Recently I was asked to crank out yet another ”best guns for women” article. I cringe every time I see that sort of title, because the truth is, guns don’t care what sex you are. In more than eight years of instructing and 15 years of daily carry, I’ve learned (and it’s confirmed by US military research) that there is little predictability between gender and the dimensions of hands or fingers. Four of my female students prefer the largest of the modular backstraps on their pistols. Two male students have fingers so short that they struggle to reach the trigger on a sub-compact Glock 43. And if you think that color is all a woman is looking for in a gun, please don’t waste precious time here.
Guns for Women @ TFB:
Knowing the whole ”best guns for women” thing is little more than clickbait for the uninformed, I struggled to come up with a useful alternative that wasn’t full of pent-up frustration. The idea came as I listened to The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. In a personal account, Brown explains how she came to understand that her real talent lies not in prescribing “how-to” manuals, but in challenging people to face the sometimes-painful obstacles that get in the way of leading their best lives.
Brown and I could not be farther apart politically, so don’t even think of going down that road. But her focus on conquering what gets in the way of a life well-lived is a message that applies, with different puzzle pieces, to becoming competent in the arts of gun defense. In broad terms, those arts can be categorized as mindset, weapon manipulation, and marksmanship. And then there are a couple factors I’ll call the Big Boogeymen.
These are predictable obstacles for women who buy a gun for self-protection but never advance in their skills to the point of having a good chance of winning in the fight for their own life or that of a loved one. Most of these obstacles apply to both genders, but since the request I got is specific to women, and since women represent the largest demographic of first-time gun owners in the last two years, these observations are focused on females. Not all of it will apply to you or the woman you care about. As with any instruction, harvest from it what is useful for your own situation.
At the core of self-protection is a conscious decision not to be a victim. It’s a choice, and it’s possible to make that choice right now if you haven’t already. Fighting back has a stellar track record of success in terms of sexual assault prevention, though it’s not discussed much on the evening news. Fighting back can be done with a weapon, but every form of defense, including escape, and any form of physical resistance is more effective than passivity. For most women, social conditioning to be agreeable is a strong, lifelong influence. When that conditioning is not challenged at the individual level, it can result in fighting not being offered a seat at the table of life. For anyone who doesn’t wish to live as a victim, the will and skill to fight deserve their own place setting.
As mothers and grandmothers, the “mama bear” instinct can be both a gift and a curse. It’s a gift in that many women discover their willingness to wreak violence when considering the possibility of their child being victimized. It’s a curse when that same woman imagines being attacked in the absence of her children and her response is passivity. Your children, even if they’re grown, need you to defend YOU. Love your own life enough to preserve it for them.
Complacency is the other mindset stumbling block. Don’t conflate having a concealed carry permit with competence. Seek training on the regular. Engage in scenario training if possible. When in those locations or situations that inspired you to buy a gun in the first place, imagine how things might unfold if the most-dreaded scenario really did happen. Plan your actions, i.e., escaping out an employee exit, taking cover in a strategic location; fighting back. Envision yourself victorious each and every time, even if you’re injured in the process. Rehearsal is a powerful tool. Complacency can be a death sentence.
Weapon Manipulation Obstacles
The term “weapon manipulation” for our purposes here means anything associated with handling the gun. Drawing, re-holstering, loading, unloading, clearing malfunctions, and such. This is the most ignored aspect of training for most people, as well as the one that often means victory in a gunfight if you’re competent in this department. While practicing stuff that doesn’t result in “BANG!” may seem inglorious and boring, it’s often what gives a winning edge. Both men and women should attend to this in range training and at-home practice.
This is where there are some common female-specific challenges, and where the gear market has developed some good and some patently dangerous products targeted to women.
My main mentor in this way of life has a saying, “don’t let your equipment defeat you.” He’s referring to guns and gun accessories. But too many women show up with other “equipment” that gets in the way of safe and effective gun handling. The most common is too-long nails that can’t get into and out of the trigger guard fast enough, and that interfere with a solid grip. It’s possible to have attractive nails and still be able to handle a gun, but some length must be sacrificed. The same can be said for spike heels and flip-flops. It’s nearly impossible to accomplish a hasty escape in either.
If you must wear dresses for work, holster choices can be limited. Many women solve this dilemma with a holster purse, which can be safe and effective when chosen and trained with correctly. Along with purse carry comes an obligation to more training and impeccable habits to be effective. It can be done with the right instruction. A better choice for many women is to adapt their manner of dress to accommodate a holster on their midsection, where the gun is under their constant control and rapidly accessible. Be advised that not all holsters, especially those marketed to women, offer adequate trigger guard coverage. Some nearly invite the gun to fall out as a result of minor physical activity. And there are perfectly safe choices that are simply uncomfortable for some people. It’s a minefield out there. Don’t blow the bank on your first gun/holster combo; chances are you’ll want to make some changes after carrying daily.
While shooting is where everyone tends to focus, hitting the target is usually the easiest piece of the gun defense puzzle. The gun itself can make a big difference here, and this is one area where women who are new to guns (and often, the men who love them but don’t know what they don’t know) often make choices based on bad advice. Here are a couple FYIs on choosing a gun. There are exceptions to every rule so please accept these as general:
Larger guns are easier to learn on, often easier to manipulate, and deliver less recoil.
While it’s logically harder to conceal a larger gun, it’s often advisable to do early learning on a “compact” or full-size handgun that provides something solid to grab onto and absorbs more recoil. Once basic skills are in place, the transition to a micro-gun is easier. What’s worse, some entry-level concealment guns have features like multiple safety measures, a very short sight radius, or a long trigger pull. Any of these features alone can challenge a skilled, experienced shooter. The market has a way of assuming women will be forever unsafe and untrained, so why not give them a gun that represents little more than a rock in hand? Be one of the many women who prove the market wrong.
Revolvers are often more difficult for arthritic or smaller hands.
Whether because of a long, heavy trigger pull or the substantial recoil delivered by, say, a snub nose .38 Special, revolvers are not the best choice for a majority of women. There are many exceptions! At minimum, consider that defensive encounters generally don’t offer the luxury of time to cock a hammer.
Take time to understand sight alignment and sight picture.
Unless you’re always shooting with a red dot optic, aligning the rear and front sight, and then imposing that arrangement visually on target, are fundamentals one must understand. It’s been my experience that some females have difficulty integrating the rear sight into their early learning, especially when the instruction has included the (legitimate) advice to “focus on the front sight.” Prior to picking up a gun, checking out online or book examples of sight alignment/sight picture may be helpful.
The Big Boogeymen
“Can’t” is a four-letter word.
Whether someone told you or you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t handle that .45 you otherwise like, or you think you’ve been sentenced to a lifetime of revolver carry because you can’t rack the slide on a semi, you’ve almost surely not worked with someone who can teach proper technique. Most self-trained shooters have not learned a plethora of techniques that work across various models. On my range, the word “can’t” is replaced with “I’m figuring that out.”
The well-meaning husband or boyfriend
Whether it’s waterskiing, oil painting, or shooting, most people have a tough time learning from or teaching someone they love. It’s not about either one of you. Seriously. When teaching on the range with my male business partner, this problem is so common that we have a couples’ rule about verbal exchanges being limited to compliments or necessary stuff like “can you hold the keys” until the lesson is over. No advice allowed! That rule for sure has prevented many an uncomfortable silence over dinner.
The solution to avoiding the Big Boogeymen is simple. Sign up for lessons with a professional instructor who can share what they know in a way that you can make their skills your own. You’re free to get as angry as you want with that person, and it won’t be taken personally. Then you can go home and get on with life, carrying with you some mean skills and confidence that are yours and as free of sticky relationship dynamics as possible.
There’s another couple’s rule, and that is that new female shooters load their own magazines. Chivalry is nice, but not when it prevents someone from learning basic gun skills. This is another area where learning technique can override a case of the “cant’s.” When loading that last round or two truly is too hard, an Uplula Universal Magazine Loader is always on hand. IF there’s any product other than a gun that’s an equalizer, that one is it.
There’s a part of me that gets offended at the very concept of women’s this or that when it comes to guns. And that part of me did not enjoy putting into black and white what may come across as stereotyping. What’s here is based on experience, both as a practitioner and as an instructor of civilians and uniformed gun carriers, male and female. If any of the preceding advice applies to you, please make it your own and ignore the rest.
Enjoy the ride!
Most women purchase a handgun for self-protection. For those who engage in even very basic training, most are surprised to discover that shooting is an enjoyable pastime. Continued practice leads to the realization that gun training and even gun maintenance can be filled with heart-racing excitement or, more often, the sort of meditative focus that modern routines often steal from our daily lives. There are plenty of ways to pursue an art, but few arts can save a life so directly. It’s a satisfying combination.
If you’re a female who practices shooting for self-protection, feel free to share your own experiences of overcoming obstacles you encountered on the way to making the gun a part of your daily life.