Your favorite gun might not be on this list. That's because it's MY list. Be sure to comment and tell me your favorite carry or duty or self defense gun. We can all benefit from this discourse on fine handguns.
#10 THE SINGLE ACTION REVOLVER
I know non-law enforcement folks who carry, as a concealed carry weapon (CCW), a single action revolver, usually a Colt, Ruger or other western style revolver. The disadvantage, of course, is the extremely slow reloading of this pistol, should that become necessary. It is made in powerful cartridges like the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and Special and .45 Long Colt as well as in unique calibers like the .44-.40.
Most of the folks I know who carry a single action pistol as a defense weapon are enamored with the old west. I've owned a few single action pistols, but never felt like carrying one off duty or as a CCW.
#9 THE BROWNING HI-POWER
So many, it seems, in this day and age of double action high capacity autos like the Sig, Glock and others have forgotten about the original high capacity 9mm of John Browning design. Here, I'm talking about the single action variety, not the later modified double action version.
In the 1960's and 1970's, plainclothes cops like Serpico carried the Hi-Power to augment their five shot S&W J-frames or six shot Colt Detective Specials. It's a highly accurate pistol with a nice low recoil. It feels good in the hand, but for concealed carry it's probably only an option in colder weather when it could be concealed under a heavy coat or if you're wearing several untucked larger shirts. Similar guns would include full-size .45 Government and Gold and their variants.
#8 THE WALTHER PPK
The Walther PPK is perhaps the best known of the James Bond movie guns, but it's roots go way back to WWII as an officers gun. It has a bit of a bite in it's kick, but it's accurate and safe. A double action, it has a manual safety so that it can be very safely carried with a round in the chamber. It's a bit bigger than the current micro-380s made by Kahr, Kel-Tec and others, but the solid feel of the Walther, the high reliability factor and the accurate shooting it is capable of have endeared it to generations of shooters and those who carry guns daily.
It's drawback, of course, is it's small caliber. But back in the day, this was one of the smaller pistols that was considered reliable to carry. It has much competition now, and the newly introduced Sig single action is destined to be a legendary gun, as with the old generation Sig double action .380. Any of these weapons would make an excellent carry gun if small size is the controlling factor.
In hotter and more humid climates, a .380 or a J frame are often the only reasonable choice for off-duty or CHL carry in the summers.
#7 THE SIG-SAUERS
Sig enjoys a big following in both law enforcement and CCH circles. They manufacture a several compact autos shooting calibers such as 9mm, .40, .357Sig and .45 calibers. They are very well made, if not a little heavy compared to some of the competition, but are extremely reliable and accurate. You can't go wrong with a Sig.
#6 THE COLT AUTOS AND VARIANTS
The Colt Commander and Officer's models, as well as the multitude of variants such as the Para Ordinance, Detonics (back in the day) and the many other brands of compact 1911 based pistols. The lightweight Commander and Officer are old favorites, and new custom pistols like the Kimber Ultra CDP are state of the art as far as compact combat 1911's are concerned.
If you don't mind carrying a big bore pistol right next to your body in a cocked and locked position (the only safe position for a 1911 and the way the gun was designed by John Browning to be carried), then there are tons of quality 1911 compact variants on the market today, from reasonably priced to very high priced.
#5 THE HECKLER AND KOCH P7M8
Known as a squeeze cocker for it's unique cocking level located in the handgrip, I've always felt safe carrying this pistol. I'm not a huge 9mm fan but the safety and thin nature of this gun, as well as the accurate shooting with low recoil, renders it a big favorite of mine.
It's too bad no other company has come forth with a lighter weight model of this design. The P7 only weighs 25 oz unloaded, but due to the design and weight distribution it seems heavier than that to me. I would have guessed it weighed 30 oz or so.
#4 THE GLOCK FAMILY
The Glock family in the standard size and the compact sizes are clearly popular with both law enforcement and the CCW crowd. Reliable, light weight and highly accurate render them an excellent carry weapon.
They are a bit thick in the grip, except for the Model 36 mentioned below, but the compact models are readily concealable despite the larger grip diameter. Grip adapters made on longer magazines are available to extend the length of the grip on the compact models, as most hands are just a bit large.
#4 THE JUDGE BY TAURUS
This relatively new weapon shoots five rounds of either .45 Long Colt or .410 shotshells. Different models either shoot the regular or magnum .410 shells. For home defense it's a perfect weapon, although most of my friends who own one of these carry it in the field for snake control while hunting and fishing. It's a bit large for concealed carry for most of us, but when loaded with anything from a 00Buck to a #4 shotshell, it's going to blow an extra large hole in whatever it hits with low risk of over-penetration.
I haven't shot one yet but I'm guessing it kicks quite a bit. El Fisho's fishing/snake gun for the past 25 years has been a Thompson-Contender in .45LC/.410 and it kicks like hell with a .410 magnum shell. Even experienced shooters find the recoil of my TC unpleasant. Still, it's basically a legal sawed off shotgun and again, in a home defense scenario, is sure to stop whatever it hits with small risk of pellets going into unintended targets.
#3 THE COLT DETECTIVE SPECIAL AND COBRA
My first snubby, bought days after graduating from the academy, was a NIB chrome Colt Cobra lightweight snubnose revolver in .38 special. It remains one of my favorite carry guns. Six rounds in a reliable Colt revolver. For me, it's much more accurate at longer distances (10 to 25 yards) than any of my J frames, and it looks cool as hell. Watch the original version of Shaft and see what he carries (one of these). Now out of production, fine examples can be found for around $600, which is what you'll pay for a new J frame. A close relative to this pistol is the excellent Colt Diamondback, which is basically a mini-Python in .38 special with a ribbed barrel.#2 THE SMITH & WESSON J FRAME
It has one shot less than the Colt Detective Special/Cobra pistols, but that one less round equals an extremely concealable gun. From the Chief's Special to the Centennial to the Bodyguard, it's a reliable powerhouse in self-defense. It's reliable and with minimal training, it's nearly a foolproof gun to carry and shoot. The lightweight versions weigh under 15 ounces and are popular with El Fisho for CCW. I personally prefer the Bodyguard airweight. What's your favorite J frame?
#1 THE GLOCK 36
My favorite Glock and my favorite carry gun. It's a slimline, single stack magazine .45 that weighs 20 oz. empty. It is easily concealable and holds 7 rounds. It suffers from the same larger slide that other Glocks do, but again, for what it is, it's tiny.
What's more, the recoil is very low for a small pistol shooting a .45 auto cartridge. I've shot many .380's that recoil more than the Glock 36, and I've never shot a .45 with as easy of recoil as the Model 36. The substantially larger Model 21 full size .45 kicks alot more.
The Model 36 doesn't so much kick as it does push with a slight barrel rise. When shooting low recoil ammo, it's even less. But unlike many compact autos, it's a pleasure to shoot. Of course, like other Glocks, it's strong suites are reliability and accuracy. It seems to feed whatever is fed it with no jams or misfeeds.