By Bob Campbell,
After decades of manufacturing service grade handguns and hunting revolvers, Ruger was a little slow in jumping into the personal defense and concealed carry market. The SP101 defense revolver was the first step. Powerful, rugged and accurate, the SP101 is still a great choice for personal defense. The polymer frame pistol market was too large to be ignored, however, and Ruger designed first the LCP and in steady progression the LC9 and the LCR. These are innovative handguns. Those looking for good value, excellent protection and a reliable handgun need look little further than the ‘LC’ line. Let’s take a look at each in this line, beginning with the lightest.
Ruger’s Elsie P—A Friendly Pistol
So many of us affectionately call the Ruger LCP “Elsie P,” I wonder why Ruger did not call the newest version Laser Elsie. Well, my personal version is the Laser Elsie. Ruger combined high-tech manufacturing with polymer economy into a likeable and formidable handgun. For many years the lightest handguns in .380 ACP caliber weighed in at about 25 ounces. The Ruger LCP tips the scale at a feather light 6.5 ounces. There is no excuse for leaving this gun at home! The LCP combines discrete carry with a degree of useful power. As a person that has found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time more than once I am not enamored of small calibers. I also realize that a .380 ACP is stronger than a slap. The first rule of a gunfight is to have a gun. During my time in uniform I carried a backup every day. Most of the time it was a snub nose .38 but I also carried a Colt .25, a JP Sauer .32 ACP, a Walther PPK .380 and an AMT Backup .380. The LCP is lighter than these and hits just as hard. Given minimal maintenance and lubrication the Ruger always works. The LCP disappears in a pocket.
The pistol is light but also thin at just .82 inch across the slide. The pistol doesn’t skimp on sights as some small pistols have only a bump on the slide. You can see the sights on the LCP and that is as it should be. At intimate range the slide offers a good index if you understand the “meat and paper” drill. The slide is the meat and it covers the paper. Point shooting doesn’t work but some type of index will get the hits in. Always use a relative index, even if firing in the dark. When discussing tactics and marksmanship, an hour on the range is worth a month of discussion. Practice to get hits. The double-action-only trigger of the LCP is smooth and manageable. The cadence of fire is as follows—press the trigger, the gun fires, and allow as much time for the trigger to reset as in pressing the trigger: press, recover from recoil, reset, and fire again.
Pocket carry is tempting with the LCP. But never carry a pistol without a holster! A design that I like very much comes from Ozarks Holster Company. (Ozarksholstercompany.com) The Solo allows carrying the pistol in discreet comfort. The piece is held securely and does not move about the body. I often use the appendix holster from the same company for the heavier LC9. Each is well made of good material.
Someone close to me wished to own a truly secure, high quality leather holster. She is more comfortable with a thumbreak. Outside the waistband carry is no problem with her usual mode of dress. The Lone Star Holsters (lonestarholsters.com) BH 94 thumbreak is not only secure, it is among the fastest holsters I have ever tested. The full grain leather is very nice and the double stitching flawless. It works well for any situation in which a covering garment may be worn.
My other half and I own two LCP pistols that have proven reliable with a variety of loadings. The Ruger fits her needs well and I am glad to see her constantly armed. Most of the practice has been accomplished with Winchester USA FMJ loads. Affordable, reliable and accurate enough for meaningful practice the USA White Box is a good choice. When choosing a personal defense load it must be understood that the .380 ACP doesn’t always have the best balance of expansion and penetration with hollow point loads. If you live in an area with a true four season climate and may face felons that are heavily bundled, then ball ammunition may be the best choice in this minimal caliber. Shot placement is important but load selection is important as well. That being said, the Hornady Critical Defense is a reasonable choice that is feed reliable.
The newest LCP at the house is the integrated LaserMax package. This is a neat device that is an aid in aiming on a dark night with little light on the sights. The LaserMax beam is cohesive and focused. Laser technology has reached the point that the laser device adds but a half ounce to the pistol’s weight. The LaserMax sight is controlled with a cross bolt switch. Like the Ruger itself the bolt is fully ambidextrous. The LaserMax sight is adjustable for point of aim and point of impact agreement, however, my example was dead on the money at 7 yards with the Winchester ball practice ammunition. I also tested a number of the Winchester Bonded PDX load. The PDX load feeds well and in limited testing demonstrated excellent expansion potential. Typical Winchester quality is demonstrated by a full powder burn. Accuracy potential is difficult to gauge in a handgun this size, but the LCP always worked well. The pistol seems best suited for use in low light conditions when the laser device will give an advantage. The red dot has some claim to a deterrent and while the .380 isn’t a .38 no one wishes to be hit by a 90-grain hollow point. The more the pistol was fired the greater confidence I had in it. The Ruger isn’t suitable for long range use with ten yards being long range. You cannot predict the conflict but the Ruger is better than tooth and nail or angry words.
My Favorite LC—The LC 9
There are a lot of Elsies protecting good guys and girls. My preference in personal defense is tempered by long and unpleasant experience with our protein fed ex-con criminal class. This personal experience is alloyed with many years of serious study. I prefer a Commander .45 or a mid-frame .357 Magnum. However, there are times when fashion, circumstance and weather demand a more discreet sidearm. While the concealed hammer revolver still has much appeal, often as not my pocket gun and hideout is the LC9 9mm Ruger. The 9mm offers a considerable advantage in wound potential over the .380 ACP and the 9mm is as light as I am willing to go in a defensive handgun. The Lightweight Compact 9mm has a lot going for it. In my opinion despite the more potent chambering the LC9 is an easier handgun to fire and use well than the smaller .380 ACP caliber Ruger LCP. The LC9 is a lightweight handgun, make no mistake. The pistol features a barrel just over 3 inches. This handgun is only six inches long and four and one half inches tall. Best of all it is .9 inch thick–that is thin! The pistol weighs just over seventeen ounces unloaded. The LC9 features a polymer frame and steel slide. The grip frame allows a good grasp by an average sized hand. The pistol features a functioning slide lock. The LC9, unlike many of the small .380 pistols, locks open on the last shot as the slide stop catches on the magazine follower. The LC9 is a double-action-only design. The trigger action both cocks and drops the hammer. The recoiling slide resets the action for another shot. This makes much sense in a pistol to be carried close to the body. Another feature that makes sense is that the pistol is snag free. Run your hand or a tacky article of clothing on the LC9. It is practically devoid of sharp edges. Yet, the subtle stippling of the grip frame gives good adhesion to the hand. The trigger action is long but smooth. By pressing the trigger and allowing it to reset with the same cadence—press, reset, press, reset, you have a rhythm set for good control.
The trigger action breaks at just over six pounds and clean for a double-action-only trigger. The pistol features excellent service grade sights. These sights may be adjusted for elevation and windage. I like that because the LC9 is accurate enough for serious shooting to 25 yards or so. With concentration on the sights and trigger action you may make X ring hits far past conversational distance. I have stressed that it is important to have good sights on a small pistol. There is more chance of misalignment of the sights in a pistol this size. The bold combat-worthy sights of the LC9 are excellent examples of serious gear for a serious handgun. I find the LC9 a better choice for personal defense and all around use than a number of pistols costing several times as much as the LC9. When compromise is inherent in the design—designing a small pistol that shoots as well as a large pistol—the LC9 is a great engineering accomplishment.
When practicing with a light 9mm attention to detail is everything. The trigger press and sight alignment are important. For inexpensive practice a load that burns clean and delivers good accuracy is important. Among the more attractive choices is the Black Hills 115 grain FMJ in the remanufactured line. With this load the pistol is accurate enough for meaningful practice. As an example at 15 yards, a realistic distance to test a short barrel defense pistol, I was able to place five rounds into a three inch group firing from a solid barricade position. This is good performance from such a light handgun. Fast follow up shots are possible with attention to detail. I am surprised that I enjoy firing the pistol so much. The grip shape and overall design and ergonomics are pleasing to the eye and the hand. Overall a good platform from which to deliver ordnance when the weight must be light and the package small. In personal defense load selection is critical, with a balance of expansion and penetration important. Velocity is curtailed to an extent in the short barrel. However, the 9mm is a high pressure cartridge with good efficiency and most loads maintain at least 1,000 fps from the LC9’s 3-inch barrel. A credible choice is the Black Hills 115-grain EXP or Extra Power load. This number isn’t loaded to +P velocity but as hot as you can go and not rate +P. It is accurate and reliable. I usually recommend a +P but in the 9mm this load is fast enough and offers good performance. A +P adds recoil in this light handgun without necessarily offering increased performance from the short barrel LC9. In the end marksmanship will carry the day but the Black Hills EXP load is a credible choice.
When carrying the pistol I have used a Leathercrossdraws.com holster that offers an excellent draw angle. When seated or driving the handgun is at the finger tips for a rapid presentation. Crossdraw isn’t for everyone but for those that understand the advantages this is a great holster. I have also used the Contact Concealment IWB with excellent results. This modern Kydex IWB is a good rendering of the IWB with good retention and excellent speed for those that practice. This is a good kit. After firing the LC9 extensively and living with the pistol for some time I find the little Ruger a welcome addition to my defensive battery. The LC9 is reliable, easy to carry and ready to defend on a moments notice. It is affordable and worth a hard look by anyone needing a good defense pistol.
The Most Advanced Revolver in the World
Revolver history is interesting. The revolver on my desk as I write has me going back over everything I have learned on the revolver. The revolver is much older than commonly believed. Double barrel and combination barrels were common during the flintlock era but they are not true repeaters. Revolvers with multiple chambers were not rare. They were expensive but the revolving cylinder handgun dates back to at least 1540. It was a case of the technology of the day not catching up with dreams. The German Wender is among the most interesting revolvers and then there was the 2-chambered Jacques Gorgo design, with two chambers around a single barrel and dual flints for ignition. Then in the 1700s came the Collier, with five chambers that rotated around a single barrel. Most of these were manually operated. You fired one chamber, then unlocked and rotated the cylinder by hand. The Pepperbox is debatable but by definition it is a revolver. By 1830 double-action-only Pepperboxes that used an operating bar (pawl) to push up a ratchet were common. Colt did not invent the revolver but perfected it and changed the revolver from a curiosity to a fighting handgun that more people could afford. Colt’s English Patent #6909 secured the rights to a revolver using a fixed barrel and a pawl linked to the hammer. Just as importantly the Colt included a means of locking the cylinder in place. There was still room for improvement. The Adams revolver was arguably stronger than the Colt with the Adams’ one piece forged frame with top strap. Finally in 1889 Colt introduced the swing out cylinder solid frame revolver. Now we have machined, steel, cast and sintered parts. The coil spring has replaced the leaf spring in modern revolvers.
Many modern revolvers are little changed in a hundred years or so. Some felt the revolver was perfected with the Colt Detective Special, the Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum and the Ruger GP100. But the most modern and innovative revolver in the world at the moment is the Ruger Lightweight Carry Revolver. The LCR weighs a light 13.5 ounces. The original features a hidden hammer for snag free use. There is currently a new version with exposed hammer and a single-action option. This configuration has some appeal to outdoors folk but a dedicated personal defense handgun this size should be a concealed hammer type. The LCR features a fully shrouded hammer to dampen recoil and a smooth double-action pull. The revolver is rated for +P loads. Thankfully the LCR fits most J frame holsters designed for the Smith & Wesson so holstering the piece isn’t a hassle. My example has been carried in a number of holsters offered by pinkpistolholsters.com with excellent results. This is a very fast rig for those that practice and the LCR comes into action quickly.
The most interesting thing about the LCR is that it is a polymer frame revolver. The LCR is comprised of an upper cylinder/frame and barrel assembly and the lower assembly is the action. Then there is the cylinder and crane assembly. There is a mix of polymer and plastic parts along with steel in the right places and aluminum as well. Many of the parts and pins are hardened steel. The barrel is fitted differently than any other revolver I have examined by use of thread in depth so precisely that little or no fitting is required in the forcing cone during assembly. There are fewer moving parts than most revolvers.
The finish is particularly rugged. The finish is a hard anodized finish coupled with baked on powder polymer surface filler. The finish, according to Ruger, has a hardness of RC (Rockwell hardness) 60. While the Ruger is designed for toughness, it is also designed for compactness. The cylinder diameter is smaller than any five shot .38 Special I am aware of. Instead of locking on the ejector rod the revolver locks at the rear and the crane. The center pin of the ejector rod and the front latch insert are titanium.
There is no sideplate, but that is nothing new with Ruger revolvers. The hammer and sear and trigger are in the lower housing. Unlike the larger GP100, the hammer is in the lower mechanism. Torx head cross screws keep the revolver together during the stress of recoil.
The unit is designed so that recoil actually moves the parts together rather than loosening them, a big step in engineering. I have to admit that I had concerns regarding any firearm with a steel and polymer interface, particularly a hard kicking revolver. After much study and examination I find these concerns groundless. The LCR may be the best hard use snub nose revolver in the world.
There are practical aspects of the LCR I find appealing. As an example the grip frame’s soft rubber handles are excellent design for hand fit and control. This is as comfortable a standard revolver grip as ever designed but it retains a compact outline. After all of this engineering revolution Ruger did not leave us with a heavy trigger action. The double-action-only trigger action is an action that requires less resistance among the moving parts than any previous design. The bane of small double action revolvers has been the hard trigger action. If you have limited hand strength or your partner or an aging parent had limited strength and finds other designs too heavy, the Ruger LCR just might be the best choice.
The action is smooth and useful in rapid fire drills. However, I could not stage the action. Staging is an old trick in which the double action trigger is brought almost to the point the pistol fires. You affirm the sight picture and break the shot. This makes for increased accuracy at longer range. It is more difficult to stage the Colt Detective Special than the Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special, and the Ruger will not stage at all. Considering the smoothness and feel of the double-action trigger, that is more than acceptable. A defensive firearm should be fired double action at all times.
Ruger claims that the LCR will prove more comfortable to fire than any revolver in the weight class. Durability is claimed to be excellent. There is no way I could fire enough rounds to break this revolver but I was able to test the piece with a good mix of ammunition. Heavy loads do not blow guns up when worked up carefully but they are hard on small parts. I have practiced a good bit with this revolver with inexpensive handloads and factory ball ammunition. Recoil was there but it was much more manageable than most small revolvers. The Hogue designed grip and the lower bore axis are payoffs from starting the design with a clean slate. The broad and easily acquired sights are a big plus.
Most recently I have tested the Hornady 95-grain Critical Defense. This light a projectile would never offer adequate penetration without the benefit of advanced Hornady design work and the advantages of the XTP and Critical Defense line of bullets. Recoil was manageable. The revolver is pleasant to fire with this loading. The snub nose .38 Special revolver is a traditional defense gun but also a good go anywhere revolver for the fishing kit, as a backup when hunting and to dispatch dangerous reptiles. The LCR is a great choice and a revolver that should give good service. It is the most modern revolver in the world.