Defensive Handgun Fads & Facts


Defensive Handgun Fads & Facts

The author discusses fads and facts regarding defensive handguns, accessories and concealed carry methods.

Over the years, we’ve seen many products designed to make a defensive handgun a “better” tool for saving your life. But most offer advantages but come with risks. How many gadgets should you attach to your defensive handgun? Are they truly helpful, passing fads or crutches to circumvent training and practice? Should you turn your defensive pistol into a multi-tool, or should you just learn how to effectively use it in its basic form?

I can’t decide for you, but I can offer some insight that might help make up your mind.

Laser Sights

I used to be a strong supporter of laser sights—particularly laser grips—on defensive pistols. This was mostly because they’re great in low light and when shooting from unconventional positions, but also because they allow target focus shooting. I still believe laser sights can be useful tools. They’re great for helping you develop a good trigger press and for fine tuning your draw stroke. But my position on them as a must have carry tool has somewhat changed. I might’ve been so caught up in how they allowed me to do some things better that I overlooked one of the basic premises of practical self-defense, which is to keep things stupid-simple.

Like with reflex sights, lasers come with advantages, and maybe fewer disadvantages. However, for optimum proficiency, there’s a lot of training to be done.

Pistol-Mounted Lights

At first blush, a light mounted to your carry gun seems like a great idea, but I’m not so sure it’s better than a handheld light. The primary problem with a pistol-mounted light is that to use it, you must point your handgun at what you want to look at. This isn’t a good idea and violates the second rule of firearms safety. A handheld light still gives you that search tool, and you can also use it to momentarily blind or disorient an attacker while you draw your pistol. And then there’s the more critical question of why you’re somewhere with a potential for danger that’s so dark you’ll need a light to identify or engage a threat? Never underestimate the logic of avoidance.

Suppressed Handguns

Adding a suppressor to a defensive pistol makes it more pleasurable to shoot. The muzzle blast and flash go away, and recoil is diminished. But you cannot effectively conceal a suppressed handgun. You’re also not a member of a tactical team conducting hostage rescue or terrorist elimination raids. A suppressor could be a valid accessory on a home-defense handgun, but it drastically changes the handling qualities of a pistol. Suppressors can add great enjoyment to shooting, but unless your job description has a multi-letter acronym, it might be best to use a pistol suppressor for recreational shooting.

Reflex Sights

The hottest thing right now are reflex sights. New, lighter and more rugged and compact versions are introduced monthly, and everyone wants a handgun with an optics cut in the slide. But are they better than standard sights? Well, when the battery isn’t dead or there’s not some electrical malfunction, they’re faster and easier to shoot more accurately at distances beyond about 10 yards. And, like lasers, they allow target focus shooting. However, sunlight can reflect onto the backside of the glass and render them useless. Dust and debris can block the emitter, and there’ll be no dot to aim with. A reflex sight is undoubtedly a great training aid for a new shooter … but will it always—every time and all the time—work when you most need it to?

The predominant trend right now with defensive handguns is reflex sights. They come with some advantages, but there are also critical disadvantages.

Appendix Carry

Right now, the debate rages on whether you should carry on your strong-side hip or in the appendix position. All the cool kids like how fast you can draw from the appendix position. They like it so much that they overlook the second rule of firearms safety. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s the most important rule: Never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy. Ken Hackathorn has been one of the most respected firearms trainers for more than 30 years. He was recently chastised on the internet for his comments on appendix carry. Hackathorn said that any pistol you carry in that position is a potential “decocker.” It was a play on words—a damned good one—and he was right, mostly because humans tend to do stupid things. Several folks are now walking around with a diminished manhood because of appendix carry.

A lot of shooters like to carry in the appendix position. But, the number of dismembered folks who wish they’d never tried it is growing.

The .40 S&W

The .40 S&W cartridge came about because the FBI determined a downloaded 10mm cartridge offered the best terminal performance for law enforcement. When the FBI adopted the .40 S&W, most every law enforcement agency followed suit. But after a little more than 2 decades, the FBI changed their mind: They now feel the minimal terminal performance advantage the .40 S&W offered didn’t outweigh the better shootability and capacity of the 9mm. The fad of the .40 is over.

For nearly 2 decades, the .40 Smith & Wesson was the darling cartridge of law enforcement. Now, almost fad-like, it’s disappearing.


It takes a great deal of training and practice to become extremely proficient with a self-defense handgun. It’s a perishable skill that needs constant reinforcement. Every gadget or technique you add to your toolbox comes with the need for thousands of rounds and repetitions to make it viable. If you only train and practice a couple times each year, or even just monthly, you’re working right on the edge of just maintaining basic skills with a standard pistol. Without the necessary initial and sustainment training, every gadget you add to your pistol will reduce your proficiency. Don’t screw crap to your gun, or transition to a new technique, without the necessary training and practice to learn to use it effectively and safely. Otherwise, avoid the gadgets.

Would you be better off with a suppressed .40 S&W carry gun outfitted with a laser sight, a reflex sight and a weapon light that’s stuck down your pants keeping your jewels company? Or might a 9mm pistol you can shoot well combined with a compact handheld flashlight be a better option? It’s your life and you must decide.

Just remember that tools you’re untrained with are dangerous to you, and there’s only one letter difference in fool and cool. And, sometimes, those words can be interchangeable.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Suppressor Special 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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