Guns For Beginners: Sara Tipton’s Guide to A Woman’s First Gun

woman-at-gun-range

My best friend Josie was attacked and hospitalized by her husband in March. She sustained injuries to her head and neck from being choked. She wasn’t armed. In fact, she’s never been armed. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband is sitting behind bars in a South Carolina jail facing felony assault charges. He could even be released soon, before his court date,  should he post bail or bond out. We all hope that doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, she wants a gun . . .

When Josie ask me to recommend a first gun, I suggested a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. I know: a revolver is more “idiot proof” than a semi-automatic handgun and just as deadly. But Josie is no idiot. She will master loading, running and cleaning a semi in no time flat. So why not carry the extra capacity and quick reload capability – even if the benefit may be largely psychological?

These days, you can buy an excellent handgun from a large number of brands – SIG SAUER, FN, GLOCK, Springfield Armory, Heckler & Koch, Smith & Wesson, Walther, Ruger, etc. No matter which brand you choose, you’ve purchased an accurate, reliable firearm. For people who simply want a pistol for protection, people like Josie who are new to guns and not that interested in guns, all the details separating these firearms are irrelevant. Any of them will do just fine.

Of course, that’s no answer. Like many women buying their first gun (confused by all the alternatives), Josie wanted me to tell her which gun to buy. Period. So, I told her to buy a GLOCK 19 or a Springfield XD, whichever fit her hands better. I also reminded her to ask the salesman to fit the smallest possible back-strap. Josie is a small woman with small hands. Which is also why I suggested a full-size 9mm handgun.

I’ve taught many women how to shoot. The number one complaint from first time female shooters: recoil.  If you hand a woman a gun that generates a substantial amount of recoil upon firing, she’s less likely to fire another shot. Or return to the range. Or shoot confidently. I teach women how to shoot with my Sigma 9mm or my SIG .22 to start. And recommend a 9mm handgun for first-time buyers.

The biggest mistake first-time female gun buyers make: buying a small gun. I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut watching gun salesmen exploiting first-time women buyer’s desire for a smaller gun. Women buy the guns because they appear less intimidating, maybe even “cute.” They don’t understand this simple math: the larger the gun and the smaller the caliber, the less felt recoil. The smaller the gun and the larger the caliber, the more felt recoil.

It’s a [mostly] free country. Women who wish to arm up for the first time are free to buy whatever gun they prefer. If a woman needs a small gun for concealment, recoil may not be a prime consideration. But the general principle remains. Finding a balance between comfort, acceptable recoil, gun size and caliber is key. A full-size striker-fired semi-automatic pistol is not for everyone, but it’s a safe choice for a woman new to guns, who may never buy another gun. Especially if they really need it.

comments

  1. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

    I tell newb shooters of either sex to start with a revolver and work their way to a semi. Something along the lines of a detective special or similar style gun. Easy to shoot, plenty enough power and baby simple. Once you have got a revolver down (and the fundamentals of shooting) go to the semi.
    One way or another she needs something with her right away. Look at the poor woman in New Jersey.

    1. avatar CarlosT says:

      I see two main disadvantages to revolvers: they transfer more of the recoil to the shooter and the triggers tend to be heavier. The reliability is a plus, but a semi auto with good ammo will be very reliable as well.

      1. avatar PeterW says:

        Yes, my wife has a terrible time trying to fire my S&W .38, not so much with the recoil, but the DA pull is so hard the gun just dances so much while she is trying to pull back that she give up and lets the hammer back down before it breaks. The SA is easier to fire, but she has difficulty cocking the hammer and somehow end up throwing off the timing and getting stuck between the cartridges (hard to explain, she doesn’t squeeze the trigger hard enough and pulls the hammer back in such a way that it doesn’t line back up right). She’s not a tiny gal, just doesn’t have man-strength hands.
        So in her case I would say NO to a revolver or a DA of any kind with a 12-14lb trigger pull, but a 5-7# striker-fired might be the trick- problem is she only really likes rifles.

        1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

          PeterW,

          A trigger job is in order when the operator cannot properly squeeze the trigger. I am not a gunsmith. And yet, with nothing more than good mechanical skills and a YouTube “how to” video, I had no trouble changing the trigger springs and polishing the components on a small 5-shot revolver. All the women who have shot it seem to have no trouble at all with the now manageable double-action trigger. (The stock 12 to 14 pound trigger was ridiculous.)

          If someone were exceptionally small, weak, or disabled, then a striker fired single-action pistol might be in order as you stated.

        2. avatar Art out West says:

          Ruger LCR has a great trigger (but nothing wrong with Glocks/XD/SR9s etc. either).

        3. avatar Stinkeye says:

          The Ruger LCRx with the 3″ barrel and larger grip may be the perfect first gun for many people, and it’s probably what I’d recommend to a total newbie. Good, adjustable sights, smooth DA trigger that’s only about 8-9 lbs or so, 4 lb SA trigger, lightweight, fits most hands, rubber grips absorb recoil well, very simple manual-of-arms, only $400… What’s not to like?

          The only drawback is that it’s crazy ugly. Like, “made in Austria” levels of ugly.

        4. avatar Aaron Harthun says:

          How come for example a Ruger SR22? I don’t understand why that wouldn’t be the simplest choice to make. With little to no recoil will more than likely lead to more confidence, which will lead to more range time which will lead her shooting 10+ rounds before one could shoot a bigger caliber to recover from the recoil to sight acquisition. Does this make any sense? And please don’t say that a .22lr isn’t big enough to hurt someone. Matter of fact in my home town here in Oklahoma there was a tragic murder and guess what the stupid kid was using, yep a .22lr.

    2. avatar Chris in SC says:

      I’m still astonished that anyone would ever recommend a revolver for a first defensive handgun. Don’t get me wrong, if you want a range toy or if you shoot thousands of rounds a year, that’s one thing. But for someone who just wants protection now, I don’t get it. I have personally known several women who were sold snubby 357/38 wheelguns that hated them. The recoil is sharp and the grab one, load one, grab one, load one, grab one, load…c’mon is this really how you reload this thing?

      Seriously, do people really recommend revolvers to people for defensive use? I like Sigs, but I always recommend Glock, XD, or M&P pistols since they are cheap, reliable, and very easy to operate and shoot well.

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        Steel frame (not Airweight), and 3-4inch barrel (not 2 inch) for recoil shy and noobs. That said, I’d still probably recommend the Glock/XD/SR9 for most noobs.

        The super shy could go .22 (SR22, Mark series, or revolver)

        1. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

          Yep. I have my 4″ K-frame 357 magnum ready to go at home. The last gun I would reach for is my pocket rocket, that’s for hot weather carry.

  2. avatar EGB says:

    Good information, my female (and male) friends often remark about recoil if they’re new to the sport. I’m assuming you’ve used a pseudonym for the domestic violence victim, one can never be too careful guarding against Google ninja trolls…

  3. avatar JWM says:

    Your friends last encounter with her abuser was up close and personal. Even with a larger 9mm semi her next encounter will likely be the same. Can she ward him off with one hand and pull and fire a contact shot one handed with her glock and expect the weapon to cycle properly and not jam up on her?

    A not a gun person who’s likely to meet their attacker at bad breath range needs a revolver. IMHO.

    1. avatar Coffee Addict says:

      I question your beliefs that firing a glock one handed will automatically result in a jam. This happens so much it’s a thing?

      1. avatar JWM says:

        CA. Contact shot, as in a struggle against an attacker. You know like GZ and TM. GZs gun jammed after the first shot, not because of one handed use but because of contact with the target. Semi’s will do that.

        A potential domestic violence victim should think in terms of a knife fight. Its likely to be that close and you don’t want to give that phucker Murphy a toe hold.

        1. avatar Coffee Addict says:

          Interesting. this bears more research on my part.

        2. avatar JasonM says:

          The XDs with captured recoil springs have a stand-off extension that helps prevent a contact shot from pushing the slide out of battery.

          But I’d guess any future encounters with this fellow will be more like that Bloomberg funded “why every woman should carry a gun” video from a few months back: they’ll start with a locked door between them, giving her enough time to retrieve (or better yet–draw) her gun and take aim. The most important thing to make sure she has is the resolve to pull the trigger. The best gun in the world won’t stop him, if she doesn’t shoot.

        3. avatar JWM says:

          Maybe they’ll start with a locked door. He’s lived with her, knows the house and it’s weak points. Her first inkling that he’s there may be face to face with a beast determined to do damage.

        4. avatar Indiana Tom says:

          Her first inkling that he’s there may be face to face with a beast determined to do damage.
          Collie Shepherd.

        5. avatar Art out West says:

          That is one of the reasons my edc is a revolver (but I love the autos too).

        6. avatar Ken says:

          I teach women to shoot and like to start with a larger 9mm as well. My experience is that any first time shooter doesn’t like recoil, but if they start with larger gun the felt recoil is less. And 9mm is cheaper than any other round than .22. A lady may not ever buy another gun, but if she starts shooting a larger 9mm with less recoil and cheaper ammo, she’ll likely keep shooting.

          And for those worried about gun out of battery contact (not) shooting, I teach hold the slide forward (closed), make contact, and pull the trigger. Rack the slide for a second shot if you need one. It’s likely the BG is on you or on top of you. It’s simple to teach and the wound created is devastating. Put your gun next to a paper target and try it for yourself. Or see if you can find a YouTube video of a contact shot into ballistic gelatin. It’s a skill everyone should have.

          I tell first time shooters find a gun that fits your hand, that you like to shoot, and that you will carry. That may be a single stack or .380 eventually, but get the 9mm for your first gun and have fun.

        7. avatar MD says:

          I believe that GZ’s weapon failed to cycle not due to the contact with TM specifically but rather that the weapon was sandwiched between them and the slide was unable to cycle due to it being pressed against GZ’s body.

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      I had the exact same thought as JWM and I second his concern. For that reason alone I strongly encourage Sara and her friend to consider a small (J-frame) revolver with a concealed hammer in .38 Special +P and have a gunsmith do a premium trigger job. And load that bad boy with 158 grain lead full wadcutters. That definitely has some recoil to it which is, nevertheless, tolerable — especially in a real self-defense scenario.

      While a semi-auto pistol usually fails to fully cycle in a contact shot, a revolver doesn’t suffer from that problem. Furthermore, with a concealed hammer, there is no chance of it snagging on clothing while drawing … and an attacker cannot grab the hammer to prevent the revolver from firing.

      Ideally, Sara’s friend should also purchase some sort of long gun to keep in the home. If she does get advanced warning (e.g. her estranged husband going through the process to break down the door), she could deploy the long gun with much more decisive results. If, on the other hand, her estranged husband somehow gets the drop on her, then she has her J-frame revolver in a pocket for immediate use as well as self-defense when she is away from home and long gun carry is a no-go.

  4. avatar Dennis says:

    Also be sure she is well aware of what the ramifications are if she does draw and/or shoots… Its not as clean and dry as one would think, make sure she is aware of the laws in her state regarding self-defense with lethal force before putting the gun in her hands.

    1. avatar JasonM says:

      It’s South Carolina. Since this guy now has a record of domestic violence, unless she shoots him in the back, while he’s handcuffed, I think she’d be okay.

    2. This is spot on. I know this is The Truth About Guns, but this post should be The Truth About Self-Defense. Being attached by her husband, would she have been near a gun even if she had one at the time of the attach? In this scenario I think she’d have been better served with basic self-defense moves. Even if she was in the shower, she wouldn’t be without.

  5. avatar Mark Lloyd says:

    All the training in the world won’t do her a damn bit if good if she doesn’t have the firearm ON her WHEN she needs it. She also has to have the mindset that she WILL USE her firearm when needed. Sure, right after being choked half to death, she’s all willing, but after the dust settles she needs to answer one question painfully honest, (does she still love him) If she hesitates when asked that question, can’t answer or otherwise lies, she will likely not use her firearm and he will eventually kill her.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      +1

  6. avatar Gunr says:

    Revolvers can be reloaded in a couple of seconds, with practice, using speed loaders. The problem with autoloaders, is that it is so easy for a beginners to forget there is a round in the chamber, ready to go, as soon as the first round has been fired.
    I would start with a 22, or maybe a 38 special, with light loads, in a 5, or 6 shot revolver.
    Heritage makes a nice little single action 6 shot 22 revolver, that can be had for under two bills, and can be converted to the 22 magnum, if so desired. I have one of these guns, and even though the finish isn’t as nice as the Ruger single six, the price is a whole lot less.
    Not suggesting the use of a 22 for self defense, but it makes a great gun for a starter.

  7. avatar Gman says:

    My wife’s first gun was a S&W SD9VE. She chose it for it’s narrow grip. It was fine for beginning, but it soon became apparent that her groupings were not improving. The trigger on that gun was akin to a tractor pull through wet concrete. My daughter had a Ruger SR9c, which I believe has one of the smoothest out of the box triggers, and instantly my wife’s groupings narrowed down considerably. I think that as experience increases, we naturally adapt to different guns and their characteristics. Most likely a first choice will lead to another and another until you reach harmony with a particular gun. Until something better comes along at least…

    1. avatar S.CROCK says:

      How is the recoil on the sd9ve for an inexperienced small frame shooter with barley there tiny hands?

      1. avatar Gman says:

        The SD9VE is a full frame gun and therefor offers reasonable recoil. However, like I pointed out, the trigger is gritty, long, and heavy which makes consistency very difficult. There are aftermarket triggers, but the price savings over the Ruger SR9 or SR9c isn’t worth it. Of all the striker fired guns I have ever tried, the SR series has the smoothest trigger bar none.

  8. avatar styrgwillidar says:

    My advice to newbies has always been– go to a range that rents firearms, preferably with an experienced person/instructor, shoot both revolver and semi-auto in a few self-defense calibres.

    Buy what you found most comfortable. The one you’re most likely to go back to the range and practice with and become proficient using.

  9. avatar S.CROCK says:

    I am helping a female relative of mine who is interested in getting her FIRST and LAST gun for protection. It will be a dedicated home defense gun, no carrying and no car gun. She wants to spend as little as humanly possible and doesn’t like heavy guns or heavy recoiling guns. She also hates heavy revolver trigger pulls.

    Any thoughts on if a Mossberg 500 in 410 would be a good HD gun for a very small non shooter who realizes the need for a HD gun?

    1. avatar JWM says:

      My grandmother, who passed in her 80’s, kept a .410 as her one gun. My father, who is in his 80’s has a .410 as his one gun. It’s a shotgun and at house ranges it’s lethal as hell.

      Any gun is better than no gun.

    2. avatar Sara T. says:

      If you’re going to go with a shotgun, I recommend a youth size 20 guage. I have a Remington 870 and for the price it’s damn near impossible to beat for a small-framed shooter.

      1. avatar S.CROCK says:

        If she can handle a 20 that would be awesome but she treated a sp 101 loaded with light .38s like it was a .44 mag. Also I don’t have a 20 ga for her to try.

        1. avatar Art out West says:

          .410 would be great for her, as would a 10/22, Marlin 795, or hi-point 995

    3. avatar doesky2 says:

      I have little confidence that somebody with little (or zero) range time with a pump shotgun is going to get more than the chambered first shot off with a pump shotgun especially if they’re cramped and huddled in a corner of the bedroom or bathroom.

      Another suggestion is a pistol caliber carbine with a 30 round mag.

      Lots of opportunity to get on target with 30 rounds and the bad guy has to be pretty determined to keep coming after the first dozen or so.

      First suggestion would be a Keltec sub2K ….IF the person can cycle the charging handle.

      Absolute lowest cost option is hiPoint 9mm carbine.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        ^ This!

        Pistol caliber carbines are light (as far as long guns go) and create absolutely minimal recoil. For example a Kel-Tec SUB-2000 weighs 64 ounces (four pounds). That is much more mass to absorb recoil than a 24 ounce handgun and the much greater mass of your shoulder absorbs the recoil rather than your hands and outstretched arms on a pistol. And yet it feels exceptionally light as a long gun. Of course a 15+ round magazine provides ample opportunity to stop someone. (Extended 22 and even 29 and 33 round magazines are available depending on caliber.) Bonus: the longer barrel with a pistol cartridge significantly reduces blast and potential hearing damage … although you should still use hearing protection when target shooting and even during a self-defense situation if practical.

        Given that recoil is minimal, I would go with .40 S&W. The longer barrel boosts muzzle velocity to the point that .40 S&W produces the same muzzle velocity as a .357 Magnum revolver with a 4-inch barrel. That means it will launch a .40 caliber, 155 grain bullet at something like 1400 fps at the muzzle and a 135 grain bullet at something like 1650 fps at the muzzle! I don’t know about you, but I would not want to be on the receiving end of a .40 caliber, 155 grain bullet smacking my center of mass at 1400 fps. That is a big, heavy, massive bullet travelling at a serious clip and will do serious damage (assuming hollowpoint bullets of course).

        1. avatar S.CROCK says:

          Yes a pistol caliber carbine would be awesome but I forgot to mention that we are talking commifornia here. No 33 round GLOCK mags and no Kel Tecs. I would have a hard time ever recommending a Hi-point although I have heard good things about their carbines.

    4. avatar Dustin says:

      “I am helping a female relative of mine who is interested in getting her FIRST and LAST gun for protection. It will be a dedicated home defense gun, no carrying and no car gun. She wants to spend as little as humanly possible and doesn’t like heavy guns or heavy recoiling guns. She also hates heavy revolver trigger pulls.”

      She needs to grow up a little, because reality. Several of these “whaaa I don’t like…” are contradictory. She sounds like a person who doesn’t like reality, and stays as far from it as she can… I don’t help people with that mentality on any subject, and definitely not guns.

    5. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      S Crock,

      If you think your recoil-averse friend cannot afford a pistol-caliber carbine, then a .410 shotgun might be the next best option. If you go that route, I would load that .410 shotgun with slugs. Unfortunately, .410 shotgun slugs are only around 100 grains which means they have a very low sectional density (e.g. ability to penetrate) … although they do have a muzzle velocity of about 1800 fps. Having said all that, the next question is whether or not your friend will operate a pump-action shotgun properly during an actual attack. I have heard that many people under stress tend to short-stroke (fail to fully pump) shotguns. That could mean your friend only gets one shot.

      A semi-auto rifle in .22 LR with a long tube magazine might make sense as well. While a single .22 LR bullet is unlikely to stop an attacker in their tracks, several .22 LR bullets greatly reduce the time to incapacitate an attacker … and the zero recoil of .22 LR means that a person can zip off a lot of shots in a VERY short amount of time. Even with minimal training/practice, I’ll bet a person could easily put 5 shots on a human attacker before a human attacker could register the hits and implement evasive maneuvers.

      I still think a pistol caliber carbine in .40 S&W is the best option. Basically equivalent stopping power to a .410 shotgun, almost guaranteed to be able to put multiple rounds on target (no problems with short-stroking a shotgun or pulling off target when pumping), and MUCH better stopping power than a .22 LR carbine.

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Good points about a pump shotgun. I’d bet very much that this person isn’t going to practice with it more than the bare minimum, and if you don’t use a pump gun enough to get the muscle memory laid in, the odds of short-stroking or otherwise jamming the gun up under an adrenaline dump go way, way up.

  10. avatar Alex T says:

    I own a beretta 92, a Glock 26, and a Kahr T9, and between the three, my wife prefers the Kahr because of the slim, but long, grip that she can get her whole hand around. It’s a small gun that feels like a big gun. She complains that the double stack pistols are too big around and too heavy, and she has to readjust her hand placement after every shot because they slip around in her tiny hands.

  11. avatar mike oregon says:

    The only thing that I’ve learned about picking out a firearm for my wife is “don’t do it” every time I’ve guessed with she would want I’m very wrong. After my exert bad choices she is very happy with her M&P 9c / and a 6″ bbl .357mag.

  12. avatar JasonM says:

    I’ve never understood this idea of giving women tiny .38 Spc. revolvers.

    Years ago, I took the AZ CCW course with my (now ex-) wife. The proficiency test required shooting five shots at an upper body silhouette target at five yards, then five more at 10 yards, with no time limit. If at least 7 hit the human shape you pass.

    She used the Taurus .38 her father gave her. It had a long 10lb. trigger pull. She failed the test. Her shots that hit the paper were all on the left side of the target (she’s a righty), because she had trouble with the trigger pull and her small fingers. I could see the gun shake as she squeezed her hand to provide the force needed to pull the trigger, which was more force than her index finger could provide alone.

    After talking with the instructor, she reshot with my XD-9 subcompact, with an aftermarket 4lb. trigger, and got ten hits in the 8, 9, and 10 zones. That XD became her carry gun.

    1. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

      Read Ayoob’s book, “In the gravest extreme.” He makes a better case for revolvers and women than I ever could. Secondly an old colt like a Det. special is a heck of lot better piece than a taurus. While the short barrels take some getting used to they can be plenty accurate at the ranges you described.

      1. avatar JasonM says:

        The problem wasn’t the accuracy. I could stack shots with that gun.
        The problem was the long, heavy double action trigger pull. Most striker fired semi-autos don’t have that problem.

  13. avatar pod says:

    My S/O, who has been shooting one of my 9mm pistols for awhile, stepped up yesterday and got an S&W M&P Shield .40 to call her very own. She’s shot .40 before but not as often as 9mm. She likes the compact nature of the Shield for carry, and already is adapting to the differing characteristics of the .40 S&W cartridge.

  14. avatar RenegadeDave says:

    Might add a Bersa Thunder in 380 to that list, it’s just a hair north of a 22. Or a CZ SP01 which makes 9mm feel like a 22. Any 9mm will still be a heck of a lot louder than a 380 or 22.

  15. avatar zumbazombie says:

    As a woman, when it came time to buying my first handgun, I was pretty darn sure that I wanted a .380ACP compact handgun or some kind of compact or midsized semi-automatic. I looked at different handguns over and over. In the end I went in a whole new direction and opted for a S&W M&P340 (.357 mag). I just kept going to the range week after week after week. It took me a long time and a lot of boxes of ammo but I have learned to master my teeny little revolver. I can reliably shoot .357 now with confidence.These days I also have a 9MM, but to defend my life I depend on my .357.

    1. avatar Gunr says:

      And of course you can shoot any kind of 38 special in it for practice. Nice choice.

  16. avatar Grindstone says:

    Find a range that you can rent guns and try out as many as you can. Don’t dictate caliber or size. Only offer as much unbiased information as necessary, and usually only when requested. Most women are responsible adults and don’t need their hand held. If they do, they have a lot more growing up to do first.

  17. avatar RenegadeDave says:

    It’s worth mentioning the noise has as much effect on some shooters as recoil in the hands. The combination of double ears and 147 grain subsonic ammo for a 9mm should help on that front.

  18. avatar AW1Ed says:

    This is why I have a Ruger Mk III Target. Great target/plinker, and trainer.

  19. avatar Ralph says:

    Most shooters rely on trial and error to pick their forever EDC. Finding a range that rents different guns enables many trials and inexpensive errors.

  20. avatar pun&gun says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of women gravitate toward smaller, snappier pistols not because they’re cute or because they assume they’re less recoil-heavy, but because they hide better in a woman’s form-fit clothing, and because women tend to have smaller hands and can’t get comfortable grip traction on a big double-stack sidearm. I’ve also found that women tend to have trouble racking the slide on most handguns due to lower strength in their hands; my mother and my girlfriend both encountered that issue.

    1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      Ruger SR9.

  21. avatar fishydude says:

    My wife has very long fingers but also arthritis in her wrists and elbows.
    We lucked out that just before we started looking for her first pistol, the H&K VP9 came out.
    She couldn’t rack the slide on my FNS9 no matter what she did.
    This is a very well made pistol. The slide is quite possibly the easiest to rack of any 9mm on the market. My wife can straight arm rack the slide all day long.
    Several months later, the Walther CCP came out. So she soon had 2 pistols. She loves shooting both. The CCP is her EDC. The VP is HD and range. Hopefully competition in the not too distant future.

  22. avatar Kendahl says:

    For those who don’t have a Sara Tipton to get them started properly, the NRA offers introductory classes. They provide everything including variety of guns.

  23. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    #1 issue I harp on for women picking out a handgun is how it fits their hand.

    A gun around which a woman has a poor grip, or an uncomfortable grip, or a grip that will cause blisters or hot spots, is a gun she will never like, and probably won’t practice with enough to become confident in her abilities.

    I don’t really care what the gun is. Revolver or semi-auto, single stack or double stack, 9, 10, .45, .38, .357 or .44. If a woman has a comfortable, confident grip on a handgun, that’s the majority of what will matter in becoming proficient with it. If she feels like the grip is too large for her hand, she’s likely to become very recoil shy, because it can often feel as tho the gun is not fully under her control when recoiling. I’ve had the very same sensation – the Glock 10mm double-stack G20 is simply too large in the grip for me. I can shoot them OK, but I don’t like them, and I never feel as confident shooting them as other semi-autos with snappy recoil.

    I know women who handle S&W 629’s (loaded with full smoke rounds) with complete competence, and several women who handle 1911’s ease and confidence. These women have a good grip on their guns. I’ve seen women with very small hands (and very slight wrists) have trouble with even a G19, because as the magazine empties, the nature of the recoil changes.

    My general observation is that women are far more likely to simply not use something when the ergonomics don’t fit them. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking of a gun or a car.

    1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      Bingo. I fitted the gun to my wife and the Ruger SR 9 and the Beretta 92 were her favorites.

  24. avatar Dash4 says:

    You’re so right about that ‘sell them the smallest, cutest gun’ thing… I had to ‘reverse-sell’ my sister on the LCP .380. She just had her mind set after looking through the case and talking to the salesman. It was the right size. Nice and small and cute. Everybody had one. So after much cajoling, I got her hold off that night – and to first rent one with me for a half-hour to try it out. haha well, she didn’t want to shoot the thing again after the first mag. I tried to tell her, what seemed to her to be counter-intuitive, if she wanted less recoil/snap, she actually wanted a slightly larger gun. That little thing wants to snap out of your hand and the trigger is atrocious (especially for a first time shooter). So after a few more trips and trying out what seemed like every damn little pistol out there, she ended up with a PPS 9mm single stack and has never looked back. She’s actually gotten quite good with it. Sometimes she gets a better group than me at the range and I tell her it’s only because of the great trigger on her little PPS 😉 lol

  25. avatar Bob says:

    Please keep posting articles like this, please. Imagine how many lives will be saved as more women arm themselves!

  26. avatar Another Robert says:

    I watched a female buying her first pistol–stood right there at Collector’s Firearms in Houston and watched, while her know-it-all boyfriend told her all she needed and wanted to consider was a 9mm semi auto–so of course the sales clerk handed her a Glock. And she couldn’t rack the slide. And she tried again, and couldn’t rack it. And eventually, after much grimacing and grunting, she managed to ease it back. And the salesman told her “You’ll get used to it”–which was fine, except boyfriend had specifically said she needed it right now, to be ready to use “tomorrow”. If she was able to “get used to it” by “tomorrow”, it was a miracle. NOTE WELL: I am NOT calling Sara a “know-it-all”. I know she knows her friend a helluva lot better than I do, and no doubt knows guns a helluva lot better than I do. But when you specifically mention “small woman with small hands” plus “new to guns”, I can’t help but think of what I saw.

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      My wife has the same issue – tiny hands, not much grip strength. When she decided she wanted to learn to shoot, we got out all my guns and she tried them all on for size. There were only two centerfire semi-autos she could rack the slide on, and those two were still a bit of a struggle. There are techniques that can help with that, but telling someone “you’ll get used to” a major ergonomic problem like that is idiotic and dangerous (dangerous because someone who’s fighting and struggling to pull the slide back might not be paying attention to muzzle direction and trigger finger, especially a new shooter).

  27. avatar Rusty Chains says:

    It is not just women who have small hands. For me with relatively short thick fingers the squarish Glock grip does not work well, but the Walther PPQ, which is a bit rounder works like a champ with the same number of rounds as the Glock 19. My daughter loves my Kimber 45, which is not a wimpy cartridge, but it fits her hand well and it will be hers once she gets her carry license.

  28. avatar tom w a glock says:

    My s/o had her ccl and carried a snub-nosed 38 her father had given her long ago. Bit it seems she’d never actually fired it – one trip to the range, and by the third shot she was ready to find a new pistol. I suggested several, and discouraged her from the Glock 26. Turns out my ‘guidance’ was misguided. She shot the Glock 26 like a champ, with good groupings (better than mine), and pronounced the pistol her favorite. So we got her one just 2 years ago, and she still carries it with confidence.
    As far as close-quarters shots (barrel in contact with assailant), aside from revolvers, the only pistols that won’t easily come out of battery I can think of are the Bersa Thunder and Walther PPK which have fixed barrels. Someone can suggest others – perhaps compile a list.

    1. avatar Gunr says:

      I had a Bersa 22 for a while, and when I was looking for a 380, I examined a Bersa in that caliber. I really like double action autoloaders, but the gun was a bit too large and too heavy to me for a 380. If it had been a 9, I would have bought it.

      1. avatar tom w a glock says:

        Bersa Thunder in .380 is a bit large, but mine shoots much better with less felt recoil than my Walther PPK/s, which feels like the web of my hand is getting treatment from a ball peen hammer. The Bersa is super reliable also. And size is about the same as the PPK/s.
        EDC is a toss-up among Glock 19 (or 23c), Beretta Cheetah in .380, or CZ75 PCR. But for a ladies carry weapon, what suits me is irrelevant.

  29. avatar DRF says:

    If someone is going to turn into a shooter, which I define as someone that goes shooting on their own from time to time, then working into an automatic is no problem. But for someone that wants portable protection without any interest in the shooting sports, it’s a revolver every time.

    There is little chance a non-shooter will take the time to train into competence with an auto, and an even smaller chance that they’ll spend the money to blast through an adequate amount of defense ammo to verify function.

    Smith and Wesson: The original point-and-click interface!

  30. avatar Tomyironmane says:

    I actually showed a lady this at the range. Little gun does not mean less recoil. Little gun means MORE recoil. You have to find something that 1.) fits you 2) doesn’t kick too hard for you to train with 3) isn’t too massive for you to carry.

    No one pistol is right for everyone. Hell, I know a guy who managed to conceal carry a full size 5″ barrel double-stack (14 round) 1911 in .45ACP. Benefits of being a big fat guy, I guess… Other folks would have issues keeping an AMT Backup under wraps.

  31. avatar Dustin says:

    “The biggest mistake first-time female gun buyers make: buying a small gun. I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut watching gun salesmen exploiting first-time women buyer’s desire for a smaller gun.”

    Same here, but since I am a man, nothing I say matters… They buy the pocket .380 or the 5rd pink hammerless revolver… If they won’t listen to someone who actually is their advocate, are they really being exploited? They choose it…

  32. avatar Dustin says:

    On the other had, with a broken edit thingy…

    Those few women who actually listen and can be asked to think rationally, and give my full-sized 1911 a try, all want to keep it for their very own.

    NO! MINE!

  33. avatar S.CROCK says:

    @doesky2
    Wow wow wow. I forgot to mention we are trying to work with about half the options you free people have. We are both in CA. So basically nothing cool like sub 2000s and 33 round Glock mags.

  34. avatar W.P. Zeller says:

    I can give a short answer to the lead question. After having conducted hundreds of Women’s Intros (and ours feature lots of fundamentals and lots of shooting and are our own creation) with my female partner, who happens to be one of the best action pistol women in the country, we know what works:
    Smith & Wesson M&P Pro gives the best results, followed closely by the Gen4 Glock 34. The XDm trails, and there’s not much else close.
    Revolvers? I love ’em, have more of them than semis. But you won’t get good hits with a personal protection handgun with a wheelgun compared to that M&P. The DA trigger’s just too hard to use, and teaching SA borders on immoral. (That said, there is a small subset of physically-challenged women who can’t do anything but an SP-101 single-action, and then we’ll teach them that.)
    I’ve taken down thousands of targets after range time and know which ones have the best sets of holes.

  35. avatar James69 says:

    Charter Arms Undercover in .38 pick your flavor, pink,green,blue, hammer less, hammered whatever. Hp’s, wad cutter,round nose whatever you happen to have. This is not “punching paper” this is SD. If the slug comes after her and tries again, she’ll send 5 slugs back at him so fast she won’t even remember it with no dumb safetys, saftey keys, slide racking or any of the other BS that goes with the “semi-auto” K.I.S.S.

  36. avatar Jayne says:

    I took my new-to-guns wife to the store and told her to handle, rack and dry fire everything she could and to ignore any comments or suggestions from anyone. The only stipulation was that it should be a 9mm. She wound up with a Sig SP2022. Everything she wanted, easy to manipulate, good size and capacity. She enjoys shooting it and does better with it than I do! Mission accomplished.

  37. avatar TatendaZim says:

    Step 1 for all persons (male or female) interested in buying their first handgun is to learn how to properly grip a handgun. It will do you no good to try to find a handgun that “fits your hand” if you don’t have the proper grip.

    I would suggest that the FN-9 Compact should be considered for a first pistol. New shooters seem to like it and it comes with two 12 round and one 17 round magazine. So you get a smaller pistol for carry, but a full capacity pistol for home defense.

  38. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    And now that we have thoroughly explored the “which first handgun is best for a woman” debate, I feel compelled to remind us all of the “firearm is a magic talisman” fallacy.

    We have stated on this forum more than once that a firearm is NOT a magic talisman. It has no magical powers and does NOT guarantee that we will prevail over an attacker. Having established that, I want to point out an additional fact. Whether or not you are armed, you are in an extremely dangerous situation if an ex/stalker has a decent I.Q. and is really motivated to kill you. No one has eyes in the back of their head and no one can possibly keep track of every person in every direction who approaches them in public. That means a clever ex who is determined to kill you can probably, without all that much effort, approach you from behind at some point and easily administer a life-ending injury.

    If I were Sara’s friend, I would promptly pack up and move across the country. And I would seriously consider legally changing my name. And for the love of all that is good and decent, I would most definitely delete any social media accounts and NOT create new ones. At the very least, on the home front I would invest in top-notch security doors/frames and unbreakable windows, install a nice alarm system, and get a small yippee dog for a secure home environment. Oh, and make sure my home’s exterior was fire resistant with a brick exterior and a steel roof. (All that in-home security is useless if your ex sets the house on fire from outside and flushes you out before the cavalry arrives.)

    1. avatar Gunr says:

      If she would settle for the “yippy” dog, I can get one for free, plus shipping, just as soon as I can figure out how to sneak it out from my neighbors yard, when the neighbor isn’t looking!

      1. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

        I think i just woke the wife up, she is in the bedroom sleeping and I’m laughing loudly.

    2. avatar David says:

      A firearm isn’t a magic talsman. Its a tool that gives the wield options. When time permits, suggest she take a decent hand-to-hand self defense class. As its been said here many times, Mindset, Skillset, Toolset.

      I wish her the absolutely best of luck staying safe.

  39. avatar W says:

    Excellent recommendation, Sara. Many new shooters really like Glock 19s. Plus, it’s a gun that she may never outgrow. And, 9MM ammo is inexpensive (as you likely know), so she can practice a lot thus improving her skills, gaining self confidence, making pistol handling second nature (like not having to look down while doing operations), and perhaps even learning to enjoy a new hobby.

    Sorry to hear about your best friend. I hope that she recovers, mentally and physically, very quickly. And, I hope that the justice system does the right thing.

  40. avatar Mercia says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for your excellent advice I am a first time buyer and will take your advice.

    Regards,
    Mercia

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email