Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Tips For Women: Choosing A Semi-Automatic Handgun

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By Gila Hayes, Gun Digest

Once so-called women’s guns were either revolvers—touted for ease of operation—or tiny, underpowered .22 or .32 semi-autos. Now, women can choose a semi-automatic handgun from an ever-growing selection, many designed for concealed carry.

With more options than ever, prioritizing desirable features in a self-defense semi-automatic helps women make good choices at well-stocked gun counters. Sadly, not all gun store clerks are savvy to the needs of their female customers, and too often confuse small and light with proper fit and functionality. Let’s consider semi-automatic selection priorities to ease the female gun owner’s first buying experience.

Of highest priority, the semi-auto pistol bought for self-defense must function reliably. Rarely can one test fire a new gun before buying (after all, it would then no longer be new for the next shopper). Still, many opportunities exist at gun rental ranges to shoot samples of the same brand and model of the pistol under consideration.

How can you determine reliability? Ask what others have experienced. The Internet is a useful resource revealing positive or negative experiences of a big pool of gun owners with particular brands or models.

Take what you read with a grain of salt, but give serious consideration to multiple reports of premature breakage or feeding and extraction failures in a particular model of pistol. Confirm online anecdotes with information from firearms instructors, fellow shooters at the range and recognized experts like Gun Digest authors Patrick Sweeney, Grant Cunningham and Massad Ayoob, to name only a few. Remember, a gun must be sufficiently durable to fire thousands of rounds in training and practice.

In addition, a self-defense gun that will be in and out of holsters, carried for personal protection and used in training and practice requires internal safeties to prevent unintentional discharge if the gun is dropped. These are standard in high quality handguns like Glocks.

Trigger pull weight is another concern with most experts recommending a minimum five-pound pull weight for safety in circumstances that may call for presenting but not immediately firing a pistol.

Choosing a Semi-Automatic Handgun

Size matters in the caliber debate when considering guns for self-defense. Faced with choices including .22 LR and .22 Mag., .25 ACP, a variety of .32s, .380 ACP, 9mm, plus all the calibers starting with .4, no wonder beginners become confused.

A good introductory class or mentored trip to a gun rental range is a big help, since recoil sensitivity varies from one individual to the next. Bear in mind that felt recoil changes radically from one pistol to the next, so caliber selection decisions have to be based on shooting the gun you eventually intend to own.

Most agree that calibers of at least .380 ACP or larger are best for self-defense. However, the buyer also needs to determine what is the largest pistol caliber she can fire with a sufficient balance of accuracy and speed. A simple evaluation entails firing five shots in five seconds, all inside a five-inch or smaller circle, from a distance of five yards.

Beyond caliber and recoil control considerations, the gun buyer has to deal with how the gun and its controls fit in her hand. The applicable term is ergonomics, though concerns are larger than one simple word can describe. Determine that you can easily and safely use controls, levers and buttons (which vary wildly from one brand to the next), including the manual safety, decocker, slide lock/release and magazine release.

In addition, for accurate shooting under speed, the distance between the gun’s back strap and the face of its trigger must let the shooter center the grip tang in the web of her hand and place the crease of her trigger finger’s first distal joint on the face of the trigger. Many semi-auto pistols are simply too large for small-handed shooters.

Don’t confuse a correct backstrap-to-trigger reach with simply buying the smallest semi-auto on the market. Even with small caliber options like the .380 ACP, the weight and overall dimensions of the pistol greatly influence handling, including comfortable recoil distribution and a solid hold in the hand during multiple shots and rapid fire.

Super small and light are not good criteria for a gun with which you may fight to preserve human life, especially if you can only hold it with a few fingers.

A final priority in self-defense gun selection is reasonable availability of aftermarket accessories and armorer services, as well as replacement parts for repairs and upgrades. This necessitates choosing a gun that is fairly common, not a one-of-a-kind collectible.

For example, thousands of holsters, replacement sight options and other aftermarket products are sold for the Glock pistol. That’s no surprise for a gun with three decades of popularity in the American marketplace. Often holsters or aftermarket pistol sights get their start selling to Glock owners, then branch out to the many other pistol options in use today. Consider that a hint.


This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2014 issue of Modern Shooter magazine, presented by Gun DigestBe sure to take advantage of Gun Digest’s free downloads to learn all about Gun ValuesAR-15 OpticsGlock Accessories and Concealed Carry HolstersConcealed Carry for Women, by Gila Hayes, takes a comprehensive approach for women who have decided to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense. Click Here to Get Your Copy.


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