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Here is one shooting woman’s answer to this perennially recurring question. These are the things you need to know and remember as you shop for a handgun for her.
The best defensive firearm for someone who doesn’t want one, or who won’t practice with it, is …
This is true even if the person is someone you love. It is true even if you really want her to carry a gun, and even if you have picked out a gun for her and pressured her into taking it. If she does not intend to practice with it, there is no point in getting her a gun. A gun is nothing but a dangerous nuisance to someone who is not motivated to learn to use it properly and well.
Yes, I’m heartless. But it’s true anyway.
If this describes your woman, go do something else because the rest of this article isn’t for you.
There is no one best caliber or gun for all women.
Oddly enough, women are all individuals. Asking what caliber or gun is best for a woman is exactly the same thing as asking what caliber or gun is best for a man. And the answer is, “It depends.”
While it may be the most important thing about her in your eyes, her sex is simply not much of an issue when it comes to choosing a gun.
Your woman’s physical size (or lack of it) has very little to do with which caliber will be best for her.
I’ve seen tiny little women with great big grins on their faces as they hammered away with full-powered “manly” guns. I’ve also seen sturdy-looking Amazon-woman types wincing from what I consider to be mild recoil. And vice versa, of course.
What I’m getting at here is that it doesn’t matter if she weighs 90 pounds soaking wet or if she’s taller than you are and twice as fluffy. Her hand size will matter when it is time to pick a platform, but the size of her body isn’t going to tell you much that is useful about her tolerance for recoil or the caliber she’ll prefer shooting.
The caliber she’ll prefer probably isn’t the one you expect.
Some women love big calibers but hate small calibers. Some love .40s and hate everything else. Some hate .380s but love 9mms. Some find the recoil of a .40 too spiky for their tastes but find a .45 pleasant to shoot.
Women are individuals, just like men. You can’t pick a caliber for her, or even predict which caliber she’ll prefer, because you can’t crawl inside her skin and feel what she feels when she pulls the trigger.
There’s more to choosing a gun than caliber!
Here we’re really getting into it. Sorry if this bothers anyone’s sacred cows, but even a tiny little woman with tiny little hands doesn’t necessarily need, won’t necessarily like, and possibly won’t even be able to shoot a tiny little gun.
There’s no point in getting her a .380 to avoid recoil, if the platform is a straight blowback, super lightweight gun which has lousy sights and a stiff trigger. A difficult little gun doesn’t suddenly become easy to shoot simply because it eats a lesser caliber. Sights, trigger pull, basic ergonomics, and weight will all have their effects.
You know this when you’re picking out a gun for yourself. You may want to remember it when you’re helping her pick out a gun, too.
Beginners really should start with a .22 — but that may not be best for her and her situation.
Another sacred cow here.
All other things being equal, someone who starts out with a .22 is going to spend less time fighting the flinch, and will thus find it easier to learn to shoot well. The ammunition is cheap and plentiful, so you have fewer excuses to avoid the range, and we all know that more practice is better. It’s not as loud as most other rounds, and so shooting a .22 is generally a more pleasant experience for newbies who aren’t yet accustomed to the sound of gunfire.
So it’s great if she can learn on a .22. More people have probably learned to shoot with a .22 than with any other single caliber.
If she’s only going to own one gun of her own, and needs a defense gun, a .22 is really a poor choice. The .22 is simply not well suited for defense work. While lots of people have been killed with .22s over the years, the record shows that the .22 caliber is generally poor at stopping the attacker (which is the sine qua non for a defense gun).
It is notably easier to learn to shoot with a larger caliber than it is to improve the terminal ballistics of a .22.
Furthermore, if she’s excited about learning to shoot a larger caliber, it’s probably not worth insisting she start with the .22. Let her learn on the gun she wants to learn on and even if it’s a steeper learning curve she’ll be more likely to hike up it.
Hand size, that is. Since women generally have smaller hands than men generally do, and since most firearms are designed to fit the male hand, recommendations for women’s guns usually focus on guns which are suitable for people with small hands. If her hands are very small, finding a firearm which fits her hand might be an issue. It is worthwhile to keep looking until she finds one that does fit.
Remember, people have different-sized hands. You really cannot pick out a gun for her without her active involvement because your hands are not the same as her hands. A gun that fits your hands quite well might fit her hands like socks on a rooster. She needs to check gun fit herself to be certain it fits her hands, to be sure she can reach and use all of the controls.
Just as she would always try on a pair of shoes before buying them, she should try on and, if possible, fire the gun or one like it before you purchase. Many gun stores and ranges have rental guns. While rental fees can be expensive, paying them can often save considerable money and hassle in the long run.
If she’s very petite, and it’s rifles or shotguns you’re shopping for, check out this list of long guns suitable for small-statured shooters.
Guys, your wives and girlfriends wear pretty underthings that they know no one else is going to see. They wear feminine, lacy underthings even when they aren’t in the mood and have no intention of getting into the mood. 1
Women wear things like that even when no one else will see it simply because we like to wear pretty things. Pretty things make us happy.
If you want your lady to be happy tucking a gun underneath her clothes next to her pretty underthings, it’s a good idea to help her look for a pretty gun and a pretty holster to carry it in.
Oh, one more thing: her fashion sense is better than yours. If she says a flashy gun is pretty, don’t argue. It’s not a pimp gun if a woman is wearing it.
There is 2 no such thing as a healthy adult woman who cannot be taught to retract the slide of a semi-automatic handgun.
If yours can’t, it’s probably because no one has ever shown her the correct technique. Get her to a class.
She doesn’t have to carry in her purse.
All other things being equal, on-body carry in a dedicated holster is a lot more secure than off-body carry in a purse or bag. It’s also faster to access and easier to use in self defense.If your wife or girlfriend is willing to make minor wardrobe changes and is stubborn enough to keep trying until she finds the gear she needs, she can conceal a firearm underneath regular women’s clothing and still look like the attractive woman she is.
Because there are significant advantages to on-body carry, you do yourself and her a serious disfavor if you simply assume that she will carry in her purse. She would be better served if you helped her explore the pros and cons of both types of carry, and then encouraged her to purchase whatever tools 3 she needs in order to make her chosen type of carry work for her.
However, if your wife has given on-body carry serious consideration, and opts to carry in her purse instead, you’re smart when you support her choices. While her choices may not be the same as the ones you would make, they are her choices. And she is almost certainly better off armed than unarmed, regardless of how she decides to carry.
Finding a holster is a different ballgame for her than it is for you.
Newsflash: her body is shaped differently than yours. Your cast-off old holster probably won’t work well for her. But there are holsters that work particularly well for female body shapes, and there are holstermakers who specialize in women’s gear. It is worthwhile to seek them out.
You are probably not the right person to teach her how to shoot the gun you just bought her.
Yes, really. Sorry.
It boils down to three groups of problems: safety concerns, instructional difficulties, and emotional considerations. Of these, safety is the most important (and most often overlooked) aspect. You can certainly enjoy going to the range together, though! Just let your range time together be pure shooting fun, without taking on the instructional burden.
By Kathy Jackson, Cornered Cat. Shared with permission. Kathy's book, "Cornered Cat: A Woman's Guide to Concealed Carry" is a must-read!
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