A couple of years ago, at the Louisville NRA convention, I wandered over to the Ruger booth to watch Randell Pence, national sales manager for Ruger Firearms, doing a land-office business.

Pence is a great big guy, John Wayne-ish in his comportment, size and cowboy boots, and he dominates most any situation by sheer mass.

But that day, he looked like a harried storekeep in his business suit, trying to hold the locals at bay while they reached out with outstretched arms, palms extended.

Pence had a pre-production example of the then new Ruger LCP, the Lightweight Compact Pistol. He no sooner had it back in his hands than grasping paws would plead, and he would let the pistol go out into the crowd where a fascinated individual would work the slide and action, and reluctantly hand it back. In mere seconds, it would disappear into the hands of yet another supplicant worshiping at the altar of Ruger.

Almost single-handedly, Ruger caused a shortage of .380 Auto ammunition that plagued shooters up until recently. Demand for the little pistol was so great, it created an aftermarket of demand for a similar pistol marketed by Kel-Tec.

While the actions were different, the size of the two was very similar. Kel-Tec had its gun out for some years before Ruger hit the market with its version, and the resultant marketing tsunami caused Kel-Tec to see a tremendous jump in sales of its own design. The .380 pocket compact had arrived.

I've shot a number of the Ruger LCP versions, and I have always felt it addressed a serious need for a small, lightweight pistol that easily concealed in deep cover, hiding in jeans pockets, cargo pants, even shirt or jacket pockets, without "printing."

Of course, there was always that caliber issue.

Remember, I'm the guy that preaches the best gun to have in a gunfight is the gun you bring TO the gunfight, so I've never had a problem carrying "mouse guns" as some so-called experts refer to sub-size, sub-caliber guns.

Well, let's qualify that really quickly: I don't like .25 Auto.

Why not shoot him with a pellet rifle? You'll probably be more accurate, too. He will eventually bleed out - the question is when, and what will he be doing in the meantime?

But small-caliber handguns don't bother me - I routinely stick an eight-shot Smith & Wesson Model 317 "Kit Gun" in my pocket when running to the store. Loaded with CCI .22 "Quik Shok" ammo, I do not feel undergunned.

Which is to say if I can find an equally small handgun that carries enough bullets to be worthwhile, and has more power, I will gladly slip it into my pocket instead.

Enter the latest iteration of self-defense pistols from Ruger.

The LC9 has arrived, and it is disappearing from store shelves as fast as it can be stocked.

Ruger took heed of the constant barrage of demands for a larger-caliber LCP in 9MM and produced it.

Because of the much greater power of the 9MM cartridge, the pistol had to be upsized - but not much.

This new version is one of the slimmest 9MM pistols on the market with a width of only .90 inches. It weighs just 17.1 ounces empty, has a 3.1-inch barrel and is only six inches long and 4.5 inches tall.

A retired law-enforcement officer had a brand-new Ruger LC9 he had spotted on a gun-store shelf, and he snatched it up.

He and I do a lot of action drills keeping our skills tuned, and we headed to the range to try out this new pocket rocket from Ruger.

I have fairly large hands, but they look diminutive compared to his. The magazine has a half-inch extension "toe" for larger hands - and I didn't find it interfered with concealability.

Neither of us had any problem keeping the eight shots from the little LC9 all within a kill-zone of about six inches centered on a standard man-sized target at seven yards.

We didn't do sandbag accuracy tests. The little gun grouped extremely well at personal-defense range, and that is all that counts. We were able to get off multiple shots in rapid, controlled fire, and never felt any loss of control or aiming ability.

Of course, in all practice-for-real-life drills, you shoot fast-slow.

In other words, you shoot as fast as you accurately can shoot, and when the accuracy goes away, you slow down - constantly pushing yourself to improve speed, but most importantly hitting what you aim at first.

The Ruger LC9 fits nicely in that niche where a citizen will have a dependable, quality handgun that shoots the very dependable 9MM cartridge, and law enforcement will have a more powerful, easily concealable backup gun.

The trigger takes a little getting used to - it has a long double-action-only pull averaging, according to the factory, about 6.5 pounds. This is less than many popular double-action revolvers, and it is a very smooth trigger - stacking just a bit at the end, allowing a subconscious awareness of when the striker will fire.

There is no second-shot capability, so anyone carrying this little backup piece needs to faithfully practice action drills to clear stoppages, failure to fire, failure to extract, etc. But there are eight shots available - three more than normally are offered in small-frame .38 Special revolvers. And the 9MM can be a more powerful option.

We liked the gun. We liked its handling, and I liked the sighting system a heck of a lot more than the rudimentary groove and front sight on the LCP. Felt recoil was negligible for such a small pistol - the design and polymer frame have a lot to do with that.

This gun has a drift-adjustable front and rear sight. There is a locking screw on the rear sight to allow adjustment for windage - something rarely seen on such a small self-defense handgun.

Another feature I liked about the LC9 - the slide locks back when the gun is fired to empty. This is a feature missing on many popular pocket semi-autos. I like to see the slide locked back and open when I fire the last round. Besides, it makes it easier to reload.

The proof is in the shooting. We ran several varieties of 9MM through the LC9, and it never stuttered or failed. Most importantly, it was easy to become used to the trigger, and we were able to empty the gun in the important area of the target rapidly and with ease, while pulling the gun from concealment.

Ruger has hit another one out of the park - and demand is such, you might have a hard time finding one sitting around on a gunstore shelf. But don't let that stop you. Go ahead and order. It will come in eventually, and you'll love it.


For more guns, shooting and concealed carry, go to Hutchinson's blog, www.theshootist.net. Hutchinson's latest book, The Great New Orleans Gun Grab (written with Todd Masson), is a searing expose' of the scandal of gun confiscations in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The book is available at www.neworleansgungrab.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355. A Kindle electronic version is now available on Amazon.com.