm model weighing in at two pounds, seven ounces and the .45 ACP weighing a hair less at two pounds, six ounces. This gun has some bulk in your hands which helps mitigate felt recoil and improve accuracy.

It was a pleasure to pull the trigger on this 1911. The trigger is a three-hole, aluminum design and broke cleanly with a fairly brief reset. It had a trigger pull weight of three pounds, five ounces. The gun ships with Kensight DFS Fixed White Dot Sights. Other features include it being a custom flat-top, 45-degree design, 22 LPI front strap checkering, and NBD Grips by DDA. MSRP for the .45 ACP is $1099; MSRP for the 9mm is $1149.

Remington RM380 Executive

remington rm380 handgun
The Remington RM380 Executive is an all-steel update over the original RM380 and is a great BUG (backup gun). Kat Ainsworth

Remington launched the RM380 during the fall of 2018 as an all-metal update to their original RM380 design. The RM380 Executive is a subcompact carry gun chambered in .380 ACP—as the name suggests—with a capacity of 6 +1. The diminutive pistol is anodized black with Laminate Macassar grips and a stainless slide. It ships with two magazines; one magazine has a flush-fit base and the other has a small extension for an improved grip.

The RM380 Executive’s main selling point is, in my opinion, how well suited it is to deep concealment. Around here it’s the gun used for pocket carry when my other half steps outside to walk the dog or shovel snow.

There are a variety of holsters made for it so you can choose your carry method. Although there is no external safety you’ll find it’s the trigger Remington designed as a safety measure. The RM380 Executive has an exceptionally long double-action trigger pull with an initial pull weight of ten pounds; this is one trigger you’d have to put considerable effort into “accidentally” pulling. That is not to say you shouldn’t use a holster for it if you pocket carry but simply to state it was designed with safety in mind.

This pocket pistol has an overall length of 5.27-inches, a height of 3.86-inches, and an empty weight of 12.2 ounces. It has a barrel length of 2.75-inches and as with any subcompact .380 ACP is most effective in close quarters. The updated RM380 Executive is an aesthetically pleasing pistol with an MSRP of $405.

Remington R1 Ultralight Enhanced Commander

remington r1 ultralight
The Remington R1 Ultralight Enhanced Commander is a lighter-weight 1911 that’s more concealable while retaining the performance the R1 line is known for delivering. Kat Ainsworth

The Remington R1 Ultralight Enhanced Commander is part of Big Green’s well-known line of 1911s. As a Commander-sized model it has a 4.25-inch barrel on a full-size frame. It has an overall length of 7.5-inches, an overall height of 5.5-inches, and an empty weight of 29.4 ounces. This is not a compact carry gun but it is more easily concealable than a Government-sized 1911. And if you think you cannot conceal a large 1911, guess again. You totally can.

This model’s best feature is its trigger which is skeletonized and adjustable between three pounds, five ounces and five pounds. The trigger has the short pull you’d expect from a quality 1911 and a clean break. Front and rear cocking serrations are included on the PVD-finished slide and the laminate grips are aggressively checkered. Other features include an extended beavertail, skeletonized hammer, and ultra-lightweight steel frame. The Ultralight Enhanced Commander ships with an adjustable rear sight and fiber optic front sight. MSRP: $849.00.

Kahr Thin Blue Line PM9

kahr thin blue lin pm9
The Kahr Thin Blue Line PM9 is a nice pistol made for self-defense while honoring the sacrifices made by those in law enforcement. Kat Ainsworth

The Kahr PM9 is known as a reliable concealed-carry gun and this year Kahr is building on that reputation while honoring the sacrifices made by those in law enforcement with the Thin Blue Line PM9. As a sign of solidarity and support Kahr has added a brilliant blue line down each side of the gun’s slide.

Kahr designed this to be a durable gun; the frame is made from black polymer and the slide is finished with Armor Black Cerakote. It is ideally sized for concealed carry with a height of 4.0-inches and an overall length of 5.3-inches. The gun has an empty weight of 14.0 ounces.

It’s chambered in ever-popular 9mm and ships with three magazines. Two magazines are flush fitting and have a 6 +1 capacity and the third magazine is extended and has a 7 +1 capacity. The PM9 fits comfortably in my hands; there’s no dangling pinkie or other awkwardness to my grip despite its small size. As for the trigger, it has a curved blade and is slightly stiff with a seven pound pull weight. There is no external safety so a heavier trigger is a pro.

Additional features include a 3.1-inch barrel with polygonal rifling and a 1-in-10 RH twist, blacked out components, and TruGlo Night Sights. It also has a Browning-type recoil lug and passive striker block. The Kahr Thin Blue Line PM9 is a good carry option that’s easily concealed whether you carry IWB or OWB. It has an MSRP of $899.

Kimber EVO SP

kimber evo sp
The Kimber EVO SP is a fantastic pistol that fits well in your hand despite its smaller size. Kat Ainsworth

The Kimber EVO SP is an excellent example of a compact handgun made with the self-defense gun owner in mind. Its overall size is somewhat small but not tiny; the size and grip fit my hand quite well. It has an overall length of 6.1-inches and an empty weight of 18 ounces. The EVO SP is a striker-fired gun and has a premium aluminum, curved blade trigger with some stiffness and slight grit ahead of the break. The break itself is clean. It has a factory-set pull weight between 6.0 and 7.0 pounds.

This is a visually pleasing gun with an aluminum frame with a KimPro Charcoal Gray finish and Gray-Black G10 grips with Stiplex Inspired texturing. It has a 7 +1 capacity and the magazine is extended which stops my pinky from dangling. A solid grip is a must on any firearm and with a self-defense model it becomes vital.

The EVO SP delivers for a firm grip and is certainly highly concealable. One noteworthy self-defense features is the Tritium Pro sights it ships with; high-visibility sights are a desirable feature on a gun you might one day use to defend your life. The grip size is listed as medium and the backstrap size is listed as large marking this as a surprisingly versatile handgun created to fit a wide range of hands.

If you’re looking for a blacked-out Kimber chambered in 9mm for your next daily carry take a look at the EVO SP. This gun has an MSRP of $1047.00.

Kahr K9 (25th anniversary)

kahr 25th anniversary k9
The Kahr 25th Anniversary K9 is a celebratory version of an already popular model known for reliable performance and accuracy. Kat Ainsworth

For their 25th anniversary, Kahr released a commemorative model of their popular K9 pistol. The 25th-anniversary K9 is a solidly-designed self-defense pistol. It’s comfortable in my hands and controls can be operated with relative ease without excessively adjusting my firing grip. The K9 has an overall length of 6.0 inches, a height of 4.5 inches, and a slide width of 0.90 inches. Its empty weight is 23.1 ounces so it does have some heft to it but it is still more than light enough for daily carry. The gun is chambered in 9mm and ships with a trio of stainless steel seven-round magazines.

The features of the K9 make it clear Kahr meant for it to be not only a self-defense gun but one for dedicated training. Wraparound, textured polymer grips give you a firm hold on the gun; there are no finger grooves, which I appreciate. Factory sights are drift-adjustable white dots; tritium night sights are available as an add-on. The trigger is DAO (double-action only) and has a firm, smooth pull with an audible break and reset. There is no external safety.

This is a durable, rugged carry gun that has already proved itself reliable to countless gun owners. It might seem plain – it has a matte black stainless finish – but I prefer reliability and function over fashion. The Kahr 25th anniversary K9 has a starting MSRP of $933.00.

Beretta USA 92G Elite LTT

beretta usa 92g
The Beretta USA 92G Elite LTT has been customized by Ernest Langdon and has one of the smoothest, most consistent double-actions the author has ever felt. Kat Ainsworth

Right off I have to say it: the Beretta USA 92G Elite LTT is a handgun that could make me love double-actions. This gun was customized by Ernest Langdon of Langdon Tactical and he did a stunningly impressive job.

Yes, this is a large handgun, but I have news for you: you can conceal it if you wish to do so. The 92G Elite LTT is chambered in 9mm and has an overall height of 5.4-inches, an overall length of 8.5-inches, and a width of 1.5-inches. It has a 4.7-inch with a target crown, a stainless steel guide rod, and a beveled rear slide. It’s aesthetically pleasing, to say the least, but it feels even better than it looks.

The M9A1 frame and VZ/LTT G10 grips fit my hand incredibly well. This is one of those rare guns that feels natural in my hands as though it was specifically customized to my needs; suffice to say, I love this gun.

It has a stainless steel trigger with a curved blade and—here is the amazing thing—a DA/SA action that feels like heaven. Running the 92G Elite LTT double-action the pull is smooth as butter and the break is perfectly crisp; running the trigger single-action the pull if precise, the break is clean and glass-rod crisp, and the reset is quite short. This is a DA/SA trigger you have to pull to believe.

Controls on the 92G Elite LTT include an oversized magazine release, a D model hammer spring, and a skeletonized, lightweight hammer. The pistol is available as either a ten-round or a fifteen-round model. Both models are available at an MSRP of $1,414.

Kimber K6s

kimber k6s
The Kimber K6S is a great concealed carry revolver made to Kimber’s high standards for quality and performance. Kat Ainsworth

When Kimber first launched their K6 revolver it was exceptionally well-received and now that they’ve announced the K6s it seems logical it will be as popular as its predecessor. The K6s is marketed by Kimber as “the next evolution of the Kimber revolver product line”and is, at first glance, an attractively made revolver. It has the benefit of a DA/SA trigger rather than being DAO and is made to fit the needs of those who prefer a revolver for their concealed carry.

The K6s has an overall length of 7.62-inches, an overall height of 4.46 inches, and a width of 1.39 inches. It has an empty weight of 25.1 ounces and has a six-shot cylinder.

This is a beautifully detailed gun; the frame is made from brushed stainless steel and the grips are walnut with diamond checkering. It has a three-inch barrel made from stainless steel. The cylinder itself does not shift or slip and the barrel lines up with each chamber as the trigger is dry-fired. The DA/SA trigger has a surprisingly smooth, even pull with a 9.5 to 10.5-pound double-action pull weight and a 3.25 to 4.25-pound single-action pull weight. It ships with white three-dot sights with a 5.1-inch sight radius.

I’m a fan of a good revolver and this Kimber K6s checks all the boxes for a high-performing gun, especially within its price point. It fills my hand at a natural angle and dry-fires nicely with a crisp break. It has one of the best double-action pulls I’ve felt in revolvers with a similar price point; there is no stacking or grit. Other features include a compact envelope and serrated backstrap. The Kimber K6s has an MSRP of $949.00.

Taurus G2C

taurus g2c
The Taurus G2C is a compact 9mm designed as an affordably-priced self-defense gun. Kat Ainsworth

It’s impossible to do a handgun list without including Taurus. Self-defense handguns are available across a wide range of costs and when it comes to affordably priced models, many shooters turn to Taurus. After all, the company was founded in 1939 in Brazil and has become a fixture in the industry.

Of the various pistols currently available, there are a couple that seem to garner the most attention for self-defense. One is the PT111 Millennium G2, a gun I’ve found to be fairly reliable, and the other is the G2C (this model is currently in the next room and has run well thus far with only one FTF in the first few hundred rounds).

The Taurus G2C is a polymer-frame pistol chambered in 9mm. Aside from its polymer frame the grips are polymer as well and strategically textured to improve your grip. It has an overall length of 6.30-inches, an overall height of 5.10-inches, and a width of 1.20-inches. The barrel is 3.20-inches long. As for its empty weight, it’s 22.00-ounces; suffice to say this pistol is sized for concealed carry.

Self-defense friendly features include factory adjustable white-dot rear sights and a fixed white-dot front sight. It has a lever-style manual thumb safety that does require you shift your grip to operate it, so take care to include extra practice time manipulating the safety to speed the process along.

The G2C ships with two 12-round magazines; as with any self-defense gun consider carrying that spare magazine in a magazine holster or pouch. The trigger has some slop and stacking ahead of the break. There is a fantastic feature of this gun for training: you can pull the trigger during dry-fire repeatedly without racking the slide each time. That makes for better dry-fire practice and good training time. The Taurus G2C has an MSRP of $316.89.

Browning 1911-380 Black Label

browning 1911
The Browning 1911-380 Black Label is a .380 ACP that’s a bit larger and heavier than most .380s and also more accurate and comfortable to use. Kat Ainsworth

Here’s the thing about .380 ACP: it’s not an ideal self-defense round. If, however, you prefer the .380 ACP, make sure you do it right. A high-quality, precisely-made pistol chambered in the diminutive round can be capable of fantastic accuracy and also gains an edge on range for use. This is where the Browning 1911-380 Black Label comes in, because it is one of the highest-quality .380 ACPs I’ve used in recent memory.

The Browning 1911-380 Black Label is a good-looking little gun designed to exacting specifications by the guys at Browning. It has a 4.25-inch steel barrel with a matte finish and an overall length of 7.5-inches. Add on its empty weight of 18 ounces and it’s both larger and heavier than many if not most .380 ACPs currently on the market.

This pistol has a number of solid features to recommend it including factory three-dot sights, an extended ambidextrous manual safety, and a skeletonized hammer. Then there’s the skeletonized alloy trigger which has a wonderfully brief pull and light, clean break.

Aesthetic additions to the 1911-380 Black Label include beautiful stippled Buckmark logo grips and a matte black finish. It’s an accurate pistol; the first eight-round magazine I put through the gun nailed a one-hole group at seven yards. Thanks to the pistol’s larger size and longer barrel – at least in comparison to other .380 ACPs – it delivers stellar accuracy, a natural fit in your hand, and a good sight radius. If .380 ACP is your preferred cartridge the Browning 1911-380 Black Label should be on your preferred gun list. MSRP $719.99.

Colt King Cobra

colt king cobra
The Colt King Cobra is a beautifully made revolver chambered in .357 Magnum with a stellar DA/SA trigger. Kat Ainsworth

Revolvers deserve far more recognition for self-defense applications than they tend to get. And in the land of stunning revolvers there is one in particular we all want to see return, albeit in its original hand-fitted glory: the Colt Python.

But, if we cannot have the Python, there’s the Colt King Cobra comeback, happening at an FFL near you. Yes, the snake guns are returning, one by one. The King Cobra was originally introduced in 1986 and has been out of production for decades. It was one of the standouts of SHOT 2019 and for good reason. It’s an awesome gun.

The Colt King Cobra is chambered in .357 Magnum and has a heavy-duty frame machined from stainless steel with a brushed finish. It has Hogue Overmolded Grips; the angle of the grips feels good in the hand. When I picked up this gun I immediately liked it—and I had approached it with skepticism.

With a three-inch barrel, it’s small enough to conceal, although with an empty weight of 28 oz., it does have enough bulk that you’ll need a loose-fitting concealing garment. The gun has a six-round capacity.

This is a DA/SA pistol and the trigger doesn’t just work sufficiently, it works impressively. The double-action pull weight is set at the factory between 7.0 and 9.0 pounds and the single-action pull is set between 3.0 and 4.0 pounds.

On the revolver I handled, the double-action pull was silky smooth and consistent and felt like it was set around 7.0 pounds; the single-action pull was glass-rod clean and around 3.0 pounds. The Colt King Cobra has a fantastic trigger and I look forward to live-fire time in the near future. This gun has an MSRP of $899.99.

Mossberg MC1SC

mossberg mc1sc
The long-awaited Mossberg MC1SC is a well-done jump into the world of handguns by the venerable company. Kat Ainsworth

Yes, it’s the Mossberg MC1SC. This is a handgun I’ve spent years waiting for; now that it’s here it seems it’s checked most of the desired boxes for concealed carry. The Mossberg MC1SC is chambered in 9mm, as most popular self-defense guns are, and is sized for concealment.

It has a 416 stainless steel, DLC-finished barrel with a length of 3.40-inches, an overall length of 6.25-inches, and an empty weight of 19 ounces. The pistol fits my hands well – and considering the length of my fingers, that’s a feat for a subcompact, and it has a comfortable trigger reach. There is no external safety. First impressions are all favorable.

The most striking feature of the MC1SC is its unique, patented Safe Takedown System (STS). One of Mossberg’s goals in designing this pistol was to ensure shooters would not need to pull the trigger during the takedown process and the STS helps them reach that goal. Takedown begins by dropping the magazine and clearing the chamber, locking the action open, and removing the slide cover plate.

Once the plate is removed the fluorescent orange of the STS becomes visible and you simply close the action and remove the striker assembly. It’s a fascinating system.

Perhaps my favorite part of the pistol is the factory trigger. Finding a striker-fired gun with a well-executed factory trigger is rare, but Mossberg got it done. The factory trigger is set at 5 to 6 pounds and has a flat-face blade and integrated blade safety. It has an abbreviated take-up, clean break, and audible reset. Ergonomics are improved upon with a palm swell, stippling, and carefully-developed grip angle. Other features include factory snag-free, dovetail three-dot white sights and a reversible magazine release. The rear sights are adjustable for windage.

There are a few variations of the MC1SC available; each model has options above the base factory model. Some of the models available include the Centennial, one with TruGlo Tritium Pro Sights, one that’s Viridian Laser Equipped, and a model with a cross-bolt safety. The guns ship with two magazines, one flush fit with a 6-round capacity and one extended magazine with a seven-round capacity. MSRP starts at $425.00.