"What's the best gun for my wife?" "Top 10 Guns for Women." "Buying my daughter her first handgun, hope she likes it." "This is all you need, so small and light, plus it's pink!" The list goes on and on. How many times have you seen something like that on social media or in the gun shop? How many times is it you asking those very questions? For some reason we've allowed an air of mysticism to fall over the realm of women and guns.
Somehow what you have between your legs changes what you should have in your pants. Why is this? Primarily it seems to be marketing hype aimed at low information buyers. Unfortunately, most of the community is pretty low information, so bad data becomes widely accepted truth. Luckily trends are beginning to change, slowly but surely. Today we'll look into options to more effectively arm yourself and your loved ones, regardless of gender.
Why Does She Want or Need a Gun?
The first thing you need to ask is why? Why does she want or need a gun? Is it for fun, conceal carry, home defense, competition or something else? That will drive the type and style of firearm we look for. Most people find it challenging to carry something like a Roland Special, but have no issue with one on their nightstand. Just wanting to target shoot? Maybe she can save a few bucks and stick to a rimfire round.
Does she even want a gun at all, or is this you imposing your will onto someone else? If a gun is your idea, this can go sideways real quick. An unwilling gun owner, man or woman, is at best going to stick the thing in a drawer, untouched, until the day they leave our mortal plane. At worst, they may hurt or kill themselves or someone else accidentally, or have it taken by criminals to have the same done by those with ill intent. An uninterested party will likely not seek training, nor desire to even learn basic safety and administrative use of their firearm.
A gun is not a magic talisman, it is a tool like anything else. This tool takes time and effort to wield effectively. Failure to do so can be life altering. Again, why does she need or want a gun?
Is She Willing to Use It?
Once you've established why she wants a gun, it's time for the next question. Is she willing to use a gun to defend herself? That she may potentially take a life to preserve hers or that of others? We do not shoot to kill--we shoot to stop the threat. That being said, we are still applying lethal force in defense of life, which may result in death.
When I ask this of students and customers, I frequently hear folks say they'll just hold the attacker at gun point until police arrive. While this is possible in some circumstances, it will not always be the case. Hardened criminals can tell if someone has a capacity for violence. Pulling your gun may stop some threats, but not all of them. Those who do not stop will take your gun from you; potentially using it against you, or on someone else later.
Not for Everyone
If she is not capable of employing lethal force, she needs to look elsewhere. This is applicable for both women and men. Luckily there is a wide variety of alternative defensive tools. My top recommendation is pepper spray. Sabre Red, or POM are both highly rated in terms of effectiveness. Both come in concealable packages that are fast into action. I've carried both with relative ease, though POM takes the cake for concealability. Whatever you go with, look for something with 1.33% major capsaicinoid content, in either a stream or cone pattern for maximum effectiveness.
If she is psychologically willing to defend herself with a firearm, she needs to get training. A conceal carry class or less may be your legal minimum to carry, but those courses are sorry at best. It is true that many people successfully defend themselves with zero training every year. However, many people do not. Her chances of success will increase substantially, with proper training. Not only does she need to learn how to effectively employ her firearm, but she also needs to learn local laws, use of force, de-escalation, empty handed skills, and more.
This is a lifelong journey, and something to be taken seriously. Courses such as Shivworks ECQC, or Rangemaster Combative Pistol are excellent for establishing mindset and a realistic look at threats. Even if she opts to use less lethal only, courses such as Agile Training & Consulting OC Spray and Less Lethal Options can give her an edge.
Factors when Selecting a Firearm for Women
The best way of looking for a gun for women is like you're doing it for anyone else. It needs to fulfill several things before being considered. Function over form is the phrase of the day here. Many gun shops will point you at something small and pink, with no regard to operation of the gun. Aesthetics is a legitimate concern, but not at the cost of function.
The gun must be reliable on a wide scale, not just a few random "works great!" comments on Facebook. This is a life saving tool. Everyone is budget constrained, but that doesn't mean we have to cheap out on the gun. When the chips are down, we want something that will function effectively in adverse conditions. Virtually any of your service handguns are a good starting point; Glock, CZ, FNH, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch, etc are mainstays of military and law enforcement for good reason.
While Ruger, Taurus, and others may have guns that seem to work well, their track records don't stand up to those listed before. Whatever you choose, be sure to vet it at the range before betting your life on it. Even the best manufacturers can put out a lemon from time to time.
Ease of Operation
The gun needs to be something she's capable of operating. Factors here are the same across all firearms, but her choices will vary based upon her physical size and abilities. This is one area where women are at a disadvantage. Most guns are designed around men, making the selection for the average smaller statured woman a challenge. Hand size is especially important here, as that determines the ability to reach the controls of a firearm. Shootable, reliable handguns are beginning to come in smaller sizes, but options are slim compared to their larger brethren.
This means an appropriate trigger reach for her while using a proper grip. If she cannot effectively reach the trigger, it's a no-go. The trigger needs to be something she can press without shaking or struggling. Magazines need to drop free, with a release requiring only one hand for activation. She needs to be able to easily lock the action open to reload, clear malfunctions, disassemble the gun and unload the gun. Recoil needs to not be excessive to aid in shooting. She will gradually learn to control a gun better if she shoots regularly, but if recoil is scary or uncomfortable, she won't want to practice. When she does practice learning becomes difficult due to the added stress from a sub-optimal gun.
For shooters with small hands, or low strength, I've had excellent luck with the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ 380. Its slide is extremely easy to operate, and recoil is fairly low. The .380ACP isn't the most effective round, but it can certainly get the job done with proper shot placement. The single stack frame aids those with smaller hands, and the magazines are extremely easy to load as well.
For a little more firepower for those with small hands, the Glock 48 is a solid choice. It brings ten rounds of 9mm in a compact package that is surprisingly shootable. As a man with medium size hands, I actually prefer it, ergonomically, to my Glock 19, though I carry a G34.
Widely Available Ammunition
The gun needs to be in a common caliber with readily available ammunition. If you can't buy the ammo at your local stores, look elsewhere. 9mm NATO, 380ACP, 38 Special, 22LR will be your most shootable calibers and extremely common. If you can't get bullets, you can't shoot, bottom line. Currently there aren't many people suggesting boutique calibers, though the odd comment still appears on occasion. .32ACP and .32H&R Magnum can also be viable in certain circumstances, but are far less common than the above. Women don't need something weak, they need something effective.
Widely Available Parts and Accessories
Your gun needs to be common in order to find good holsters, magazines, spare parts, etc. Many people buy an unusual gun, then are forced into subpar gear because of it. I love CZ, FN, and other brands, but their market support pales in comparison to Glock. Choose something less common, like a Ruger Security 9 or EAA Witness and you'll be even more limited. Again, the big name, duty grade guns will be your best bet here. Not only will availability be better, but so will prices in most cases.
Try before You Buy
Find a range that allows you to rent firearms and have her try a variety. This may take a couple of trips to digest everything, but it's worth the cost of entry. Most modern pistols are largely similar, especially among duty grade offerings, with minor ergonomic differences. Some people experience overload when it's time to buy. Much like choosing a movie on Netflix, the choices are so wide that people freeze, unable to decide for fear of missing out. A few women I know spent over two years continually renting guns before making their first purchase. Be intelligent in your decision making, but be decisive.
The more educated she is on the subject, the better decision she can make. If it's her gun, she needs to choose it. Having knowledgeable people guiding her is wise, but she'll be more invested with her own decision. Good brands to stick with are Glock, Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, CZ, FN, H&K, and Walther.
A Small Selection
Most likely she will go with a semiautomatic pistol. These account for the vast majority of firearms on the market, and have the widest variety. While gun selection is incredibly personal, there are some general options which are good for most shooters. Things like the Glock 48, S&W Shield, Glock 19, CZ P10c, Glock 43, S&W Shield EZ 380 are reliable and common. A larger gun is easier to shoot, but can be more challenging to conceal depending on clothing.
Revolvers are more often suggested for women than men. The idea is that women will not learn to operate their guns. This makes the straightforward operation of a revolver ideal for the low information gun owner. While this idea is offensive, I think it applies to almost all shooters, regardless of gender. Nearly every gun owner I know struggles to administratively handle their guns, forgetting the steps between their rare range trips.
Revolver selection is slim compared to semiautos, but this simplifies things. Smith & Wesson used to be the big name in the game, but their quality control has dropped substantially in the last 25 years. Generally speaking, Ruger will be your best bet for new production revolvers. My preference for a concealed revolver is the Ruger LCR or LCRx. For caliber selection, options in .22WMR, .327Federal Magnum, or .38 Special will be ideal. If choosing .327Fed you will load 32H&R Magnum for reduced recoil with similar terminal performance. When choosing a revolver in .38 Special, I recommend using Federal Gold Medal Match 148gr wadcutters. These provide extremely low recoil while being highly reliable, accurate, and offering solid terminal performance.
Training and Education, for Women, by Women
Earlier I mentioned training. The majority of the training and writing industry, much like the larger firearms community, is made up of men. While this can have certain advantages, we don't always know what is best for women. Anatomy is different. The wiring of our brains are frequently different. There is a lot of crossover, but sometimes we fall short. This is where knowing a solid selection of women instructors and writers comes into play.
The perspective of other women is excellent and may boost her confidence. Some excellent female instructors, who also write and produce videos are Melody Lauer, Tatiana Whitlock, and Annette Evans. I've personally met Annette and Melody, both are extremely knowledgeable and great people. Consuming their content has made me wiser, showing me things I'd never considered as a man. From holster placement to styles of learning, sometimes the big, burly, male instructor isn't the right choice.
In the time since writing this piece my opinion on the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ has changed due to more exposure to the type. In both 9mm and .380ACP versions, reliability has been poor across multiple shooters. This is specifically due to a high number of failures to feed, and stovepipe stoppages with live and spent rounds. Additionally, the design of the grip safety has been problematic with shooters failing to deactivate the lever. I cannot speak to the reliability of the S&W Equalizer, though results could be better due to its use of the Shield Plus magazine.