What is the best gun for a woman? Sadly, the myth that women are somehow less able or too weak to shoot a powerful handgun exists; it exists in gun stores, on the web or anywhere a woman might go to purchase a firearm. This inaccurate thinking might even exist within her family or social circles.
I was at a gun show and approached one of the vendors to look at the guns he had for sale. The first thing he said to me was “so, you are looking for a smaller, lower caliber handgun that you can handle, right?” I gave him a “look” maybe “stare” is a better word, and walked away. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I automatically want a small handgun.
What we WANT is a gun we can effectively shoot that will do what a gun needs to do…. Stop an attacker in his tracks! What gun is that? Only you can answer that question based on a number of factors, unique to you. The best type, size and caliber of that gun depends on the same factors it would for a man or anyone looking for a gun for self-protection.
What About Caliber?
Most agree that a small handgun in a caliber of .22 or a .25 or .32, in most situations, just isn’t powerful enough to stop an attacker, who might be larger and high on drugs. A low caliber bullet is less of a deterrent or even worse, could make him even angrier. In my opinion, a higher caliber gun is more of a necessity than a choice. I must say however, ANY GUN IS BETTER THAN NO GUN. If you feel that a .22 caliber gun IS the best gun for you, carry it but carry it with ammunition designed for defensive purposes, not a standard or practice .22 caliber ammunition.
So, what is the best gun for a woman?
Let’ start with the first question that we must ask. What type of handgun is best for a woman with the purpose of self-defense?
There are two choices, a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol. You will base your decision on your specific and unique needs, physical traits and your likes and dislikes.
Revolvers and semi-automatic pistols each have characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. The one best for you will be based on how you prioritize or rank these advantages and disadvantages.
Should I Get a Large or Small Gun?
The size of the firearm depends on how you plan to use it. If you plan on concealed carry, the ability to effectively and comfortably carry it depends on being able to hide it on your body in an appropriate holster(s) that will work on your body and with your clothing. There are numerous holster options available for women now, and further research is encouraged. I am petite, 5’1” I could not carry my 1911 on any part of my body without creating a huge bulge. The smaller the gun, the easier it is to hide and the harder it is for an attacker to grab away from you, but the smaller the gun, the higher the felt recoil it will have and the less accurate it will be.
This means they require a lot of practice and training so you will be more comfortable with the increased recoil and learn to be as accurate as possible when shooting it. Hand strength and your tolerance for recoil are other issues to consider.
There are smaller barreled options in both revolvers and semiautomatic pistols available in the recommended self-defense calibers of .380, 9mm, .40 or .45.
Revolver or Semi-automatic?
For some reason, many people recommend that a woman start off with a revolver and then “grow into” an automatic. This is illogical, and you should resist the urge to accept this chauvinistic advice. A beginner is a beginner, and there is no reason you cannot learn to shoot a semi-automatic pistol as easily as a revolver. I believe this logic is sadly based simply on the fact that semi-automatic pistols are a bit more of a complex machine and that somehow women are not comfortable with complex machines. Of course, I have no comment! If you feel that a semi-automatic pistol is the best choice for personal defense, then go for it! If you like the simplicity of a revolver, then that is the right choice for you.
I am a FIRM believer that each woman should choose her gun. Just like a pair of good shoes – feel, fit and wear-ability are things that only you can know. You wouldn’t have your husband or boyfriend choose and buy a special pair of shoes for you, would you? If you take anything away from this article let it be this – try as many as firearm models as you can before buying. Find a store or range that offers rentals or ask to try theirs. Perhaps there is a The Well Armed Woman Shooting Chapter near you. Having like-minded women who understand your questions and that are willing to let you shoot their guns is priceless. You will know the right one once you hold it in your hand and shoot it.
Let’s take a look at each type of handgun, how they work and to their advantages and disadvantages to help you make the right decision for yourself.
Revolvers have a cylinder with multiple chambers, and each chamber holds a round of ammunition. Most models hold 5 or 6 rounds. Pulling the trigger rotates the cylinder and aligns the loaded chamber with the barrel and the gun then fires. A revolver is a very simple machine; therefore there is little that can go wrong with the firing process. This makes a revolver a good and reliable choice for self-defense. Although all guns need regular cleaning, the simplicity of the mechanics makes the effectiveness of a revolver less dependent on meticulous cleaning. Revolvers, however, are bulkier and heavier than pistols and tend to hold fewer rounds, they also lack many of the safety features commonly found on semi-automatic pistols. Revolvers have long and hard trigger pull, which makes it very difficult to accidentally pull the trigger; this acts as a safety feature.
The best defensive calibers in a revolver are .38 Special, .357 Magnum, (If you buy a .357 caliber revolver, it can also shoot the less powerful, but sufficient .38 special ammunition,) 9mm, .40 S&W and .45. There are some lightweight and smaller, hammerless revolvers. (“Hammerless” revolver still has the hammer that works to fire the round, but it is shrouded within the gun) The .38 Special and .357 models are very popular with women. The larger the caliber, generally the larger the recoil.
Revolvers are available in three different action types. The action type describes the way a gun functions. The three action types of revolvers are; Single Action (SA), Double Action (DA) or Double Action Only (DAO)
Single-Action Revolver (SA)
In a single-action revolver, the hammer is manually cocked, usually with the thumb of the firing or supporting hand. This action rotates and advances the cylinder to the next round and locks the cylinder in place with the chamber aligned with the barrel. The trigger, when pulled, releases the hammer, which fires the round in the chamber. To fire again, the hammer must be manually cocked again. This is called “single-action” because the trigger only performs a single action, the releasing the hammer.
Double-Action Revolver (DA)
In a double-action revolver, the stroke of the trigger pull generates two actions: (1) the hammer is pulled back to the cocked position while the cylinder is being rotated to the next round, and then (2) the hammer is released to strike the firing pin. This allows for uncocked carry while also allowing draw-and-fire using only the trigger. A longer and harder trigger stroke is the trade-off, but this drawback can also be viewed as a safety feature, as the gun is safer against accidental discharges if dropped.
Most double-action revolvers fire in two ways. The first way is single-action, that is, the same as a single-action revolver; When you cock the hammer with the thumb it aligns the cylinder. When you pull the trigger, it trips the hammer and the round fired. The second way is double-action, that is, from a hammer-down position, which means you do not have to manually cock the hammer into position. In this case, the trigger when pulled, first cocks the hammer and revolves the cylinder, and then trips the hammer at the rear of the trigger stroke, firing the round in the chamber.
Certain revolvers, called double-action-only (DAO), lack the latch that enables the locking of the hammer to the rear, and thus can only be fired in the double action mode, using the trigger to perform this action. With no way to lock the hammer back, DAO designs tend to have bobbed or spurless hammers, and may even have the hammer completely covered by the revolver’s frame (i.e., shrouded or hooded, shown above). These are generally intended for concealed carrying, where a hammer spur could snag when the revolver is drawn from clothing or a concealed carry purse, so makes a good choice for concealed and carry use.
For self-defense, a Double-Action or Double-Action-Only revolver is recommended as a single action revolver requires cocking for each round fired which takes precious time and it is harder to shoot multiple rounds quickly.
Advantages and Disadvantages of A Revolver
Let’s list and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of revolvers.
- Extremely reliable
- Simple to operate. Not necessary to “rack the slide.” This is a real advantage to anyone with weak or limited hand strength
- Highly accurate – Accuracy at greater distances (approximately 15 yards and farther) this accuracy decreases down with the smaller, shorter barreled revolvers
- Generally more moderately priced
- Double-Action models shoot multiple rounds quickly
- Can allow multiple calibers of ammunition The .38 Special and .357 Magnum, is an example
- A better choice for concealed carry purse carry (The slide of a semi-auto needs ample room to fully cycle, shooting from a purse does not allow for this room)
- Easy to clean and don’t require as meticulous a cleaning
- Harder trigger pull – can be an issue with impaired finger strength
- Holds fewer rounds
- “Typically” greater recoil
- There is no safety catch on a revolver; the longer, harder trigger pull makes it harder to pull the trigger unless you “really” intend to and therefore is considered a safety feature. (There are a few models that have locking trigger features such as many Taurus models.)
- Single-Action models require cocking for each round fired.
- Harder to shoot multiple rounds quickly
- A revolver is the better choice when carrying in a concealed carry purse. A semi-automatic gun can jam if you do not have time to fully draw the gun from the purse and you are forced to shoot through the purse. Because a semi-automatic gun must cycle (see below) to load the next round, there is just not the room for it to function from within the confines of a purse
A semi-automatic pistol is a handgun where there is a removable magazine that holds the ammunition, that slides into the grip of the gun. A semi-automatic pistol uses some of the energy created from the firing of the gun to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one. Semi-automatic pistols have the benefit of magazines that can hold a larger number of rounds.
They also typically have an easier trigger pull, can shoot multiple rounds very quickly and are slimmer and more compact in shape. Semi-automatic pistols; however, are not as mechanically simple as revolvers and require very good cleaning to ensure proper function. Their semi-automatic action is dependent on the first round firing successfully, so the next round is cycled into the chamber properly. The reliability of modern pistols is exceptionally high though and makes this less of an issue. The best defensive semi-automatic calibers are: .380, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP. All of these calibers are available in small sized (compact) pistols suitable for concealed carry.
Special note: In general, a pistol with a long trigger pull that requires a very deliberate and strong pull of the trigger finger to fire is recommended. Under stress when the adrenaline is flowing, you want to be sure you intentionally want to pull the trigger and not do so accidentally.
Advantages and Disadvantages Of A Semi-automatic
- Slimmer, lighter and easier to conceal
- Magazines can hold more rounds of ammunition
- Can fire rounds of ammunition in rapid succession
- Easier trigger pull
- “Typically” have less recoil
- Easy to reload
- Meticulous cleaning required
- More likely to misfeed
- More likely to be “ammunition sensitive” and not feed all brands of bullets well (practice and trying different brands can minimize these issues).
- Overall more expensive
- Takes more hand strength to “rack the slide” to chamber the first round. Note: the difficulty in racking a slide may depend on which parts of your hands are weak or may be related to technique. Utilizing the proper technique can make all the difference! Some women with hand issues find it more difficult to pull the trigger on a revolver. If this is a serious issue for you, you may want to look at tilt-up barrel semi-automatics. This type does not require the user to rack the slide for loading. Beretta has one, but I believe it is no longer in production. They are however readily available used.
What Guns Are Other Women Buying?
We have a collection of gun reviews written by women. Here you can learn what they like or dislike about a variety of gun models. Once you make your selection, get some training and practice. Learn all the safety rules for the proper handling of a gun and handle it often (unloaded only) to get acquainted with it. Learn how to disassemble and clean your gun. And finally, find a suitable firearms instructor and learn how to use it properly. Once you are proficient at using your gun and have had some good training, you’ll be amazed at how natural the gun feels. Most importantly, you’re armed with the confidence that you can handle the unthinkable, should it ever come your way.
Shopping For Your Gun Part 1
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Your choice to carry and own a gun for self-protection says that you are willing to take the life of someone if necessary to save your life or the lives of those you love. This is a very significant statement that has very serious ramifications. Could you use it? We don’t own a gun to “kill,” we own a gun to “defend” and the firing at a human being is the absolute last resort and is only justified to prevent death or grievous bodily harm from being inflicted on yourself or a loved one. The decision to possess a gun carries with it the moral responsibility to use the utmost care and good judgment.