By Eve Flanigan
Earlier installments of this four-part series focused on micro and small guns for daily carry. This segment looks at what we’ll call mid-size handguns, which for our purposes is defined as having a barrel 3.7 to 4.25 inches long. Manufacturers have different labels for this size range, including labeling some as compact, but for this cross-brand comparison, they’re called midsize.
Another selection criterion for these lists is a reputation for reliable performance. Carrying a gun outside of the range or a job-related function implies it’s there for self-defense. And if that’s the case, it must be one that goes “bang” when the trigger is pulled.
Within those parameters of size and function, here are our top five picks:
Glock 19 Gen5
It’s safe to call this 9mm venerable, with current and previous generations in use around the world by civilians and security forces of every description. It’s built in a way that’s easy and enjoyable to operate by both new and experienced shooters. The Gen5 model has more features for left-handed shooters than ever before, an improved trigger and a modular fit to accommodate a range of hand sizes. This pistol has a 4.02-inch barrel, is 7.28 inches long and 5.04 inches tall overall, magazine included. It weighs 23.63 ounces with an empty mag.
With innumerable factory and aftermarket options for upgrades, not to mention accessories and holsters, one can easily customize this extremely reliable pistol. Most people love its easy field-strip process, too. Glock doesn’t provide MSRP pricing, but real prices begin around $540, with three 15-round magazines included.
SIG Sauer P229 Legion Compact SAO
SIG Sauer has long been a world leader in the production of double-/single-action pistols and has won many fans with the great accuracy and rock-solid construction of these handguns. But double-/single-action shooting requires more training to make consistent, accurate hits in a hurry, so SIG provides an easier-to-train-with single-action-only option that stayed true to the DA/SA platform’s look and basic construction. This smaller version of its newest handgun series, the Legion, is the 9mm Compact SAO version. With its 3.9-inch barrel, this pistol manages to have the updated SA/DA look while functioning mostly like a 1911—a trick the company first pulled off with its hammer-fired subcompacts. The exception to that comparison is that the Legion Compact SAO has no grip safety, just an ambidextrous thumb safety that should, in this writer/instructor’s opinion, be protected by the holster when carried.
Buyers can choose from a package that includes three magazines of either 10- or 15-round capacity. Upgraded features that come standard include tritium night sights and a flat-face trigger. The P229 Legion Compact SAO is 7.1 inches long and 5.5 inches in height, and at 32 ounces unloaded it’s sure to be one of the lower-recoil choices on this list. Dealer prices begin at $1,299.
Wilson Combat Ultralight Carry Compact
Who doesn’t love a top-shelf 1911? Texas-based Wilson Combat used its competition-gun smarts to build a lightweight 1911 with substantial visual appeal. The frame and mainspring housing of the Ultralight Carry Compact are aluminum, lending the gun a relatively light weight for the platform at 28.6 ounces unloaded. Black G10 grips are sculpted in a sunburst pattern, offering a stark contrast to a colored frame (choices include gray, bronze, and olive) and black carbon-steel slide. A rounded grip butt and other “carry cut” details make it easier to draw from concealment than the average 1911.
Tired of the 9mm? That’s an available choice, but you could opt for the .38 Super or .45 ACP; in this model. Concerned about this platform’s somewhat infamous dislike of dirt and lint? Wilson Combat’s 4-inch fluted bull barrel is made to keep debris out. One note: With a 3.5- to 4.5-pound trigger pull, this is, perhaps, a gun for the more experienced handler.
The Ultralight Carry Compact is one of the longer guns on this list; its classic profile occupies 7.6 inches. However, it makes up for that substantial length with its tidy 4. 9-inch height. A finely detailed handgun comes with a handsome price, of course. This one starts at $3,650.
Rock Island Armory
There’s no need to break the bank to have a reliable gun. In the revolver segment, Rock Island Armory (RIA) is the Nevada-based distributor for the brand’s handguns, manufactured in the Philippines. RIA has a good reputation for selling reasonably priced, full-featured handguns. Its revolver line is all business, with no frills but a good basic foundation. In the mid-size category is the M200 chambered in .38 Special. It has a standard-issue six-round cylinder, a sensible rubber-covered grip, blued finish, and can be fired in double- or single-action.
While an adjustable rear sight would be nice, the plain channel groove rear sight gives the M200 a smooth top profile that’s a bit easier to conceal. The double-action trigger pull, at around six pounds, is lighter than many in its class. This revolver weighs 28 ounces unloaded, is 8.75 inches long and 5.44 inches tall. It’s a good choice for those who prefer a better grip and less recoil than is possible with a sub-compact .38 revolver. It’s economical too, with an MSRP of $275.
Plenty of people shun polymer-lower handguns, finding them unbalanced and too lightweight. A hefty choice, with steel/aluminum construction, is the 9mm Turkish-made TriStar C100, a clone of a CZ-75 Compact. It can be operated as a traditional double-/single-action, but instead of a de-cocker, it has a thumb-operated safety and a half-cock option at the hammer that can reduce the likelihood of a missed or delayed shot that accompanies the DA/SA platform even with dedicated training.
The C100 has a shiny black Cerakote finish (for $20 more than base, a tungsten Cerakote finish is also available) and screwed-on polymer grips. A full-length rail interface between the frame and slide, as well as a fixed barrel position during firing, make this one accurate gun. Carrying 37.3 ounces unloaded on a frame that’s 7.2 inches long and about 5 inches tall, makes for a low-recoil shooting experience. The C100 is a good choice for those who prefer DA/SA but have smaller hands and consequent difficulty shooting from double-action; the pistol’s curvaceous trigger is in easy reach for most.
All guns require regular training for competent deployment, and this one is no exception. The absence of a de-cocking lever and grip safety means that strict trigger-finger discipline is a must. Although the plain black model’s MSRP is $460, market prices are often well below $400.
Mid-size guns are often the sweet spot between concealability and great handling. For some, that also makes the mid-size both their practice gun and their daily carry firearm, and that can go a long way towards improving consistency in shooting.
See earlier articles in this series: