Choosing The Right Gun for Women

20121104-150608.jpgI don’t know why I torture myself with the Internet gun forums. I really don’t, because the amount of misinformation and downright ignorance I find there is simply amazing. Take the discussion I read a couple of days ago, for example. Someone asked a question that seems to come up every other week or so: “What kind of gun should I buy for my girlfriend?”

Now, I have my own thoughts and issue with this question, but what provoked my ire wasn’t the question, but was one of the responses posted in the thread. “Buy her a .38 revolver,” the poster advised, “because with a semi-auto she might forget to chamber a round, and then what will she do? Throw the gun at the bad guy?”

In other words, in this individual’s view, women are simply too stupid to learn to shoot semi-automatic pistols.

To be honest, I really don’t understand men who think this way. Setting aside everything else that one can say about all the amazing things women do in this day and age, the reality is this: Operating a semi-automatic pistol really is not that complicated. It takes a little training and practice to develop the appropriate muscle memory, but anyone who thinks you don’t need training to accurately and effectively deploy a revolver is kidding themselves.

So, what are the “women should use revolvers and not semi-autos” folks really saying? I wonder if they’re not suggesting that women are reluctant to seek out training, and so they should carry guns that (in their views) require less training.

I don’t necessarily agree that women are reluctant to seek out training. To the contrary, I think women are hungry for training that treats them as first-class citizens in the shooting world. As evidence, I offer the series of women’s shooting clinics for which I am an assistant instructor. We started with 20 women or so in the first clinic. The most recent one (our third) had 65 women attending and a dozen more on the waiting list. Our January clinic is already full. And I think a lot of our success comes from the fact that we are “women teaching women”, and so the new shooters don’t feel the same self-consciousness they might in a less female-friendly environment.

I also think, though, that women – like men – are more likely to seek out opportunities to train and practice when they’re shooting a gun they can control well and shoot comfortably. The .38 snubbies that some people seem to recommend for women, because they’re “easy”, are actually poor choices indeed for inexperienced female shooters who lack both the technique and the upper body strength to control them easily. I’ve lost count of how many women I’ve seen at the range fighting to control Ruger LCRs and S&W Airweight snubbies. I’d be willing to bet they’re not shooting enough to get really proficient with those weapons.

So, what advice would I give to someone looking to get a gun for their female friend or spouse? Take them to the store, and the range. Let them shoot as many different guns as you can get your hands on and see what feels good for them. Any of the major brands of 9mm semi-autos (Glock, M&P, XD) are probably good starting points.

When we pick our own guns, we’re more likely to get firearms we feel comfortable with, and we’re more likely to train, to practice, to get better. We’re more likely to become proficient, and to acquire the skills we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

And don’t fall for the old line of nonsense that semi-autos are “too hard” for women. We’re capable of driving cars, flying airplanes, and cooking multi-course meals; we are surely smart enough to operate a semi-auto pistol.


  1. Sharon Pearrow says:

    Oh Girl I feel your pain..I heard a man tell a woman the other day all she needed for self defense was a single shot..and he is an ex LEO…I nearly choked…I just became an NRA Instructor and I always encourage women to try any of my semi autos..I think their hesitation comes from some men’s attitudes…but let me tell you…they get real comfortable real quick with a semi auto and do an excellent job..but honestly most men are very encouraging and helpful..just a few I have ran into that needed some updated information on women and firearms.

    • I’ve been very blessed that the number of chauvinist pigs I’ve run into among my local shooting community has been small. From some of the stories I hear, this is not universally so.

      On the other hand, I did have a local gun shop tell me once that they didn’t want to show me a Kimber 1911 “because women can’t shoot big guns like that”, and then try to sell me some manner of .25 ACP something-or-other with pearl handles. (!) Needless to say, I don’t shop there any more.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment – I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s driven crazy by this kind of ignorant stupidity.

  2. Silly comments like the one you mention are one of the reasons I became a NRA instructor. I just got a Ruger LCP (I got the raspberry one) and put enough rounds through it to know I really like it. But it does jump a bit. In general, the guys I know are very supportive. Funny story, I was putting together a range bag and stopped at Home Depot to pick up a staple gun. I picked out a smaller one and commented that I only needed it for targets. The fellow sounded surprised and asked what I was doing with targets and I said “shooting at them of course.” He seemed quite charmed and we had a bit of gun talk before I checked out.

    • Silly comments are part of why I’m working on becoming a certified instructor. Women deserve better information and training than a lot of us seem to be getting, IMO.

      Love your staple gun story – so good to have those opportunities to connect with people and to be seen as women who shoot.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Amen, Sister!

    To piggy-back on Selina’s comment: I have a hard time finding a staple gun that I can use. My hands are big enough for the ergonomic ones that seem to be all the rage. I have not problem finding a properly fitting gun, but the damn staple gun to put up my targets? Nearly impossible!

    • I’ve had that problem, too…I’ve yet to find a staple gun that doesn’t hurt my hand by the time I’m done setting up a few targets.

  4. I think what you are seeing is the triumph of laziness. Posters should be asking for more info before crafting a response. As someone who works in firearms sales, I often get this question from gents who are there because the significant other actually has no interest or very little in learning to shoot. This guy is deluding himself into thinking that buying a gun and taking it home will generate the interest. I will say this. If a gun is to be brought into a home where responsible adults will only receive minimal training or simply look at it like a hammer, a tool and nothing more, I think the .38 has a lot going for it, but not a snubby. As a retailer, it isn’t my responsibility to say someone has no right to protection because they choose not to seek further training. For customers like that, the medium frame revolver is often my first suggestion. It is also my suggestion for the shooter, male or female, who seems a bit overwhelmed by the selection process. We often get folks who don’t want to take the hobbyist route of trying many at a range before buying. As often as we say it is not like buying a hammer or saw, some look at it in precisely that fashion. Again, it isn’t my role to deny them the opportunity to buy and the .38 seems a reasonable choice.

    • Thanks for this perspective, Matt! I’m not meaning to suggest that a .38 revolver isn’t a reasonable choice for a new gun owner. To the contrary, I know a number of shooters (male and female) who shoot .38 revolvers well and rely on them for self-defense also.

      But, I think it’s fair (and I imagine you’ll agree with me) that, of the reasons to choose a .38 revolver, “because you’re too dumb to remember to chamber a round” and “because semi-auto pistols are too complicated for women” are probably not on the list. πŸ™‚

      And, I think anyone who believes picking a .38 revolver means they don’t need to practice and train with their weapon is making a potentially dangerous mistake.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  5. Had an interesting experience along this line just last week. A new student had previously qualified for a “permit” with her husband’s Glock 9mm, and she was shooting poorly with it. She had trouble racking the slide, then had a few misfeeds and wanted to give up the session early.

    She admitted that she understood the need to learn self defense and wanted to do so, but didn’t enjoy shooting and couldn’t imagine doing so. A little digging revealed that she hated the recoil and the fact that the brass so often hit her in the face. Further observation showed that she’d developed the bad habit of closing her eyes as she pulled the trigger.


    So I started her with my (full weight) Ruger SP101 .357 – loaded with easy .38Spl ball rounds, and we worked on technique with an emphasis on using the sights. Her groups were impressive almost immediately and she went through an entire box of ammunition – with the session going overtime! She has some work to do to overcome bad habits, but the joy was having her confide to me that she actually ENJOYED shooting the old revolver, and wants to buy her own now.

    She may well eventually gain the confidence and strength to run the Glock, or she may buy another semi-auto, but in the meantime she’ll have a gun she can shoot well and which she will enjoy on the range. And if she follows through with the dry fire exercises she was given, she may become an awesome shooter too. This was really exciting and gratifying to me as an instructor.

    I won’t put up with the “dumb broad” bit, of course, but the bottom line is exactly that they need a good instructor, plenty of different guns to handle and shoot, and time/encouragement to find what works for them.

    Men who suggests that any kind of “ultralight” revolver is best for women needs to be taken out and… well, smacked at least. LOL

    • Thank you for sharing this! I’ve never shot a Ruger SP-101 but I hear they’re some of the nicest shooting revolvers out there. It sounds like that was a good gun choice for your student. And, I’ll bet that if you’d had an ultralight snubby instead, her experience wouldn’t have been nearly as positive. πŸ™‚

    • Kathy says:

      Could not agree more. I have a number of pistols from .22lr to 9mm and enjoy shooting them. But my concealed carry is a Ruger LCR .38 DA only. Is it fun to shoot? no but it’s not torture either. Put standard stock grip and standard XS white dot front sight on it and what a difference! I’m very comfortable having for concealed carry in pocket holster. Home defense is Ruger GP 100 with 3″ barrel Talo version 38/357, now that one goes to the range for a lot of shooting, so pleasant to shoot. When Texas passes handgun Open Carry, it will become my everyday carry weapon with cover garment. Until then the Ruger LCR with 1.78″ barrel does just fine.

  6. William R.Hurley says:

    I can’t understand why most men seem to think that women can’t handle weapons, any type of weapon. I have trained my wife to shoot everything from a .38 spl. revolver to a .44 magnum revolver. From a single shot .22 cal. semi auto to my .40 cal. Glock. She chose to carry my baby browning in .25 ACP loaded with Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point ammo because it did not make her purse too heavy. She is a damn fine shot. I train a lot of lady’s and let them pick both the type and calibre they wish to pick but only after shooting as many types and calibers as possible.
    I was a NRA Police Weapons instructor for many years and still love to shoot with my wife and have a range set up in my back yard.
    Bill Hurley
    Det. Sergeant
    Retired Atlantic City N.J.
    Police Department

    • Thanks for sharing, Bill! I wonder how your wife would do with something like a Ruger LC9 or one of the little Kahr Arms pistols. Nothing against her choice, of course, but I personally prefer a bit larger caliber than a .25, myself.

      And I share your lack of understanding of why people think women can’t shoot ful-sized weapons. Granted, we often have to adapt our technique to smaller bodies and less upper-body strength, but that just means paying attention to form a bit more.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. SteveW says:

    I consider myself rather proficient with a snub. I don’t recommend them to ANY novice shooter. Period. Dot.

    On the other hand, I had an opportunity to participate in a Citizen’s Firearms Class with a local SO a few months ago. There was an elderly lady (easily in her seventies) that simply did not have the hand strength for the snubby Taurus her husband bought her because the guy at the gun store said it would fit her hands, (sound familiar?). She also couldn’t deal with the recoil of an all steel Model 36 S&W with a 3″ barrel and very mild target loads and absolutely refused to use any form of semi-auto. At that point I retrieved a Model 31 S&W chambered in .32 Long with a 4″ barrel that not only “fit her hands” but also had a mild enough recoil that she wasn’t abused every time she pulled the trigger. By the end of the session she and her husband both asked to buy my gun and when I declined to sell they wanted to know where they could buy one similar.

    It’s always been about fitting the shooter to the gun, not the gun to the shooter.

    • “It’s always been about fitting the shooter to the gun, not the gun to the shooter.” Exactly so! Male or female, old or young, the key is selecting a weapon that fits the shooter, that she or he can control comfortably, and that fits her or his lifestyle in terms of carry-ability and such. If you don’t have that, you’ve not accomplished the goal, I think.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Liz S says:

    I get the discrimination at gun shops — to point that if it’s an older male I don’t even bother to try to get his attention. There may be a man over 40 who isn’t a chauvinist pig at a gun store, I just haven’t met him yet.

    I unfortunately learned how to shoot on a full sized, all metal .45 ACP. Which I shot the first couple magazines well and then started getting really nervous. I did get to later shoot a 9mm which was better, but I still had a ball of nerves. Until I got my .22 S&W M&P. Everything on that gun is perfect ergonomics for me, I love that trigger so much and with the tiny amount of kick, that .22 has helped me build a LOT of confidence and comfort shooting. I can now go pick up my tiny Ruger LCP, a 9mm, and a compact .45 ACP and shoot them all accurately and confidently.

    I picked a .22 which was very similar in fit and usage to the other semi-autos my husband has. It has really helped me transition to and from the other guns, and whenever I’m even a little shaky, I go back to that .22 — it’s kinda like a safety blanket.

    • I’ve been lucky – most of the gun shop folks I run into locally are males over 40, and the vast majority have been supportive and not chauvinistic. I realize this is not a uniform experience everywhere, which saddens me.

      Going back to the .22 when we need to practice fundamentals is a good habit, and one I’ve heard several instructors recommend.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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