There is no such thing as a “girl gun”

By Shannon McConathy,

If pink is your thing, you're not limited to tiny guns!

If pink is your thing, you’re not limited to tiny guns!

As a female shooter, it’s absolute music to my ears when I hear a fellow lady say she wants to learn how to shoot. I start running a mental inventory of my ammo and thinking about my upcoming schedule ready to propose a day to get the lead out and solidify her consideration that maybe guns are only scary when you don’t know how to use them.

Just as quickly as my excitement rises, frustration kicks in when I hear, “I just want a little gun,” or a “baby pistol” or the most soul-crushing of descriptions: a “girl gun”. Aggressive marketing by gun manufacturers has left many women with the incorrect notion that a pocket-sized pistol is all they can handle. While a small handgun might offer you more convenient concealment, it’s easy to find issues with grip, stability, felt recoil and balance when actually firing it.

Long considered a man’s world, women are outpacing men in terms of first time gun purchases and concealed handgun licenses. Gun manufacturers are answering the call, offering a variety of firearms in fashion-friendly colors hoping to get their share of the fastest-growing market out there. Given the same model and caliber, a pink gun is going to shoot just the same as a black one, so color is just a cosmetic way to express a little personality, but it is important to remember that this is no fashion accessory. When it comes to shoes, I’m a pain is beauty kind of woman. It’s silly and impractical, but my goodness, I feel fabulous. A tiny pocket pistol might look sleek, but firearm should fit like a pair of perfectly worn-in athletic shoes. A pair of stilettos might hurt from the first step, but if it hurts to fire a weapon, you’re probably not shooting the right one for you. The more comfortably it fits in your hand, the more accurately you will shoot. so before you assume smaller is best, take some things into consideration.

Your Pistol’s Purpose

If you plan to carry concealed, there are more logistic considerations than comfort. Purses and other off-the-body options offer flexibility in carrying a larger pistol, but many shooters take exception to this form of concealment. There are many excellent garment options if you wish to carry on your body that prevent printing, but they frequently come with size limitations. If you’re a recreational shooter or just looking to get some training in before you make the move to a CCL (which I highly recommend), your only limitations are your own preferences.

Your Hand Size

Because women are generally smaller in stature than men, it’s easy to assume that a smaller pistol will be a better fit. Every shooter is different, but in my personal experience, the smaller the handgun, the more difficulty I have in controlling it. My hands are relatively large compared to the average woman, but most of the overall size is in my fingers. Once I achieve a proper grip on a subcompact, I have to pull my index finger back to the point of discomfort to place it properly on the trigger. On the other hand (no pun intended), a woman with shorter fingers is much more likely to find a tiny model perfectly comfortable. There are no hard-and-fast rules because flexibility, tensile strength and overall mobility will vary widely from person to person.

When choosing any firearm, particularly a first, shooting the actual model is an invaluable experience. Gun shows and big box stores allow you the opportunity to handle different firearms, but the experience changes once that gun is loaded and there is no way to tell how it will shoot until, well, you shoot it. Check with local gun ranges about their rental fleet. Many allow you to pay a one-time charge for a rental, then trade it during your session for something different as long as they are in the same price class. Bonus tip: do ask about their rules on ammunition. Many ranges will only allow you to fire ammo purchased in-house which can up your bill quickly, but it’s still  likely to save you money in the long run.

Your Wrist Strength

The size and shape of your hands will largely determine what is comfortable to hold. Your wrist size and strength are a huge factor in what is comfortable to shoot. Particularly
delicate wrists can make larger, heavier handguns harder to control, especially after several rounds, but if you have sturdy wrists, you may not need that smaller, lighter pistol. Think about your day to day activities and how often you feel like your wrists are tired or hurting. If it happens frequently, a 38 ounce .45 probably isn’t your best bet, but you may find more comfortable options before you choose a microgun.

Trigger Weight

Pocket pistols are typically intended for concealed carry, and with that designation frequently comes my arch nemesis: the double action trigger. These heavy triggers are designed to prevent accidental discharge by making it more difficult to intentionally discharge. A quality full size 1911 chambered in .45ACP might have a single action trigger as light as 3.5 pounds whereas a small revolver could be as heavy as 12. Simply put, trigger weight measures the amount of force it takes to fire a round. If it’s too heavy, you are most likely going to jerk down and to the opposite side of your shooting hand, making it much more difficult to hit your target.

Not all small models feature a double action only trigger. Many only fire single and some shoot both. If there is a particular pistol you’re eyeing, make sure to check the manufacturers website for these specifications and if it all possible, fire before you buy.

Felt Recoil

Don’t be fooled into believing the bigger the gun, the harder it kicks. A larger, heavier gun will absorb a larger percentage of the recoil, leaving less of that punch to be delivered to your hands, wrists and arms. If you prefer the stopping power of a bigger round, a smaller pistol leaves most of the recoil to your body. Even with smaller calibers, many shooters find compact and subcompact pistols to be “snappy” upon firing, which disengages you from your target and makes reacquisition of your target more difficult. If you’re putting rounds downrange for pure recreation, this isn’t a problem. If you’re firing in a defensive situation, it very well could be. Again, it is always a matter of personal preference.

Where do I Start?

Before you go at it alone, find someone knowledgeable whom you trust. Ranges are staffed with capable, safety conscious male and female instructors who often specialize in teaching someone with little to no experience. Friends and family members can be a great way to warm up to shooting, but  not all good shooters make good instructors. When looking for a trainer or a shooting buddy, make sure they allow you to move at your own pace according your ability and comfort.

We believe it is wise for an inexperienced shooter to start with a small caliber. Most people are instinctively startled by the noise and recoil of any gun, especially when starting from scratch. A .22 might not be the best defensive weapon, but it is an excellent training tool. It offers the genuine experience of firing a gun, but with far less of a bang than a larger caliber. Once you get used to the noise, a .357 revolver that shoots .38 Special rounds is a great way to determine whether or not you will want more weight behind your gun. The heavier revolver absorbs almost all of recoil from the relatively small round, making it very easy to fire. When it comes time to purchase, make sure you’re choosing based on your own needs and preferences. .380 and 9mm are popular rounds that are generally easy to find. Advances in technology and ballistics have placed them high enough in the realms of defense ammo that even law enforcement officers are sizing down from the once-standard .40 and .45.

In any case, the right gun for you can only be determined by you. An open mind and good research are invaluable tools in helping you find that perfect match. Always try before you buy, and once you make that purchase, be safe and have fun!

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