Best Handguns for Detectives in Fiction

It’s my pleasure to host the first of two posts from “Adam” of Writer’s Detective. He’s an active law enforcement detective in California, hence the quotation marks. When he’s not on duty, Adam offers advice to writers about police work on his website and Twitter handle.

He graciously accepted my invitation to talk about the handguns he uses. Watch for an upcoming post on the firearms criminals use. I think you’ll enjoy them both.


Best Handguns for Police Detective Characters

Adam Writers Detective

Adam of Writer’s Detective.

Every law enforcement officer is bound by his or her department’s policy on firearms. If you’re seeking accuracy in your portrayal, research the firearms issued by the officer’s agency.

While some only allow their officers to carry the government-issued firearm, many agencies will permit officers to carry personal firearms.

For a primary firearm, most agencies require the handgun to be at least a 9mm for a semi-automatic pistol or a .38 caliber for a revolver and made by a reputable manufacturer (Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, etc.) for reliability reasons.

Dirty Harry Gun

Note how Adam cited the .38 as the benchmark law enforcement caliber for revolvers, despite how the Dirty Harry movies popularized the .44 magnum. Yes, law enforcement characters could carry a .44, but in my (admittedly non-law enforcement) experience, hand cannons aren’t easy to shoot. That means it’s more difficult to be effective with them. ~Ben

If you need to dig a little deeper, try Googling the agency name and the terms “firearm policy” or “Lexipol.” You might even consider searching through city council minutes to look for large police department expenditures, such as the purchase of a few hundred firearms.

In my experience, the most common calibers used by law enforcement are .40 S&W, 9mm and .45 ACP. The police agency often dictates the specific ammunition officers are allowed to use in their firearms. The agency I work for issues Winchester Ranger SXT Law Enforcement ammunition, which is based on the famous Black Talon ammunition design.

Best Handguns for Private Eye Characters (or Police Detectives Carrying a Personal Firearm)

Artillery Writing Fiction

Bigger is better, right? Sometimes, but not always. This piece of artillery will evaporate a character, but it doesn’t exactly fit into a hip holster. Choosing a gun for a character is all about finding a balance. (Image by Colin Brough via

If your detective opts to carry his or her own personal handgun, there is a lot to consider. Choosing a firearm is no easy task and is most often a matter of compromise between many factors. Your detective is likely weighing the importance of stopping power, ammunition capacity in the magazine (not clip), ease of concealment and even the weight of the weapon when loaded (which becomes a factor both in the holster and when you’re keeping your sights on the bad guy…possibly for an extended period…while waiting…for back-up to arrive).

Pancake Holster

This style is called a “pancake holster.” It’s designed to slip inside the waistband of a pair of pants. That style is commonly called “IWB.” Maple syrup not included. (Image via

Once you’ve decided on your character’s firearm, you have to decide how he or she will carry it while working in plainclothes. Again, deciding how to wear a concealed handgun is a matter of personal preference and compromise. If you Google “concealment holster” you will see everything from Miami Vice-style shoulder holsters to Thunderwear. From ankle holsters to fanny packs to paddle holsters, it’s just as confusing for new cops as it is for unfamiliar authors to decide on what style of holster to wear.

Many “older” cops will have a cardboard box full of holsters in storage, left over from the learning process of finding the right holster. I freely admit that I am guilty of this.

What I Carry

Rather than go over the pros and cons of a thousand different carry options, it would be easier to explain what I carry and why.

I believe that simplicity is key. I carry my full-sized, department-issued .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol in a Bianchi 6 inside-the-waistband holster. It’s essentially a thin piece of leather with a strong metal clip. It is a simple open-top design. Most importantly, it’s on the “strong side” of my waist (side with the dominant hand), which is where I always carry my handgun. Whether I’m off duty, working plainclothes or on-duty wearing a Sam Browne duty belt, my handgun is always in the same place: on the right side of my waist.

Sig Sauer P226 Nitron

The Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol comes in 9mm, .357 SIG and .40 S&W calibers, and is similar to the one Adam uses. (Sig Sauer photo)

If I need my weapon, I don’t want to be thinking about where my handgun is located. Is it under my left armpit in a shoulder holster or on my ankle?

Glock Model 27 subcompact pistol

The Glock 27 is what’s known as a subcompact pistol. This means it’s ideal for concealing in an unusual spot on a character, such as on the ankle. (Glock photo)

That said, I do occasionally carry a .40 caliber Glock 27 in an ankle holster on the inside of my left ankle. I carry this as a back-up to the gun on my waist.

I’m six feet tall, so getting to a gun on my ankle while seat-belted into the driver’s seat can be a lot quicker than the one secured in my duty belt’s holster or one sandwiched between my waist and my jeans.

Read part two, “Writing Fiction: Handguns for Criminal Characters,” here.

Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

17 thoughts on “Best Handguns for Detectives in Fiction

    • There are only two other scenarios where I carry just the one in the ankle holster.

      1) During an interview/interrogation at the station when I am trying to build rapport and not intimidate whomever I’m interviewing. I’m 6 feet tall and 200(ish) pounds. So if I’m trying to build rapport (say with a child molester) and seem like the only person in the world that understands his predicament, the last thing I want is to look like big cop with a gun and badge to remind him I’m not his friend. His perception that I’m the guy with just a smile and notepad is important. But the ankle gun (and my partners watching the video feed of the interview) are insurance that he won’t get the upper hand if the rapport building fails.

      2) Dinner out with the wife…sometimes. I don’t want a bulge printing against the too-fitted-for-my-taste sportcoat that my wife wants me to wear. Popeye Doyle always wore his revolver in an ankle holster, to prevent the ladies from feeling it when they hugged him. Now that I’m married, I’m not allowed to use that as an excuse.



  1. Great article. While working as police detective, I carried a SIG Sauer P228. It was the gun I had in my holster the day I found myself in an intense shootouts with a bank robber, and I strongly believe it was a huge factor in keeping me alive. 68 rounds were exchanged (I fired only 5), and I walked away. The robber did not. Before he fired the first round, I begged him to drop his weapon, but…

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m one of the “old guys” who started out in the days when cops carried .357’s. In my case, I was issued an old Ruger that shaved lead with each trigger pull. It was so bad the cylinder jammed after firing a couple dozen rounds. I moved from that to a Beretta 92F, to a Smith 9mm, and finally the SIG (my personal weapon). I’m not a Glock fan and have never carried or owned one.

        Liked by 2 people

        • A good day for the good guys, Lee!

          Sigs are great guns. Had Sig made a subcompact back when I was in the market for a back-up gun, I’d have gone with one. The Glock 27 purchase was an upgrade from my Smith & Wesson snub-nose .38 J-Frame. My Glock definitely took some getting used to.



    • Thanks, Sue!!! It was an amazing trip.

      I spoke to the local police superintendent about “cop stuff.” Policing in a third world country is surreal. It’s the same problems we deal with here, but the lack of training and equipment is unbelievable…which creates another set of problems. I plan to post more about it on my blog soon.

      There is no reason a uniformed officer should be forced to carry his issued .38 revolver tucked into his pants, because he and the department can’t afford a holster or gun belt.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been a private detective, and I’ve owned several handguns, but never had occasion to carry one. If I were going to carry a handgun, expecting I might actually need it, I wouldn’t worry too much over whether it was an old .38 Detective Special from Colt or Dirty Harry’s Magnum which he said would blow a guy’s head clean off. The thing is, handguns have a very limited range of accuracy. I’ve seen cases where police have fired hundreds of rounds and all they did was aerate a vehicle or perhaps wound a couple of guys. Okay, they got Bonnie and Clyde, but at the time they had state-of-the art Thompson sub-machine guns they bought at their local hardware store and had a really well-prepared setup. So my thought is that I’d simply want a handgun with some stopping power. To me that says .45. I’d hit what I was aiming at because I’d practically have the weapon in the guy’s belly or I just wouldn’t fire off a few rounds hoping I wouldn’t hit some 2-year old kid riding his trike a block or so away.
    Maybe I’m a wimp, but if I ever had to kill anyone, even a really baddie, I don’t think I’d ever get over it. That’s why, a few years ago I sold all my weapons save for an antique shotgun that would probably explode if anyone tried to use it, and I do have an 18-inch pump shotgun that I’ve used enough times at the range to know just what’s going to happen (to me and to the target). I have 12 gauge shells and a couple of solid slugs as well. I keep all these locked securely in the safe. In case of a break-in, all I have to do is find my glasses, find a flashlight (so I can read the dial), work the combination right (not always an easy task), and whip out my arsenal. So the bad guys better watch out; I’m ready for them and while I’m getting the safe open, I’ll look right at them and say, “Do you feel lucky?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by. You’re right about the limited range of handguns, and I think most people would be surprised about how hard it is to hit anything without a nice chunk of range time. Handguns dominate fiction, though, and add to those misconceptions. As for the .45 versus other calibers, I think the best caliber for a person or a character is the one that can be fired accurately and consistently. Which is why I give my characters long guns when I can. Less flashy, but easier to match.


  3. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-28-2016 | The Author Chronicles

  4. Just chewed through a handful of your great articles here. A tiny nit to pick – the pancake holster you show in the insert is generally worn OWB, outside the waistband, not inside. The three slots are for passing a belt through.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Should be noted if you’re looking to go with the classic police snub nose then the model you’re looking for is probably either the Smith & Wesson Model 10 or the Colt Detective Special


  6. Should be noted if you’re looking to go with the classic police snub nose then the model you’re looking for is probably either the Smith & Wesson Model 10 or the Colt Detective Special.


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