Firearms Shopping for Women – The Ultimate Guide

The purchase of a new gun for female buyers can be a harrowing experience, but not for the reasons you might be thinking. It has nothing to do with outdated and downright incorrect assumptions about a woman’s ability to handle a firearm, her intelligence, or anything else like that.

What is most often the problem are some old, dogmatic beliefs that, sadly, have been entrenched in gun culture for decades and are refusing to go the way of the dodo.

From condescending advice about tiny revolvers to the recommendation that most calibers are just too tough for women to handle, the average gun shop employee or well-intentioned male relative regrettably turns into a font of advice that are all great examples of what not to do.

Ladies who are trained and experienced are often just as knowledgeable and capable as their male counterparts, and they will often still have to put up with these tired old tropes until the men in the club learn what’s what, and that she can take care of business.

Still an annoyance, but these professional female shooters are not at risk of getting hornswaggled in a gun shop like a new shooter who so happens to be female is.

So this article will be a guide of sorts for the newer and less-experienced lady shooters in the audience. A guide to give you the knowledge and confidence to shop for your gun while swimming upstream against the torrent of bad (if well intentioned) opinions from the other side of the counter.

Assumptions and Average

I am offering my opinion and recommendations in this article with the notion that you are looking for a gun intended for self-defense in one form or another (that’s why you are on this site, right?) and that gun will probably be a pistol of some kind.

I am also assuming that you have very little or only some experience with firearms or shooting in general. If you have much experience with guns in any capacity, plenty of the info in this guide will seem very “old hat” to you.

Basically, I am writing this guide with the intent of keeping you from making the most common mistakes new buyers tend to make when picking out their first handgun, and one of those mistakes is definitely listening to bad advice!

Hey, you don’t know what you don’t know, but guns are expensive and once you take possession of it and use it, it’s yours: you cannot get a refund on it!

Getting the wrong gun is a major pain, literally and figuratively. A poorly chosen gun or one of poor quality will make practice fatiguing and downright not fun, to say nothing of the fact that you just won’t shoot it as well and you’ll need to be good to save your own life in a confrontation with a criminal.

A bad gun will also be prone to malfunctions and other undesirable behavior, and you don’t want that kind of headache on the range or on the street! No ma’am…

woman pointing a handgun

On “Ladies’ Guns”

I will come right out and say it: there is no such thing as an ideal ladies’ gun. There are good guns, and there are bad guns, period. Some guns are better for some individuals based on their unique requirements and traits, and some are worse for the same reasons.

Never, ever, at any time, has sex had anything to do with that in my not inconsiderable experience teaching civilians. So many of the problems that “people” (read: men) attribute to women’s struggles with guns of one make or another boils down to a lack of training and practice, and nothing else. Not a lack of strength, grip, or anything like that hokum that is so often spouted.

Some women may suffer from a weak grip, or lack of strength overall, due to illness, infirmity or whatever, but that is not an endemic condition to women, i.e. women writ large lack adequate strength to handle a semi-auto, or big gun, or whatever.

There are good guns, and there are bad guns. That’s it. The thing is only YOU can decide that. To do that, you need to handle them, shoot them and then make up your mind. I have often made the analogy that buying a gun is a lot like buying underwear: no one else can try them on for you. You have to do it yourself to know if it fits!

With that in mind, the information I will provide you today and the recommendations I’ll make are exactly the same I’d make to my male clients and students, the only difference being I’ll be making a few key comparisons to prepare you, the female reader, to deal with the assured barrage of bunk you’ll be hearing from gun shop employees when it comes to one of my recommendations.

You might end up not preferring one of my recommendations, and that’s fine, but I would still have you consider them since they happen to be superior guns, and Good Gals want superior guns!

Choosing a Pistol

If you have done even quick search on “best handgun” you will have seen about a bajillion hits returned on that very topic. Trust me, everyone has an opinion on this matter and plenty surprisingly enough can backup their reasoning. The point of this is it can be very easy to get buried in options or conflicting advice.

I will try to cut through some of the noise you are bound to encounter in your travels by listing what criteria is important in a self-defense handgun instead of making blanket recommendations based on my preferences alone.

The more of these characteristics you can obtain in one gun, the better, and any pistol that can qualify for all of them is at least suitable for use as a defensive weapon.

The most important trait of a defensive pistol is hands-down reliability. Without reliability as a known quantity, you’ll not have the confidence you must have in your weapon: the confidence to know that the gun will work when you pull the trigger.

If you were to give me a wonderful gun that was impossibly accurate, stupendously easy to shoot and insanely powerful with nary a blip of recoil to boot, but it was iffy on functionality, I would forsake the wonder weapon in a heartbeat to get a plain-Jane gun that I knew would work.

When considering reliable guns, look for reviews that feature significant round counts of 1,000 rounds or more, talk to firearms instructors, ask any friends or family who do a lot of shooting and engage in continual education for their opinions.

In general, you get what you pay for with handguns, and more expensive guns are typically more reliable than cheaper ones. If you can afford to spend about $500 on a new handgun, you’ll be sure of getting one that is extremely reliable.

Speaking of price…

Expected Costs

Don’t believe the fevered wishes of misers and penny-pinchers: cheaper guns are not as good as more expensive ones, nine times out of ten. If you are considering a $300 pistol and a $500 one, get the $500 one and don’t look back.

A cheaper gun may be adequate but there is a direct correlation in this world between price and quality a great deal of the time. If you are struggling to justify that kind of price for a pistol, consider getting a superior gun out of the used case; so long as you are buying used from a good dealer who cares about their clients, you will rarely go wrong with that trick.

I emphasize this because there are more than a few cheap guns which are commonly proffered as an ideal “ladies’ gun.” If I see one more poor gal get a crappy-ass Bersa Thunder foisted on here I swear I’ll puke.

Don’t ever let anyone chide you into one of these no matter how awesome they make it sound. I can guarantee you that none of them have fired more than a handful of rounds through theirs.

Picking a Caliber

I’ll bet you $50 that your choice of caliber when offered a selection of guns that “are good for women” will be either a .38 Special, .380 ACP, .32 ACP or a .22. Bet.

These calibers are commonly forced on women thanks to their status as the default round for a revolver (in the case of the .38) or as cartridges commonly found in tiny, itty bitty semi-autos that flat out suck to shoot unless you are pretty good at handling a gun. The latter three are also known for creating less recoil and so again make for great guns for girls. Right…

When considering what caliber, you will be best served by picking one with two important characteristics. The first is commonality. You want your gun’s ammo to be available everywhere, not some specialty wahoo bullet that you have to mail order.

Second, you will probably be best served as a less-experienced shooter by a cartridge that generates only modest recoil for the size of the gun you are considering.

Let me unpack that. You probably already know that every cartridge is more or less powerful, and that they have a sort of hierarchy, or pecking order. .22s are little pipsqueaks, .25s are only a little bigger than that, 9mm is kind of middle of the road, .45 is the big beefcake and anything with “Magnum” after its name is pretty kickass, right? Pretty close, for sure, so let’s roll with it.

What is important to understand is that guns recoil based on several factors, including what kind of action the gun is, but to keep things simple, think of this as a power-to-weight ratio, kind of like a car.

Considering the exact same caliber, in this example we’ll be using a .380, a larger, heavier gun will recoil less, where a smaller, lighter gun will recoil more. The .380 is never known as a hard-hitting round, but if you stuff it into a tiny and light gun it can be pretty violent to shoot!

Consider a larger and more potent round, a .357 Magnum. In a big, steel-framed revolver of the type that made this round famous, it will have some pretty brisk kick, but nothing too bad.

But, if you were to cram this hotshot into a tiny, light snubnose revolver, of the kind soooo often recommended to women, you would have a fire breathing monster in your hand that is positively painful to fire and very hard to control.

Keep this in mind when considering a smaller gun that is easier to conceal! Just because it chambers a “light” round does not mean the recoil will be light, too! Consider the combo of size and weight plus the cartridge together, and always make sure you can test fire a similar model if in doubt!

Semi-Auto or Revolver?

This is the biggest point of contention yet. The number of shooters out here who should know better that think semi-autos are just too complicated for female shooters to learn as beginners is pretty embarrassing.

For decades in the past and happening plenty often today, the revolver was the default, and I mean only acceptable choice for women. This was not because of any good reason, it was just the way it was.

Like most old saws, there is a grain of truth in it. Semi-auto pistols do take a little more work and practice up front in order to load, fire and unload them efficiently. Revolvers, on the other hand, are the height of simplicity: cylinder out, ammo in, cylinder in, fire. Done.

Semi-autos have detachable magazines, extra buttons and sometimes levers, and to top it all off a little hole where a round can hid, ready to fire, when the magazine is out of the pistol. With a revolver, you always can see right away if the gun is loaded or not just by swinging the cylinder out.

Plus, with a semi-auto, you have to pull back that impossible, monstrously heavy and hard to grip slide! Ack!

Okay, all facetiousness aside, some ladies do struggle with running the slide on a semi-auto, but this is almost always due to a lack of proper technique, not strength. That is a key distinction to make since, compared to revolvers and keeping all things equal, semi-autos confer the most advantages to a shooter, pound for pound.

They recoil less, hold drastically more ammo, are quicker to shoot and reload and easier to shoot well. Revolvers are just easy to load and unload so long as no one is trying to kill you while you do it, and to make things worse these problems are magnified as the revolver gets smaller and smaller.

Revolvers are still viable weapons, but if you are serious about self-defense you owe it to yourself to give a semi-auto a try, and to hell with the yayhoo who makes any claims to the contrary about your inherent ability to do so.

It is here of course that I must recommend you seek out a professional training class if you have not done so already. A good class will give you the ground floor basics and ideally let you try several kinds of guns to help you zero in on what works best for you.

Remember: if you can handle the gun well, operate it easily and safely and shoot it accurately and reasonably quickly, it can work for you. Don’t let anyone stereotype you into a subpar choice.

woman with a gun

Picking the Right Size of Gun

Okay, so you settled on a semi-auto 9mm pistol. Good choice, as it is one of the best possible matchups according to today’s technology. Now the question is what size do you buy? Most manufacturers offer a given model in at least two sizes, and sometimes in three or four! What are the pros and cons of a given size of gun?

This part is easy: the larger a pistol is (to a point, you can go too big and become awkward) the less it will recoil and the more ammo it will hold. These guns are usually easier to shoot well, also. The downside is that they are harder to conceal on your body or carry in your purse.

Smaller guns conversely carry less ammo, recoil more and are usually harder to shoot well, but they make up for this by being easier to carry and hide. That is important if you plan on concealed carrying it all the time.
Often times the best answer is an in-the-middle size, called a compact, as these bring the best of both worlds for many shooters.

Parting Shot

As a female and soon to be female gun owner, you do not need to run the gauntlet of bad advice and outdated conventions at the gun shop only to wind up saddled with an inefficient gun that you hate.

You are more than capable of choosing your own gun, the right gun for you, so long as you know what it is that you need. Use the info in this guide and research some potential choices and you’ll be breezing through the checkout line in no time.

firearms shopping pinterest

About Charles Yor

Charles Yor
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Excellent advice! I’m lucky enough to have a husband who knows a LOT about guns and has owned many types. He guided me through exactly your advice so now I carry a 9m compact, but prefer rifles for shooting pleasure at a gun range: S&M AR15 & Ruger bolt action (my fav).

    Thanks for your post. I hope other women pay attention.

  2. Avatar

    I have extensive experience as a firearms instructor but was faced with a learning difficulty. I would have loved teaching my wife to shoot but she was not able to learn very well from me. No hard feelings. It’s a very real thing, or, at least potentially so. The spousal relationship is not necessarily also a student/teacher relationship. There may be learning barriers that you just need to accept. Not to give up on something so important, I did have a solution. My best friend was on the VMI shooting team and more experienced than I. He gave a class to my wife and her friend, they learned a lot, and had a great time of it.

  3. Avatar

    The most important thing for a woman (or a man for that matter) is to carefully try out those handguns that you like. My #2 daughter has small hands. Fact. She can’t easily handle my guns, though she can in a pinch. When she went shopping for her EDC gun, she put some effort into it. I think she tried out a dozen different pistols, in .380 and 9mm. She had already shot my .38 snubby and was underwhelmed. Tried my Walther PPK/S and wasn’t too excited about it either. My Sig P-228 was too big to hold properly (maybe with a short trigger installed it would have been OK for her). Other than bragging rights among her friends that she had shot it, my S&W 686 .357 mag was definitely a no-go.

    She finally settled on a bit of a compromise, the Glock 43 9mm. She wasn’t terribly excited at the low magazine capacity, but the pistol fit her hand like a glove and she could shoot it well. She got some shooting lessons from me (a former police instructor), but also got some from her local range where she bought the gun and had developed a friendly relationship with the staff. She shoots about once a month on average. I’ve gifted her six spare magazines and a box full of 9mm ball to plink, and several boxes of Critical Duty for carry.

    She has also become somewhat of an expert on concealed holsters for chubby girls (lets face it, she is that) and I even referred her mother to her for some holster advice as I was not as up on those things as #2 was. Yes, women do have some special considerations for holsters, particularly for concealed carry.

    My #1 daughter is in the AF Reserves. She’s stuck, for the time being, shooting the M-9 pistol which is too big for her hands. She does not enjoy it. I gave her my old Beretta 92SB (the brother of the M-9) so she can get some extra shooting in on that weapon. Her hubby (at 6’4″) has no problems hanging onto it and rather likes shooting the 92SB. My ex-wife was a Coastie and had to qualify on the old Colt .45 pistols (I guess I’m aging her). She didn’t find them fun, but much preferred them to a 12-ga shotgun. She’d prefer a spear to a shotgun. Now the ex carries my old .38 snubby because she likes it. All my women folk like shooting the M-16 or AR-15, but not 12ga shotguns or 7.62mm battle rifles. I started my serious firearms shooting with an M-14 in the Marine Corps and have gone from there.

    Now I’m just waiting for my granddaughter to grow up some more so I can take her out and teach her how to shoot the .22 Crickett I bought her for her birthday (original birthday). Pink synthetic stocks and all. Another year to 18-months to wait, but she already is getting firearms safety lessons at 2-1/2. #1 daughter fired her first gun at 4-years old (a real AKM, fully auto capable, but we only used it semi-auto, one round loaded at a time). She didn’t mind it at all, but five or six rounds was enough.

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