Selecting a Handgun for The Ladies

What is the right handgun for the ladies. This is a complicated subject because there is no correct answer for everyone. There are simply too many choices and too many personal preferences. So, while I cannot provide an answer for anyone other than myself, I can offer up my ideas about simple common sense. These just might lead you to the right handgun… for you. By the way, the process of choosing a handgun for a woman and choosing one for a man is precisely the same. Handgun selection is not a matter of sex, but rather a matter of body size, hand size, strength and other factors. . So, I suggest that you dump the notion of lady’s guns and men’s guns.

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I think the most basic question to ask is if a revolver or semiautomatic pistol makes more sense. Both gun types have positive and negative aspects.

Generally speaking, the revolver will only hold five or six rounds. That may not be enough. On the other hand, a revolver is much less prone to malfunctions. In fact, malfunctions are nearly unheard of with respect to revolvers. The trigger on a typical double action revolver tends to be very long and very heavy, making it difficult to hold the gun on target while pulling the trigger. This means that smaller and weaker hands will generally struggle more. And finally, revolvers tend to recoil a bit harder which can make them more difficult to shoot. For reasons that I do not understand, gun stores tend to suggest revolvers for women. I think they do this because some women have a difficult time racking the slide on a semiautomatic pistol. In most cases, this is terrible advice. If a woman does not have the strength to work a slide, she will likely not have the hand strength to pull the double action trigger on a typical revolver.

Recently, I had two women on my range that had this problem. The first could not pull the trigger with one hand so she used the index finger of both hands to pull the trigger. Another lady could pull her trigger, most of the time. But often, she would get the trigger pulled partially back and then stall. In both of these cases they were working so hard that their hands were literally shaking. Is it any wonder that they seldom hit the target? Both of these women bought revolvers at the recommendation of the dork behind the counter because they could not manipulate the slide of an semiautomatic pistol.

Failure to rack a slide is almost never because of a lack of strength. It is almost always because of a lack of technique. Most people instinctively rack a slide incorrectly. When they understand the correct technique, the task becomes quite easy. Generally, I can train you to rack a slide, however, I cannot train you to pull a trigger when your hands lack the strength.

The semiautomatic pistol is generally my suggested firearm. Depending on the one you choose, it can hold fifteen or more rounds. When everything is on the line fifteen is better than five. Modern pistols tend to be very reliable, however, there is a greater likelihood of a feeding malfunction. One cause of these failures is something known as limp wristing, which is a weak and flimsy grip on the pistol. Again, this is more of a problem for smaller people because the skeletal structure and muscle mass that supports the gun is typically lighter and weaker. This is generally more of a problem with the heavier recoiling rounds. I have yet to see a woman that cannot easily handle the 45ACP and 9mm Luger pistols that I own.

Even with the larger caliber pistols, every time a woman on my range experienced feeding malfunctions, she was able to correct the problem by correctly griping the pistol. Again, people instinctively grip the pistol incorrectly and this causes problems. By simply changing the position of the hands on the gun, the problem evaporates. This also is not generally a question of strength, but rather a question of technique. One other benefit of the semiautomatic pistol is that felt recoil is significantly reduced. The recoil spring in the slide acts as a huge shock absorber which tends to significantly dampen recoil. This makes that gun easier and more enjoyable to shoot.

Let us consider a case in early 2013 when a Georgia mother shot a home invader, identified as Paul Slater, to protect herself and her twin daughters. She had a .38 caliber revolver that held six rounds. When Slater located her and her twin daughters hiding in the attic, she opened fire. Six rounds were fired and five hit the mark. Slater fell to the floor and asked her to stop shooting. Standing over him, she told him that if he moved she would shoot again. The problem was, her gun was empty. Realizing this, she and her daughters ran to the house of a neighbor.

Slater managed to get to his car and drove away only to collapse at another location. When shot, people tend to go in either fight or flight mode. Thankfully, Slater went into flight mode and chose to run away. If he had gone the other way, it could have gone very badly for this mother and her girls, because her gun was empty.

Now, let us imagine that this mother had been armed with a high capacity pistol instead of a revolver. If this had been the case, perhaps she never would have been in a defenseless and unarmed position. If Slater had continued the threat, she could have continued to fight. However, if that pistol had been chambered with a round heaver than her hands and wrist were able to affectively handle, the gun might have malfunctioned after the first round, leaving her effectively defenseless early in the fight.

As you can see, either handgun choice has an upside and a downside. Thankfully, this mother and her daughters were not harmed. If you choose to purchase a revolver, the choices are pretty basic because they generally function identically. Simply shoot a few and buy one you like.

Revolvers are generally double action guns. This means that when you pull the trigger, you are doing two actions. First you are cocking the hammer and rotating the cylinder, and second, you are releasing the hammer. This extra work makes the trigger pull very long and very heavy. Smith & Wesson is the Cadillac of revolvers. They offer triggers that most women will be able to manipulate. Ruger is also a good choice. However, they have a price tag that is about two times higher than many reliable semiautomatic pistols. The less expensive revolvers have price tags on par with brand name semiautomatics but the trigger tends to be awful.

If you choose to purchase a semiautomatic pistol, your choices are wider and therefore your decision is more complicated. You will need to use a bit of common sense. Let me share an example of the lack of it. The following is an excerpt from an on-line gun review that I read recently. The review was for the Walther PPK pistol and it said, “While I do not expect to buy one anytime soon, nor will it replace the 1911 pistol that I normally carry, I can see it as a back-up gun in certain circumstances. For instance, summer when clothing is lighter and more abbreviated.”

As I said, there is no right answer for everyone. I would be foolish to tell another that their choice in a defensive weapon is wrong. However, in this case I will go out on a limb and say that this guy’s shots are not even on the paper… so to speak. When we train in a consistent way, we begin to develop muscle memory. Good muscle memory is the thing that will enable us to do things correctly when stress is wildly high and things are at their worst.

Now, let us examine the statement from the gun review. There are a number of differences between the 1911, and the PPK, but the glaring difference is in the safeties. To disengage the 1911 safety, you thumb it down. To disengage the PPK safety, you thumb it up. In other words, the safeties operate exactly opposite of each other. As a result, when you train for the 1911, you un-train for the PPK and visa versa. So, for every good you do training on one system, you do an equal amount of harm with regard to the other. When things are at their worst in a time-is-life situation, will you sweep the safety up or will you sweep it down? The good news is that you have a fifty percent chance of doing it correctly. However, are you willing to risk everything on a 50 – 50 proposition? One common sense guideline that I promised is simply this… All of your defensive weapons should function in the same way. This will guarantee that any action you take with one pistol will work with every defensive pistol you own.

I will share my thoughts on weapon selection for most shooters. I say most shooters because most people will not train enough to become proficient with more complex weapon systems. If you are one of these, look for simplicity. If you are dedicated to continuous training, any quality pistol is a good choice.

There are single action pistols like the 1911. I love this gun but it is not my first choice in a carry pistol. The single action 1911 trigger is the trigger by which all others are measured. What’s not to love. Because of the mechanical safety, these can be a bit more complicated and therefore require more training to be proficient. If you are not dedicated, this is not the gun for you because you will, at times, draw, point and squeezer the trigger only to discover that the safety is engaged. Another problem is that this pistol is maintenance intensive. Extractors and springs must be replaced regularly. And. extractors are not drop in parts, they must be tuned and hand fit to the pistol.

Double/single action semiautomatic pistols are, in my opinion, the worst choice of all for the casual shooter. These have more controls to think about, which can be a problem when you are stressed. These pistols have a first trigger pull that is double action, heavy and long like the revolver. Follow-up trigger pulls are single action so they are generally light and crisp like the 1911. Additionally, they have a decocker and sometimes a safety to worry about. Inconsistent trigger pulls, coupled with complicated controls make these guns appropriate only for the most dedicated shooter.

When simplicity is important, I recommend striker fire pistols. The triggers on these guns range from very very good to revolver like crappy. Most are simple and straight forward operate. When life and death hang in the balance, I want the ability to draw and shoot without concerning themselves with details such as mechanical safeties and decockers.

Generally, I recommend that people choose either the 9mm Lugar or the 45 ACP as the best all around caliber. My reason for recommending these is strictly practical. It is not that they have the most knock down power, they don’t. If we compare these rounds to automobiles, we might say that the 45 is like being hit by a 50MPH bus, while the 9MM might be more comparable to being hit by an 80MPH Chevy. I think we can agree that both can be pretty devastating. Oh sure, you can also buy exotic rounds that hit like a  150MPH Lamborghini, but there is a downside. More important than the energy delivered by the round is the placement of the round and that requires training. The 45ACP and the 9MM Luger ammunition is easy to find and more affordable than a Lamborghini. Of the two, the 9MM is the least expensive. I have and carry firearms in both of these calibers with total confidence that they will do the job. Don’t complicate your live by carrying the hottest ammo in the biggest gun. Simplify your life by being confidently proficient. This is much easier to do with ammo that your can find and afford.

I prefer full sized pistols to carry and use whenever I can and a compact gun for times when the full sized version is not a good option. Sub-compact guns, in my opinion, are a waste of money. I recommend the following with confidence. I do not have a preference, all are very good. Some of these recommended guns come with an optional thumb safety, which I do not recommend. This can be seen by comparing the FNS9 with the thumb safety to the FNS9C which does not have the safety. Remember, in an emergency, we need to be able to draw and shoot on a moments notice without the complication of unnecessary controls. My best advice is to find a range that rents pistols and try several of these before you lay down your hard earned cash.

Good luck.

 

FN FNS9

FN FNS9

FN FNS9C

FN FNS9C

H&K VP9

H&K VP9

Sig P320

Sig P320

Smith & Wesson M&P

Smith & Wesson M&P

Smith & Wesson Shield

Smith & Wesson Shield

Springfield XDm

Springfield XDm

Walther PPQ

Walther PPQ

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