Making the decision to use a handgun for self-defense and home protection can be a huge shift in ideology, or just another choice due to a comfort level forged from being around guns your whole life. Either way, many women have made this choice, and our numbers are growing at the check-out counter, concealed weapons classes, at the range and as heroes when a criminal threatens us or our families. Just as there is a myriad of types of women and personalities out there, it seems there are just as many misconceptions of what kind of handgun is best suited for us. Fortunately, women talk to each other, and by communicating we can help each other find the perfect handgun. On top of this personal, one-on-one communication, websites such as can help point a rookie or an expert in the right direction when it comes to their protection.

Natalie Foster began the Girl’s Guide To Guns website after she discovered the joy of shooting. Her discovery came about in a unique way. After leaving a career in Hollywood, Foster began working with children with autism. One of the techniques they used to relate to these children was called “floor time,” in which the adult would hang out with the kids doing what they loved. Although raised around guns by a dad who was in the 101st Airborne, Foster explained that guns were something the guys did, but not the girls. After a death in the family, Foster wanted to connect with her dad, so she took the idea of floor time and applied it to her relationship.

“I asked my dad to take me shooting,” she said. “He was a bit skeptical at first, but then he offered me up a buffet. We shot handguns and rifles. I walked off the range with an experience that began to solidify my relationship with my dad. Guns were relational and not just about safety. It was about being together.”

Natalie Foster started the Girl’s Guide To Guns website to help other women gain the confidence to protect themselves.
Natalie Foster started the Girl’s Guide To Guns website to help other women gain the confidence to protect themselves.

Foster loved the experience so much she started getting more and more into shooting. “I got all those other benefits, feeling strong and empowered and the safety piece,” she stated. “Women experience this so much differently than men do.” So, she started a blog that turned into, an incredible resource for all things relating to women and guns. Based on her personal experience and information shared by other women, she has extensive knowledge of what factors contribute to women being satisfied with their self-defense handgun.

Function & Size

Numerous factors are involved in selecting the right handgun. Size, weight, recoil, trigger weight, firepower, style and aftermarket part availability all play a role in choosing a gun that’s just right. Although all these factors have an impact, Foster said the most important factor is what the gun is going to be used for. “Guns are expensive,” she stated. “Sometimes women have to choose between concealed carry and home defense. They are very different guns.” Once that choice has been made, size and weight are the next consideration.

Make sure to try out your pistol to ensure it's the right fit for you.
There is no substitute to trying out a gun to see how it feels and making sure it feels right for you.


Foster explained that concealed-carry guns need to be smaller and lighter. She carries a Ruger LCP (.380 ACP, 9.6 ounces, 6+1 capacity) because it is convenient, small and comfortable on her body. Her colleague carries a Diamondback DB380 (.380 ACP, 8.8 ounces, 6+1 capacity). Foster stated that these are both good options for a purse or a body holster.

For home defense, she would prefer something larger. “[Size is] absolutely a huge factor depending on what I want to use it for,” stated Foster. “Guns are like tools. I’m going to use a wrench for a certain job as opposed to a screwdriver for another job. It’s important to know what your objective is to know what tool to use.” She explained the smaller the gun, the more of an impact you will feel when shooting it. “The reality is, the smaller the handgun, the less they are able to contain the explosion of the bullet, so you feel it a lot more drastically in your hand and body. For any beginning shooter, that is really going to impact how they feel about shooting. If it hurts, they aren’t going to do it much.” For home defense, she recommends something bigger. “A full size or a compact, not a sub-compact,” she said. “It’s more comfortable and my accuracy will be better because I’m not flinching subconsciously every time I pull the trigger because of recoil.”

Size was a major factor when Jennifer Godden purchased her first gun for home defense. Godden, 35 and a registered nurse who lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, bought her first handgun due to her Navy husband spending so much time overseas. She prefers her Taurus 709 “Slim” 9mm because of its size. “I have tiny squirrel hands, and I don’t have to carry a duffel bag to conceal it.” She found her main problem with full-sized guns was that the magazine release was too far away for her to safely eject without taking her eyes and/or aim off her target. “I like the bigger guns just fine,” she explained. “But for defense, I need a slightly smaller weapon to fit my small hands and short fingers.”

Taking Control

Weight doesn’t play a role as much as size when deciding what handgun to choose, although it also has an impact on the comfort of shooting. “You would think you would want a lighter gun, but that’s not the case,” Foster said. “The heavier it is, the more metal it has and less polymer, so you feel the explosion less and it is easier to shoot.” She went on to explain that there is a lot of psychology wrapped up in learning to fire a handgun. Many of us have preconceived notions of what it should be like based on what we have seen in the media. When the experience is not like that, many will shy away from the training and familiarization that is essential to being a responsible gun owner and the ability to shoot, and shoot accurately, if necessary.

Recoil is one of those factors that is influenced by size, weight and caliber, but it has enough of an impact on gun choice that it can be mentioned separately. “It makes such a difference in the experience,” Foster explained. “If it’s a comfortable gun to shoot, you’ll do it a lot more. You’ll be more proficient in protecting yourself and your family. You’re going to be better at it, plus you’re going to be on target.”

Find a pistol that is comfortable to conceal.
It’s important to find a gun that is powerful enough, comfortable to shoot and easy to conceal. Straight 8 Photo

My best friend and I both prefer the 9mm Glock 19. Neither of us would be described as petite, so the bigger size of both the compact and the full-size are appropriate for both concealed carry and home defense.

Althea Olson Wasilewski, 46, lives outside Chicago and has plenty of experience being around guns. Being married to a police officer and working in the mental health arena, she knows how important it is for women to know how to protect themselves. Her choice for her own protection, a Springfield XDM 9mm or .40.

“I have small hands,” she said, “It’s hard to find one that fits well. [With the Springfield,] I can gently squeeze the trigger while balancing my weight. Nothing feels strained. Just natural. No extra thought needed.” Wasilewski also stated that a .22 is great to learn on, but it just doesn’t have enough stopping power to be considered for a self- or home-defense weapon.

Stopping Power

Learning how to shoot and becoming comfortable with a handgun is essential to enjoyment, proficiency and safety. Shooting something with a smaller caliber and then moving up to find what is just right will increase your pleasure while training.

“I don’t want a purse gun,” explained Wasilewski. “You have to be really skilled with that. It’s hard to accurately aim. A 9mm has some forgiveness in aiming. A .45 ACP requires confidence because of the kickback, but it will take someone out.” In regards to firepower, Foster explained, “I’m not an expert. I get my information from experts. When I hear instructors or Navy SEALs telling me to get a 9mm, I listen. Shot placement is more important than stopping power.”

Although I would like to believe purchasing a gun has different elements than buying shoes or jewelry, other female gun owners have reminded me that style does play a role. “What the gun looks like is becoming more and more of a factor,” Foster explained. “More people we bring into the shooting force are worried about how it looks. People want it to look good. Appreciating the design of the gun is important.” Numerous manufacturers are catering to the female market in both handgun style and accessories.

To Foster, aftermarket accessories play a huge part in her decision to purchase a handgun. She’s interested in holsters, lasers and rails so she can add whatever she wants. “I want a versatile gun, especially for my first gun,” she said. “One that will be able to move forward in the future with bells and whistles. If it doesn’t have rails, I’m probably not going to be interested.” She also appreciates handguns that come with interchangeable parts. Her Sig Sauer P250 9mm can be a subcompact, compact or full-size due to a functional mechanism that can be changed to alter the caliber and the size. Interchangeable grips also increase desirability, with Smith & Wesson leading the charge by offering small, medium and large grips on its M&P 9mm. “You will be able to get a great fit for your hand,” Foster said. “Then you can bling it out with the brilliant backstrap and interchange them according to your outfit or your mood.”

The Perfect Weapon

Most of the biggest mistakes in buying a handgun for a woman happen when a well-meaning male thinks he knows how to buy one for his daughter or significant other. For the most part, men would not buy a gun for another man without having him there at the time of purchase. He would recognize that his friend would need to hold the gun, feel the weight and size and, most of all, shoot it before he could know if it was a good fit. Women need the same thing to ensure a proper match, but, unfortunately, this is a step in the process that is often missed, albeit with good intention.

Find quality holster for your pistol.
After you find the gun, make sure you find a quality CCW holster and practice drawing from concealment. Photo by Steve Woods

“It’s usually a very good-hearted reason,” stated Foster, “but they will often buy them a gun that doesn’t fit and it’s not comfortable. They won’t shoot it, and the objective won’t be met. They won’t be familiar with it because it’s not fun to shoot.”

By adhering to all the suggestions mentioned, women can go find, purchase and train with the most appropriate handgun for them. Not all women have small hands. Not all women want a subcompact. Not all women want a pink grip. Every woman is different. Fortunately, there are a lot of options. Just remember, there is no substitute for trying out a gun to see how it feels and making sure it feels right for you.

When asked what advice Foster would give to a woman considering purchasing her first handgun, she said, “Find the most highly rated instructor in your area and get experience with different sizes, different guns—revolver or pistol or semi-automatic. Take a class so you will feel empowered
to shoot on your own and give that gift to other women as well.” Great advice. Happy shopping and happy shooting.

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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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