Women make up a steadily increasing share of gun ownership in the United States, but gun manufacturers continue to design guns with only male users in mind. When gun manufacturers do decide to try to meet the needs of female shooters, they often do so by simply throwing a coat of pink, purple, or blue paint on one of their existing small CCW options.
Obviously, that doesn’t exactly guarantee a great concealed carry handgun for women.
With that said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good concealed carry options out there. You just have to know what to look for, which is exactly why we’re here.
Now let’s get started with some general advice for picking out a handgun.
How to Choose a Handgun
Many men want to gift a woman in their life a handgun, either for her protection or just to share the hobby. While this is a sweet gesture, it’s essential that the woman in question is the one deciding which handgun is best for her. After all, who knows better than she does what her needs are and what feels right in her hand?
Men who want to give a handgun as a gift can still do so, but they should do it by taking the woman shopping, then making the purchase himself.
Now whether you’re a woman looking for a handgun or just looking to help a lady in your life find her first handgun, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, do you want a pistol or revolver?
A revolver is smaller and lighter than a pistol and is easier to operate and clean, but this comes at the price of stronger recoil, a heavier trigger press, and no manual safety.
Pistols, or semi-autos, come in a variety of sizes, including full-sized, compact, and sub-compact.
It is often assumed that when it comes to handguns for female shooters, smaller is better.
While it’s certainly true that many women benefit from a smaller grip, and the smaller the gun, the easier to conceal, particularly in form-fitting clothing. With that said, a tiny gun can be difficult to manipulate and will have stronger recoil and less accuracy than a larger gun.
For most women, a compact semi-auto or a full-sized semi-auto with smaller aftermarket grips available is the best way to balance a manageable size with manageable recoil.
Next, you’ll need to decide between rimfire and centerfire handguns. Rimfire is great for beginners because rimfire guns are cheaper and have less recoil, but those who are more experience probably want to go with a more powerful centerfire option.
Last, you’ll need to decide on a caliber.
While .22 LR can be a fun, inexpensive option for plinking, we recommend choosing a handgun that shoots at least 9mm for a more versatile weapon with greater stopping power in defensive situations. 9mm or greater caliber can be used as a fun to shoot range gun, a defensive weapon, or even a competition firearm.
Of course, the higher the caliber, the more recoil, so there’s nothing on this list that shoots higher than about .40 caliber. Most are 9mm, which has the benefits listed above, and is also pretty easy to find, even when ammo stocks are low.
Now let’s move on to the guns themselves, in no particular order.
The Glock 19 is one of the most widely recommended guns for women, including by Glock themselves.
We recommend the Gen 4 iteration instead of the Gen 5 because of Gen 4’s modular backstrap system which allows for the adjustment of the gun’s grip size. The smallest backstrap reduces the trigger distance by .08 inches compared to the standard grip. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s very helpful for those of us with smaller hands, even with Gen 4’s finger grooves.
Plus the G19 has a shorter grip than the G17, the full-sized version of the pistol, making it more comfortable for smaller hands to hold.
The Glock 19 is also striker-fired, so it’s a good bit simpler to operate than hammer fired alternatives. There is no hammer to worry about and trigger pull stays consistent.
This is great both as a defensive gun and for those who are less experienced with firearms and want something that’s pretty straightforward to shoot. Of course, you still need to take time to familiarize yourself with the weapon before shooting.
Another great feature of Glocks and the Glock 19, in particular, is the number of accessories available. Glock, of course, produces their own, but because the gun is so popular, there are tons of companies also making accessories for Glocks. This allows all kinds of customization options, but most importantly it means you have a virtually unlimited number of holster options, including tons made for a variety of female shapes.
And, of course, none of these features are at the expense of function.
The tiny Smith & Wesson M&P Shield is a commonly recommended handgun for women, but we prefer the full-size Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0, Smith & Wesson’s own version of the striker-fired polymer pistol. The M&P9 M2.0 has a greater capacity than the M&P Shield, and the lower recoil makes it more comfortable to shoot for longer.
The M2.0’s improved grip texture makes it even easier to manage recoil without losing accuracy.
The M&P M2.0 is available with and without a manual thumb safety. The gun with the safety obviously has a smaller chance of an accidental discharge, while the gun without the thumb safety is simpler and easier to learn.
Like the Glock, the M&P9 M2.0’s grip can be adjusted using interchangeable backstraps, which ship with the gun and can be replaced without tools. Once again, the inexpensive nature of these backstraps makes them great for personalization and modding.
The backstraps are available in three sizes, but if the smallest back strap is still too large, the pistol can also be used without a backstrap at all for one of the smallest triggers reaches available.
The M&P’s accessory and aftermarket part availability are similar to that of the Glock 19.
The P320 is Sig Sauer’s attempt to compete with Glock, and it beat out Glock to be the standard handgun for the US Army. Like the Glock 19, it is a polymer striker-fired pistol.
Also, like the Glock 19, the P320 allows for custom sizing in the grip, but does so through complete interchangeable grip modules, rather than just the backstrap. Grip modules are available in small, medium, and large sizes, and the small size has one of the shortest triggers reaches on a full-sized handgun.
They’re also inexpensive, making them great for women interesting in getting into modding because one mistake doesn’t mean you have to spend a bunch of money to replace the piece.
Sig also has Caliber X-Change kits that allow you to shoot in another caliber at will, but without having to spend for a whole new gun. This makes the P320 great for ladies on a budget, women who just want to be able to use one gun for everything, or women who want to be able to try a lot of things without having to buy new guns constantly.
The P320 is available in full-sized, compact, and subcompact versions. Try holding each to see which feels best for you, but we generally recommend the full size for a range or competition gun, and the compact for concealed carry.
Though not a revolver, the Sig Sauer P250 is hammer fired and has the double action trigger pull that a lot of revolver enthusiasts enjoy. This gives the gun the same reliability and trigger feel as a revolver, but with the perks of a semi-auto.
Otherwise, the P250 is more or less a heftier version of the P320 that we already discussed. In fact, many P320 accessories, including the grip modules, can be used with either the P320 or P250 totally interchangeably. This makes the P250 a great place for those on a budget to start since they can upgrade to the P320 later without having to buy all new accessories.
The caliber conversion kits are not interchangeable between the P250 and P320.
In terms of trigger feel, the P250 is very similar to the Model 66. That is to say, it’s got a longer and heavier trigger than the Glock 19, P320, or M&P9 M2.0. With that said, many shooters see that extra bit of length and weight in the trigger pull as a safety advantage.
The .380 ACP version of the P250 may be an excellent alternative for women with low hand and upper body strength since it’s much easier to control recoil and rack the slide for this caliber. .380 ammo can be more difficult to find and pricier than 9mm, but you can always switch to the 9mm when you’re a little stronger.
The first revolver on our list is the Smith & Wesson Model 66 K-frame revolver.
Revolvers are, as we said, easier to operate than semi-autos, but that’s not a need for all women shooters. Revolvers are, however, beautiful and classically styled guns and can be used for any purpose a semi-auto can.
The Airweight J-Frame is a more popular gun, but we recommend the Model 66 instead because even though it’s larger, it has dramatically less kick and is much easier to hold and shoot.
This makes training sessions much easier and means the shooter won’t be inhibited by sore hands in a defensive situation.
The Model 66 is chambered for .357magnum or .38 special.
The CZ 75 a traditional double action gun, in either the 75B or 75 BD model.
The long, heavy trigger pull of traditional double action guns makes them better for intermediate or advanced shooters than for beginners.
The CZ 75 has a shorter trigger reach than many traditional double action guns, making it much more manageable in small hands, and benefits from a small grip and plenty of aftermarket accessory and upgrade options.
The 75BD model is ideal for intermediate level shooters, as it features a decocking lever, a feature not commonly found in traditional double action guns.
More advanced shooters may prefer the 75B model, which requires manual decocking by pulling the trigger while slowly lowering the hammer, a difficult process that requires quite a bit of manual dexterity.
On the other hand, the CZ 75B also has a manual safety that allows the gun to be shot in single action only mode, so the gun is still usable while you work up to manual decocking.
1911s aren’t guns for beginners.
1911s have light triggers, but a lot of extra steps for shooting and cleaning, including operating both a manual thumb safety and a grip safety.
1911s, like the steel Rock Island Armory Ultra FS 9mm, are, however, great handguns for ladies who are more experienced with guns and shooting and want a classic firearm.
The Ultra FS 9mm, in particular, is great because it’s incredibly reliable and comes standard with a lot of features that are upgrades on other 1911s.
While micro 1911s are commonly recommended for carrying, especially concealed carry, the Government size Ultra FS 9mm has a more manageable recoil and is much easier to manipulate and shoot.
1911s, much like the Smith & Wesson M&P9 and just about anything made by Glock, also have the advantage of plenty of aftermarket accessories. Grips, in particular, are available in a massive variety of materials, colors sizes, and textures, so there’s something for every grip and taste.
The Ultra FS is also a great option for a somewhat experienced, intermediate level shooter who wants to go the extra mile with a custom 1911, but isn’t quite sure what she wants. She can start with an affordable, but feature-rich RIA Ultra FS to learn what she likes and wants from her custom gun.
We’ve given you lots of features and firearms to consider, but there’s no need to be overwhelmed trying to pick out a handgun.
Consider your budget, your experience level, and what you’d like to do with your handgun to narrow down your options. Think about any accessories you’ll want or need, and make sure that they’re available within your budget.
Then try to shoot as many potential handguns as possible by borrowing from friends or renting at the range, and handle any gun in store before buying. Go with the one that feels the best while also fitting your budget and needs.
No matter what gun you choose, all the guns that we’ve assembled on this list would make a great handgun for women looking for a gun for home defense, competition, or range shooting. For carry, one of the compact options would generally be easiest to conceal, but comfort is still the most important thing.