On this page, I will be posting information that relates to some of the most common issues facing women gun owners. You are free to disagree with my opinions, as there is no absolute when it comes to choosing what works best for your individual situation.
I. Semiautomatic pistol issues
The most common concern I hear from women when choosing between a revolver and a semi-auto is "I can't rack the slide, so a semi-auto isn't an option for me." There are many factors in choosing a handgun, but the slide on a semiauto shouldn't be a limiting factor, if proper technique is used. In a very few cases, even proper technique isn't enough to physically allow a shooter to manipulate a slide with a stock (factory weight) spring, for instance, severe arthritis, hand injuries, or other medical conditions. In that case, try different brands of semiautos, as some have easier slides than others, or choose a revolver (revolvers have their own issues, in particular heavy triggers, which I'll discuss another time).
Small hands alone do not make it impossible to rack a slide - the photos below were taken of a teenage girl with very small hands. Before you assume you don't have the strength to rack a slide, try this method (verify the gun is not loaded when you practice this, and ALWAYS point the muzzle in a safe direction). Note that it is easier to get your arms into the proper alignment if you turn your body 90 degrees (face to your strong side, so your feet are parallel to the firing line, instead of perpendicular to it) while keeping the muzzle pointed downrange. Remember, this is a handling exercise, not a firing exercise. You can turn your body, grip, and arms any way you want, as long as you keep the muzzle pointed downrange, keep your finger off the trigger, and don't place body parts in front of the muzzle.
1. Grasp the slide with an OVERHAND grip, while keeping the gun close in to your body with the strong hand in a firing grip. (Notice the trigger finger indexed alongside the frame, NOT on the trigger!) DON'T grasp the slide from the rear, like a slingshot. You have much less leverage in that position.
Another view of the overhand grip:
2. Keeping elbows out, ideally parallel to each other forming a straight line from elbow to elbow, use a push-push motion (push toward the opposite elbow with each hand), using the bones of your arms rather than the muscles to push against the weight of the recoil spring.
3. In a smooth but firm motion, push/push so that the slide moves all the way to the rear. Notice the top hand is not covering the ejection port, which could prevent ejection of the casing or jammed round, if you are trying to clear the chamber.
4. Release the slide! Don't "ride the slide" forward, which may cause the slide not to return to battery (go completely forward to its resting position), which can induce a malfunction. The spring is meant to cycle the slide vigorously - babying it by easing it forward actually interferes with its proper function. Let it go, and enjoy the satisfying ka-chunk sound! (all of Hollywood does, so much so that they rack the slide every scene, even if the gun was already chambered).
The above sequence should be practiced until it is one smooth motion. It is the same technique for locking the slide open, except you need to be pushing up on the slide lock lever with the grip hand thumb when the slide is pushed to the rear. You will most likely have to rotate your hand on the grip in order to reach the slide lock lever. That's OK - it's handling, not shooting, and you don't have to keep a firing grip while you're handling your gun, but do keep the muzzle pointed downrange! (Hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here...)
II. Purse Carry
I'd like to talk about carrying your gun in a purse. Purse carry is a somewhat controversial topic, at least among those who don't do it (mostly men). Although I agree that concealed carry on your body is the ideal method with regard to safety and security, I am realistic enough to understand that those are not the only issues women deal with when choosing a carry method. I am also practical enough to know that no matter how much discussion, women will continue to carry in their purses, and that being the case, we are entitled to the best information available to make purse carry the safest and most effective it can be.
If you are going to carry in a purse, handbag, or backpack, please follow these guidelines:
First ask yourself, Is there any way I can carry on my person today instead of in a handbag? Be honest, and try to attach your gun to yourself before you put it in your purse. If you can't or won't, keep these principles in mind while you are carrying in your purse:
There must be a separate, dedicated compartment for the handgun and ONLY the handgun with a built-in holster that will allow drawing the gun with one hand. The gun compartment must contain nothing other than the gun and holster, for ease of drawing and to protect the trigger from snagging on loose items. As with belt holsters, the holster must cover the trigger guard of the handgun completely to prevent accidental discharge. Most gun purse manufacturers will specify what size handgun can safely be carried in each model purse.
If you don't buy a purse made specifically for gun carry, you will have to use a separate holster to hold your handgun within the purse. The major drawback to this is when you try to draw the gun, the holster will come out of the purse with the handgun, making it necessary to then draw the gun from the holster. This is slow, clumsy, and dangerous (it's easy to sweep your other hand with the muzzle while drawing a gun from a loose holster).
Drawing from a purse is significantly slower and clumsier than drawing from a holster.
There are a few things you can do to improve the speed of purse draw:
1. Get the biggest purse you can find and comfortably carry. If the opening to the gun compartment is too small, it makes obtaining a firing grip on the gun very difficult and slows the draw while you are trying to extricate the gun. Drawing your gun shouldn't feel like trying to get a peanut out of a soda bottle! Purses should be selected which have plenty of room not only to carry the pistol, but to grip and present it smoothly. Carrying a smaller gun is not as good an option as carrying a bigger purse. Don't fill up the free space in the purse with junk! It bulks up the bag and makes it harder to get to your gun.
2. Get a purse with a top opening gun compartment. I have timed the draw from purses vs. belt holsters under a concealment garment, and you can draw equally fast from purse - IF it has a top access gun pocket, AND if you already have the compartment open, with your hand gripping the gun, at the time you decide to draw. Side open compartments are very slow, and it's much more awkward to draw the gun from them. In order to meet the criteria for speed and access, you will have to be aware of your surroundings and prepared to draw your gun. With your hand on the gun inside the purse, the gun is still hidden, but ready if needed. The good news is, awareness is Good! We WANT you to be thinking about whether you might need your gun, and staying in Condition Yellow at the very least. The other good news is, no one thinks it odd for a woman to be walking through a parking lot with her hand in her purse, as most women dig for their keys or cell phone while walking to their car. The extra awareness you exhibit will also discourage criminals from choosing you as an easy victim. If you slip into condition white, and have to deal with a "sudden" encounter, drawing from a purse is slow and awkward, especially if you start with the purse zipped up.
3. Firing through the purse itself is an option that bypasses the draw step, and would be useful in a close quarters situation. You can only do this with a revolver with a shrouded hammer, as a semiauto is likely to malfunction due to interference with the slide movement inside the purse, and a revolver with an external hammer may have a similar motion problem. The revolver should be test fired through handbags of similar materials to be sure it functions this way. (We all have purses we'd like to shoot holes in, don't we?)
Get a purse with a long shoulder strap, and carry the purse across your body, not hanging from one shoulder.
It is much easier to snatch a purse carried loosely on one side. The shoulder strap should be adjusted to a length that allows a natural contact of the strong hand with the grip of the gun. (The bottom of the purse should hang no lower than the wrist with the arms down at the sides). With a top access compartment, the gun can be accessed while the purse is in the natural carry postition. While drawing from a side compartment, the purse must be steadied with the weak hand to counter the force of the strong hand as it is pushed into the gun pocket, and while the gun is drawn from the inner holster. The actual draw is much like a retention holster: the gun must be rocked upwards first so the bottom of the grip clears the lower edge of the zipper, then drawn straight back as the purse is pushed clear or dropped with the free hand. Practice until presentation becomes smooth. (Note: It's very easy to sweep someone standing beside you when practicing this on a firing line, so for safety reasons drawing has to be done with the body bladed 90 degrees to the line. This is not very realistic, so practice with an unloaded firearm in a safe place to become familiar with the motion. Your other option is a fanny pack, but certain environments are not conducive to fanny packs (it looks at home while hiking, but not so much in the boardroom).
Get a purse with a zipper closure, not Velcro! A zipper closure is quieter than velcro, has the ability to incorporate a lock on the gun compartment, and doesn't cause abrasions to your hand while practicing drawing. If it hurts, you won't practice it much!
Practice moving for cover when needed, before drawing your gun. While developing the Personal Protection Outside the Home course, the NRA did some field tests with some of their instructors. One of the exercises the NRA instructors tried was to draw from a gun purse, then move for cover. One instructor discovered that she ended up standing in the open far too long trying to draw, and concluded that she was much safer moving to cover and then going for her gun. I think perhaps beginning the presentation (positioning the purse) while taking cover could be incorporated, but trying to draw while moving is very complicated and likely to delay reaching cover. Definitely evasion should be the first reaction - not too different from any carry method, but even more critical to give yourself time to present your handgun. Again we see the importance of staying aware of your surroundings, and being prepared.
When holstering your gun in your purse, pay attention! It is next to impossible to safely holster into a purse one-handed, or without looking, especially if the gun is a snug fit through the opening. Place the purse on a stable surface, keeping in mind what's below you (such as lower level living space, etc), and what direction the muzzle is pointing at all times. Make sure the trigger has nothing to snag on while reholstering and watch your trigger finger and your support hand! Most self induced injuries happen during holstering. If you are a law enforcement officer reading this you probably know of someone who has shot himself in the leg while holstering. If there is anything inside the trigger guard as the gun slides into the holster, it will fire the gun.
Don't store your gun in your purse. When you arrive home, put your gun in the safe or better still, change into clothes you can wear a belt holster on, and keep it on you. Home invasions are becoming more common, and the first principle of safe gun storage is to prevent access by unauthorized persons.
The bottom line is to find a way to safely and effectively carry your gun. It does you no good at home while you're out and about. I'd much rather see women carrying in a purse, properly done, than not carrying at all. We've all had men tell us we can't carry in a purse because someone will take our gun from us. That's not far off from the general statement that women shouldn't carry a gun because we will have it taken away. The choice is ours, and it's our right to carry. It's also our responsibility to learn the proper methods and follow them so there won't be instances of criminals getting our guns.
Kramer Leather, Galco, ladiesprotection.com, smartcarry.com, and Rusty Sherrick all offer women's holsters that are worth checking out.