Are Small-Framed Guns Better for Women?

I get asked this question a lot. Or maybe not so much asked but told by students in classes that they need a small gun. Not always, but most of the time, a woman is the one who wants a smaller, less intimidating gun to shoot. It only makes sense that a small gun would be easier to handle than a larger gun, right? Well, no, not exactly.

Women shooting at the range.
The idea that women need smaller-framed guns is based on a false belief. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
I’ve even had a lot of guys show me the small gun they picked out for their wives. They smile and show me a tiny little pocket gun with pink grips. They’ll say it’s perfect for a purse or the small, delicate hands of a woman. Except, small guns don’t always kick less, and women are just as capable of shooting larger guns as men.

There is a lot more to consider when selecting a gun for self-defense besides the sex of the person carrying it. Caliber, confidence, and experience all play equal roles in the type of gun someone shoots. I’ve had plenty of men nearly drop guns because they weren’t prepared for the kick. And at self-defense classes, it’s usually not a big Desert Eagle-size gun. People want to carry smaller, compact guns for self-defense. But they often don’t realize the caliber, weight, and size of the gun all make up the “kick” that is felt. Let’s look at some factors that go into selecting the right size of handgun and determine if, in fact, small-framed guns are better for women.

Caliber vs Weight

How much a gun weighs will depend on the size and materials it’s made of. The caliber of the gun (size of the bullet) determines how much “bang” the gun has when you pull the trigger. This means a large handgun like a Beretta or Glock 17 shoots the same size of bullet as a small gun if both are chambered in 9mm. Having a smaller gun doesn’t make a 9mm bullet any less powerful. There will be some lost muzzle velocity from shorter barrels, but for the purpose of our discussion, not enough to make a difference.

Glock 17 and 43.
The Glock 17 (top) and Glock 43 (bottom) are the same caliber. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Adding weight to a gun will make the gun kick less because it absorbs the pressure from the bullet. So, a Glock 17 will feel like it has less kick than a small Glock 43. That’s backward from how people often view it. If you were going to make it a math equation it would look like this: Big gun + 9mm bullet = light kick. Small gun + 9mm bullet = heavier kick. Now using that idea, change up the size of the gun and the caliber of the bullet. Try shooting a .45 caliber bullet from a micro-sized gun. It can really kick.

But if you were to find a full-size handgun chambered in .380 it wouldn’t kick much at all. A 9mm is somewhat in the middle of the power category for handgun rounds. This is one reason it’s so popular for self-defense. A lot of people buy revolvers for CCW because they’re simple to use and they are extremely reliable. But a .38 special or .357 magnum bullet in a light-weight revolver will kick.

Confidence and Training

While some guns kick more than others, the sex of the shooter isn’t what determines how well they shoot. It’s how confident the person is, and confidence comes from experience. More and more women are getting into shooting as a sport and for self-defense. But it’s not uncommon to hit the range and find only men there. The idea that guys handle guns better than women could be from the fact that more men shoot than women.

But if you watch experienced women on the range, they don’t have any problem with the caliber or size of the handgun, rifle, or shotgun they are shooting. When I teach CCW classes, I take a Glock 17 or 19 just to illustrate this point. During one of my last classes, a lady came to the range with a compact .40 KAR. That’s a great gun, but she was shaking and squinting before she even pulled the trigger. When it went off, she jumped and set it down declaring it kicked too hard.

Women shooting a .45 1911.
Anyone can learn to shoot well, man or woman. It takes practice and confidence. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
I got out the 9mm Glock 17 and had her shoot it. Better, but still jumpy. After a few magazines, however, she was doing much better and had more control over the gun. She was not scared of it, adjusted her grip, and started to hit the target. After that, she fired her KAR a few more times and did better. I have no doubt with a little more range time, she will be as good a shot as anyone. I’ve had men with the exact same issue; being a woman had nothing to do with it.

So, is it true?

To answer the question, no; small, framed guns are not better for women. They are not better for anyone. I carry a small compact gun when it’s more convenient, but I wouldn’t pick it for a fun day at the range. It kicks harder because it’s smaller and lighter, which is not as comfortable on my hands. When a woman selects a handgun, she should use the same selection process as anyone else. How do you plan to carry it, which one do you shoot better? Ammo capacity, price, and several other factors should all be considered.

Two guns different sizes.
This larger Walther PDP kicks less than the smaller CZ. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
A small-framed person may not like shooting large caliber firearms, regardless of their sex. If a girl wants pink, purple, or some other special color grips or frame on her gun, that’s great. Just don’t fall into the thought that a smaller firearm will be easier to handle. If you want a gun that does not kick, the weight of the gun needs to increase, or the caliber needs to decrease, but any person can learn to shoot the gun they select with a little practice. It takes time, dedication, and confidence for anyone to be a great shooter.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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