At a gun show or gun shop, have you ever overheard, “I want a purple gun?” Or maybe it was pink, or Tiffany Blue. Either way, it wasn’t about the gun, it was about what the gun looked like. I understand the appeal of something other than black and clunky. After all, we ladies do like pretty things. However, buying a gun based on looks alone is like buying a car just because it’s painted “chameleon.” Yes, that was me. And yes, that car turned out to be a lemon.
As a woman wishing to buy her first gun for self-defense, let me ask you this—have you ever bought an expensive pair of shoes or a fancy dress online just to find that after its arrival it doesn’t fit or is extremely uncomfortable. Unlike the dress or shoes, your gun might just save your life. What use is it stuffed in the back of the closet with the tags still attached? A gun isn’t an accessory. A gun is a tool that can save your life.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “When picking out a gun for a girl—fit, feel and caliber are much more important than what is typically marketed as a “woman’s gun.” When looking to buy your first gun for personal defense, make your choice on what fits you best, not what color matches the majority of your outfits. There are four major aspects you need to consider before rushing out and getting the first pink-gripped, small-barreled revolver you see. Just like dating, caliber, reliability, shootability, and ease of use are more important than looks.
Most self-defense experts agree, when picking out a gun for self-defense, you should never go smaller than .380 ACP for pistol, .223 Remington for rifle, and 20 gauge for a shotgun. You need a gun that shoots a bullet powerful enough to stop a threat. Though .22 Long Rifle has been known to kill many an assailant, it is not recommended for your go-to self-defense gun.
A note about rifles: Rifle gets a bit tricky for home defense, as most traditional rifle calibers are too large to shoot at an intruder or attacker safely without over penetrating and putting innocents in harm’s way. However, due to the increasing popularity of the AR-15 for home defense, do not rule out the .223/5.56mm.
Since this article focuses on handguns for self-defense—the most logical choice for carrying—the calibers you need to try, in order from smallest to largest, are .380 ACP, 9mm, .38 Special, .40 S&W, .357 Magnum and .45 ACP. Don’t let a bigger caliber scare you off. With the right gun, .357 Magnum and .45 ACP are a pleasure to shoot. Remember, the smaller the gun the bigger the caliber, the more it becomes uncomfortable to shoot. You need to find the right mix between size and caliber that is perfect for you.
This is very basic. Will the gun go bang! every time you pull the trigger? When it comes to a gun’s reliability, there are a few questions you need to ask:
- Does the gun have a reputation for failures and malfunctions?
- Is it picky about what type of ammo it shoots?
- Have there been recalls on that particular model?
- Are there complaints of part failures?
- Has the company remedied any known issues?
How often will you practice with your new gun if it only likes expensive ammo? What if it continues to fail to fire (FTF) every other round? You could be dead in the seconds it takes to recover from a jam. Personally, I prefer a gun to run “dry.” This means that your gun will fire, even when it hasn’t seen a drop of gun lube in months. If you aren’t diligent about cleaning your car, you probably won’t be diligent about regularly cleaning your firearm. Get a gun that will fire dry and dirty. Revolvers absolutely run dry, as will Glocks.
As far as answering the reliability questions, it is more difficult than answering “is this gun comfortable to shoot?”—you’ll know the answer to that question after putting 50 rounds through it. A true test of reliability really only comes with time. It is extremely hard to judge a gun’s reliability when renting one for just an hour at the gun range. Though online gun forums shouldn’t be the source of all your gun info, the shooting community sure is honest when it comes to what we like and don’t like. Spend some time surfing gun forums and getting the opinions of regular people on a particular gun before committing. You will usually find a consensus on the reliability of most well-known pistols and revolvers.
Many aspects fall under “shootability.” These include fit, feel, grip, sights, trigger pull and perceived recoil. All these will effect your accuracy with the gun. Sights aren’t such a big deal as the other features of the gun, as long as they are removable. You can always upgrade to night sights, 3-dot or a laser if the gun you prefer comes with basic or rudimentary factory iron sights.
When you pick up the gun, you should be able to get a firm and secure grip on the gun. (Learn how to grip a semi-auto here or a revolver here.) Does it feel like you are still going to drop it after learning how to grip it properly? Then move on. It probably isn’t the gun for you.
After finding one with a good grip, you’ll need to determine if you can also easily reach the safety, magazine release and other controls? Can you pull the trigger with the pad of your finger without problems? Do you have to turn or twist the gun or take one hand off the gun to manipulate the safety—did the gun go off target? If so, then stop right there.
The backstrap determines the size of the grip and your hand position on the grip. Perhaps try one of a few different guns that come with interchangeable backstraps, such as the S&W M&P, Beretta Model Px4 Storm, or Glock 23 Gen 4.
Also try smaller, more compact handguns, sometimes called “pocket pistols” that are just all around smaller. Pocket pistols are incredibly popular due to their easy-to-conceal and comfortable-to-carry size. Such as the S&W Shield, Taurus TCP, Ruger LCP and LCR, SIG Sauer P238 and P938, Diamondback DB-9, DB-380 and the Springfield Armory XD sub-compact.
Do you like the feel of the trigger? You will hear gun people describing triggers as long or short. Meaning, how long you perceive you must pull the trigger before the gun goes off. Some people prefer a longer pull— especially on revolvers for safety reasons. However, it is a matter of personal preference. Compare two side-by-side to get a feel for the difference. For example, when comparing trigger pulls—though these two guns are not comparing apples to apples—try the compact S&W .380 Bodyguard (long) to the full-sized SIG Sauer P226 (short.)
Ease of Use
I have shot a lot of guns. Some you pick up, load and shoot—such as revolvers or Glocks. Others have more external safeties and slide stop catches, and other buttons and switches like slide releases that take a bit more thought to operate, such as 1911s or the Bersa Thunder 380.
Ease of use isn’t all about how easy the gun shoots, but also how easy the gun is to maintain. For example, how difficult is the gun to field strip and reassemble, such as the notorious Ruger Mark I, II, and III series of semi-autos. Or do you just push a button and after a simple manipulation, it comes apart? Regularly taking down your gun and cleaning it extends its life and keeps it working in tiptop shape.
To answer all the above questions, the best thing to do is to rent many different guns from your local gun range before making a final purchase. You may also ask your gun-owning friends if they would accompany you to the range and allow you to shoot their guns. The more guns you shoot, the more you will learn what best works for you.
If a good-looking gun encourages you to practice, shoot and carry more, there are ways to “dress-up” an otherwise factory (boring) gun with different colored grips such as pink or green, Duracoat or Cerakote and purple range bags, pink holsters and other accessories.
Ladies, have you ever bought a gun based on looks and regretted it? If so, share your experience with us in the comment section.
If you are a woman new to the gun world and seeking further guidance on purchasing and shooting your first gun, then read the following blogs:
- The Best Facebook Pages for Women Shooters
- You Can Rack A Slide. It’s Technique, not Strength
- Managing Recoil with the Correct Stance
- New Year, New Gun: Handgun Owner Basics
- Gun Store Etiquette
Suzanne joined the content team with over eight years experience at Cheaperthandirt.com. Starting out as a product description writer, Suzanne has extensive knowledge of the Cheaper Than Dirt! product base and is a good resource for suggestions on which products you need. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Though she prefers plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, Suzanne also loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!