Choosing a Firearm You Can Control

I was at the range yesterday, and I noticed something which puzzled me. There were only a handful of women actually on the (crowded) firing line, and I was the only one of them not shooting a short-barrelled revolver.

One lady was shooting a Ruger LCR, and the other two were shooting guns that looked like S&W Airweights (though I wasn’t close enough to tell for sure). These other women had something else in common, too: Every single one of them was struggling mightily to control the recoil of their little guns, and their shots were landing all over the place as a result.

I’m not intending to start a holy war about gun selection, but it seems to me there’s a problem with that.

Look, there are good reasons why someone might choose a J-frame short barreled revolver. There are applications for which an LCR or a Chief’s Special is clearly the right choice. These little revolvers are compact, lightweight, usually inexpensive, and dead simple to operate. At short ranges, they’re probably as close to “point and shoot” as you can get, and major malfunctions are rare (though not impossible). I don’t own a gun in this category presently, but could conceive of reasons I might want to buy one.

Based on what I saw yesterday, though, there are three major problems with these guns for the women I saw at the range:

A too-powerful, too-hard-to-control gun is a great way to train a flinch reflex into a shooter. At one point during the morning, I stopped what I was doing and watched one of these women shoot for a few minutes. Even at a distance, I could see her close her eyes and lean away from the gun before each shot. I could see that apprehension, and I could see the erratic hand movements that accompanied it.This is not the path to good marksmanship. Which brings me to my next two points…

If you can’t control the gun, you can’t defend yourself with it. The cost of a bunch of erratic, poorly-controlled shots on the range is that you waste some ammo. But when the predator’s breaking through your bedroom window? When he is, god forbid, attacking your loved ones? There the stakes are much, much higher, and you can’t afford to be trying to defend yourself with a weapon you can’t control well. It’s simple physics that the lighter a gun is, and the higher and farther back its center of mass, the harder it is to control. That’s a large part of why I was landing good groups with a friend’s Beretta 92 which I was shooting yesterday, despite it being decidedly too big for my hands. It’s a heavy gun with a lot of steel forward of the grip, which makes recoil much easier to control. When trouble comes calling, you can’t afford a weapon you can’t use effectively. You can’t afford a weapon you can’t control.

If you can’t shoot the gun effectively and comfortably, you won’t train with it. Unfortunately, the woman I was watching shoot managed to put just two or three cylinders worth of ammo downrange before complaining that her hand hurt and passing the revolver to the guy who was with her. I had a similar experience with a friend’s Walther PPK/S – it was a cute little gun, but it was bloody uncomfortable to shoot even with the little .380 ACP round. The truth is, learning to shoot well takes practice. If your gun causes you discomfort, you’ll be reluctant to practice, you’ll be reluctant to shoot, and you’ll have a hard time mastering the tool you intend to bet your life on in a crisis. Does that sound like a winning plan?

As I said, there are definitely reasons you might want a short-barreled revolver, and there are definitely shooters who use them well. I suspect men, who on average have more upper body strength than women, probably have an easier time “muscling their way” through these drawbacks, but I know women who use these guns very effectively. If you can do that, and you can shoot one of these weapons well, more power to you.

But if you’re going to carry a gun for self-defense, you need a weapon you can shoot effectively, that you can control effectively, and that’s comfortable enough to use that you’ll train with it often. For some women, I’m sure a short-barreled Ruger LCR or similar fits the bill. But I suspect, based on what I saw at the range yesterday, that for a lot of women it isn’t the right choice.

When you go shopping for a gun, don’t choose a gun because the sales guy says “a little revolver is perfect for a lady” or because “it’s cute”. Pick a gun you can shoot comfortably, control well, and that’s powerful enough to be effective without being over-powered and painful to shoot. We all hope never to face mortal danger, but if trouble finds us, we need tools we can use well.



  1. Mark Cronenwett says:

    I would think more often that not, it was the gun salesman or the husband/boyfriend that picked it out. Shelley Rae has point this out a few times working behind a gun counter.

    Very well said and on point.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mark. I agree with you that there are a certain percentage of clueless gun store employees out there that perpetuate this problem. I walked out of a gun store once because the shopkeeper refused to show me a Kimber M1911 I was interested in. He said that “girls can’t shoot 1911s” and tried to sell me “a good lady gun” – a .32 of some description.

      • Oh my gosh… that person would have been in SERIOUS trouble if he’d said such a stupid thing to me. πŸ™‚ What a dork!

        I’ve never held a 1911 or a Glock that I could fire, simply because I can’t reach the trigger with my itty bitty short fingers, but I can shoot my XD .45 or 9mm with serious accuracy – not to mention my .357M revolver.

      • When I mentioned to that gun shop employee that the first pistol I ever handled was a Colt Gold Cup M1911 and that I did just fine with it, thank you very much, he looked at me wide-eyed. When I pointed out (slightly more crudely than I’d repeat here) that the gun has absolutely no way to determine the anatomical configuration I have inside my pants, he turned the color of overripe tomatoes and promptly found another clerk to help me…not that I needed help, because I was leaving at that point.

        A bit catty of me, I know, to respond that way…but SO worth it. πŸ™‚

      • That’s perfect! Wish I had a great comeback like that. I usually just give them a the stink-eye and tell them that once they’ve put as many rounds downrange as I have, THEN they’ll have the authority to tell me what kind of gun I should buy.


  2. Amen again. Right on the nose.

    That said, there is a good place for strength training for hand and arms in any shooting program. Also, the right grip and arm position makes a big difference. The bottom line there is to get the right training and to practice regularly.

    I have only sold three guns in my life so far, and the one I regret the most was the Taurus ultralight .38sp revolver. I hated to shoot it myself, but it was the perfect way to demonstrate to my classes that an ultralight revolver is probably the worst choice for most women. I allowed them to shoot that one first, then gave them my old faithful SP101 snubby Ruger .357 magnum. Loaded with standard .38sp ammunition, it is far easier to control than any ultralight. Since I let mine go, I’m always glad when a student brings one… and they are usually ready to sell it soon afterwards. I also have a tiny .32 revolver that was my very first handgun. It’s a total pain to shoot because there is simply almost nothing to hang onto. The grip is so small that my little hand overwhelms it completely. Not good. I’ve learned to shoot it fairly well over the years, but it is not something I enjoy shooting at all. I would never carry the silly thing.

    My rule is simple: Carry the largest caliber gun you can comfortably, consistently and RELIABLY control – and will practice with ongoing. Nothing else really matters if you are serious about defending your life.

    • Maybe you should buy one of those ultralight .38s from one of our students, so you’ll have it for demos. πŸ™‚ I agree with you about your last paragraph – in fact, I have a post in the works about “caliber wars” that makes a similar point.

      • Indeed… I’ve passed up a number of opportunities to purchase one of those goofy things… but can always think of more pressing uses for the money. LOL

        The little .32 actually serves much the same purpose if nobody brings an unltralight, so it’s not a pressing need. I’d much rather spring for ammunition for those who didn’t bring any, or who really can’t afford much.

        Just finished giving the basic pistol class to a whole family of recent immigrants from the SS republic of New York City… Wyoming gained four more well motivated and armed citizens. They’ve just joined the gun club and we’ll be shooting regularly. I’m a happy camper. πŸ™‚

        Oh, and the lady loves my XD compact 9mm. I should be getting a commission on the sales!

      • It’s too bad Springfield doesn’t have an affiliate program you could join! πŸ™‚

  3. Mary Ellis says:

    I absolutely agree!! That is my biggest peeve at gun counters–“you just need a little revolver you can shoot through your purse”. I’m proud of myself that I haven’t strangled any of them—yet!
    I generally start women with a mid-sized semi–like a glock 19. It is simple to use, has enough body mass to absorb some of the shock wave & therefore reduce the amount of perceived recoil.
    I have an LCP that I got primarily for the purpose of showing women why that is NOT the gun to start with! I shoot enough with it to stay proficient–but it is always my last one of the day to shoot, because after I shoot it–I’m done!

    • Totally agree with you about the “little revolver you can shoot through your purse” thing. After reading Kathy Jackson’s recent post I think the next time someone suggests that to me, I’ll ask them how many times they’ve tried shooting through purses firsthand and how it worked out for them. πŸ™‚

      I’ve shot both the Glock 19 and M&P 9c, and think those are probably excellent choices for a first gun. Simple, reliable, comfortable to shoot, and large enough caliber to be effective without battering the shooter to bits.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Mary Ellis says:

        On the occasions that my gun IS in my purse–It is inside a holster that covers the trigger guard anyway. So, which would be quicker–fiddling around inside my purse to get the gun out of the holster–or just draw & shoot!

      • Besides, why ruin a perfectly good purse? πŸ™‚

  4. Grant Cunningham addressed this question specifically in Gun Digest Book of the Revolver, and also occasionally on his blog.

    • Thanks for the pointer to Grant’s blog! Lots of good stuff there, it looks like. And thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. I know it’s been said before, but I can almost guarantee that a male picked it out for her. Men, for some reason, seem to think that the littler a gun is, the better it is for women. And, frankly, it pisses me off. It’s a great way to scare women off from shooting. I can tell you that if my first few experiences had been painful or not fun, I wouldn’t have gotten into it.

    • It pisses me off too. I think some of it is that men just aren’t used to having to think about those sorts of issues because higher upper body strength can overcome bad technique – at least to a degree. Just like the techniques for racking the slide – men can just muscle their way past a 20 or more pound recoil spring. Not all women can do that, so technique matters a lot more.

      But I do have to wonder if some men just get off on showing up their women. One of the groups I saw yesterday was a bunch of guys with one girl, who mostly just carried their gear (a whole other rant). At one point she tried shooting what looked like a 9mm SIG or something, and she did the usual “lean way back, cringe, wobble from the off-balance recoil force routine.” The asshat guys convinced her to try one more shot with a different weapon – a .308 rifle that looked like an M1-A. About knocked the poor girl on her ass, to the amusement of the men. I was doing a slow burn and biting my tongue to stay out of it.

      I hate hate HATE that kind of juvenile crap.

      • Biting your tongue? Oh boy, not me. I will never tolerate unsafe behavior like that. First hint, I’d be in my “drill instructor” mode and have those asshats on the ground doing pushups. I was raised in the Marines… [big grin]

        I may be only 5 ft tall, and an old lady… but I’ll bet none of them would even have thought about that until it was all over and they had apologized to that girl.

        At least that’s what would happen if anyone tried it at my range. πŸ™‚ I’m CRSO for my club.

      • I bit my tongue because I’m not an RSO at this range, and because the people who WERE RSOs were keeping a very close watch indeed on this group. Especially when one ass-clown decided that rapid-fire from the .308 rifle would be a good plan. He was managing most impressive groupings – 18 inches at 15 yards. πŸ˜€ What a waste of perfectly good ammo.

      • I do understand… and what I said would depend on where I was, but I don’t think I could personally let that kind of behavior go on without at least saying something. Glad there were range officers there keeping watch, but they should have been far more proactive in my opinion.

        The better we “police” each other, without being abusive ourselves of course, the better we’ll do convincing non-shooters that we are not a bunch of yahoos just looking for trouble.

        Never be afraid or too shy to speak up if someone is being unsafe… for your own sake if none other.

      • Mark Cronenwett says:

        My wife doesn’t tolerate that crap either, and hold her tongue.. no way. She also doesn’t tolerate gun store employees treating her like an idiot woman. Her carry piece is a 1911, and she does very well with it, and competed at one time with one. I have seen her come unglued in gun stores at guys that think they know better.

        We do miss our old shop though. They LOVED to see her come in, since that meant she was shopping for something new. The owner would personally help her. πŸ˜€

      • Fortunately, there are clueful gun shops out there – i have one just a few blocks from my house. It’s too bad the bad apples are so visible. Of course, I’m now reminded of a bumper sticker an attorney friend of mine has to the effect that “99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.”

        It sounds like I’d like your wife, Mark. I’m the sort of quiet, soft-spoken person that seems to be easily underestimated by chauvinistic pigs…but few people make that mistake more than once. πŸ˜€

      • Mark Cronenwett says:

        Sadly where I am here in Montana, I have yet to find one that fits that description. Half of them *I* won’t even go in.

        She is fairly quiet until you show get her dander up, and then you don’t want to be in front. She grew up military, then was in the military. She has a definite line, and she will say something. I am more of a leave it alone and walk away sort. Together we do much better πŸ˜€ I know she would have been at those boys for being stupid in a heartbeat..

  6. The number one reason women are sold snubby revolvers is they “can’t rack the slide.” This is, of course, complete rubbish. Sometimes it just takes the right person showing them proper technique and one lesson on a semi-auto to convert them for life.

    • Exactly so, Shelley, I’m afraid. I had a chance to do this demo with a friend recently. She was looking at a snubby revolver because she thought she couldn’t rack the slide. Two minutes of technique coaching later, she was running an 1911 and a Beretta 9mm (the guns with hefty springs that were handy at the time) like a pro.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Always appreciate seeing your name in my comments section. πŸ™‚

  7. You bring up some excellent points indeed. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a seven-part series on gun ownership. Part five of that series (here: relates to the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of revolvers and semiautomatic handguns. I also wrote an article addressing the problem Shelley Rae brought up: dealing with stiff semiautomatic pistol recoil springs (here:

    I suspect these articles may be of interest for your readers. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment, Mike, and for the links you posted!

      Mike’s seven-part series is terrific, and I encourage my readers to check it out.Mike, is there a page on your site anyplace that links all seven parts of the series?

      Oh, and that Walther P-22 is one odd looking pistol!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: