This post was prompted by an incident at the local gun store this morning. A couple came in, with the guy asking the dealer if they had any pistols for his girlfriend. He was looking for a subcompact Glock in .40 for her to carry. The girlfriend, through the entire exchange, says nothing. The dealer had none — they were sold out in the crazy hitting the nation. The dealer points out a few excellent carry pieces, including a Kahr .40. I pointed out the equally superb CZ-75 P-07 Compact (also in .40.) Nope — gotta be a Glock.

The warning bells were going off for me at this time. Not just because I was certain this carry piece wasn’t for his girlfriend, but for this tattooed douche. He most likely couldn’t buy one legally, and dragged the cow-eyed chick in to do a straw purchase. But even if that weren’t the case, it told me — and I had gone over this multiple times with male customers looking for guns for their wives/daughters/girlfriends/mothers while working at a small local gun store — they hadn’t thought a second past the classic “we can’t buy her too much gun” or the “it’s small, so she’ll be okay with it” thought processes of the Y chromosome.

Keep in mind several things: 1) Hand size. Most women have smaller hands than you, tough guy. The Glock is a fine pistol (but, I think, highly overrated compared to some of the competition) but it’s not the self-defense/combat panacea most of its fan base would have you think. It’s also got a brick for a handle with an unnatural grip angle for many people. A lot of women have thin hands with long, long fingers. Grips with the finger grooving isn’t as good for them. 2) Grip strength. This is especially important for the older woman. This can make choosing the right grip size, but also grip shape even more important to give positive control of the gun. It’s also the main factor to consider for trigger weight. 3) Overall comfort with a weapon or shooting. Don’t start them out with the damned .40 or a magnum cartridge until they’re used to shooting and are comfortable with the weapon. .40 — I find, it prone to a lot of muzzle flip that 9mm, .45, and even the bigger brother 10mm don’t. 4) What’s it for? Is it for the home, the car, to carry?

So here’s the best first guns for a woman:

1) 1911A1 (any size or caliber save 10mm)

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Really, Scott? The 1911? But .45’s too much gun for a chick. Wrong. The 1911 in Officer’s size (3″) is a perfect carry gun for the purse of backpack. It’s small, relatively light, and can be had in the three big self-defense calibers of 9mm, .40, or .45. My ex-wife had tiny hands with low grip strength; this was what she swore by — both in .45 and later 9mm. If you’re just going to have it for the house, the full size 1911 is accurate, powerful, with a low kick, and decent safety features (leave the hammer down and you’re good.) Most importantly, it’s a short reach to the trigger and even crappy 1911s run about 6 lbs on a short trigger pull, as compared to the heavy, long trigger pull of the double action only hammerless revolver a lot of guys buy for their ladies as a first gun.

What about jams, you say? Revolvers are better because they don’t malfunction! Girls aren’t strong enough to rack the slide! 1) Wrong. Revolvers malfunction. It’s happened to me. 2) Most modern autos function quite well thanks to modern ammunition and better workmanship. 3) That’s why you practice. Practice mean if you get a jam you know what to do. As to working the slide — practice.

The downside: Price on 1911s tends to be high with even cheap handguns starting in the $700s here in the Southwest.

2) Walther PPQ

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The Walther PPQ shares similar positives to the 1911. The grip has interchangeable backstraps that allow you to size the weapon to the shooter. The trigger is light — about 5 lbs — and has a short reset. It’s light, concealable, and has 15 rounds in the 9mm. You can get it in .40. They function well and are fully-ambidextrous for lefties.

Downside: There’s no active safety that you can turn on or off. If the shooter is nervous about safety of the weapon, they might want to carry it without a round in the chamber, which runs into one of the perennial issues for “chicks are too weak to shoot autos” buyers; you need to practice running the slide. Period. I’d suggest getting a good retention holster, instead. Price-wise, I’ve found them for about the same price as the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, or similar polymer pistols.

Speaking of…

3) Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (or any M&P)

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The M&P has all the same upsides as the PPQ, but the Shield is their new concealed carry version of this series. Like the PPQ, the backstraps can be interchanged for different sized hands (making them very popular with the female officers here in Albuquerque.) They have a safety. The larger versions of the M&P have more options for caliber — 9mm, .357 SIG, .40, and .45. Take down for cleaning is dead simple. And they’re relatively cheap — the full-size M&Ps start in the $500s. For the new shooter, especially if it’s for just for home defense, a full size M&P is probably a better choice, as the shooter has a better amount of grip surface to work with.

4) Smith & Wesson Model 36 (or similar)

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The honorable mention, the S&W 36 — or any similarly hammered .38 special revolver — is an excellent choice for a beginner for several reasons: 1) Simplicity of use — point and click. 2) You can cock the hamer to lower the weight and distance of the trigger, which is important for the beginner, the person with small hands, or a weaker grip. 3) Ease of maintenance. 4) They fit well in a purse or a backpack, but they are a bit harder to conceal due to the size of the cylinder.

The downsides: 5 or 6 shots of a relatively anemic .38 special round (as compared to the other guns highlighted.) the range and accuracy of the short barrel work against the beginner shooter, as well, and they tend to be a bit jumpier in recoil than autos. Slow to reload, and can be difficult in high pressure situations. Lastly, they’re no longer cheaper than autos.

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