Back in May of 2010, I decided it would be a good thing to get a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) and be counted among the Americans who valued their second amendment rights. One of the first things I learned was that in Texas if you want to carry a semi-auto handgun you must qualify with one during the CHL class. I only had a revolver at the time so I walked into a local sporting goods chain store. I walked out with a Smith & Wesson M&P 40 (full size). I had done minimal research and consider this purchase as a stroke of luck because the M&P has proved to be a great gun for a lefty. It has a reversible magazine release and all other controls are located on both sides of the gun. It is now my weapon of choice for home defense.
So after some time practicing with the M&P which I found fairly easy to learn to use, I next needed to attend a CHL class. I had observed a class qualification at the range I frequent and decided that I wanted to find a smaller class size to participate in. The thought of standing so close to a bunch of strangers with guns was a little unnerving to me. I found an instructor who limited his class to 5 students so I signed up for a mid-July class. (Actually, I was the only student who signed up for the day I took the class.) I thoroughly enjoyed the class experience. I came away from the class wanting to be more than just a number counted in statistics. I wanted to find a way to actually carry a handgun anytime it was legal to do so.
For me, actually carrying a handgun was going to mean that I needed to find one smaller than a full sized M&P. I tried carrying the M&P a couple of times and found that I could if I was wearing clothes that allowed it. My usual dress is a semi-dress shirt and Dockers. There is no way I can hide the M&P in that. My CHL instructor had advised against a .380 pocket gun for various reasons and showed me his S&W Airweight snub-nose 38 SP as an alternative. So after less than sufficient research I bought one in August. While I found that I could conceal the S&W 642 easily and it is a great “lefty” gun, I did not like shooting it at all. It was painful to shoot it and while it seemed to feel okay in my hand, at the gun shop, I never liked the feel of it in my hand at the range. (Others like it a lot; this is just my personal observation.)
So my quest for an ideal concealed carry weapon for me (as a lefty) began in earnest. Since I had tried the “snubbie”, I thought I would try a small 9mm this time. It was about this time that I found a suggestion somewhere that renting a gun was a good way to learn if the gun was right for you. That made sense because my own experience had proven that it is one thing to hold a gun and another to actually shoot it. My problem is that the ranges in my area provide a limited selection of small 9mm guns for rent or loan. So when I came across a Kel-Tec PF-9 at local chain and was not able to rent it before buying, I decided to take one more chance on buying before trying (October).
My disappointment with KT PF-9 began as soon as I got home with it and gave it a pre-shooting cleaning. I found rust on the inside of the slide. Cleaning removed the rust but it also removed the bluing in that area. I have since learned that blued Kel-Tec handguns are known for having light coatings. The next day at the range my disappointment grew. Many of the first rounds failed to fire and some failed to eject. I went back to the owner’s manual that came with the gun and found that I had not read the trouble shooting section well enough. While I’m impressed with Kel-Tec’s honesty in describing common problems, I’m concerned about making a gun with “common problems” my primary concealed carry defensive weapon. However, I overcame the problems until the day when I reaffirmed that for me it must be a gun designed for a lefty. As I was shooting, my hand slipped forward on the grip and pushed the mag release which of course dropped the mag. Now, I have read all the commentary about lefty’s overcoming the shortfalls of using a gun designed for a right-hander but for me that is not an option. I don’t want to spend that kind of time and money practicing. Besides, I’m of the opinion that the best gun for an individual is the one that is the most natural to him or her, in other words requires the least practice to shoot. The day that you need to use it to defend your life there will be no time to think about it even if you can control the stress that prevents clear thinking.
So my quest resumed. I had considered the Kahr PM9 even at the time I bought the Kel-Tec but did not like the stiffness of the mag release on the first one I held. The mag release is in the same general area as on the Kel-Tec so I definitely did not give it further consideration. One reason I have discounted many of the sub-compacts is that most of them are basically a full size with shorter barrels and shorter grips but the width is still the full size width which makes them a challenge to conceal in my normal attire.
Then, I found an interesting 9mm during my internet research called a Rohrbaugh R9. It is a very small 9mm and the mag release is under the mag which means it doesn’t matter which hand actuates it. I found a gun shop sort of in my area that had one in stock and took an afternoon drive one day to see it. Besides being expensive, I found the mag release impossible to use one handed as I was unable to manipulate the slide with my weak hand to load the first round or to examine the chamber to clear the weapon. The recoil spring was also just too stiff. Now, I admit that this is just an individual thing with me. I have a slight deformity on my weak hand that limits my ability to grip, but I think many average men these days and most women would have the same trouble, so if you consider this weapon be sure that you can handle at least normal manipulations. Videos of firing it, found on the internet, show that it will be “painful” to shoot as well.
Earlier in my search, I had handled a Walther PPS but found it to be different enough than my M&P that I didn’t think it would be a good choice with my limited experience with semi-autos. However, the Walther PPS was one of the few small 9mms that the range I go to offered for rent. Then I found a review of the Walther that compared it in size to the Kel-Tec PF9. Wow! I was amazed at how close the two are. The Walther is just a half inch longer. All other dimensions are close if the short 6 round magazine is used in the Walther. (You have a choice of 3 sizes; 6, 7, or 8 rounds.) So this time I rented before I bought. I found that the differences between the Walther PPS and M&P were not going to be an issue for me. The magazine release is a lever integrated in the trigger guard so that it can be actuated with either fingers or thumb or both with either hand. This is different but at least it is located so that inadvertent release will not happen no matter which hand it is in when fired. The lack of a slide catch/release on the right side of the gun was no longer an issue because one salesman I had dealt with demonstrated the method of “racking the slide” which is the preferred method of releasing the slide on the Kel-Tec so I was used to that.
So I bought the Walther in late November almost a year ago. There are other things about the Walther that I like. There is a much shorter trigger pull than that of the Kel-Tec. The PPS is more accurate. Another thing that is very important to me is that it has not failed once using a wide variety of cheap and common practice ammunition. And, the quality is very high. That is actually my expectation of a gun but that expectation was not met by the Kel-Tec.
During that rental session at the range I also rented a Ruger LCR 38 SP and found it to be a much better choice in a gun of this class for me than the S&W 642. So I sold the 642 at a gun show. I later bought an LCR because you just can’t beat a revolver for simplicity and being left-hand friendly.
By the way, the Walther PPS has an accessory rail and can be equipped with a flashlight (or a laser sight). It is also available in 40 caliber S&W so I potentially could have skipped straight to a Walther PPS 40 from the beginning. Oh well, live and learn, I guess.
The journey has been fun but more expensive than it could have been. I guess the main thing I would like to pass on to those in search of the “ideal CCW” is that it is a personal search and to be able to “try before you buy” is a great idea if you can. If you have a friend with guns, buddy up with him and shoot his guns. I have a friend who really likes the M&P and the Walther now after trying mine.
In all fairness, I want to say that I eventually sent the Kel-Tec PF-9 back to the manufacturer. They were able to fix all the issues I had with it. That said, I still prefer the PPS.