Identify The Right Handgun For Women Customers

Your female customers may have different needs than your male customers. Identifying and fulfilling those needs wins you the sale.

Valerie is a young doctor and is quite new to firearms. She hadn’t considered owning one until her home was burgled and her instinct to protect her 2-year-old son kicked in. She went to a gun shop, received some good guidance from the lady behind the counter, and on her advice, took one of my firearm classes.

Her gun shop advisor was Kate Krueger. She and her husband, Jim, own Derby Guns in Scottsdale, Ariz. In addition to their retail work, Kate has a gun-oriented radio show, and she and Jim are firearms instructors. When Valerie showed up for the class, she had fired exactly 200 rounds from her first firearm, a Springfield Armory XD 9mm.

If you’ve spent time teaching men and women, you know that many guys have trouble taking instruction from another man. It’s as if it makes them less manly to submit to another man’s instructions in a discipline that’s seen as male-oriented. This is much less prevalent in women. The typical female student has paid for the instruction and absorbs the information — for the simple reason that it’s what she has chosen to pay for, and she wants full value. Thus, they have faster learning curves.

Shooting still being male-dominated, my classes are rarely more than 20-percent female. However, a disproportionate number of those who are voted “most improved shooter” by my training staff are women. They simply tend to have a faster learning curve, and the phenomenon described above is a big part of that.

Valerie only had to be told once to hold her XD firmly and briskly work the slide. From the first day, her finger rolled the trigger smoothly, never jerking or stabbing it, just as we’d taught. On each technique, she followed instructions to the letter. At the end of the course, her final qualification score was well into the 90th percentile, and she had been unanimously voted the Most Improved Shooter.

She had wisely taken Kate’s advice to get a 9mm auto with polymer frame and striker-fired mechanism. The slides on these pistols are easier to operate than those of hammer-fired pistols, which have strong mainsprings holding the hammer against the slide. Slender and petite, Valerie found the XD, the Smith & Wesson M&P series and the Glock all easy to operate in the gun shop.

“One Size Fits All” Doesn’t Apply

Being small of stature with proportional-size hands, Valerie had fingers about one digit shorter than those of the average-size man. While the girth and configuration of the handgun’s grip are important factors in fit to the shooter, trigger reach is as, or more, important. The reach from the backstrap of the XD to the face of the trigger was shorter on the XD than on other pistols of similar design, and that contributed to Valerie choosing it.

Sandy was another woman in the same class, and she is also a medical professional. A veteran shooter, she’s taller than Valerie with longer fingers, and shoots her best with the Beretta 92. This big 9mm is widely considered to be too big for a female hand, but Sandy found otherwise. She came in sixth out of 20-plus students, handily beating most of the men.

Habituation is a factor in gun selection, and so is finger length. “One size fits all” is a phrase that simply doesn’t apply to firearm selection.

Sales Tip: Take a few minutes to let your female customer try the trigger pulls of the different guns, and explain the trigger-reach factor. It is time well spent, and tends to be a strong sale-clincher.

A Wardrobe Of Guns

Sandy shot the course with the Beretta 9mm, because that was what she shoots best. She admits, however, that her most frequent carry gun is a J-frame Smith & Wesson Airweight .38, which she finds easier to conceal in hot weather. Conceding that it’s more difficult to shoot than the semiauto, she adapted by spending more time shooting and mastering it.

Having a wardrobe of defensive handguns is something Valerie’s mentor Kate Krueger understands well. After years of carrying and competing with a big Government Model 1911 .45 when she lived in New Hampshire, Kate switched to compact Glocks when she moved west. Usually, she wore a .45-caliber Glock 30 and, in the hottest weather, the “baby Glock” G26 in 9mm. Lately, however, she has switched to the Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm.

“It’s uncomfortable for most women to carry a gun inside the waistband, because of the shape of our hips,” she said. “The Shield is so slim; I went to it this past summer because it’s the first pistol flat enough for me to carry all day in an inside-the-waistband holster. It gives me more concealment options, and it has become my favorite carry gun.”

Sales Tip: Women tend to be more in tune with the “wardrobe” concept than men. Once they’ve bought, say, a Glock 19, you might suggest they think about expanding their “Glock 9mm wardrobe” by subsequently adding a smaller Glock 26, for days when the dress code has less allowance for gun bulge, and if they get into shooting, the longer-barreled Glock 17, which many find easier to shoot due to its long sight radius.

Gail Pepin, Florida/Georgia Regional Female Champion in IDPA shooting, is an example of this. Gail is partial to the Springfield Armory XD(M), a 20-shot 9mm with 4 1/2-inch barrel, for home defense and concealed carry. For deeper concealment needs, she switches to a smaller version, the 14-shot XD(M) Subcompact with 3.8-inch barrel. She recently acquired an XD(M) with the long 5 1/4-inch barrel for competition. They all work exactly the same, allowing great “skill transfer,” but each plays a different role.

Your female customers — whether new to the gun or not — may see firearms and shooting from a different perspective than your male customers. Cater to their needs, and you will have their business.
By Massad Ayoob

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SI March 2013

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2 thoughts on “Identify The Right Handgun For Women Customers

  1. Cherie

    I am a certified handgun and CHL instructor, one of only 6 CHL instructors in the state of TX. I am also a competitive shooter. My student base consists primarily of females. I think there is a misconception that smaller is better. Salesmen that have little to no experience with shooting, let alone self defense with a gun. They continually put a small gun in the hands of a novice or non shooter convincing them that it fits their hand just perfectly.

    I have women that come to my class with a tiny .380 or worse, a high caliber with a 2 – 3″ barrel. The small .380’s don’t hold up to having thousands of rounds being fired through them. With only 6 – 7 rounds it would be difficult to Stop one attacker on drugs, let alone more than one.

    As per my website,, you will see that you don’t have enough time to be digging a gun out of your tight jeans or your bra. Women are lured to gimmicks and the sad news is that they know nothing about crime and how it happens.

    The longer the barrel the straighter the shot, also the bullet travels faster and burns off more powder making it a more lethal shot. Smaller is not better if you can’t strong arm shoot it. Unlike what you see on TV, you probably won’t have time to get both hands on a gun.

    My recommendation would be a 4″ barrel Glock, and/or S&W (M&P) with the safety being in the trigger and not an extra step before being able to fire. They also have longer grips and much easier and faster to get your hand well placed for firing.

    The more rounds, the better your chances, especially if facing more than one attacker. We dismiss the fact that a high number of attackers are on drugs and desensitized, the brain doesn’t signal properly and you may have to shoot numerous times before they even know they’ve been hit.

    In any case, it takes firing over 3,000 rounds for it to becomes instinctual, whereby attaining muscle memory. I hope this helps anyone trying to make the decision on what to buy. Shoot it before you buy one.

  2. Robert Modero

    I really like how you addressed “wardrobe of the guns”. I think a lot of people don’t realize that women have different needs than men (smaller hands, less strength in fingers, wardrobe differences etc.). We wrote about it here for anyone interested in reading more: :// Would definitely appreciate a feedback and insights you might offer. Thank you for great guide.
    – Robert Modero


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