“What’s the best handgun for a woman?” It’s one of the most commonly questions asked in the world of guns.Let’s drop a truth bomb right off the bat here…that’s kind of a nonsensical question.
The fact is, firearms don’t recognize gender. The “best handgun for a woman” is the same as the “best handgun for a man.” So the best one is the firearm that most closely matches the shooter’s ABILITY to shoot with their intended PURPOSE for shooting.
With all other things being equal, handguns perform the same way whether a man or a woman is pulling the trigger.
Determining the Best Handgun for Women
Generic gender has much less to do with the equation than a host of other factors – which are the same regardless of sex. If you really want to evaluate the question, here are some other issues that might better determine what the “best” handgun is:
- What is the purpose of the firearm?
For example: Is it primarily for self-defense in the home? Will she be carrying it on her person? Is it for target shooting? Is it for hunting?
- How much firearms training/experience does she have?
For example: Has she only seen firearms in movies and never shot one herself? Has she been taught by a friend who understands firearms? Does she have professional training under her belt?
- How much time is she planning to dedicate to training and practice?
For example: Does she realize that, like driving a car, simply buying something doesn’t make one proficient at using it?
- In what kind of space will she be shooting?
For example: If she’s using it for home defense, is she living in an apartment with shared walls? Are there children, pets or other adults in the vicinity to consider when firing a gun?
- Does she have any disabilities that might affect her ability to handle and shoot a firearm?
For example: Is range of motion limited? Does she have a condition that could strike unexpectedly, and render her unable to shoot accurately? (NOTE: Gender is NOT a disability!)
These are much more important questions than simply choosing a gun based on the shooter’s gender. Nevertheless, let me make some observations about a female getting ready to purchase a firearm, and wanting the answer to that very “basic” question: What IS the best handgun for a particular woman and her particular circumstances?
Truth be told, a gun shop isn’t usually a conducive atmosphere for figuring out the answer to that question, or for learning what you are capable of managing when it comes to guns. Although gun shop attitudes are slowly changing to embrace what the industry sees as a growing opportunity to sell women guns, (according to TheGuardian.com, there are still plenty of guys out there in gun sales who have a knee-jerk reaction to a newbie female. So they sell them a revolver.
Now, there’s not a thing wrong with revolvers. My first gun was a revolver. One of the reasons I was told to go this path is because they also are more “forgiving,” meaning they don’t have as many moving parts as a semi-automatic. I later learned that this isn’t necessarily true.
I was also told that “revolvers don’t jam like a semi-autos.” That, too, is a scary fallacy.
In fact, I remember one day I was on the shooting range with my trusty .44. And when I aimed and pulled the trigger, it didn’t go off, even though it was clearly loaded. I looked at it with disbelief. Revolvers weren’t supposed to fail. I could see it had ammunition in the cylinder. I squeezed the trigger, taking it off the target, and eyeing it quizzically.
The bullet unexpectedly shot out of the .44, and hit the ceiling. I was lucky I wasn’t staring down the barrel! (These were my early days of shooting, mind you. But it could happen to anyone.)
Frankly, a friend of mine who has decades of experience working in an indoor shooting range claims that the average revolver will experience almost as many failures as the better semi-autos.
Here’s a hard, fast truth you should memorize…
Any machine made by man can, and will, experience malfunctions
But it’s still true that revolvers make excellent defensive handguns for several other reasons.
For one, they’re easy to load. There aren’t any tight magazines to force your ammo into. The cylinder swings out and you can drop the rounds in without any resistance. Then the cylinder swings closed. Easy peasy. And they’re simple to operate. All you have to do once it’s loaded is put the sights on the target, and pull the trigger. (Assuming you’ve taken some practice lessons!)
The problem is there are a plethora of revolver types on the market. Unfortunately, women are all too often steered to the wrong revolver.
Even Smith and Wesson, a wonderful manufacturer of some of the best revolvers in the world, sadly caters to this common misconception. Case in point: they make the airweight-framed “Lady Smith” revolver, a ridiculously lightweight gun with an equally ridiculous pink grip.
Why? Well to understand why guns like the “Lady Smith” do a disservice to the average woman, we need to back up just a little and explore one of the basic tenets of firearms physics.
FACT: The bigger and heavier a handgun is, the more IT absorbs the recoil. Conversely, the smaller and lighter a handgun is, the more recoil the shooter feels.
So, when a first-time buyer is looking for a home-defense handgun, and a salesman (or supposedly more knowledgeable shooter) shows her a small, snubnose, airweight, 5 shot .38 Special, she’s usually not getting all the facts. Sure – it feels good in her hand…in the gun shop.
It’s little! It’s light! Dare I say, it’s even kinda cute!? This kind of gun is usually a slam dunk sale for the gun shop.
But on the range, it is one of the most difficult guns to shoot that’s ever been designed! The short sight-radius reduces effective accuracy. And the light weight of the gun means it kicks. Like a mule. Now if it’s for use as a purse gun where size and weight are important, it can work. But for home defense it’s much too small, holds far too few rounds, and kicks way too much!
What is the right revolver?
So, you may ask, what is the right revolver? Well, for on your nightstand or under the counter in your business, it should meet certain criteria.
- It should be all steel (a lightweight gun is actually a disadvantage in this application).
- It should be in a minimum caliber of .38 Special or 9mm.
- It should have a barrel length of at least 4 inches.
- And it should be double-action.
What I just described is the firearm police in this country have carried on their hips almost exclusively for 100 years before semi-autos became the norm. Because they work. When it comes to revolvers, I’d suggest you take a look at what Smith & Wesson or Ruger offer. You really can’t go wrong with either make.
Semi-automatics as an option
Next, I want to talk about semi-automatics as an option. But before I get into the details, let’s address the only biological difference that can slightly come into play when it comes to gender – upper body strength.
While it may be true that usually, a woman has less upper body strength than a man, it’s also true that it takes very little strength to effectively shoot most firearms.
I’ve known men who hate the recoil of a .45. And I’ve known women who can rock the recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun. To be honest though, when I watch the average man rack the slide on the average semi-auto handgun, I get a little jealous. Men make it look so easy! I’m no shrinking violet, but I personally admit to having less upper-body strength than most men. I also have to admit that I’ve learned to say, “So what!?”
Because with a little practice and determination, nearly any woman can rack nearly any slide. And this is truly one of the only applications in firearm handling that requires upper body strength. But shooting the gun won’t ever happen if you can’t get it loaded first. So here are some tips for getting ‘er done…
First, we need to look at two basic semi-auto pistol actions – pistols with hammers versus striker-fired pistols.
As a rule, the striker-fired pistols (e.g., Glocks, Springfield XDs, S&W SD9VEs and the M&P Shield series) are easier. This is because the lack of a hammer means the slide does not have to cam (or push) the hammer back as it’s traveling backward.
This camming action on pistols with a hammer (e.g., any 1911, Sig P226s, P229s and the like, Beretta 92s, Browning Hi Powers, HK USPs) can make the action of drawing the slide to the rear require a great deal more strength.
But there is an easy work-around! It’s simple and seems oh-so-logical now that I’ve discovered it. You just cock the hammer first! Voila! Now the slides on these pistols are as easy to operate as the hammerless striker-fired guns.
You can try out a lot of different gun-handling actions in a gun shop. Except actually loading the gun. Most gun shops frown on that.
So, after the purchase, what surprises many women (including me) is how hard it can be to load the magazine – Especially a modern magazine that holds 12 or 13 or even 17 rounds. Those last few rounds can seem damn near impossible! Now, much like with the operation of the slide, you can and will get better at it.
But when it comes to shoving all those bullets in the mag, there actually is an easier way! As men look at you with superior smirks on their faces, they might forget to mention that, because hand strength and finger coordination varies so much from person to person, regardless of gender, THERE’S A TOOL FOR THAT!
Tool for loading magazines
Actually, there are many. And they’re pretty inexpensive. My favorite is from a company called UPLULA – and it makes loading magazines as easy as squeezing a lemon. Even most accomplished pistol shooters will tell you they prefer to load magazines with this, or a similar, tool. It’s less stress on your hands and fingers. Frankly, it’s just easier! And if you’re spending a day at the range, you should be spending more time shooting, not fighting to get the last round in your magazine.
And here’s another dirty little secret – the difficulty in loading a tight magazine is mostly in your head – which means you can overcome it!
Once I learned that neat trick and found myself with a Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm, I eventually found out that, with a little practice (and a lot of determination) my finger strength vastly improved. Add in some confidence and familiarity with my gun, and in no time, I could rack the slide back, with authority. (Even with the hammer down!)
Unfortunately, it seems we women often live down to expectations – especially in traditionally male-dominated areas.
As a woman who’s done it, I’m here to tell the woman of average female upper-body strength that you can do it too! You CAN load the magazine. You CAN rack the slide. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t be discouraged. With practice, you can, and will, master every aspect of your firearm.
So regardless of handgun type – semi-auto or revolver, the physics of the subject dictate that you should go not with the smallest and lightest, but with the biggest, heaviest handgun you can steadily hold on target for long enough to pull your booger hook through the bang switch (as my Marine friend likes to say). It’s not a matter of what feels lightest and smallest. You’re not doing a Pilates class with it in your hand. It’s a matter of shootability and effectiveness.
You CAN handle a semi-auto. You DO NOT want a small, light gun for home defense purposes. And pink grips don’t do a thing for you.
I’m curious what handgun or guns you personally like? And, of course, what do you like about it? Let me know below in the comments below. I read every single one! And I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.