Best CCW gun ever? Maybe.
Judah Torres takes two of the best single stack 9mm pistols on the market and sees which stacks up the best.
Today’s choices for a conceal carry handgun have come a long way in the last few years. Finally, gun owners can pick a pistol that is a solid balance of firepower and concealability, with good ergonomics and reliability that I would bet my life on. While there are a lot of firearms that fit the description of “new, slim, concealable, good pistol,” there are two that stand head and shoulders above the rest, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield and the new Glock 43.
Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t other great conceal-carry pistols out there, because there are. But judged as a whole for reliability, concealability, firepower, cost, and ease-of-use-and-maintenance, the Shield and the G43 are the best.
What defines a good conceal carry pistol?
Number one on anybody’s list for a CCP, or what should be number one on anyone’s list, is reliability. Does the gun go bang every time you press the trigger? No? Don’t bet your life on it. Now, of course there is more involved than just the gun- ammunition, maintenance of the firearm, and other factors all can contribute to the dreaded “click” of a malfunctioning gun- but if you are consistently having a malfunctions while operating the firearm properly, you simply own an expensive, ineffective club. Reliability is what counts when you need to use your gun.
Glock pistols have a reputation for eating just about any type of ammunition, and with it’s legendary reliability, the 43 easily passed my non-scientific tests for reliability. I was impressed when the Shield matched the Glock for reliability. Through normal use carrying, competing with, and taking out to the range, both pistols refused to have any gun-induced malfunctions. Excellent reliability from both contenders here. The Glock seemed to be ever-so-slightly more forgiving to operator error, such as limp wristing when firing in awkward positions, but both pistols performed excellently in all conditions.
Advantage: Glock 43
Hard to give an advantage to either one, but with the Glock being just a bit more forgiving, it gets the nod.
#2 Concealability and firepower
The next two criteria for a CCP should be concealability and firepower. These two go hand in hand, and are always a trade off- a full-size pistol can hold a lot more quarters (aka bullets), but is not going to conceal well. A microscopic .22 pistol will conceal just about anywhere- no really, look up how many pistols have been discovered in body cavities. Yuck. That’s taking appendix carry to entirely new levels… Rectum carry? Just no.
Stupid criminals aside, science has shown us that modern 9mm ammunition is more than adequate for defensive situations, and research has shown us that 9mm handguns are easier to control than larger caliber pistols. Shot placement > caliber in every metric. And for concealable pistols, the reduced recoil of the 9mm makes the guns far more controllable. I’m sure the hate will begin right about… Now. Oh well.
So both the Shield and the G43 are 9mm pistols (the Shield also has a .40 option), and both are large enough to handle well and still conceal easily. With regards to concealability, often times the width of a pistol is a bigger giveaway than other factors such as barrel length and grip length. A slim and large gun tucked tight to your side will conceal better than a smaller, fatter gun where the protrusion of the sidearm is visible.
The single-stack Shield comes with a magazine holding 7 rounds and an extended magazine holding 8 rounds. The Glock 43 comes with two 6-round magazines. The slightly longer magazine on the Shield doesn’t affect it’s ability to be concealed, and the improved ergonomics and increased capacity the magazine extension offers makes the 8-round magazine a logical choice to carry, and keeps the Shield easy to shoot. The Glock 43 is smaller, slimmer, and lighter than the Shield, but in an ever-shifting world where gang violence seems to always be in the news, 6 rounds just doesn’t seem to cut it. Granted, the average number of rounds fired in defensive situations over the last 5 years was two rounds, but in my opinion, more ammunition equals more chances.
There are several aftermarket solutions to the Glock 43’s less-than-ideal magazines capacity with Taran Tactical, Tactical Supply, and several others making magazine extensions. Tactical Supply’s +2 Magazine Extension is slightly larger than the offerings from Taran Tactical, but the ergonomic improvement to the Glock with the Tactical Supply extension far outweighs the extra (minimal) bulk.
Both guns can meet the standards for concealability, but the Shield has the win for firepower due to increased magazine capacity straight from the factory. The 43 can match it, but requires aftermarket additions to do so.
So we know that shot placement is key to employing a firearm effectively, and how a gun feels in the hand can make it that much easier to utilize the gun accurately. Additionally, the ergonomics of a gun are a huge factor when deciding which gun to buy, particularly for women. More on that in a later article.
Both the Shield and the 43 are comfortable to hold and shoot. From the factory, the Shield’s slightly larger grip give it a slight advantage, but the 43 is also comfortable from the factory, and a magazine extension drastically improves an already-good feel. My only complaint is that both guns are fairly slick, with the Glock being only marginally better than the Shield in this regard. If you ever had to use your gun, you will likely have sweaty palms, it could be raining, there could be blood on your hands, etc., all factors that would make a more aggressive grip desirable. Of course, then it isn’t as comfortable against your waist. I personally consider stippling a must on both guns, and just conditioned my fat roll to take the sandpaper-like feel happily.
Ergonomics also applies to the operation of the firearm. Here is where the Glock really shines over the Shield. Every Shield I’ve ever seen had an extremely stiff recoil spring straight from the factory, making operations such as racking the slide during malfunctions and dropping the slide via the slide release, almost uncomfortably difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. After about 500 rounds, it eased up a bit, but still wasn’t the smoothest action around. The G43, on the other hand, felt just like every other Glock I’ve used when working the action. Fairly smooth, and a dab of lubricant on a few surfaces can make it very smooth. And when shooting, the 43 exhibited less perceived recoil than the Shield, even less when using Tactical Supply’s magazine extension. Less mass on the Glock’s slide when compared to the Shield means less perceived recoil.
Finally, there is the old grip-angle element of these pistols. If you shoot a Glock most of the time, the 43 will point a little more instinctively due to the more aggressive grip angle. If you shoot, well, just about anything else, the Shield will point more instinctively due to the straighter grip angle. This isn’t an absolute rule, and ultimately personal preference rules here.
The Shield wins on factory-grip-ergonomics, even thought it is a bit slick, but cedes to the G43 in operation of the pistol and when firing.
One of the benefits of the increased competition in today’s handgun market is the lower prices that we, the end users, get to enjoy. Both the Glock 43 and the M&P Shield are sub-$500 guns, and come with multiple magazines. In general, the Shield is a bit cheaper than the Glock, coming in at an average (in my area, at least) of ~$380, and the G43 averaging ~$425. Both of these guns are priced right, in my opinion, for the amount of quality that went into these firearms.
Both are excellent firearms, but at almost $50 cheaper than the G43, the Shield wins this round.
Today’s conceal carry pistol options are the best they have ever been, and in my humble opinion, the Smith & Wesson Shield and the Glock 43 are the best options available. I would bet my life on either of these guns, and they both meet all of my personal standards for a CCP. On paper, the Shield has a slight advantage over the 43, and is cheaper to buy. The 43 takes a little bit more aftermarket loving, but hey, some people enjoy the challenge. Without modifications, the Shield dominates. But the 43 with a few modifications is the superior gun in my view. Ultimately, I think it comes down to personal preference. I shoot Glocks more often than any other gun, so the 43 points more naturally for me, but the Shield is a tool I would gladly employ if I needed to.
Reliable, concealable with adequate round capacity, fantastic ergonomics, and both pistols are priced right. So next time you’re looking for the best option for concealed carry, look no further than the Glock 43 and the Smith & Wesson Shield.
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