While I am usually reticent to give such advice, I am often asked by friends and associates what are the primary requirements of a defensive handgun. Sometimes you just have to give in. So here's my list of three things to look for in a defensive handgun.
1. It must be utterly reliable with the ammunition you use in it.
2. It must be of a caliber suitable for its intended purpose.
3. It must be easy to operate.
That last requirement may bear a bit of explanation. Under the pressures of a life-threatening situation, I don't want to have to rotate, flip, squeeze, or manipulate any combination of levers, buttons, or grip safeties. For this reason I have long been a proponent of the easy-to-use Double-Action-Only (DAO) pistol.
With a DAO pistol, the drill is simple: draw pistol, aim, and fire. You get the same consistent trigger stroke for each shot, the length of which reduces the chances of an accidental discharge. In addition, to make a DAO pistol "safe" all you have to do is remove your finger from inside the trigger guard.
While there can be no denying that for really precise accuracy a single action provides the goods, such levels of accuracy are not required for defensive shooting, most of which occurs inside of seven meters. The odds of you becoming involved in a long-range shootout with a handgun range from nil to naught. So I believe the DAO trigger provides significant advantages with no downside.
My love of DAO pistols is one of the reasons that I am so fond of pistols manufactured by Kahr Arms. The Blauvelt, N.Y.-based company offers some of the most practical, easy to conceal DAO pistols on the market.
The Kahr's light, stage-free trigger stroke is accomplished by means of a system in which a trigger travel of approximately 18mm rotates a cam, which then unlocks the spring-loaded striker safety, and draws the striker to full cock position before releasing it to fire the pistol. A striker block prevents the partially cocked striker from moving until it is deactivated by a complete trigger stroke.
There are no external safety devices on Kahr pistols. This gives the weapons a smooth, snag-free exterior, a very positive feature on a handgun meant to be drawn from concealment.
Breech locking is accomplished by the barrel hood bearing on the front edge of the ejection port. Upon firing, the slide moves rearward and a cam on the barrel lug pulls the barrel down, unlocking it from the slide, which continues rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent case. A recoil spring, located on a full-length guide rod under the barrel, pulls the slide forward, stripping a round from the magazine, and chambering it. As the slide goes into battery, the barrel and slide are locked together by the barrel hood moving up into the ejection port.
Using an offset barrel with the trigger mechanism beside it provides a frame with a grip close to the centerline of the bore for enhanced recoil control. A self-cleaning extractor forces powder residue away from the extractor so as to prevent fouling buildup, while a rather impressive ejector throws spent cases well clear of the pistol.