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Defensive Firearms For Ladies – Part I

The Wheelgun: Woman’s Best Friend, or Worst Nightmare?

(The First of 3 Installments on the Subject of Defensive Firearms for Ladies)
Anyone who has spent time in a gun shop has watched the scene play out at least once in the past. A man comes in with his significant other, looking to pick up a firearm for her to use for personal protection—typically when “he’s not there to take care of her.” In many cases, he already has his mind made up about what the best option will be for the little lady. In others, the “expert” behind the counter provides a wealth of information and essentially makes the decision for the customers. Whether these two viewpoints arrive at the same conclusion or not, in the vast majority of cases, they are based on age-old norms and traditions that in reality amount to little more than firearms myths. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular options in more detail and see if we can’t figure out exactly why they probably aren’t the best choice.

Likely since the onset of the 20th century, the most common answer to this conundrum has been the revolver. And on the surface, wheel guns actually seem to make a lot of sense—especially when folks make so many “great cases” against the competition. Some common examples include:

“She’s not strong enough to work the slide on my Glock.”

“She doesn’t know how to clear a jam, so I want something that will always ‘go bang’.”

“She doesn’t even know what a ‘clip’ is, and 6 shots will be enough for her anyway.”

“She can’t deal with the recoil of a ‘man’s gun’.”

“Anything but a snubby will be too big for her to handle.”

All of these claims have two things in common. First, they’re steeped highly in archaic ways of thinking that actually pre-date the vast majority of women’s rights in the US. Second, and most notably, they can all be negated through proper training and practice. (Well, make it three things in common—they’re all essentially BS!) These misconceptions are directly linked; they assume that the perceived physical and emotional limitations of a woman (“weak and scared”) subsequently restrict her options for personal protection. We will cover that erroneous line of thinking in later installments, but for now, let’s take a look at the revolver—both as an optimal tool for self-defense in general, as well as how it addresses (or not) these faulty concerns.

Without sparking a ballistics debate, we can all agree that the non-magnum cartridges are on the lower end of the acceptable terminal performance scale. You could even argue that (short of the higher grain +p velocity offerings) the .38 Special is actually inadequate in this department—and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. And if the “little woman” can’t handle the puny recoil of your polymer 9mm, there is absolutely no chance that she can work with a magnum cartridge like the .357 or .44– leaving the .38 as the most logical substitute.

On top of this questionable performance level, the revolver only offers her 6 shots with which to stop the threat. When more rounds on target are called for, the firearm you’ve stuck her with cuts her capacity by as much as 71%! (That’s a 5-shot LCR vs. a Glock 17, for those of you checking my math.) And if she is “incapable” of feeding a magazine into a well and working the slide, I highly doubt she will have any more luck with a speed loader or even a moon clip—especially with a violent attacker breathing down her neck.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those oh-so-important hits on target may be much harder to come by with the revolver. Unless you’re completely crazy, you’ve handed her a DA/SA and (Gods be good) instructed her to just aim and pull the trigger, as opposed to messing around with the hammer (if the gun even has one). Short of fully-tuned competition pistols, that means that even the slickest trigger in the wheel gun world is going to present her with a long and relatively heavy pull. (If you went cheap, it might stack like crazy as well, with a travel range as long as your… well… you get the idea.)

Still worse, following the typical mindset of “a small and light gun for a small and light person”, you’ve probably selected a snub-nose .38—perhaps even one of the super-lightweight scandium or polymer options floating around en masse these days. Congratulations—you’ve just made her task of managing the recoil a thousand times more difficult, while simultaneously providing her with some of the worst handgun sights known to man. Just how well do YOU shoot that little bugger with the hand-smacking recoil impulse and the shallow groove/sky scraper sight configuration?

Which leads me to my very first key point of the series, so listen up:

          If you can’t shoot the gun very well, neither can she!

Chances are that neither of you train or practice as much as you should. (Even your Elitist author is guilty of that in many regards.) In fact, that may very well be the reason why you’ve chosen a revolver for her in the first place. If you’ve got even the first clue (and since you’re reading this, we’ll assume that you must), you realize that the road to proficiency is paved with hard work and spent brass. Just how open to that pursuit is your lady going to be when she ends up with a bone bruise after emptying her first cylinder? Just how much punishment can you take when you bring her little pistol to the firing line?

Thus we realize that even if the assumptions about her limitations were true, the revolver most commonly selected for women (“air weight” .38 snubby) is actually the worst possible solution to the problem, on essentially every level.

“But wait,” says you—“those are all reasonable trade offs for a gun that will always work when she needs it!”

While we could argue the merits of that larger concept, the specific contention itself is fallacious. Revolvers, like any tool or machine, can and eventually will fail. Admittedly, I don’t spend much time around them—this is one area in which I can’t offer numerous examples from personal experience. However, the folks that I’ve talked to (ground-pounding LEO, training bums and competition shooters of yore) can all wax philosophically about busted springs, timing issues, locked cranes/yokes, frozen cylinders, fractured forcing cones, and a host of other issues and malfunctions that sound like they’re being spoke in an alien language to a “bottom feeder” guy such as myself.

What’s most interesting and important to note is that unlike a stovepipe or a double feed in a semi-automatic, these malfunctions cannot be easily resolved. In fact, with very few exceptions, they render the gun completely inoperable. Even a genuine newbie (thanks to TV and movies) would probably start fiddling with the slide if their semi-auto crapped the bed, and in so doing might be able to get the gun running again before the bad guy kicked down their bedroom door. But the best gunsmith in the world couldn’t get the side plate off of a revolver without the help of a tool. In other words, revolvers are not as infallible as so many folks seem to believe, and when they do quit working, they are seriously down for the count. Do you want to give your lady a weapon that mightturn into a paperweight when it fails, or one that almost certainly will?

Furthermore, remember that if you choose the proper firearm and shoot it enough to ensure that it functions properly, the chances of a malfunction in the first place are going to be pretty slim. We will cover this topic in greater detail down the road, but for the time being, suffice it to say that the unreliability of non-revolvers is grossly overstated when it comes to the topic of giving one to a woman.

In the next installment, we will cover the remainder of the most popular choices (made by men) for females and illustrate why they, too, are questionable options at best. Finally, in the third and final segment, we will identify what I believe to be the best tools for the task– and cover the VERY important topic of training and practice as well, while simultaneously illustrating why you should have more faith in the women in your life. Stick around, stay tuned, and by golly, be open to learning something new and don’t hesitate to investigate/question my assertions for yourself!

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