Gender, Clickbait, and the Glorious Indifference of Handguns
Gender, Clickbait, and the Glorious Indifference of Handguns
“Best (Five, Seven, Ten) Handguns for Women” is a headline that’s run in just about every gun magazine and blog out there. And while the topic gets clicks because it’s something new female gun carriers, or significant others of that subset, care about, it’s a false question. As a female shooter and instructor of both women and men, I’ve come to understand the reasons behind the usual advice on this topic, and have seen enough exceptions to understand that none of these rules may apply to a given individual. Let’s examine what really matters.
Does size matter?
In my student circle, there are three women who need, and use, the largest grip on a Gen 4 Glock. There’s a man whose fingers are so short he cannot effectively operate many subcompact pistols including the Glock 43 and Sig Sauer P365. If my relatively small sample of the shooting public has yielded these examples, the stereotypes of women needing a smaller gun by virtue of gender, along with other myths, are easily defeated.
We know from historical efforts to establish parameters of the “average” person’s features that there simply aren’t any—for women or men.
This is not new information. Hearken back to 1952, when Gilbert Daniels of the US Air Force was charged with developing a cockpit for the average pilot. He amassed data from 4,000 active military pilots, using ten dimensions. In this large sample, not a single pilot scored “average” on more than eight of the 10 dimensions. Thanks to this study, modularity, like adjustable seat and rudder pedal placement, was integrated into airplane design. Daniels’s work has since been adopted as a model for the design of today’s automobile seats and controls—which of course are virtually all operable by drivers of any stature or gender. Some of the same data, such as reach, neck, and shoulder measurements, can also apply to shooting.
Gun size and physical strength
Many women who are new to handguns, and sometimes men who shop on their behalf, think a smaller gun is surely better—and sometimes that’s true.
But smaller and lighter means more recoil for all but the mousiest of calibers.
Hands, wrists, and elbows that are injured or arthritic can be painful and ineffective in handling stiff recoil. Likewise, the pinch action required to manipulate the slide on many subcompact semiautos can be more difficult than the gross motor activity that does the job with most larger semis. These facts are counterintuitive to most new gun shoppers.
Countless perfect woman/pistol matches are missed because the buyer or person coaching her is unaware of manipulating the gun using core strength rather than finger and/or forearm strength, a factor on which most women fall well short in comparison to men. While slide and slide lock manipulation is a discussion for another article, suffice here to say that standing upright, starting with elbows bent and forearms close to the body, with the added effect of slightly rotating the torso on its axis, slide manipulation is easy and safer as the person maintains an upright position that affords balance and peripheral vision. Need a demo? One is posted at another website.
Exploiting core strength via this technique opens up a woman’s choice to pretty much any handgun out there. A friend who came to me for her first pistol lesson proved this theory to me beyond any doubt. Born with a birth defect that left her with extremely short, in some places fused digits, she quickly learned slide manipulation on several models of handgun in one morning. If she can, anyone can.
Just get a revolver and be done with it?
Strength really can be a factor with revolver shooting. Many revolvers made for concealed carry are double action-only and require a long, heavy trigger pull. For those who are convinced a revolver is best but still have trouble with the heavy trigger, there are two options, both of which can negatively affect accuracy and speed unless well-practiced. Placing “too much” finger on the trigger—up to the first knuckle—is a solution for some. More often, weak-handed shooters are more comfortable placing the pad of the support hand index finger over the nail of the trigger finger, exerting two fingers worth of press on the trigger. Unless a wheel gun is chambered for rimfire, recoil fatigue and bloody fingers are common outcomes when shooting lightweight revolvers. For all but the most determined of shooters, bleeding and pain discourage further practice, which ultimately has a negative effect on survivability in the face of a violent attack!
I’ve expended lots of space here combatting common misunderstandings about women and handguns. Now, let’s counter that with what actually works—it’s a simple combo of physical and mental factors.
Physically, a gun fits a shooter’s hand if s/he can reach the trigger face with the center of the pad of the trigger finger, with at least a little daylight visible between the palmar surface of the trigger finger and the frame of the gun.
Use the true face of the trigger for this test and not the safety lever found on many striker-fired handguns.
In addition, a good fit will have no gun exposed between the heels of the hands when the support hand is correctly added to the grip, with the support hand fingers touching each other and the index finger in contact with the trigger guard above.
Modular grip panels, low bore axis design, and intelligent placement of controls are all features that enhance control and ease of handling. These and other customer-centered design elements are increasingly common in today’s handguns. Modularity is especially attractive for agency purchasers whose choices may be limited to a specific brand and model. Major pistol manufacturers are all on board today with at least one model that features custom options for grip panels and left-handed magazine releases. Some models even have ambi slide locks. These options benefit security and law enforcement agencies as well as gun-carrying professionals and civilians of both sexes.
While these factors can move any shooter toward an ideal fit, there are many shooter/gun matches that are less than perfect but still effective with good technique and practice. This is the less tangible but still obvious factor in handgun selection—the attitude and determination of the shooter. Dedication to the art of shooting, or the will to use the firearm as a force multiplier, overcome many an ill fit.
Regular practice in drawing the firearm, marksmanship fundamentals, and gun manipulation including reloads and malfunction clearances, paired with a can-do attitude and good instruction, is essential for any person, women included, who venture to carry a gun for self-protection.
Admittedly, women who keep a neglected gun in the bedside drawer for years on end have a pretty good track record of repelling and defeating home invaders with said gun. But carrying a gun in public should come with the assumption of responsibility to train with the safety of bystanders as well as oneself in mind.
A word about training and gun purchases: for the vast majority of new female shooters, firearm skills are best learned from someone with whom they don’t also have a close emotional connection. Even if budget isn’t a concern, it’s good to know that there are many reliable, perfectly good firearms on the market for moderate prices.
The difference between a common and luxury-priced gun, which isn’t necessarily better, might well be invested in training.
Some instructors and ranges offer an orientation and gun tryout course. Such a class can be a great starting point for trying out lots of different guns and understanding safe gun handling before making the commitment of a purchase—all with the guidance of a professional who often has a broader perspective on available choices than the average gun owner.
Virtually every shooter has preferences about what they want in a firearm. Those demands evolve with time, education, and changes in what the market offers. There are dozens of combinations of features folks want in their guns. We are mostly free to pick what we want to shoot, while handguns remain gloriously indifferent to gender.