Clash of the Concealed Carry Titans

Ah, my first review since my move (actual change in address) and our transition to Guns Ammo Tactical. It’s been too long and so for the wait and the patience I bring you a three for one!

A Clash of Titans, if you will.

t’s no secret that while every major manufacturer will claim their handgun as the latest, greatest, most tactical practical thing that has ever tactical practicaled, evidence en mass has shown three companies on top in the defensive sidearm market here in the US, especially when it comes to those heavily tested and fielded in large numbers (IE Law Enforcement).

Sig Sauer, Glock, and Smith & Wesson all hold huge swaths of the sidearm market, especially in LEO circles but broadening widely into both civilian and private security arenas as well with stabs at taking the cake of all cakes with a broad US Military contract.

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The base reason for this is fairly obvious, they work. They work well and have exceptional (but not infallible) track records. Going among shooters one on one and asking around, most have their favorites and stick to them with responses toward the guns not in their favorite category ranging from a polite “it’s not my style” all the way to “why would you ever carry that steaming pile of…”

There is bias… everywhere.

All shooters have bias, we like shooting what we’re good at shooting and we tend to fall in love with the guns we shot earliest so long as those experiences shooting those guns were good ones.

So everyone I spoke too could tell me how unceasingly reliable and indestructible their brand was and give me an anecdote or two about how the alternatives, at best, weren’t quite as good.

This wasn’t a brand specific behavior, it was almost predictable the responses I could expect (within a margin of error) if the person I was talking too was carrying a Glock and I had my M&P, or vice versa. Sig’s seemed to hold a place of slightly higher reverence among shooters across the board with more comments about the higher prices, the double action/single action trigger, or the general feel of the gun not being right for them instead of the more actively playful animosity between the Glock and M&P lovers.

So with everyone claiming ‘my gun is at least a little better than your gun’ what’s true?

Well, as I just got my hands on my second Glock 19 (a Gen 4 in Olive Drab this time), have had no less than five M&P’s (currently 4 retained around the family, miss the 5th terribly), and have been shooting every round I can possibly manage through my P226 (I’ve only got one so making up for numbers with volume) I set out to acquire an answer.

All of these are in 9mm for the sake of both consistency and cost effectiveness, but the data expands easily to the other calibers in relevant models.

First… let’s look at the guns

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The Gen 4 Glock handguns are the venerable polymer wonder pistol company’s vision of the 21st century sidearm. Funny that it looks exactly like the 20th century version, but now with a few more colors, a bumpy grip, an enlarged and now reversible magazine release, and springs! The old versions obviously had springs but the new one has new springs! And those new springs suffered from a reversal of an adverse condition from the old springs which prompted the new springs in the first place… woops.

For those unfamiliar, the Gen 3 Glocks had a reputation for being abused by the .40 S&W cartridge so favored by US LEO’s, some guns coming in many thousands of rounds short of service life desires. It worked to near perfection with 9mm though. The Gen 4 dual coil springs sought to fix the abuse the .40 caused by beefing up the assembly, it worked, and in return Gen 4 guns started having trouble cycling 9mm. This has long since been corrected and both 9mm and .40 Glocks run like champs in Gen 3 and 4 varieties, but it is a fun tale useful for deflating those who’ve drank deeply from the “Glock Perfection” Kool-aid and can see no wrong (not a Glock owners exclusive trait by any means, but well known among the crowd).

For anyone thinking I’m a Glock hater, that 19’s my carry gun. It’s very likely to remain in the EDC rotation for a while and be a permanent option thereafter.

The Glock 19 specifically has the uncanny and entirely unscientifically quantifiable ability to be smaller than it should be.

What do I mean?

I mean it’s a 15-17 (+2 baseplate) shot, 4” barrel 9mm handgun that feels smaller than those dimensions in every respect. I can’t explain why, it just does, and I like it. The Gen 4 19’s trigger is highly efficient, but far from match grade (fairly easily rectified, if desired) and it generates more decibels on reset than anything else I’ve experienced. It’s “tactile”, meaning clicky and loud, a feature beloved by many. I like it too, to be honest, but I think way to much is put into this feature by fans of the platform.

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The Gen 4 19, like its predecessors, breaks into 4 sub-assemblies when it is stripped for cleaning and routine maintenance. The process is simple, straight forward, and safe. Yes I said safe, Glock haters, pulling the trigger on a gun is perfectly safe during disassembly because during disassembly and cleaning you make sure no ammunition is present, not just in the gun but preferably nowhere near the table (cleaning solvents and ammo don’t mix well if you didn’t know) or in the room. Safe firearms handling 101 will keep you safe and make sure that you aren’t “the only one professional enough that you know of, to handle this…” (If you don’t know that line http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxWWJaTEdD0)

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While I do think many of the items touted as new and amazing on the Gen 4’s are just nice and sometimes unnecessary refinements of the Gen 3’s one feature I do count as a vast improvement is the magazine release. The increased surface area and now reversible nature added some long desired versatility and lefty friendly attributes to an otherwise already excellent pistol.

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Now the interchangeable grip feature. At the onset this seemed like something Glock threw in as an afterthought. FNH, Smith & Wesson, Springfield, and HK all were marketing new handguns with adjustable grip circumference via inserts. The Gen 4 came with four inserts and a little doohickey to hold them. Said doohickey also had a push punch and an extra lengthened pin to retain the back strap since it widened the back of the grip.

Turns out this was far from an afterthought, While the normal frame of the 19 was always, to me, the most comfortable of the various Glock offerings the inserts expand that comfort zone exponentially making the hand size options tailor to fit a much wider variety shooters than previous iterations. My long fingered hands liked one of the extended beavertail back straps and took to it like a duck to water. I was unaware the Glock could feel so good in my hand, nicely done.

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The sights are Glock’s standard offering, useable like the trigger but with vast room to excel. I’ve got new ones on order (Trijicon HDs) and highly recommend other shooters make that investment also.

The Gen 4’s do also suffer from the “Glock curse” or in more practical terms, they are not forgiving of limp wristing the handgun.

A semi-automatic handgun must use you, the shooter, as a recoil base to allow the gun to cycle properly. Without that proper base the slide will not move far enough nor at the proper speed to eject the fired rounds case and load a new one. The smaller Glock handguns are especially unforgiving of improper holds. The reason it bares the title “curse” is the persistent and sudden way this manifests, especially in new shooters. Either the gun works flawlessly, or it jams and jams and jams which in turn obliterates the confidence of a new shooter, at the very least in the Glocks themselves as guns for them and at worst in their ability to be a good shooter overall. Experienced shooters rarely experience the “curse” and can usually self-correct by identifying the problem and fixing their technique, this is not something a novice can do or will think of without strong and proper guidance.

Glocks are not for everyone, but those they are for, they are exceptional for.

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Next up is my old war horse, the Smith & Wesson M&P9 (This one is the M&P9L model, a predecessor to the 5” barreled 9 Pro)

This was Smith & Wesson’s answer to the Glock… well, their second answer. The first one, the Sigma, didn’t do so well and fairly rightly earned its acronym title (Same Invention Glock Made Already) as well as the accompanying law suit from the Austrian handgun maestros.

In 2005 Smith & Wesson came back with the M&P, fresh off the drawing board and designed from the ground up to use concepts shooters wanted out of their sidearms. The M&P, for Military & Police, revives the old and well-loved memories of the M&P revolvers from S&W’s past.

This time around they had clearly done their homework and research on what a 21st century sidearm should include.

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To start with the M&P’s are truly attractive handguns. Someone at their headquarters had an eye for aesthetics as well as function when they designed how this firearm would go together. Comparing it to the very functional but incredibly utilitarian Glock… the Glock is ugly… useful, but ugly.

The way the slide is machined evokes an almost racecar like vibe, smooth and sleek lines and angles that hint at speed and precision. The now brand iconic ‘fish scale’ slide serrations mold effortlessly into the visage of the slide furthering the aesthetic appeal of this gun. The gentle texturing on the grip and frame both front and back continue the trend further. Some are of the opinion the texture is not “grippy” enough, but its worked very well for me and being polymer means more aggressive stippling can be added on your own, at home, with careful application of a dremel tool. Professionally having this process done has resulted in some wickedly cool grips hitting the market and businesses are found running on only this custom work. Everyone wins.

The M&P was also more lefty friendly from the get go, a reversible magazine release button and full ambidextrous slide catch/release are nicely placed and very functional.

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The M&P’s back strap is a bit more involved than many on the market (save HK). It’s a wrap around design that can add both width and depth to a shooters grip. Even with my improved impressions on the Glock from my new 19 this grip is still my personal favorite. It fits so well and when I place my hand to draw I have every confidence I’ve found the exact position I need. It has 3 sizes and the grip is kept in place by a long pin that also serves as a tool for more in depth maintenance on the gun. Well done S&W.

The stainless steel slides are finished off in Melonite, which is very similar to Tenifer (Glock finish) and both are a form of “nitriding” or more accurately nitrocarburizing

This is a process that produces an increase in surface hardness and greatly reduces wear on the treated parts. If also makes them easier to clean and a bit more “slippery” some have begun using the treatment on semi-auto and auto rifle bolts with some outstanding results.

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The stock sights are 3 dot novak style with factory night sights as an option. I have added the Trijicon HD night sights to my gun, by far my favorite high contrast all light visibility sights.

The M&Ps trigger probably catches more flak than a B17 flying over Germany after D-Day did but I find it, like the Glock trigger, very usable. It’s not nearly as loud or “tactile” as the Glock but my accuracy and repeatability while shooting the gun doesn’t lie, it works for me, over and over and over.

For those who do not like the trigger, Apex Tactical makes replacements that are more tactile, have shorter take ups and reset distances and even lighter pull weights to fine tune the gun for your shooting desires. But if you leave it alone because you feel it isn’t broke, welcome to my boat.

The M&P has a respectable 17 round magazine in the standard size 9mm, aftermarket options increase this. The compact model holds 12. I carried this large frame 5” barreled gun in a concealed carry role for a full year, it had its disadvantages and discomforts but nothing ridiculous or unique that isn’t present on other comparably framed sidearms. The tradeoff for the mild discomfort was a gun I had unceasing confidence in my ability to utilize.

Now for the bad news… they all have bad news of some sort… The M&Ps have had their teething issues in similar ways to Glock Gen 4’s. A few police departments that bought them have returned them in favor of their previous guns, some have reported service life issues, and some have reported outright parts failures. These, again like the Glocks, were not overly widespread but of enough concern for a mention.

That said, both the Glock and the M&P sit in holsters of the special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last I heard it was agent’s choice because the guns both passed the trials and cost the FBI the same per unit, you will find that trend continued on store shelves with very similar pricing from both guns.

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…and the winner is… shooters choice!

Finally a gun I’m the least familiar with but quickly coming to love the Sig Sauer P226.

Specifically the P226 “Extreme” in 9mm

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A few reasons it took so long to drop the dime on a Sig.

First, it’s a lot of dimes. Ten thousand six hundred, to be specific on this one, it retails for even more. Sig Sauer handguns are not inexpensive. Granted this is a pricier model but even the most tactical of tacticool models from Smith & Wesson, the VTAC, retails a good $200 lower at least.

Second, the double action/single action trigger. I said previously that one tends to fall in love with the type of gun they first have a good experience shooting, with my journey it was slightly different. I started off shooting and carrying a Smith & Wesson model 910, a fairly compact 10 shot Clinton era 9mm. It was a double action/single action gun and worked well. From that gun I transitioned to an FNP40, a polymer framed double action/single action predecessor to the modern ambidextrous FNX handguns (hoping to review one soon). Both guns worked very well… and then I shot an M&P and found out what that falling in love effect really was.

The pajama pants and flip-flop like comfort that was generated by the consistent pull on a striker fired handgun coupled with improvements to accuracy and ergonomics (and the total removal of manual switch type safeties) put me firmly in the M&Ps (and Glocks) camp.

It took me a few years to come back to the DA/SA trigger, but here I am and I’m LOVING it.

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To be fair, the trigger is different and takes quite a few rounds to get used to. For simplicity on the part of the trigger puller the Glock and M&P are ahead especially when it comes to newer shooters. The long but smooth 10lb pull throws first shot accuracy away from the realm of match glory but still well within combat effective levels.

The “Extreme” Model has some additional features over the standard P226’s, thus making it extreme? I’m not sure I’d go that far, but Sig Sauer states that this model holds the most commonly requested factory applicable upgrades. Namely, night sights, front slide serrations, Hogue G10 grips, and the Short Reset Trigger.

Ok now, I lauded the M&P’s aesthetics… the Sig wins even more points here. Leave it to a company known for a few decades to produce a near peerless alloy frame handgun and then watch them go wild with every color scheme they can come up with. Sig did, and it’s awesome!

Other than some of the additional aesthetic things it’s all business in this P226, and business has been good for a while on these guns with few changes. The control scheme is slightly backwards compared the other two guns in the review, the lever up front is the hammer release/decocking lever while the rear control is the slide lock. Neither is ambidextrous which, as a righty, is a nonissue for me but the gun is the least south paw friendly of the three.

That backwards per conventional (for me) control layout also necessitates my repositioning of my thumbs. My traditional grip on an M&P or Glock has my shooting hand’s thumb riding fairly high and against the frame, which on the P226 puts it on top of the slide stop, making it much less likely the slide locks back after the last round. A training issue, not a design flaw.

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The grips, while branded Sig Sauer, are made by Hogue. The G10 laminate is comfortably formed into a very useable grip with excellent friction contact with both skin and gloves but without being overly sharp or abrasive. The color scheme is a nice plus too.

The trigger, as I said earlier, is a Double Action/Single Action variety with a 10lb pull pressure in double action, it has a smooth travel with no hang ups or burrs to further agitate aiming. The single action comes in at just over 4lbs and the reset is crisp, light, and short. Hence “Short Reset Trigger”, it is very easy to fire rapidly with the P226, the alloy frame and steel slide absorb recoil and the gun is fiendishly simple to keep on target despite the “high bore axis”, a term used in the gun industry indicating the barrel setting of a handgun is fairly high above the hand and that recoil energy then leverages the hand during fire to a greater degree. This is true, but the additional mass of the gun makes shooting rapidly and accurately very possible. I shoot the P226 faster and with greater accuracy than the Glock 19 by a small but noticeable margin even though the Glock 19 possess a lower bore axis and a trigger I am more familiar with.

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The M&P and Glock have 4 basic parts, the P226 has 5 since the recoil spring isn’t captured on the guide rod. The disassembly, like all modern service style sidearms of note, is boringly simple. The M&Ps, since I didn’t cover them, seem to have taken the P226’s and the Glock’s and combined them… just because. It’s still simple to do.

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Sig Sauer’s brand of night sights are standard on the P226 Extreme and increasingly standard on more and more models from Sig. Night sights are an immensely useful feature on a defensively purposed handgun as they vastly increase the light levels the sights are useable in. I can say I prefer the Trijicon HDs over these, but they are very bright and useable and of exceptional quality.

The factory magazines on the P226 are 15 rounds in 9mm but Mec-Gar (the OEM maker of Sig’s magazines) makes a flush fit 18 rounder that works just dandy. No lack of ammo here.

Also of note, NONE of these three come standard with a manual safety switch. The P226 and M&P have a 1911 style lever as an option on certain models but switch safeties are not necessary features and can be a hindrance on a firearm meant for rapid lifesaving deployment. Just a thought.

Now how did they do against one another?

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While not a true blue, apples to apples comparison they’re still off the shelf available handguns, cash and carry, nothing else needed. Why do these three dominate the market so heavily?

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A quick and very simple test, once from 40ft and once from 15 ft with each gun to determine how practically accurate they are at steady defensive rates of fire. All three guns ate 200 rounds with the expected boringly flawless reliability and due to their prestigiously well-established track records there is really no point in torturing them further than that. Instead, what can shooter expect on the target?

From left to right…

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At 40ft the P226 hit 9/10 on an 8 ½ by 11 center mass. My flyer, first round, was low and left. Still getting used to that DA/SA trigger but even at 40ft an human sized target is an easy thing to put center mass shots on.

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The Glock 19 achieved 6/10 on the paper center, but the group (4 shots flew a little low) is actually a little tighter vertically and comparable horizontally to the P226. Again at 40ft, center mass hits are easily achieved.

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The M&P jumps back to 9/10 with 3 shots grazing the edges and 1 just under. By a very small margin it was my best grouping. The take away? Center mass at 40ft is again easy to achieve.

I consider myself an average experienced shooter, I do better with guns I have more rounds through. In that regard the M&P would naturally win, and it did… technically. I was also very hot, tired, and had just spent the day teaching a concealed carry class before starting my testing right after. Not the best conditions for impressive results but an excellent one to get realistic practical results.

So realistically? Practically? Which is the best?

The one you most like shooting and carrying. They all fulfill the basic requirements of a defensive gun in spades, now it’s a personal choice.

Did the results change at 15ft with a faster time between shots?

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P226

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Glock 19

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M&P9L

… not really

These guns send the rounds where you want them to go.

The winner, for you, is entirely up to you… the shooter. Pick the gun that fulfills the need. Brand be damned. These three hold their positions because they fulfill that need exceptionally.

They’re a damn good place to start looking for your next sidearm, for whatever lawful purpose it will serve.