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Doing double duty: What features to look for in the perfect on/off-duty handgun

The perfect on/off-duty gun would be big enough to serve the needs of a patrol officer on the street, yet still small enough to conceal


Firearms manufacturers are offering more viable handgun options for officers than ever before.


We are living in the golden age of defensive firearms. When I came up in the gun culture, it was a given that the smaller an auto-pistol was, the less likely it was to be reliable. That is much less true today and is probably a complete falsehood in reference to the ubiquitous mid-sized or compact pistol.

The guns in question generally have 15-round and 12-round magazines in 9mm and .40 caliber, respectively. They have barrels of about four inches in length. They are slightly downsized versions of larger duty pistols and have been mostly marketed for concealed carry and plain clothes carry. These guns are generally designated by their manufacturer as, “compact,” but may serve you just as well as a duty sidearm.

What characteristics would a pistol need to be considered for double-duty? It will need to be big enough for regular duty use and still small enough for concealed carry.

Big enough

Duty pistols aren’t pocket pistols or ankle guns. They must be big enough for street work. What characteristics make a gun suitable for the streets? It must be large enough to allow the user’s hands to get a solid purchase on the stocks. Duty guns must be big enough to retain under the worst conditions, including an attempted gun grab. Under the best circumstances they must have enough girth to effectively be used in training and qualification.

Sight radius may be another consideration. Naturally, a compact gun will have a shorter barrel, which will mean a shorter sight radius. Depending on the skill of the shooter, that abbreviated distance between the front and rear sights can have a negative effect on the individual’s ability to make good hits. That said, at distances common to law enforcement confrontation and qualification, this should be a relatively minor concern.

Capacity is a primary concern for a duty pistol. An often-quoted statistic is that an “average” law enforcement encounter results in only three to five rounds being fired by the officer. That’s often used as an excuse to disregard a gun’s lack of ammunition capacity. A mentor of mine impressed upon me that we shouldn’t only train for the averages. Many incidents have involved dozens of rounds fired and that number has increased over the years. How many will be enough and how much do you trust your luck? When using a subcompact pistol for off-duty carry, you might lose as many as 10 rounds of ammunition from your on-duty gun. However, a compact or mid-sized gun loses only a few rounds while allowing enough grip reduction for effective concealment.

Small enough

A concealed carry pistol must be small enough to effectively conceal. As stated above, we’re not talking about pocket guns or ankle guns here. Still, a double-duty pistol will need to be small enough to comfortably conceal. I’ve spent the last several years carrying such a handgun under a slightly oversized shirt in my off time without any trouble.


Many of these quasi-compact pistols accept the duty-size magazines of their larger brethren. That increases the capacity of the compact handgun from 15 or 17 rounds to 13 or 15 rounds, depending on the caliber. Some manufacturers provide magazine adapters for their larger magazines that fill in the gap between the grip and the floorplate. It only makes sense to carry the full-size magazine with the adapter on duty and the slightly reduced magazine for concealed carry. With the shorter magazine inserted and with the proper holster, carrying a 14 or 16 round pistol is a breeze.

In a shopping mall some years back, an off-duty officer engaged an active shooter until help arrived. According to an interview he gave later, his 1911 only contained six rounds. He fired only three for fear he would run out of ammo before the threat was neutralized. The officer made the statement that he wished he’d had more ammunition; at least in the form of an extra magazine. I’m sure having a pistol with a capacity in the mid-teens would have been comforting for him.

Double-duty option

Firearms manufacturers are offering more viable handgun options for officers than ever before. Let’s face it, cops aren’t usually flush with disposable income. Having one pistol to serve two different roles is a great fiscal option for the law enforcement officer and his family. Do some research and see if what gun companies call a compact pistol may very well serve double duty for you.

Warren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.