A self-defense, everyday carry (EDC) gun for concealed carry has to be reliable. But what does that actually mean? Is your EDC handgun reliable?
Reliability is one of those terms that can mean different things to different people. Looking up the definition only confirms the word's subjectivity.
Reliability is defined as:
- the quality or state of being reliable
- the extent to which an experiment, test, or measuring procedure yields the same results on repeated trials.
So what test or measuring procedures do you use to decide if your gun is reliable? And to what degree must your testing return the “same results?”
Military Handgun Reliability Standards:
Helpful in putting the whole self-defense handgun reliability standards in context is to look at what the military defines as reliable in the firearms they issue to the troops.
In selecting a duty handgun, the U.S. Army conducted reliability tests. Three standards used in the evaluation seem to be appropriate for this conversation. They include:
Required Service Life:
The pistol must last 25,000 rounds.
Mean Rounds Between Stoppages (MRBS)
We define a stoppage as any deficiency that prevents the pistol from operating as intended but is corrected through immediate action. The MRBS reliability Army requirement is 2,000 between stoppages, a 95 percent probability of completing a 96-hour mission without a stoppage.
Mean Rounds Between Failures (MRBF)
We define a failure as a hardware deficiency that requires replacement or repair. Think of a spring breaking or losing its ability to do what it is supposed to do to keep the gun operating. When a component breaks, you won't be able to get the gun running with basic immediate action. Army testing accepts 5,000 rounds between failures, a 98 percent probability of completing a 96-hour mission without a failure.
EDC Handgun Testing Standards:
The military handgun standards are looking at a handgun's reliability during a 96-hour mission. One could argue that an EDC gun's reliability doesn't need to be quite as high as the Army's issued handgun. But why not? Wouldn't you have more confidence in a firearm with a reliability rate similar to what the military issues to the troops?
(Yeah, I know military gear isn't always the best, but military weapon systems standards are pretty rigorous.)
If you haven't purposefully tested your EDC, how do you know it's reliable? Some manufacturers' guns have a reputation for reliability based on a sample size of tens of thousands of concealed carry handguns. Unfortunately, other manufacturers have a poor reputation for reliability based on similar large sample sizes.
Starting by selecting a gun from a manufacturer with a reputation for reliability is wise. Well-known manufacturers with a reputation for reliability include Glock, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson M&P, Heckler & Koch, Canik, and Walther.
Companies with reputations for guns with operational issues include Taurus, Kimber, Honor Defense, SCCY.
Some will disagree with my lists, and that's totally fine. I am just explaining what I have witnessed in classes and through personal experience. And not only personal experience but through research and discussions with many instructors from across the country.
Consider how you end up buying something these days. Online reviews are a huge driver in most people's decisions. Think of the first list of companies having 4 and 5-star reviews, and the second list 2 or 3 stars. Which one are you likely to choose?
Don't get too upset and say, “I've never had an issue with my gun, and it's on your unreliable list!” Just because a manufacturer is on one of the general reliability lists doesn't mean all their gun models are good or bad. Or even all of a specific model of gun is good or bad.
For example, a Glock 19, which has an incredible reputation for reliability, could be a jam-o-matic. On the other hand, you may own a SCCY CPX and never experienced a malfunction (although I think the latter is an anomaly.)
Much comes down to sample size and how rigorously you test your gear. If you have never had a malfunction with your firearm, you likely haven't shot your firearm enough or under enough various conditions. Every gun will fail at some point.
Some specific models of popular concealed carry handgun options are Sig P320, Sig P365, Glock 19, M&P Shield, Canik TP9, H&K VP9, and Walther PPQ. But, again, I'll reiterate that these are just SOME commonly carried handguns with a good track record for reliability.
So how can you test your everyday carry handgun's reliability?
Testing Your EDC:
Here are the criteria I look at when determining if I trust its reliability as an EDC handgun.
First, shoot at least 500 rounds through it. The rounds should be a mixture of full metal jacket (FMJ) training ammunition and selected personal-defense hollow point (HP) ammunition. You absolutely need to test how your HP ammunition functions in your specific gun.
Some self-defense loads will not reliably function in specific semi-auto handguns. You definitely need to determine this BEFORE you start carrying the gun. A good rule of thumb would be at least 50 rounds of your self-defense ammo, but the more, the better.
You should be able to get through 500 rounds without a stoppage. If it doesn't I don't have a high degree of confidence in its reliability. However, if it is a new gun, consider if there is a manufacturer's “break-in period.”
Once the break-in period is satisfied, run the 500 round test again.
What if you have a failure within those 500 rounds? Determine if it's a manufacturer defect unique to your gun or a recall for that model. If it is something simple like a worn magazine or extractor spring, replace the part and perform the 500 round test.
User Caused Stoppages and Failures:
The shooter can cause stoppages in the gun. For example, you may be “limp-wristing” the gun, which doesn't allow the slide to cycle entirely and creates a malfunction. Also, remember the specific ammunition you're using may cause the storage, so be aware. Some grips may also engage the slide stop and inadvertently lock the slide open when you don't want to.
These aren't necessarily reliability issues related to the gun, but if you are inducing malfunctions it will mess up your data.
Your gun may have a malfunction if not maintained correctly. Just like cars, guns have manufacturer-recommended preventative maintenance schedules. We all know about cleaning and lubricating the gun, but what about replacing the recoil spring? Your manufacturer will recommend when it should be changed out, based on the number of rounds fired. You may also choose to replace a trigger or striker spring on a round-count basis.
Component degradation is very difficult to factor. For example, how far past the recommended round count can you push your recoil spring before it fails? Who knows, but anything past the manufacturer's recommendation reduces the gun's inherent reliability.
Keeping a count of how many rounds you have fired through the gun helps you determine when you perform specific maintenance.
Other Reliability Considerations:
Other reliability issues that may or may not manifest during the 500 round test include things like drifting/loose iron sights, an optic that won't hold zero, and pins or screws that work themselves loose over time. These factors are partially a routine maintenance thing, but also may indicate a more severe problem with the gun or component.
It is debatable how much a dirty gun affects its reliability. While it is possible for your EDC handgun to become so dirty it results in a stoppage, it's not likely. As long as your firearm is generally clean, it should run.
Far more likely to cause a stoppage or prematurely wear components resulting if a failure is a dry gun. Properly lubricating your EDC semi-auto handgun is more important than its cleanliness. Use some common sense and manufacturer's recommendation on how much and where to apply oil.
What gun you choose to carry is entirely up to you. I just hope this post gets you thinking about the gun you count on to work when you need it. I know ammunition is more expensive than it used to be, but if you haven't ever tested your everyday carry EDC gun, please do it. Your family will thank you for it.
While you're testing your EDC, why not use the rounds to become a better shooter? Out Handgun Shooting Drills Vol. 1 DVD course is a fantastic way to work on specific fundamentals and quantify the results.