Buying Little Guns

20130112-223457.jpgAs those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I was at a Ladies Night event at my local range today. Two female friends of mine decided to go with me, and one of them wanted to show off a new gun her husband had bought her recently.

“D. said ‘It’s so cute!'” my other friend reported she’d said. I smiled, but inwardly I had a sneaking suspicion about what was coming. “D. said she wants you to look at it before she shoots it, because her husband got it used, and she also wants to know how to clean it and what kind of ammo to get.” I promised I’d take a look before the Ladies Night.

When we gathered at the appointed time to drive up to the range, D. produced a cardboard box. Carefully she opened it up and removed her new firearm. “See, it’s cute!” she said with a smile, handing it to me.

This is what she handed me:


For those who haven’t seen one before, the Davis P-380 was one of the original “Saturday night specials”, a straight blowback pistol from the ’80s that was inexpensively made and plagued with reliability issues. They were susceptible to broken firing pins and frame cracks due to their construction (zinc alloys rather than steel), had microscopic sights and no slide stop, and were an early target of gun bans. Sued into bankruptcy in the late 1990s, Davis Industries’ tooling and inventory were bought by Cobra Enterprises, who still manufactures the pistols.

While I field stripped the gun and checked it out, my friend and I talked about the pros and cons of small pocket pistols. The gun was a bit dirty but seemed in decent shape, so we headed out to the range, with a detour to a sporting goods score where D. was able to score the last two boxes of .380 FMJ ball ammo in the place

At the range, we loaded the gun up and D. put the first five-shot magazine through the gun. “It really kicks a lot!” she exclaimed after the first shot. “My hand hurts!” Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she took aim at some steel targets and squeezed her way through another long, hard trigger press, and then another. When she was done, our mutual friend and I, and another friend of mine who was there, each took a turn with the Davis before passing the gun back to D.

To its credit, we had only two malfunctions – one double feed, and one light primer strike – in a box and a half of ammo. Unlike some .380 ACP pistols I’ve shot in the past, we didn’t log any failures to extract. Although the sights on the gun were abysmal, all three of us were able to land hits on a human silhouette steel target at 20 yards or so, and I landed four of my last five on an eight-inch plate.

D. soldiered gamely on, firing more than a box of the .380 ACP ammo through the little Davis. At the end of the evening, asked her what she thought of it. “Well,” she allowed after a moment, “I think it’ll be all right for home in case of burglars, so I’ll keep it for that, but I really want something a little bigger to shoot with.”

Lessons learned?

  • Unless you’re very knowledgeable and know what you’re getting, a used gun should probably be inspected and test fired before you purchase it. In this case, my friend’s Cobra turned out to be fine, but what if she hadn’t had such good luck? Personally I probably wouldn’t ever buy a used gun without a gunsmith’s inspection, but even if you rely on a knowledgeable friend, the time to inspect the weapon is before you fork over cash, not afterward.
  • Learn the care and feeding of your weapons. The Davis/Cobra design relies for disassembly on a hooked latch at the rear of the slide which also retains the striker and its spring. I spent some time going over cleaning, disassembly, and routine maintenance with D. because I think it’s important that she know how to operate and care for her own guns.
  • For women, small guns are not necessarily better. The Davis/Cobra pistols ARE small, and they ARE cute. They’re also hard to get a good grip on, hard to aim accurately, and challenging to disassemble. Add to that a long, very heavy trigger pull, a stiff recoil spring, and no external hammer or slide lock, and it would be hard to conceive something that more fully challenges a new female shooter. A small gun is not an advantage, and it’s not a good choice for most new female shooters. And yet, guys keep buying their wives and girlfriends and digress and sisters little bitty featherweight revolvers and semiautos.

My bottom line is simple. Buying a gun is like buying bras: What looks good to the guy doesn’t necessarily fit and feel comfortable for YOU. If you’ll be the one shooting it, you really need to be involved in the purchase decision and you need to find a gun that fits well, feels good, and works well for you. Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for frustration.

That’s why we made another decision at the range: If D. wants another gun in the future, we need to plan a ladies’ shopping trip to the gun store, where SHE can be there, ask questions and get what feels good and works well for her. If you want to buy a new gun, this should be YOUR rule or thumb too.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Another one out of the ballpark, Tammy. 🙂 Same thing goes for the “featherweight” guns of regular size.

    I used to have a featherweight .38sp. revolver. I hated to shoot it, but put it in with the other guns I have for students to try. I would have them shoot that, then the Ruger SP101 with .38sp ammo. I never had even one lady continue to think the featherweight was the gun she really wanted after that.

    And then, in a moment of insanity, I sold the gun, and now I just have to hope that at least one student brings that or something similar. It’s almost impossible to DESCRIBE the problems adequately to someone who thinks they must have a super lightweight gun. They wind up learning from hard experience, and several have called me saying they wish they’d listened to me.

    • Very true about lightweight guns. I see a lot of new shooters coming to the range with Ruger LCRs which they struggle mightily to control and which do not look fun at all for them. I often wonder if their well-meaning husbands have turned them off of shooting, and if they’d have been more enthused about shooting if they’d started with something easier to control.

  2. We are lucky enough to have a great gun shop (Hoffman’s: Guns For the Good Guys) that has a range and lets you rent anything they sell to try out. I tried out the Ruger LCP, and had two misfires. I was told I was “limp wristing” a common problem in a light gun. I did end up buying the Ruger and have put somewhat over 100 rounds through it with zero misfires. I started with 15 yards and went back to 20 with no change in accuracy. I found I was more accurate one handed, and that which hand I used didn’t matter. I’m very pleased with my purchase. I may eventually switch to a larger gun, but I chose this one because it would be the easiest to conceal. But there was no way I was buying it without trying it first! I shot my friend’s little hammerless .38 revolver and didn’t like how it felt at all.

    • Michael says:

      Something you might consider is the Taurus TCP. It fits the hands better, and has the double springs, this does wonders to make it easier to shoot. We sold them for quite a bit less than the LCP, and in my opinion, and in the opinion of everyone that bought them, they were an easier shooting gun than the LCP.

      • Thanks for this, Michael – it may be a good suggestion for some of my readers. Unfortunately, the TCP isn’t on the California Handgun Roster which makes them challenging to get here. (The Cobra isn’t on the list either, but since my friend got it used, the roster wasn’t applicable to that.)

    • Trying out a gun before you buy is definitely a good idea, and I personally would avoid shopping at places that didn’t give me this option. “Limp writing” is definitely a challenge in lightweight, lower powered guns because they have so little spare energy to operate the action that your body doesn’t have to soak up much of it to leave the gun unable to function correctly.

      All else being equal, I’ve found semiautomatic pistols more comfortable for me to shoot than revolvers irrespective of caliber and size. It just depends what feels good for you.

      Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Mrs. Groundhog says:

    Loved your comment about buying guns and bras! What looks good to them may not work for you, so very true.

  4. Grant Cunningham’s excellent Gun Digest Book of the Revolver has a sub-section on females selecting guns, and another on guys trying to select guns for their girls. His conclusions (although obviously revolver-focused) are in line with yours.

    Shooting .357 in my SP101 (3″) is comfortable enough that I enjoy practice (particularly with .38 specials), but I wouldn’t want to go any smaller for that size of round. The weight is comforting, too; guns should have mass.

    • I haven’t read Grant’s book, so thanks for this viewpoint. I’ve only a modest level of experience with revolvers, and I think if I was going to employ one for self-defense, I’d choose something like yours. I watch women at the range all the time fighting to control Ruger LCRs and those silly scandium snubbies, and it dismays me to no end that those women might form their opinion of shooting based on that experience.

      Thanks for your comment, and for reading!

  5. Brian C says:

    You don’t want “cute” You want badguy whizzing on himself for thinking you were good prey and is now staring down the biggest hollow tube with the meanest hollowpoint pointing at his dome.
    My wife LOVES my all steel 1991A1…
    I still don’t believe her when she says bigger ain’t better though 😉

    • I love the M1911, too, so I know how your wife feels. As for bigger being better, don’t they also say something about the virtues of accuracy over speed? 😉

  6. Tracy says:

    I love my S&W .38spl. air weigh revolver ! It extremely accurate and reliable and that’s why I carry it. Yes it kicks but I shot it enough that it doesn’t’ bother me.

    • Tracy, this matches what I’ve seen with other people – lightweight revolvers can work well for folks, but they require a lot of training and practice to really get comfortable with.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  7. J. Simmons says:

    I try to get new gun owners ( especially female shooters) to look past the ‘tiny cute guns”. At our store we have a small bullet trap/target that we use for testing all of the used guns we sell. Anytime that a prospective new gun owner comes in and decides that they want to own a gun, we encourage them to test it out in back. This allows them to get a feel for the recoil of the firearm they choose.
    P.S. The top ten selling guns in our store for female shooters.
    1. Sig Sauer 228/229 9mm
    2. Browning Hi-Power 9mm
    3. 1911A1 9mm
    4. Ruger SP-101 .357 Mag
    5. Ruger GP-100 (4″-5″ barrel) .357 Mag
    6. Sig Sauer P250 Compact
    7. Bersa Thunder .380 ACP
    8. AR-15
    9. Kahr/Auto Ord M-1 Carbine
    10. Kel-Tec Sub 2000 9mm carbine, Sig Sauer 226 mag-well. ( the 228/229 will accept the full size 226 magazines, and a few of my customers like having slightly higher capacity spares for their sidearms.)

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