Selecting Your First Gun is Like Selecting a Purse

By Kellene Bishop

Selecting your first firearm is like selecting a purse—no one can really do it well for you.  As much as my husband loves me, there’s no way that he can know enough about my preferences to appropriately select a purse on my behalf.  Are the straps long enough?  Does it have enough pockets in the right places?  Does it have enough compartments?  So I beg you NOT to allow anyone else select your first gun for you.  It’s far too personal of a decision. 

If you’re purchasing your first firearm for self-defense, ideally it should be a handgun.  (I then advise you to move to a shotgun and then a rifle, but I’ll cover that in a future article.)  Here are the primary concerns you want to consider when selecting a handgun.

  1. Grip
  2. Ease of loading
  3. Ease of use (such as mechanics, ability to clear stoppages, etc)
  4. Reliability (and safety)
  5. Cost of ammo
  6. Ease of assembly/disassembly

Rather than getting caught up in all of the brand names and what kind of caliber to select, first and foremost focus on the grip of the firearm.  Try holding SEVERAL of them.  Keep in mind if the grip is metallic, even in part, it will likely impede your shooting ability in a crisis situation as sweat will hinder your grip.  I focus on a solid non-slip grip when I select my guns, or my ability to have the gun modified accordingly.

Also, when considering the grip, be sure that it is sufficient so that you can comfortably bring your other hand up to the gun for stability.  There are some guns I’ve tried holding where using the other hand only seems to confine and cramp my ability to use fire the gun appropriately.  While women are always conscious of fashion at some point, I implore you not to focus on whether or not it’s pink, black, or steel.  Focus on the holding of it THEN focus on how it simply it loads and how easily it is for you to master cocking it.  For these 3 reasons, most women go with a revolver for their first handgun or a Glock.  Out of the most common options, I would opt for a Glock simply because it holds more ammo and is very forgiving of a limp wristed shot that most women possess when they shoot—myself included.  It will shoot when it’s dirty, wet, muddy, etc.  In other words, it’s highly reliable, and that’s what any woman needs in a time of critical self-defense.

For a myriad of reasons, you really don’t want your first gun to be too light.  While you don’t want to exhaust your muscles with the weight of a gun while shooting it (like I do when shooting the AR-15 from my shoulder), I strongly advise you against purchasing a mamby-pamby gun that simply fits into the palm of your hand as your first self-defense gun.  Such firearms have their place, but not as your primary self-defense weapon.  A solid weight gun will actually help you to shoot more accurately, and it is typically made better as well.

While there is much discussion by “gun snobs” that a .9mm isn’t worthy of self-defense use, don’t pay any heed to it.  Rather than focusing on the power of the gun, focus instead on your ability to carry it easily, retrieve it, and aim and shoot it accurately.  What you DON’T want to have happen is that you buy your new gun, go shoot it, and it’s so dang powerful that you’re afraid of it and won’t continue to practice with it.  So don’t let some “guy” convince you that you need to start with a more powerful caliber.  9mm’s have done just fine in warding off intruders and assailants for years, and have even been used by law enforcement officers all over that nation for a very long time.  Sure, there are those rare circumstances in which a drugged up criminal is unphased by a .9mm hit, but I assure you he wasn’t hit dead center in the head or the heart when such was the case.  It’s not the power in your gun, it’s the skill behind it that counts.

Another reason why I prefer to train other women on a Glock is because of the lack of a visible safety. For some women this can rattle their nerves but consider this.  While the Glock actually has 3 inherent safety features, that gun is ready when you need it most, in the climax of emotion.  What I don’t want to happen is to have a woman NEED to use her firearm, unveil the element of surprise as she draws her firearm and shows she’s willing to use it on an assailant, only to be hindered because she realizes that the safety was still on.  That may be all the hesitation the criminal needs to remove the firearm from your possession and use it on you.  I never, ever want to give away my element of surprise in my self-defense actions.  If I’m pulling my firearm from my holster or its hiding place, I’m doing so for one reason and one reason only and that is to STOP an assault.

Also consider that .9 mm ammo is less expensive.  If you purchase a gun with a higher caliber shooting power, you may also be less apt to practice with it due to the cost of ammo. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what brand or caliber you choose so long as you’re the last one standing, alive and well.

Copyright 2009 Kellene Bishop. All rights reserved.
You are welcome to repost this information so long as it is credited to Kellene Bishop.  
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32 Responses

  1. [...] Selecting your first firearm is like selecting a purse [...]

    • Kellene I just want to thank you so much for posting this info. Myself and a co-worker of mine, both women and single, have decided we need to acquire a gun AND learn how to shoot it correctly! Your information here is wonderful, and helped me today when I went to our local store to look at firearms. I am sending a link to your blog to my friend and will send it around to see if anyone else wants to try and attend the Pistol Basics course with us!

      • Sarah, So glad that you benefited from this article!
        For future consideration, we only teach private/semi-private classes at Women of Caliber. We teach a self-defense show in which a woman can draw her weapon quickly, fire it confidently, and hit a target the size of a quarter from a standard self-defense distance. In this course we go through all of the fundamentals and basics leading up to that ability. But you’ll be pleased with what you know when you’re finished–it rivals the marksmanship and self-defense skills of most firearm aficionados. The cost is the same whether it’s just one person in the class or one person and 2 of their friends so that we can give a premium quality learning experience.

    • Thanks for the info. I am planning on acquiring a weapon and getting my carry conceal license within the next few months.

      I now feel that when I enter the gun store, I will be able to tell them what I want instead of just taking their advice.

  2. Some additional thoughts on selecting a gun:

    http://hsoiblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/choosing-a-gun/

    and why 9mm is a good choice (including good video of a girl shooting one!)

    http://hsoiblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/the-9mm-handgun/

  3. [...] (even gentlemen), Kellene Bishop chimes in with her take on selecting your first gun. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Defensive Long [...]

  4. I made the mistake of buying my wife her first gun, she hates it, so now it’s mine and I don’t need it. It could have just as easily been a purse that ended up being mine. I should have her stop in here for the tips before going out and shopping for a gun on her own.

    Thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment, I have added you to my blog roll on both American Preppers Network and Obama-Lies.blogspot.com

  5. Actually, this is very good advice for men also. Buy a pistol or revolver you are comfortable with. But if a woman decides to carry it loose in her purse she may want to get a weapon with a safety in case it snags on something in the purse. Both of my personal weapons are Beretta 9mm. My service weapon is a 40 cal. Sigpro. If you use a good hollow point round like Remington Golden Sabre or Federal Hydrashok then the 9mm will get the job done. But if you pay attention to what’s going on around you (situational awareness) you may deter a criminal without using the firearm. Criminals look for easy victims who aren’t paying attention.

    • Actually, I carry the Glock in my purse, but with firm cardboard on either side of the compartment so that it does not catch on anything. That way I’m always ready to use it if/when necessary. Thanks a bundle for your comments!

    • There are actually a lot of purpose-built purses out there that have holsters and/or access compartments for a handgun (try Googling on “purse holster” or other such keywords). This keeps the gun in a safe, constrained setup, but also allows exact access to the gun when needed (no rummaging around).

      If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on a good and proper gun, it makes good sense to also spend good money on a good setup for carrying it.

  6. I saw in your blog something that did bother me about selection of a firearm for a woman,it listed everything other than caliber,then it went on to say it really dosent matter if its 9mm etc as long as your the last one standing,thats a nice thought,But in all reality very hopefull and foolish,Generaly if some drug crazed rapist is coming after you say in a parking garage,A 9mm will not do,thats why most police ,military use a 40 cal or more,Surviveing multiple 9mm gunshots is very common as long as a major organ is not destroyed,then it depends on the organ,Chances are unless you hit a critical area with a 9mm round as this drug crazed guy is running at you and your struggleing to arm yourself and shoot him is going to be very hard,so if you do get off one or two rounds that happen to strike this creep ,you want him to stop and drop,Not continue on,a 9mm may allow you to wound him and get enough time to get away ,but in many instances since the criminal is hyped up on a stimulant etc he will keep coming after you and over power you ,Id sugguest at least a 40 caliber if not a compact 45 caliber handgun and plenty of pratice useing it,get a heavy barrel model if you can like my S&W model 65,357 magnum has ,if you can find one as that will also help tame the recoil and muzzle jump so you can nail that SOB with one shot one kill.when your life depends on something dont go cheap,and get the best thing to do the job regaurdless of cost ,or you may not be around after the attack.

    • Jim, I’m sorry, but you’re absolutely mistaken in your counsel. I hear this advice from men all the time and it’s simply not accurate or in the best interest ultimately of the female shooter. It’s because of men consulting women to get a 40 caliber + that many women don’t even bother to use a firearm. ANY caliber firearm is useless if it’s not targeted on your assailant properly–the same goes for a 9mm. (However, I wouldn’t recommend a woman using a .22 for anything other than plinking.) As I shared in the article law enforcement have LONG used 9mm. I cannot state strongly enough that women are SAFE and EFFECTIVE using a 9mm, and I would bet my life on it, and have done so already. I reassert and stand by exaclty what I posted in the article. But I do appreciate your input.

    • I started to reply here, but it got so long I blogged a reply:

      http://hsoiblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/not-to-get-into-caliber-wars-but/

  7. [...] Filed under: Guns | Tags: Guns, self defense | Over at Kellene’s Women of Caliber blog, “Jim p” comments on Kellene’s opinion regarding the selecting of a [...]

  8. If you are reading this and still not convinced that “needing a 40 + caliber” is a myth, often perpetrated by men, I strongly recommend you reading hsoi’ blog. Beautifully written with much more thought and patience than I was able to take today.

    http://hsoiblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/not-to-get-into-caliber-wars-but/

    • Thanx, Kellene.

      I actually just updated that post with some additional data, as well as cleaning up the wording a bit (I was in a rush to get out the door to take the family out to dinner). :)

  9. I just want her to have a gun she can shoot! With enough rounds to do the job repeatedly.

  10. Kellene – I have read a bunch of articles about choosing your first handgun and I really thought this one stood out. With your permission, I would like to repost it and link to your blog.

    I would also like to invite you to write as a guest author at http://www.handguntraining.net which launches “officially” next month. The site will provide an easy-to-use resource for people to find firearms instructors close to them and read reviews and credentials about each. We foresee many female visitors and your guest posts would really ad value.

    thanks,

    Herb Jones

    p.s. will follow you on twitter

  11. [...] Selecting your first firearm is like selecting a purse If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! [...]

  12. thanks for writing this article.

  13. I’m trying to decide on a glock 19 fixed and a Ruger SR 9c. I like the grip on both, but major difference is a safety button on Ruger. Any thoughts on helping me decide? Thank you, in advance.

    • the Glock has all kinds of safeties on it, just not in the traditional sense. It won’t discharge when it’s dropped is one that comes immediately to mind. I specifically didn’t want a safety because that was one more thing to think of in a crisis. When I pull my firearm, I need it to work immediately. You can’t get the Glocks to fail whatsoever and they are particular friendly with the more loose wristed female shooters. Whereas the Ruger is unforgiving in that regard. I’m Glock all the way.

  14. thank you for such an informative site. lookin to buy my first gun and I will definitely go into it with your advice (plus the 8 hour class I had to take)!

    thanks and be safe!!

  15. Kellene I appreciate your article. I agree with you that a ‘double action only’ pistol is a great choice for any first time buyer or someone with limited experience. For a pistol to carry, for this group of shooters, I also prefer one that does not have an exposed hammer, weather a revolver or semi automatic pistol.

    While I agree with you that the grip should be comfortable to the shooter, I completely disagree that the grip should not have any exposed metal or that it will impair the shooters grip. More important to me is how the grip feels and if the pistol points naturally. I grip a pistol, hold it down to my waist in front of me, focus on a tartet to my front, close my eyes, raise the pistol and point it at the target, open my eyes and see how close the point of aim is to the target. A couple of times shows me how the pistol points with my grip. I don’t want to have to adjust my grip to make the pistol point well, I want a pistol that points well for me, naturally. The shape and angle of the Glock grip does not fit me well, but I’m sure it does others.

    I agree with you that the weight and power of the gun must be such that the shooter feels comfortable to practice, carry and shoot the weapon. That comfort level is different for each of us. This article is about a pistol for defense, not an afternoon plinking pistol. As such the weapon should be a little on the more powerful side. Not a pleasure to shoot but not intimidating either. It should shoot like a personel defense weapon. While I think a 9 mm may be ok for the summer time, I would not rely on a 9 mm with hollow points for a carry gun in the winter when people wear more and thicker clothing.

    Capacity ? Ask how many civilians you know that have ever shot more than 5 rounds in a single gunfight ?

    I prefer to buy American made products, but I do own a Sig because I like it the best. I will never own a Smith & Wesson in my lifetime. Each person must choose a weapon and utilize it as if the life of themselves, a family member or friend depends on it.

    Great article.

    • I appreciate your positive feedback. But I have to say, I do grow weary of hearing so many men always talking about “more power.” Men have NO idea how the bang of a .45 resonates in a woman’s body as opposed to a man’s. The last thing that you want to have happen is for a woman to shy away from becoming comfortable with their firearm because it’s too powerful. My mother took her life with a tiny .22 Derringer. It’s NOT caliber that wins–it’s shot placement. I’m convinced that all of this talk about how feeble a 9 mm is is just a bunch of unnecessary hoopla perpetuated by manufacturers who make more money on the more powerful ammo as well as other individuals who have no professional experience teaching woman on both the mental and physical level how to defend themselves with a firearm. The 9 mm has decades of success. While I’ve come to enjoy my .40, there’s no way I would have continued shooting if that’s what my husband had insisted on when I first started.

      Some may not be familiar with this, but we had a horrific instance in our state several years back in which a lone individual, young male, went into a shopping mall and just started shooting. One of the men who helped to fight him off used TWO magazines. I’m all about preparedness (see http://www.preparednesspro.com) More firepower is never a bad thing in my opinion. So if I can have more fire power, then I’m all for it. I only teach women who are all shapes and sizes. It is with that experience that I have discovered that the majority of my clients like the grip of the Glock better than the litany of others we have they try.But like the article says, it’s indeed a very personal choice.

    • Capacity? Let’s put it this way. Tom Givens, of Rangemaster (Memphis, TN) has had nearly 60 students involved in self-defense shootings. He’s been fortunate to have debriefs with almost all of them. When it comes to number of shots fired, the average number of rounds fired I believe was around 3.8 rounds. But remember, that’s AVERAGE, which means somes shot more, some shot less. The most fired? 11 rounds. I recall one of the incidents involved a student with a 1911 and it’s a good thing he used an extended 8-round magazine instead of the standard 7 for a 1911 (.45 ACP) because it was the 9th shot that ended the fight. So yes, you may need to shoot more than 5 rounds in a gunfight.

      If you are able to know about your attack beforehand that you’re able to predict how many rounds you’re going to need, then perhaps you know enough about the future events that you should avoid the situation in the first place. Since I lack the ability to see into the future, I believe in carrying a modern semi-auto with as much capacity as you can handle (e.g. some people may have hands that are too small to manage a double-stack grip), plus at least one reload (not just additional ammo, but malfunctions happen too… remember our friend Murphy and his law). I don’t know what I’ll face, I’d rather be prepared for it.

      Sure, maybe the statistical average is 3 shots… but statistics are of little comfort when you end up being the anomaly.

      And yes, this has the side-effect of a preference for 9mm, because you can fit more rounds into the same space. Moderm 9mm self-defense ammo is quite adequate (when compared to other pistol-caliber self-defense ammo). More than enough study, reports from ER doctors, etc. really put your typical SD calibers: 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, at about the same performance (i.e. they all suck, because they’re all pistol calibers, but they’re all going to perform about the same). So if the “stopping power” is about the same, then what other factors can you compare the rounds on? capacity? 9mm wins. felt-recoil? many things enter into this, but all things being equal 9mm will have the least, which means it jars you least, you can better manage recoil, you can get back on the sights faster, you can thus make (accurate) follow-up shots faster (because in all likelihood if you have to shoot you will have to shoot more than 1 shot). And let’s face it… you also need to practice, and 9mm ammo is going to be the least expensive and not bang you up as much over a practice session… or perhaps a good weekend of training with a solid trainer where you may shoot a 1000+ rounds in the weekend (and cost you less too).

      This isn’t my opinion, it’s backed up by reams of data and facts, from solid folks like Tom Givens, Massad Ayoob, Greg Hamilton, etc.. Where is your data from?

      But in my opinion…. I help teach hundreds of students in a year, a good portion of which are brand new shooters. I’d say at least half of new shooters are women. While fundamentally it’s the same thing to teach a man or a woman, a woman starting out many times does have to be approached differently than a man (not a bad thing, just a different thing). And trust me… the old gun store mantra about how “little ladies” should carry .38 snub revolvers because they are tiny and cute just like her is just a load of bunk. I like to have the women in my intro classes shoot at least 1 round through a lightweight snub so they can see how much it sucks, how much it hurts, how hard it is to shoot well, so they can KNOW and have the confidence to tell the gun store dude not just “no” but “hell no” when he offers them a snub, and instead direct the sales guy to take out a more appropriate gun (these days we prefer the M&P, the XD/XDm, the Glock, and then if those can’t work for you we can work for other solutions like 1911’s or Kahr’s). We teach them about proper gun fit, we help them work to find a gun they will be comfortable shooting, thus they’ll practice with it. We don’t recommend a .22 for self-defense, but hey… there was a young woman in a recent class that was just overwhelmed by the noise and recoil of even a 9mm. If she needs to take it slower and just work with a .22? Fine. If she can become a crack shot with the .22? That’s going to do more for her than having a bigger gun she can’t or won’t shoot, which is just as bad as having no gun at at all.

  16. Great article and responses! I’m shopping for my first firearm and want to go into the store with a little more knowledge than “I need a gun.” I have small hands and little-to-no experience, so this blog has been VERY helpful! Thank you!

  17. Thanks for this article. My husband, a cop, said he already has my gun picked out for me. Now I plan on telling him that I want to be involved in choosing it!

  18. This article is awesome and reading through the comments is also very useful. My boyfriend is a cop, I am a dispatcher and I grew up around guns. I already had an idea of what I wanted in a carry weapon and this article, website and the links that go with it are extremely useful. Thank you for taking time out to do this!

  19. I’ve never owned a gun, and know nothing about them. Based on reading your info I’ve contacted a dealer and am going to get a 9mm semi-auto glock 19. My question is this…I’ve been hearing ammo is hard to get right now, will I be able to purchase it and is $550 a decent price for a used one?

    • Ammo is “hard to find” but certainly not impossible. It’s just not as abundant as it’s been in the past. 9mm isn’t tough at all though IMO.
      $550–no, that’s not a decent price, but then again NONE of the used gun prices are decent. I purchased several Glocks a few years ago NEW for $350. So I’m going through some sticker shock at the pricing I’m seeing on used ones lately. However, I do believe that $550 is the high end of the going rate right now for used Glocks.

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