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Why you should keep your double column magazine pistol

A larger capacity pistol that is still concealable has advantages for today’s threats

M&P 3.jpg

The Smith and Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Compact magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

photo/Steve Tracy

Sponsored by Smith & Wesson

By Steve Tracy for P1 BrandFocus

Double column 9mm semi-automatic pistols took over the police duty pistol market in the 1980s and were referred to as “Wondernines.” There was a frenzy to replace revolvers with fifteen shot 9mm pistols with double action triggers. A decade later, the transition had largely been completed across our nation.

Then the manufacturers came out with compact varieties of the Wondernines aimed at detective/off-duty/backup carry. Magazine capacity went from 15 or 17 rounds of 9mm ammo down to 12 or 13 rounds. An attribute of chopped-down factory pistols is that they function the same as their full-sized duty brothers. The full-size gun and the compact have the same buttons, switches, and levers in all the same places. This makes training and operation simpler since a single system is easier to learn and master. Think of when you left work in your personal car after driving your squad car all shift and you reached for the transmission lever in the wrong place. It’s funny in a car, but not funny with a pistol.

Today’s compact double column pistol provides ample ammunition for most off-duty encounters. Police officers used to carry a handgun off-duty because we knew the realistic (although statistically rare) possibility of happening upon a convenience store robbery while stopping to get milk after a late shift at night. A 5-shot snub nose .38 revolver could handle that situation for us (along with our excellent training and calm nerves of course!).

Unfortunately, that quaint notion of a self-defense scenario, going one-on-one with a bad guy, has been supplanted by real stories of good guys with guns taking on shooters armed with formidable weapons. It was a different time (some of us even remember it with a bit of whimsy) before mass shootings and terrorism became more common stories on the news. Police are aware that a shootout today is just as likely to happen in a shopping mall, at a nightclub, at a restaurant, or even a house of worship. Double column magazine pistols give us more cartridges to utilize in our favor. Cover fire to keep a shooter’s head down may allow more potential victims to flee to safety. An extra double column magazine provides even more shots on your side.

Guns are very personal choices and there is no right answer that applies to everyone. I will not argue with someone who chooses to carry a 5 or 6-shot revolver (that person probably knows how to use it!). The same goes for those who carry a full-size pistol and extra magazines – more power to them (literally, since they have plenty of ammo!). I have carried a 5-shot snubby and a 7-shot .380 without extra rounds on my person. I have also carried a full size .45 in a leather shoulder harness, balanced with two extra magazines under my opposite armpit. Not every gun fits every carry circumstance.

I’ve never experienced problems with double-column magazines compared to single stack mags, so the only real difference when comparing apples to apples (say an S&W single stack Shield 9mm to the same company’s double stack M&P Compact) is round count and its resulting grip thickness and added weight. Sight radius is virtually the same, as are the handling characteristics of the similar guns. Pistol weight does go up when a double stack magazine is packing extra rounds and, while only a few ounces, the weight still has to be managed by your carry method.

The civilian concealed carry market has created an abundance of new single stack magazine pistols, most being thinner versions of their previous double stack pistols. New shooters handling two similar handguns for the first time may opt for the thinner grip because it feels better and conceals flatter and lighter. The answer of carrying an extra magazine instead of a wider gun still means the extra magazine has to be carried too. That mag adds more weight and requires a magazine change to continue firing once the single stack runs dry. A single stack pistol may be fine for an ordinary citizen’s self-defense needs.

But, here is where police officers circle back to the modern reality of active/mass shooters and terrorism. If you already have a double stack pistol (which you have trained/qualified with), is an extra fraction of an inch in width and a few more ounces in heft going to make that big of a difference? Keep in mind that most double stack magazine semi-automatics can utilize full-size duty pistol magazines as well. The longer magazines stick out the bottom but carrying one of these full-size magazines as a spare provides even greater firepower.

If you already carry a double column pistol and you’re considering trading it in or selling it to switch to a single stack, I understand where you’re coming from if money is tight. But maybe that next overtime check could pay for your new single column pistol and you can still keep your double column? Or maybe you’ve got a single stack and you see the advantages of a double column but still appreciate the option of a thinner gun. I’ve never needed a logical reason to buy another gun, but the double column 9mm pistol offers more rounds on your person at the small expense of a tiny bit more width and weight.

The times have changed from 30 years ago and a larger capacity pistol that is still concealable has its advantages.

About the author

Steve Tracy recently retired from the Park Ridge Police Department (which borders the northwest side of Chicago) after 30 years of service, 28 as a firearms instructor.