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“It’s a dangerous world,” 10 Things Women Should Consider Before Purchasing A Firearm asserts“More and more women are turning to firearms to protect themselves from things that go bump in the night. But if you’re a female looking to purchase your first handgun, what should you know before you enter the store?” The excellent advice for newbies provided therein is about as gender specific as a dessert spoon. But it got me thinking: what counsel would I give a woman considering a handgun for armed self-defense? Here are my three pre-purchase questions for the fairer sex on the subject of armed self-defense . . .

1. Do you really want to buy a gun?

Whether at home, at work or out and about, owning a handgun means carrying a handgun. A self-defense gun is either on your person or it’s in a safe. If you can’t get to your handgun quickly and efficiently, you could lose your life attempting to do so—when you coulda/shoulda been running or fighting without a gun.

Everyday (and night) carry is not as easy for women as it is for men, whose clothing styles are as limited as the Model T’s color palette. There’s a carry system for every type of woman’s outfit–as faliaphotography more than adequately demonstrated some two years ago. But finding, testing and using a number of holsters for a number of looks requires a serious investment of time and money.

Many women are squeamish about carrying a gun around children, on both a practical and philosophical level. Obviously, men are also intimately involved in child care; they have to get past the same psychological barrier. But genetics mean that women (a.k.a., primary care givers) consider the carry-a-gun-around-kids question from a different perspective. And consider it they should.

One more thing . . .

Many men want their female partner to carry—or at least have access to—their own self-defense firearm. Nothing wrong with that. But given the level of commitment needed to carry a gun effectively—thought, training, money, etc.—no woman should be pressured into the decision to bear arms. Gently led, sure—including a discussion of the associated responsibilities. Pressured? No.

2. Revolver or semi-automatic pistol?

Normally, the choice between owning revolver or a semi-automatic pistol focuses on each system’s comfort, reliability and ease of operation. While that’s certainly a conversation worth having—preferably after a day at the gun range shooting examples of each prior to purchase—women should factor in another element: rape.

Since only a small percentage of acts of sexual violence are brought to the attention of the authorities, it is impossible to compile accurate statistics. There are nevertheless statistical estimates published by some official bodies. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997) estimated that 91% of United States rape victims were female and 9% were male, with 99% of the offenders being male and 1% of the offenders being female.

If you press the muzzle of a semi-automatic handgun against an aspiring rapist the pressure can move the pistol’s slide backwards, putting the gun out of battery. In other words, it won’t work. A revolver can be fired with the muzzle in contact with an aggressor’s person. Given that rape is a close contact crime that often involves a rapid (i.e. surprise) attack, a revolver may be the better choice for a woman.

3. One and done?

As I pointed out here, small guns are not great starter guns. Larger/heavier guns allow new shooters to master shooting basics before taking on the particular challenges (e.g. recoil) of a smaller, more concealable firearm. That’s true for women in particular, who are generally smaller than men, particularly when it comes to hand size.

Is the new female shooter willing to buy two guns; one for practice only, one for practice and carry? If not, if it’s one and done, they should purchase a handgun that splits the difference: big enough to fire comfortably (and accurately) and small enough to carry (even if it’s just in the house).

If they are willing to see their first purchase as a stepping stone, it may be best to purchase a firearm that belongs to a family of [virtually identical] handguns in different sizes and calibers (e.g. Ruger revolvers, Glock semis). That way the shooter can add a gun without having to master new ergonomics.

I don’t see many important differences between male and female gun ownership. None that would mandate (so to speak) a fundamentally different approach in terms of equipment, training or technique. But there are some distinctions worth making. What did I miss?


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  1. Do many women and men run around eating desert sands? Perhaps you mean a dessert spoon. Defining the gun that a woman should carry is probably as possible as defining a runcible spoon.

  2. One thing I considered when looking at a firearm for my spouse was will she like it.
    This is a broad idea. By saying will she like it, my idea is, does it fit her hand, it is a caliber, size, style she can shoot.
    Does she want a semi or revolver. In the end we focused on a small revolver. Sure having 10 shots, or as many as 17 depending on where you live, might be better, but the expectation here is the following.
    She is not taking on a zombie hoard. You figure most home invasions involve 2 or 3 perps.
    She needs to be able to point and shoot. Distance in our house will be around 15 feet at best between her and her target. So a long barrel 1911 isn’t really needed.
    Ease of use, well it is a wheel gun, it is point and shoot. Minus a bad primer she just needs to keep pulling the trigger.
    Dose of reality, we have seen time and time again one or two shots and the criminals turn tail and run for the hills. Even if they are not wounded, they run like hell.
    Does she have backup. We are setting up two bed side safes, one with her gun and one for me. She will also practice on my gun, which we have settled on a S&W MP 40. Both are point and shoot, but with a revolver she doesn’t have to worry about a slide, and jams and how to deal with them.
    While I agree, a traditional N or K frame S&W is a great gun. It is comfortable, and I learned to shoot it using 38 rounds, and it kicks like a 22, not a 357.
    Bottom line is you can learn to shoot anything. How much time you take and practice makes up the difference. If you don’t practice, you probably won’t be able to hit the side of a barn. So practice and practice often.

  3. .357 LCR loaded with .38 special. Heavier than the .38 version and fairly soft shooting. Nice big dot in front. Polymer frame makes it easy to maintain. Cheap.

  4. Any person, man or woman, that asks me about a gun for a newbie and I ask them my standard question. Will it be for recreation or self defense? If the answer is self defense I then ask them the 64 dollar question.”Can you kill another human being? If you’re not certain of your answer you don’t need a gun. Self defense isn’t about scaring or wounding your attacker. It’s wonderful when that’s all that’s required but you can’t count on it. Hesitation will get you killed, maybe by your own gun. Be certain before you go any further towards buying a gun.”

    Occasionally one will decide not to go further and I advise them to get pepper spray. For those that wish to continue I give them a safety and handling lesson and take them to the range with a variety of pistols to try.

    Sometimes the first trip to the range cements their desire for a gun and sometimes they decide it’s not for them. This is America and they have that freedom of choice.

    • Pepper spray is good to have gun or no gun. If you don’t have a gun, then you have an option for self defense beyond hoping for the best. If you do have a gun, you have a lower level of force to resort to first before deadly force. That way, if some guy slaps you and winds up for a punch, you can do something other than get in a fist fight (which you might not be equipped to win) or shoot him (which you’re probably not justified to do).

      • Of course, if you carry pepper spray and wind up in a DGU, expect to be asked to explain why you didn’t use the pepper spray rather than your firearm.

  5. My wife’s journey was a bit involved. She first wanted a 1911 because that’s what we carried in the military, but was never particulary comfortable with it and eventually decided she was intolerant of the “convulsions and spitting”. When I introduced her to revolvers, she liked them better. I eventually got her a Ruger LCR so she would have something she could carry and she absolutely loved the small size and light weight… until we got to the range when she decided she vastly preferred the 4″ S&W 686+ I had acquired for her previously because the greater weight and longer sight radius made it significantly more accurate and easier to shoot. I still prefer pistols, but with most of our revolvers, we can practice with .38spl, load .38+P for business purposes and .357 remains an an option as well. Speedloaders are more challenging than magazines, but she doesn’t have to practice FTF/FTE malfunction drills.

  6. My additions to this topic for the ladies.

    1:Ignore everything you’ve heard about brand names, and start shopping by physically trying on every type of pistol you’d be remotely interested in carrying. Remember that buying a pistol isn’t like buying a pair of shoes, because that tool may mean the difference between life and death-so you have to LIKE it. Buying a gun because the boyfriend or husband likes it is a bad idea. As such, try on different guns in person and eliminate anything that disagrees with you.

    2:Once the list is down to 3 odd weapons, go home and hit the books. Research the accessory cost, parts availibility , and ammunition expense. Without bullets a pistol is just a stylish rock, and without experience shooting it under stress a handgun becomes a liability for its owner and the background instead of a defensive asset. The Secret Service mandates practice every 4 weeks for a reason, and considering that as a private citizen you must account for every bullet fired in self defense you cannot afford to ignore the cost of ammunition. Its a necessary evil one must confront in acquiring the skill to capably use a gun without negligently killing your neighbors. A 9mm that you can afford to shoot weekly beats a .45 ACP that you can only afford to fire semi-annually.

    Parts costs are important, because shooting a gun often enough means stuff is going to break. Are parts easy to find and purchase for your gun, or is everything special order at Arab Sheik prices? Is the gun discontinued ? Can the pistol be easily repaired, or is it so complicated that a 3 month stay at the factory is the only solution?

    Accessories cannot be ignored either. A handgun that’s the perfect shooter is useless if there’s no holster available to safely carry it. Don’t buy into the hype of modifying different holsters to “make it fit” or using universal-marked holsters;should the gun exit the holster by accident you may be facing criminal charges for brandishing depending on state laws. Note, if your best method of carry is say shoulder harness and no shoulder harness exists for your perfect carry gun, game over.Ditto magazine cost. The pistol itself might be discounted $500 , but what if the magazines are proprietary units which run $80 a pop? Research into this category shouldn’t be skipped.

    Last part:buying two handguns is a must for the citizen who carries. After a defensive incident the police will seize the weapon used as evidence. If its your only gun, you’re now defenseless against whoever knew the bad guy you shot. If someone put themselves in the sorry situation to get shot by you, odds are their friends aren’t of the highest moral caliber and may think nothing of assaulting your house for some “get back”. In that event you will want to be armed with a backup.

    That’s just in the unlikely event of an incident. What’s more likely to take place is you hit the range and get a squib load or something else on the weapon fails which temporarily takes your gun out of action until its repaired. Factory warranty fullfillment from shipment to return can take months, and may even be longer than that if the frame needs to be replaced and state law in your area has a waiting period/registration for a new pistol frame. During that time it pays to have a backup.

    Ill close by saying this-concealed carry isn’t for everyone. If all of the above sounds like a royal PITA , you’re better off using a different method of defense and perfecting that instead. Owning a firearm demands a higher moral and personal standard of responsibility , and it is no shame to admit its an enterprise you’d rather not embark on.

    • So. . . If I shoot someone in self defense their bad guy buddies get a text with my name and address? That is to say, I disagree that buying 2 guns is a necessity. Also, on magazines, 2 x $80 does not outweigh a $500 discount. who needs more than 2 extra magazines besides competitive shooters? Especially if we’re talking about a DGU

      I agree with the gist of what you’re saying but it’s a little excessive and creates, or rather promotes, serious barriers to entry for people who want to defend themselves but aren’t gun enthusiasts.

      • Kyle,

        There is a very good chance that bad guys will know who stopped their buddy. First, news outlets love to publish names and addresses. Second, the bad guy may have had partners that got away and know exactly where the armed citizen lives. Third, buddies may talk to the bad guy in the hospital or jail and learn where the armed citizen lives.

        So I see merit in having a second firearm which would be the ideal situation. Of course life is frequently far from ideal and having one firearm is better than having no firearms. So if the only thing stopping someone from arming themselves is the fact that they can truly only afford one firearm, that should not really stop them.

      • Kyle, after a dgu I think that of all the worries you could have the bad guys buddies ain’t really high on the list. Hollywood likes to show the bad guys as being high IQ and well organised and trained and equipped.

        The reality is most of them are looking for a quick easy score and if there’s any honor or camraderie amongst bad guys I haven’t seen it. In fact the bad guy in the hospital with the gunshot wound will likely be ripped off by his associates while he’s laid up.

        The real reason for having a second gun is that with our poorly thought out “war on drugs” there seems to be a never ending supply of bad guys. You don’t want to be unarmed nowadays for any reason.

        If finances are tight, and they are for most people these days consider buying lower priced or used guns for your needs.

        I’ve had good luck with Sigmas and Rugers and Taurus revolvers. Or your second gun for the house could be a bargain shotgun like a mossberg. It’s quality and functional for a good price.

  7. I took my wife to a gun show so she could find one that fit her hand and that she could cycle the slide with her limited strength. After a few hundred tries, she decided that she really liked the Walther PK-380. I tried it, and it fit me also. I bought 2. Now we have matching conceal-carry and spare mags.

    Hand Fit is very personal. Think of it as shoe shopping. You try them on for a good fit. If a pistol doesn’t feel good in the hand, then it will not be practiced with.

      • Only select serial numbers got recalled. Fortunately my wife’s fell outside of those numbers, but we’re still keeping an eye on it. So far it has held up 100% with a variety of ammo, which it seems like is definitely a YMMV statement with the PK380.

    • I realize what you are trying to say, but having a female go to a gun store without you (or someone knowledgeable), is like sending her to buy an automobile by herself. I’m not saying that women aren’t able to purchase either without a “MAN” around, but I know from experience what happens at car dealerships with women only buyers, and there have been many stories here at TTAG about clerks at gun stores with noobies (male and female)!

  8. My better half always practices with our 9mm and 45 semi autos and also with our 22lr/22wmr and 38 spec S&W model 67!!
    She has become very proficient with them all and is still a very accurate shooter with my 12ga and her Marlin Glenfield Model 60 .22 rifle.
    And she is getting better everyday for clearing various malfunctions from the different semI’d.

  9. A specific part of “fit” is what I call “trigger reach”. Women tend to have smaller hands and/or shorter fingers than men, so a handgun that fits a man may not work for a woman. When you are holding the gun in a normal grip, the first crease of your trigger finger MUST be easily centered on the trigger. If you can only get the tip of your finger on the trigger, you will have a very hard time firing the gun accurately when speed is necessary. Your hand/trigger finger will not have the leverage to pull/press the trigger smoothly.

    The smaller, J-frame size revolvers (S&W, Taurus, Charter, Ruger LCR) tend to have a shorter trigger reach, if your hand size is somewhat smaller.

  10. My wife purchased her first handgun (a Sig P250 SC in 9mm) Saturday. She loves it. It’s too small for me to shoot comfortably, but it’s perfect for her. It has also forced me to reconsider my “never buy a DAO” stance. Having shot it, it’s accurate and the long, heavy trigger is smooth enough that it doesn’t affect shot placement in any meaningful way. I would have never considered buying one prior to her purchase, now the compact .45 is starting to look tempting…

  11. I think the only really specific thing women need to be aware of when shopping for a gun is that concealed carry can be difficult in women’s clothes. Everything else (size, perceived recoil, ease of use) is personal preference and not really gender specific. My husband and I actually have pretty much the same size hands. We like to shoot the same guns. He, however, can conceal a much larger gun than me because he doesn’t wear skinny jeans and tight t-shirts (thank God). The main thing women need to realize before purchasing a gun is that they are likely going to be underestimated and discouraged during the process, but that should in no way deter them from making a well-informed decision to protect themselves.

  12. I think the whole premise of this question is that women are usually newbies when it comes to handguns and especially concealed carry. That being the case, a concealable but very shootable revolver is almost always the best answer, for a variety of reasons. That, and practice, practice, practice. It’s amazing what proficiency will do for someone’s confidence, as well as a simple and reliable device that won’t fail.

    • Unfortunately, a lot of ranges don’t allow people to draw from the holster, and most people never have a chance to shoot at a moving target. The first exercise I ever did with simunitions was enlightening, to say the least.

  13. Concealability is key. My first gun was a 229. I love the way it fits my hand and shoots, but I never thought about how to carry it. Now I have two smaller guns, including a brand new 238. I’ve read all the arguments about size and stopping power, but if I can’t carry it without dressing for a blizzard then it does me no good.
    As far as holsters go, right now my favorite is a $30 Remora. Very versatile. I have a growing collection of others, though.

    I had an advantage in that my dad taught me to shoot as a child, so when I started carrying, I had a little bit of knowledge and experience.

  14. My wife carries a 2 inch .38 special. I would not carry that caliber, despite having carried one as a police officer for ten years. Maybe because of it…
    However, what I have done is taught her quick reaction firearm drills that put two or three holes in a target from a relatively close distance after drawing from her fanny pack. A couple of decent center-mass wound channels with a critical defense round will dissuade anyone who is intent on evil deeds.
    Bottom line…you can carry a Star Trek hand phaser, but if you’re not mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to apply it, it doesn’t matter a tiny little bit.

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