Understanding the differences in Gun Sizes

Yesterday, I was thinking about my photo of the T&E Smiths with my carry guns and I got to thinking about gun sizes. I had 4 distinctly different guns sizes on the table and I know there are at least 2 more, yet we only seem to describe them as either Full Size, Compacts or Sub-compacts.

I think we should broaden our descriptions to be a bit more accurate, from largest to smallest…

Stretching the limits of what can be called a handgun you have the “Deagle Class”. Obviously this class of handgun is named after the most recognizable member of the class, the Desert Eagle.

This guns are identifiable by their gargantuan size, 6″ plus barrels and ability to handle a cartridge with an overall length greater than 1.5″. While there may be some legitimate hunting/sporting/defensive use, most people would be hard pressed to identify it.

Most often they are either used in a capacity where a rifle would be a better choice or as entertainment after the phrase “Ya’ll comonovahere, yagottaseedis!”

Desert Eagle

Desert Eagle

Next are the “Competition Class”which can be identified easily by their dimensions.  Typically guns in this class are within .25″ of 8.75” in length and 6” height.  Gun manufacturers that want to have a competition presence have attempted to take full advantage of the available size and have built guns with this constraint in mind like the Glock 34/35, S&W M&P Pro, Springfield XD(m) 5.25.

Glock 34

Glock 34

If this seems light a fairly odd size, consider that IDPA was founded in part by Bill Wilson and a government model 1911 with a beaver tail is about 8.7″ long and 5.6″ high.  A box of this size allows the gun to fit, with a magazine base plate, and keeps any larger guns out of the sport.

These guns are great for both competition and home defense, but have barrels that are too short for hunting in most locals and they could be carried for self-defense, but most people find them to be too big.

I would like to call the next class of firearms the “Service Weapon Class” and they are the size typically carried by police and military personnel. Unlike the competition class guns they are designed with the dual purpose of being both carried and shot.  Typically they share a common grip length with their larger siblings, but they have a barrel length around 4.5″ and are limited to 9mm, 40S&W and 45ACP calibers.  These are the guns most frequently considered “Full Size” and are well represented by the Glock 17/22 and the S&W M&P9/40.

While this is most likely the most common pistol size and find it well suited for competition, home defense and occasional carry.  This size gun can be more difficult for most people to conceal and is best suited for open carry or when the weather permits a bulkier cover garment.

The double stack compact sized pistols represented by the Glock 19, M&P9c, Ruger SR9c make up my “Concealed Carry Class”. They have a shorter grip length than service weapons and therefore reduced capacity; guns in this class typically have 12-15 rounds in there 9mm variants.  The reduced grip size breaks this class down into 2 types…  Full grip and pinkyless grips.  For some this distinction doesn’t matter, but I prefer a full grip driving me to the Glock 19 and my lobbying for a 15rd M&P.

All guns in this class are too big to be easily carried/drawn from a pocket and are best carried on a belt. While their capacity and size still makes them capable to be shot in local competition or used for home defense, they do begin to make compromises in sight radius, weight and capacity that reduces their desirability for those tasks.

If you want 1 gun for carry, home defense and competition you should consider something from the Service Weapon or Concealed Carry Class as a 1st choice.

Single stack variants of concealed carry class guns make up my “Discreet Carry Class”. Guns in this class typically have between 6-8 rounds in their 9mm variants and while some can be carried in very large pockets, they are still best carried on the belt. Their thinner profile makes them disappear under sweaters and their lighter weight makes them a little easier to carry everyday, and they are not very well suited to any other task.

The leader in this calls is probably the Kahr Arms line of pistols, but I would put the new Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in this group as well.

Lastly I have the “Pocket Carry Class” which is made up almost exclusively by single stack .380′s like the Ruger LCP, Kel-tec P3AT and the Sig P238.

These little guns are typically very thin (the Ruger is just .82″ wide) and therefore easy to carry, but their small-size can make even smaller calibers difficult to shoot.

SIG Sauer P238

SIG Sauer P238

Would you sub-divide this list any further or do you think any of these classes should be combined?

Let me know if you view gun sizes any differently in the comments below.

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