In my last dispatch from Hardyville, I mentioned Miss Fitz, our schoolmarm.
I must confess I fudged a bit on her description.
She does indeed run Miss Fitz's Academy for Young Ladies. But the young ladies in question ... well, aren't exactly students. Or ladies.
If Miss Fitz really were the schoolmarm, she might have no particular need for a gun. Most of the students in Hardyville are well-equipped to handle the situation in the event, say, that an IRS agent showed up to impress the class with the virtues of the income tax.
But Miss Fitz's Young Ladies aren't always able to have their own firearms on their person, so to speak, since some other person is frequently on their person.
So Miss Fitz finds herself in need of the occasional self-defensive firearm.
For years, she patrolled the halls of the Academy with a little 25 caliber semi-auto. But the last time she put a round in the rear of some troublemaking out-of-town boy who didn't understand good Hardyville manners, he didn't notice. Until he got home and his girlfriend spotted the itty bitty bit of lead. The loving lady figured out what was going on and did him in with a much more effective weapon: a ceramic flowerpot to the cranium.
And Miss Fitz decided it was time for a grown-up sidearm.
But which? Of course, that's where the real trouble begins. Because when a person of the female persuasion is looking for her first serious firearm, the only thing she can be sure of is that she can't be sure of anything.
Miss Fitz, however, is the dauntless sort. (Has to be to survive as a ... schoolmarm.) So she cut through the quadrillions of pages of magazines and books and the gazillion Web sites about firearms. She figured out a thing or two. And she writes pretty well. So without further intro, here begins Part I of ...
Miss Fitz's Grown-up Girls' Guide To Guns
By Miss Euphemia Fitz
Headmistress, Miss Fitz's Academy for Young Ladies
You need a handgun. Trust me on this, unless you're a bad guy, a die-hard pacifist, or a government agent, you really do need one. But if you're a female – or anybody whose goal in life isn't to be a firearms fanatic – this means you start out with some disadvantages.
Girls, you know how it goes. Ask the nearest gun-loving boyfriend or husband, and he's likely to say one of two things.
Thing one: "Baby, just stick with that itty-bitty girly .25. Yaw'll just know you'll get all fluttery if you have to shoot a real man's gun."
Thing two: (Puffs up pecs; goes into Super-Guy Mode) "Naturally, there's only one handgun anybody in his right mind would ever get and that's a Super-Wacken-Wacher Polymer-Resinated Triple-Action quasi-auto in the Southern Italian .486 cal. XY6 model, of course, not the completly inferior .392 Gnorf Magnum, but only if you add the custom No-Bump compensator, a trigger job by Bruce of Biloxi, and gold plated Trid-i-Glo sights, and load it with the Hydro-Blart self-fragilating 386.8-grain Teflon-jacketed bullets imported from Uzbekizmania, and hand-load your rounds with diamond-studded smokeless powder from the caves of Eastern Elphemia on a $3,000 Killersmorph reloading press, which'll give you a muzzle velocity of ..."
And by that point, too many of us girls get convinced we'll never understand anything about firearms.
Don't let it happen to you.
There certainly are some girls in the world – and some women, and perhaps even some wymyn – who have that sort of relationship with guns, and would be right in there talking muzzle velocity and hoisting Budweisers with the best of the guys. Those girls probably also know the RBI of the third baseman for the 1932 Chicago Cubs. And you go, grrlz! I'm impressed.
But the average woman – even the average head of a Young Ladies Academy – wants to know just four main things about handguns, once she's decided she needs one:
- What gun should I get?
- How do I get it?
- What ammo do I put in it?
- How do I shoot it?
The experts are fine. We need 'em. But you don't have to become any sort of heavy gun guy to understand the basics of buying and using your #1 self-protection device.
This guide starts off with the age-old question: "Should a woman get a revolver or a semi-auto?" I'm not only going to answer it (the answer being Yes, No, and Maybe), but give you a list of the best guns to look at if you've never owned a real sidearm before.
I admit, I had a lot of help from the guys. Bless 'em, whatever would we do without 'em? Not all of 'em have their heads up their muzzles. A lot of information here is theirs. But the conclusions are all ours to make, girls.
Revolver Or Semi-auto?
Nearly everybody recommends a revolver for a woman's first handgun. But I'm here to tell you, it ain't necessarily so. Especially now when some of the newer semi-autos are nearly as fuss-free as revolvers. But wait a sec. Just what is a revolver, and what's a semi-auto, and what are the variations of them you need to know before you start your shopping?
What's A Revolver?
A revolver is a handgun where the cartridges*** are carried in a revolving – get it? -- cylinder. It's the kind of gun you see in old cowboy movies because it was the hot-shot modern gun to have in those days.
What's so good about revolvers?
- They're easier to use than most (not all!) semi-autos.
- There's less to go wrong.
- They're often cheaper than semi-automatics.
- You can change the grips to make them fit larger or smaller hands (something only some semi-autos allow.
- Some revolvers can handle two different calibers of ammo – a big, nasty, ugly, hard-to-shoot but really knock-em-down caliber and a smaller, lighter, cheaper round for practice.
- They're more reliable than semi-autos for people who have extra-weak arms and shoulders.
The bad about revolvers:
- Their ammo capacity is usually only 5 or 6 rounds, compared with 8 to 16 for a semi-auto.
- They're slower to re-load (though you can get past that with speedloaders and practice).
- They really aren't as malfunction-proof as some people will tell you.
There are two kinds of revolvers:
- Single-action: This means you cock the gun and pull the trigger in two separate motions. That takes time, girl. And if you've got to teach some uppity boy a lesson, time is just what you don't have. You do not want a single-action revolver for self-defense. You really don't. Just forget it.
- Double-action: When you pull the trigger, the gun automatically cocks all in the same motion. Pull trigger; gun goes boom. If you want a revolver for self-defense, you want double-action. (Simple. One decision's already been made for you.)
What's A Semi-auto?
A semiautomatic, sometimes also called an autoloader, is a firearm where the cartridges are carried in a magazine. (The Big Boys'll laugh at you if you call a magazine a "clip"). The magazine is usually inserted into the gun's grip. Once you put a round in the chamber, the next round (cartridge) automatically rises into firing positon each time you pull the trigger. Pull trigger: gun goes boom.
What's so good about a semi-auto:
- They usually hold more ammo than a revolver – sometimes a lot more, despite the government's silly high-capacity magazine ban.
- They're flatter so they fit better under your outfit, if that's the way you wear 'em.
- Some semiautos are as easy to use as revolvers.
- If you drop a semiauto, it's less likely to get temporarily knocked out of whack ("out of battery," if you want to impress the boys) than a revolver.
- You can sometimes choose whether to carry your semi-auto in an extremely "ready" (but not super safe) condition, an unready (but much safer) condition, or something in between.
The bad about semi-autos:
- Some are harder to use than revolvers; they have safeties, decockers, and other complications you must learn to operate.
- More mechanical things can go wrong with them.
- Somesemi-autos are harder to clean because they require really twisted disassembly procedures. (Yes, you do have to clean them all. A woman's work is never done.)
- If your arms are spaghetti-noodle limp when you shoot, semi-autos may not load the rounds properly, which could leave you in a lurch if you need to make your next shot real quick.
There are only two types of revolvers, but there are three types of semi-autos. (Sorry, it's got to get complicated somewhere And just to confuse you, the identical terms have slightly different meaning when you're talking revolvers vs semi-autos.
The main thing to remember is that, unlike with revolvers, all three types of semi-autos are perfectly fine for self-defense. It's just a matter of what you prefer.
- Single-action: Before the very first shot, you need to cock the hammer back. After that, just pull the trigger and fire.
- Double/single-action:You start with the hammer down. Your first trigger pull is a heavy one because that pull both cocks the gun and fires a bullet. After that, just as with the single-action, the gun keeps cocking itself as you fire.
- Double-action only (DAO): There's no visible hammer at all. You just aim, pull the trigger and shoot (as long as you've got a round in the chamber). Every trigger pull is the same. These are the semi-autos that are as easy as revolvers. No safeties to flip, no hammers to cock. Just put a round in the chamber and ... pull the trigger.
Be A High Caliber Girl
We'll have lots more to say about ammo when we get to Part IV of this screed. But this bit you need to know before you even think about what sort of gun to get.
You want a caliber that's big enough to have stopping power. Stopping power doesn't necessarily mean you kill the bad guy. It means that even if you don't hit him smack in the essentials, he's probably too bonked to keep coming at you. (That's the problem with that teeny .25. The bad guy might bleed to death an hour later, but he still has plenty of time to come after you with a baseball bat or his big, hammy fists. Because unless you've hit him in the brain or the heart, you might not stop him. And .25 rounds are so weak they've been known to bounce right off people's skulls.)
There are many -- many! -- ins and outs about ammunition, but the short version is that these are the main calibers you want to look at when you're ready for a serious sidearm:
9 mm Luger (also called 9 mm Parabellum)
Ammo names refer both to the ammo type and to the gun designed to hold the ammo. When shopping for the gun, you'll often just refer to "9mm" or ".45" or ".40 caliber" without using the rest of the designation. Still, you need to know that designation. Because unfortunately not all 9mms or .44s or .45s are the same.
More on that later. For now, if you just memorize these five calibers and know which ones commonly fit with revolvers and which fit with semi-autos, you'll be able to shop smart.
You also have to decide what length of barrel you want. Some gun models are available in only one barrel length (particularly semi-autos); others come in several barrel lengths – usually 2-inch, 4-inch, 6-inch, or 8-inch.
Short barrels make your gun more concealable. Long barrels make it more accurate. But since most self-defense fighting is done close up, you probably don't need those long barrels for self-defense. A 4-inch barrel is usually a nice compromise – unless you need a teeny-tiny concealed carry gun, in which case go for 2-inch.
When you pick up your first serious gun, you might think, "Too heavy!" Just remember: The lighter the gun (relative to its ammo), the more it's going to kick when it shoots. Heavy guns absorb more of their own recoil.
This makes 'em not only easier on ladylike hands, it means you can get back into position for a second shot a whole lot faster because you're not fumbling to control a gun that's trying to point at the ceiling. Heavy is good – as long as it's not so heavy you really do get all fluttery every time you lift the thing.
You also want a gun that's reliable and that you can get parts for. So just do not, not, not buy some $125 gun made in Tierra del Fuego. Or a gun in some weird nineteenth-century caliber. Brand name. Common caliber. These are good things.
Yeah, But Which Gun?
"So put up or shut up, Miss Fitz. Which gun should I actually get?"
That's up to you. But the boys and I put our heads together (yes, just our heads) and came up with these. Here are some top guns to start looking at if you want to make things easy on yourself while still making sure you get a firearm that won't fail you when you need it.
Just remember that somebody else's "perfect" gun might not be good at all for you. The Glock 21 makes the list, for example. But unless you've got long fingers and big hands, forget that one. On the other hand, some Smith & Wesson revolvers might be perfect for you. The Ruger GP100 is a big favorite with my girlfriends. But I hate shooting the darned thing. And on it goes.
So it's personal. But if you start by looking at these you probably won't go wrong.
- Ruger Security Six (.357 Magnum)
Olde reliable. Discontinued in favor of the next gun on this list, but still available used.
- Ruger GP100 (.357 Magnum)
- Smith & Wesson Model 66 or 65 (.357 Magnum)
S&Ws are usually pretty darned solid (and the company's reformed since its Clinton-sellout days).
- Smith & Wesson Model 686 (.357 Magnum)
Comes in both six-shot and seven-shot versions.
- Taurus Tracker M627 (.357. Magnum)
Holds seven shots. (In general, Taurus makes good, reasonably priced guns.)
- Charter Arms Bulldog (.44 Special)
Cheapest! But hardest to get parts & ammo for.
Remember that most .357 caliber guns can also be loaded with the lighter, less expensive, more-easy-on-the-hands .38.
- 1911 Colt (.45 ACP )
The traditional, reliable, everybody's-gotta-have-one semi-auto. It comes in a multitude of models from dozens of different makers. Here's one. (Colt made the original). Single-action.
- SIG-Sauer P226 (9mm)
Everybody loves SIG-Sauer. Very solid & reliable. Double/single-action.
- SIG-Sauer P229 (.40)
More accurate than a lot of .40s. Double/single-action.
- Glock 21 (.45)
Easy to shoot, super easy to clean; the original high-tech polymer gun (aka "combat Tupperware"). Requires large hands. Double-action only.
- Glock 17 (9mm)
Ditto – but can fit smaller hands.
Also check out other calibers and sizes of Glocks. If you like the polymer, full-time double action guns you can't go wrong with a Glock.
- Beretta 92 (9mm)
The U.S. Army likes it. Comes in three models. Two are double/single-action, and the D model is double-action only.
- CZ-75 (9mm or .40)
A possible exception to the brand-name rule. A friend who knows says this Czech gun, which comes in several full-size and compact models, is reliable and easy on the budget. Both Double/single-action and double-action only are available.
- Ruger (anything in the KP9x series) (9mm to .45).
Clunky guns with clunky trigger pulls. But inexpensive and famously reliable. Double-action only.
The guys can go on all day arguing about what I've just written. And they will. And there's definitely more to know. But this will get you started shopping for a good, solid, reliable, knock-'em-over gun.
In Part II, we'll talk about how to shop to ensure you're getting a gun and not a turkey. Meantime, you might also want to take a look at Sunni Maravillosa's "A Woman's Primer on Defensive Firearms Use."
*** People who don't know what they're talking about say a gun is loaded with bullets. Well, sort of. A gun is loaded with cartridges A cartridge has four parts: A brass case that holds the other parts, a load of explosive powder, a primer (a tiny little firecracker that sets the powder off when the gun's firing pin hits it), and the bullet – which comes flying out of the case when the exploding powder drives it out. But the bullet is only part of what your gun's loaded with.
Thanks once again to the members of The Claire Files Forums. This time, special thanks to Ian, Sunni, Doc & Mrs. Liberty, enemyofthestate, and kbarrett for the reality checks. And of course, thanks to Misfit for introducing me to her scandalous third cousin.