“What’s the best handgun for women?” It’s one of the most common questions asked in the world of guns. Let’s drop a truth bomb right off the bat here: that’s a 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. The best handguns most closely match the shooter’s ability to fire. All things considered, handguns perform the same way whether a man or a woman is pulling the trigger.
Determining the Best Handgun for Women
In this article:
- Any Machine Made by Man Can, and Will, Experience Malfunctions
- What Is the Right Revolver?
- Semi-automatics as an Option
- Tool for Loading Magazines
Gender has nothing to do with the whole thing. Below are the things that actually determine what the best handgun is:
What is the purpose of the firearm?
Is it primarily for self-defense at 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?
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?
How much time is she planning to dedicate to training and practice?
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?
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?
Is her range of motion limited? Does she have a condition that could strike unexpectedly and render her to unable to shoot accurately? (NOTE: Gender is NOT a disability!)
These are much more important questions than focusing on the shooter’s gender. Some of my observations about a female getting ready to purchase a firearm is looking for an answer to that very “basic” question: What is the best handgun for a particular woman according to her circumstances?
Truth be told, a gun shop isn’t usually conducive to learning what you can manage 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 in gun sales whose initial reaction is to sell a newbie female a revolver.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with revolvers. My first gun was a revolver. One of the reasons I was told to go this path is they are supposed to be more “forgiving” because 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 an incident that happened on the shooting range with my trusty .44. 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.)
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 keep in mind…
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 just drop the rounds in without any resistance. Easy peasy. And they’re simple to operate. All you have to do once it’s loaded is to aim and pull the trigger. (Assuming you’ve taken some lessons!)
The problem is there are a plethora of revolver types on the market. Unfortunately, women are all too often sold the wrong kind.
Even Smith and Wesson, a wonderful manufacturer of some of the best revolvers in the world, is also guilty of doing this. Case in point: they make the air weight-framed “Lady Smith” revolver, which is a ridiculously lightweight gun with an equally ridiculous pink grip.
To understand why guns like the “Lady Smith” do a disservice to women, we need to back up 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, snub nose, air weight, 5 shot .38 special, she’s usually not getting all the facts. Sure, it feels good in her hand in the gun shop, but using it is a whole different story.
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! The short sight-radius reduces effective accuracy, and the lightness of the gun means it kicks – like a mule. Now if it’s to be used 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, it should meet the following criteria:
- It should be all steel.
- It should be in a minimum caliber of .38.
- It should have a barrel length of at least 4 inches.
- 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. 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 brand.
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 you can’t shoot a gun without loading it first. Here are some tips for getting ‘er done…
First, we need to look at two basic semi-auto pistol types: hammers and striker-fired.
Generally, striker-fired pistols (e.g., Glocks, Springfield XDs, S&W SD9VEs, and the M&P Shield series) are easier to use. 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 act of drawing the slide to the rear require a great deal more strength.
But there is an easy workaround! 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 hammer-type pistols are as easy to operate as their striker-fired counterparts.
You can try out a lot of different gun-handling actions in a gun shop. But always make sure that the guns you pick up are not loaded.
So, after the purchase, what surprises many women (including me) is how hard it can be to load the magazine, especially a modern one that holds 12, 13 or even 17 rounds. Those last few rounds can seem damn near impossible! But 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 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
There are many, and they’re pretty inexpensive. My favorite is from a company called UPLULA. It makes loading magazines as easy as squeezing a lemon. Even the most accomplished pistol shooters will tell you they prefer to load magazines with it or a similar tool. It causes 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 that last round into the magazine.
And here is another secret: the difficulty in loading a tight magazine is mostly in your head, which means you can overcome it!
For instance, when I found myself with a Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm pistol, I realized with a little practice (and a lot of determination) my finger strength can vastly improve. In no time, I could rack the slide back with authority – even with the hammer down!)
Unfortunately, it seems we women often settle for less, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields.
As a woman who has done it, I’m here to tell women of average 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- physics 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 ease of use 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.
Check out this amazing video of Jessica Hook in a shooting competition:
Choosing the best handgun is not as easy as visiting a gun store and picking from a few choices. There’s a lot to consider before purchasing like what the gun will be used for, the experience the buyer has with guns, is it for home defense or concealed carry, and more questions to ask. Another thing that’s important is how much the person is willing to learn about firearms. Gather as much information as possible, then pick a gun you’re comfortable using.
I’m curious about what handgun or guns you personally like. What is your self-defense pistol? Let me know in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note – This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.