[ED: This post is the first in a new series. If you have a question for an experienced federal firearms licensee, send it to [email protected] with ‘Ask the FFL’ in the subject field.]
Hi everybody! I’m Hank, and I’ve just started writing for the site. I wanted to talk to all the women out there who are looking for their first gun. Over the years of being a gun owner and a gun seller, I’ve seen folks of all kinds come through the door and I know there’s a lot of good and plenty of bad advice out there.
One of the things I’ve wanted to do is an article specifically tailored towards women buying their first gun. We want to be a resource to you and get you into the right gun, the right way from the start, recommending one that won’t turn a new shooter off to the idea of gun ownership.
I’ve sold my fair share of guns to first-time gun owners and I’d like to start with some of the bad advice and recommendations I’ve heard.
Regrettably, there are a lot of gun stores that just aren’t very good at their job of pleasing the customer. Pawn shops seem to fall into this category all too frequently. We see a lot of first-time buyers that wind up with a snub nosed, Airweight .38 special and a box of +P+ hollow points.
That’s fantastic if that’s what you walked into the store to buy in the first place, but frequently, new gun buyers end up with something like that as a result of bad advice and a hard sell.
Does anyone else wonder why working at a pawn shop suddenly gives you credibility in the arena of self-defense? Does three feet of counter space really make the difference between an amateur and a pro?
My biggest pet peeve — what we see all too often — is when a store sells a big bore magnum lightweight revolver to a first-timer. The sales pitch, which I’ve overheard in gun stores, pawn shops and gun shows, usually goes something like this:
“Well there little lady, here’s what you need. A revolver. You need a big bullet to stop a big bad guy. Titanium construction so they’re real light. And they’ve got a lifetime warranty! And since it’s a revolver, its good and loud so when you shoot it at the bad guy, their partner will crap their pants and run away!”
That’s when the Taurus Judge or some light weight snubnose comes out of the display case. The sale is made and the goods and the customer walk out the door.
Back before I worked in the business, I actually asked a seller after they closed a deal like that why the revolver is so optimal for women. The answer I got was uncharacteristically candid.
They get to say they own a gun that’ll scare the bad guys off. When they go and shoot it for the first time – they’ll hate it and come back and trade it in for something else. We get to make 50% on the trade in and 35% on the next gun we sell em. And we keep doing it till they find what they like or they run out of money. Either way, it’s money in the bank.
Back in high school, many moons ago, my shop teacher taught us to measure twice and cut once. Why can’t we apply that lesson elsewhere?
The reality is that many ranges rent lots of different guns. If you have a chance to try one before you buy, you’ll find out quickly that even lots of experienced shooters hate shooting snubnosed .38’s regularly.
Another pet peeve of mine is that we see women typically purchase in droves, and by that I mean – there’s a trend to purchasing habits. If Cindy buys a snubnose .38, her friend Ann will buy something similar along the same lines because, “Well if it works for her, it should work for me.” That thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth about guns.
The worst case scenario for the consumer and the best case scenario for the dealer is that when the store sells one 38 snub, patient zero doesn’t like it, trades it in, and all her friends who bought the same gun, hate shooting them, too.
Did you ever wonder how some gun stores or pawn shops always seem to have five or six of the same damn things in the used case all the time? That’s why.
On a more personal level, a few years ago I was working when I had a beautiful young woman walk in the door. She was wearing nurse’s scrubs, just finished a shift at the hospital and because not all of us wear our scars on the outside, I had no idea that she was being abused.
She didn’t say much as she browsed around, but after the other folks cleared out, she told me what was going on in her life. She had gotten a few suggestions from folks – mostly guys, telling her to buy a gun and she had a short list she wanted to check out.
The only problem is that every single gun on that list was so impractical for her specific application and stature. None of them fit her. Her list of suggestions consisted of a Colt Anaconda (which hasn’t been produced in about 16 years), numerous GLOCK products chambered in .40 S&W, a couple of 1911’s and the ubiquitous Desert Eagle.
How to turn a bad suggestion into a good one
I explained to her as objectively as I could that while these were very nice guns, they weren’t right for her. The Colt was out of production and .44 Magnum isn’t an appropriate first gun. GLOCK makes a good pistol but .40 S&W is remarkably snappy and uncomfortable to shoot long-term. 1911’s are wonderful firearms but they are intolerant of inexperienced users and the Desert Eagle was so off the mark that once I held it up, she realized just how absurd that suggestion was.
One thing my experience has taught me is that the sales pitch you make to a woman has to be different from the one you make to a man. It’s generally best to dial back the technical data and focus on the different things that are important to each individual. By answering every question she had and showing her why every one of these guns is a bad idea, she was then making a decision from a position of power.
I offered to show her a few different options I showed her a few guns that I thought she’d like a little better and than those on her list. Her new short list came down to a GLOCK 19, a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact and a Springfield XD. All these options fit her better and we also had them available to rent on the range.
We should be all about measuring twice and cutting once and this is how we do it: looking at the customer’s need, making the options user-specific and empathizing with their needs.
I can’t remember which gun she eventually settled on, but she became a regular and always asked for me when she came in to use the facility. We worked together to make sure she had a good outcome. The firearm retailer that you choose to spend your money with should be committed to the same.
What every first-time buyer should know
Here’s a few notes that I’d like to pass along to women buying their first firearm. Other people have made the mistakes so you don’t have to. Learn from those mistakes. I’d like to start with how we started this article – talking about revolvers and their unique attributes.
Revolvers have a lot of benefits, but they have their downsides as well.
They can be easy to use for those with limited hand strength, that are weight-sensitive and don’t want a giant gun. For instance, someone with limited hand or upper body strength may not be able to run the slide of a striker-fired hammer fired DA/SA semi-auto. But they can maneuver the cylinder of a Smith & Wesson Model 60.
Another factor to consider is that a revolver has a double action trigger pull of around eight pounds or more. That could be of issue to someone with arthritis or a weak trigger finger. As the weight of trigger pull increases, the ability to get shots on target accurately decreases.
On a personal note, all my revolvers have some custom trigger work done to them for a smooth six pound double action pull. To borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart, it’s a good thing.
The lighter the gun, the more the felt recoil.
Recoil is something that we never really get used to, but come to accept as an inevitability. We can’t defeat physics. A lighter gun is just more uncomfortable to shoot and all that means is you’ll enjoy practice less and less until you don’t do it anymore.
Women seem to gravitate towards smaller revolvers more than larger semi automatic firearms. My theory is that a lot of folks come from upbringings where guns are bad, so a big gun is really bad, but a small gun is less bad and therefore okay to own. What they fail to realize is something many longtime shooters know.
The longer the sight radius/barrel, the easier it is to put shots on target.
Is it any wonder why we see folks get dejected from practicing more often after they fire a two-inch revolver for the first time without hitting anything? They get frustrated and quit. If we can make it fun and enjoyable, we can make it a repeatable experience.
One myth I want to bust is that revolvers are infallible and go bang 100% of the time. This is not the case. Like any mechanical item, it’s subject to wear and tear.
Reliability is paramount for a firearm and although I have not seen many revolvers have problems, it is not immune to wear and tear and eventual failure. I’ve heard many a pawn shop employee and gun show carnival barker tell this to a potential customer, and each time I cringe a little inside. It’s simply not true and a dishonest way for them to get your money.
Semi automatic pistols have two broad categories, striker and hammer fired.
Both typically present some difficulty to new shooters because of the strength of the recoil spring and the proper technique that should be used to manipulate it for best performance and ease of use. Particularly difficult are pistols that have a hammer, where the hammer spring is another force that needs to be overcome to rack the slide.
Semi-automatic firearms require recoil to operate effectively. If you do not use the right technique, you can have a malfunction; a failure to fire, a failure to feed, or a failure to eject. This is primarily an issue of technique and with some practice, you can make almost any pistol operate 100%. Don’t be discouraged if you have some problems your first time out.
Magazines can be tough to load sometimes, depending on double or single stack design and technique. For instance, GLOCK pistols are fun and relatively easy to shoot. GLOCK magazines are difficult to load.
Trigger pull on a double action pistol can be so long and heavy it’s discouraging to new shooters. Think about going to a striker fired product that can be a little more forgiving and consistent. Also, you may find it easier to rack a striker fired pistol like a GLOCK, Smith & Wesson M&P, Springfield XD, HK VP9. Hammer fired guns like a SIG 226, 1911 variant, HK USP, Beretta 92 or CZ75 can be more of a challenge.
Stay with a good quality brand for your first gun, one that has sold a lot of product and has a good reputation and warranty department. Don’t buy any product made by Taurus, no matter how affordable or how hard the salesperson pushes it.
“I bought it because it was (insert color here, usually pink)” is the number one reason we see women buy firearms that are unsuitable to their needs and so undesirable that they trade them in.
We really don’t want you to buy a gun just to trade it in so consider all these factors when shopping for the first time. Feel free to ask around for suggestions and know that some of those suggestions aren’t going to be good ones.
Don’t be afraid to rent a gun and ask some questions. A good gun store employee is there to help you and make sure that you’re happy with what you have. In our business, our best advertising is a satisfied customer. We love it when someone comes back from the range all smiles with their newest purchase.
There are more and more women-only firearm groups that can help get you up to speed with group events, training and classes. Some women feel more comfortable in a women-only learning environment. If there isn’t a women-only group in your area, you can start one.
We’ve come a long way in the past 10 to 15 years, because these resources did not exist that long ago. They exist to make you a better, more experienced gun user, gun owner and gun enthusiast. Put them to good use. It’s a good thing.
Hank is a federal firearms licensee with twelve years of experience in the business. He’s a former first responder and is dedicated to bucking the trend of poor customer service in the business and making the gun world a better place.