Update, 1/23/2012: These posts get a LOT of hits from folks which is really cool. If you have questions or comments please feel free to post them as a comment below and I’ll do what I can to answer quickly.
One other quick note. If you’re interested in handguns for ladies there a couple of video channels that you want to check out. There are many but a couple that are really fun are these two:
Heather does lots of fun videos and a few reviews as well. I mostly like this because she’s from area of the country where I grew up so it’s fun to listen to the accents.
She has a couple of different streams on Youtube that tend to be targeted at men but if you’re a woman and want to see that women really can shoot this girl’s got it going on :
Here’s a great overview video:
Destiny is a little camera shy but she shoots really well and has a LOT of videos about shooting for women that are, essentially, training videos. She also does fun stuff and reviews.
She’s also on Facebook here:
Standard Disclaimers Apply. Particularly:
First, I’m not a police officer and never have been. My experience is based on working at a gun range for several years during college, some time in the military and that’s about it. Second, I’m not a professional shooter. I just have guns and know how to use them. The range that I worked at wasn’t a “fly-by-night” operation. This was a professional, state sanctioned public facility. Local Law Enforcement trained and were tested there. The Rangemaster was a well loved and respected member of the small-town society and was regularly invited to comment on topics by the local media. I’ll probably write an entire post about him sometime but that’ll be a tough one. Third, I’m not a lawyer in any state… especially yours. This just reflects the prevailing legislation in a particular state of the union about 15 years ago. Many of the theories still apply but don’t call me to throw your bail.
One of the questions that we got a lot during these classes was, "What gun should I buy?" The answer is a tough one because it’s different for everyone but the general answer is, "Buy the biggest gun that you can handle safely and fire comfortably". There are two parts to that answer and both of them are important.
Most people have been mislead into thinking that handguns are very light. They’re not. Even a small gun can have considerable empty weight. They are made out of steel (as a general rule) and steel aint light. When you add the additional weight of the cartridges (bullets) they can get unwieldy. Since the general idea is to wield a gun in self defense an unwieldy weapon is, by definition, useless. The actual weapon that you choose is really based on your size and strength. You CAN learn to shoot a handgun (even to shoot it well) that is too large for you but in a self defense situation where microseconds count you don’t want to be slowed down by having too big of a gun. Thus the thought "as big as you can handle"
There are different viewpoints on this. If your attacker is a crack (or more likely meth) addled addict they may not be affected by the shock and pain of being shot. Since the brain refuses to function and respond to being shot properly in these situations the only alternative is to cause enough damage to cause the body to cease to function. There are two ways to do that. Make very big holes and cause lots of damage or cause more limited damage to critical areas. The first is accomplished through the use of large caliber rounds. The second can be accomplished with something as small as a .22. What you want is somewhere in the middle. You want to cause as much damage as possible but to do that you have to be able to hit what you’re shooting at. If you are missing your target because the gun is too heavy or the recoil is too great then you’re just making noise. Which covers the "and fire comfortably" part.
I’m going to get into generalities here. As you learn to shoot properly you can learn to use larger guns. Women who have been shooting for a long time have trained into themselves the arm and shoulder strength to use heavier firearms. They also learn "leverage tricks" that you get from being intimately familiar with any task. Even something as mundane as swinging a sledgehammer becomes easier as you gain practice not necessarily because you gain strength but because you learn where and how to hold it to get the most effect. The same applies. However, "in general" and "in my opinion" (see the disclaimer again.. 🙂 ) the .38 Special is the best compromise for most women. It is light enough to wield effectively and uses a heavy enough bullet to cause significant damage. Women for whom this gun feels too light can try the .357 Magnum or even move up to .44 caliber guns but there are many men who can’t handle those effectively. Of course, there are women who can kick most mens ass and therein lies the problem with generalities. For the purposes of this post, let’s just assume that the .38 Special is a good starter gun (which interestingly makes it a good finisher gun too.)
The .38 Special was the standard service revolver for most police agencies for over 70 years. It is the SAME caliber as a .357 magnum. That means bullet and cartridge diameters are the same. The difference is in the length of the round. The longer .357Magnum can hold more powder and gains more power from that. This also increases recoil considerably and the internal pressures created by this extra powder requires that the gun be built heavier. The absolute best way to determine what works for any particular person is to try them. Many gun ranges will allow you pay one fee and rent several different guns. It’s best to go with a competent instructor and have them teach you to shoot each type of weapon properly. Once you’ve done that it will quickly become apparent which you prefer.
Don’t get caught up in the "bigger is better" mindset. Both sides of the equation apply equally. If a .38 Special is too large for you try something smaller. These are all generalities. There are hundreds of combinations of size and weight out there. There are calibers from 9mm’s and 10mm weapons to .40 caliber (which can have less recoil than a .38 even) all the way up to .50 caliber monsters. Essentially, the .38 Special and .357 Magnum are just good solid platforms to build on. If someone asks, "which is best for me" that’s the answer I give but they may not be best. Try them out and come to your own conclusions but most importantly, try them correctly. Get training and ask your instructor to help you choose.