Any person who offers to tell you which handgun is best for you is either a fool or a charlatan or both. There is only one individual in all the wide world qualified to make that selection and that person is you. It is your hand that will hold the gun, your thumb that will work the safety (if there is one), your finger that will press the trigger, and your eyes that must be able to focus easily and instantly on the front sight. All those actions must come together in one integrated and harmonious whole, and the quality the gun must have to enable that integrated harmony is called ergonomics, which in regard to firearms refers to the qualities of a tool that make it easy, efficient, safe, comfortable, and pleasant to use with the minimum of effort. No one other than you can make that decision.
How do you determine which handgun is best for you?
Any gun store will allow you to handle as many handguns as your heart desires and every salesman worthy of the name will be relatively honest about the pluses and negatives of each individual gun. It’s after you have narrowed your choices down to four or five that feel right in your hand that the difference between a gun store and really good gun store will become apparent. A really good gun store will have an NRA-qualified instructor on the premises, will allow you to rent specimens of your choices, and will have access to a range where you can shoot all of them—under the instructor’s supervision—to determine which you like best. A really good NRA instructor may also suggest another handgun or two for you to try. Listen to him; if he’s worth his salt, he knows what he’s talking about. But always remember the final judge must be you.
At this stage of the process, do not skimp on trying anything, especially not for financial reasons, because the more guns you try, the better equipped you will be to make the right choice, which will save you money in the long run.
After you have made your choice and purchased the gun, there is one more vital expense that must not be passed over and that is to take lessons, not from your husband or the gun enthusiast down the street. Take lessons from the NRA instructor or a local NRA-affiliated school. Do not skip this step! It, at least as much as the gun itself, may save your life.
Revolver versus semi-auto? This is where you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the learning process, in particular a physical learning process, as related to a gun, and if you’re willing to take the time to disassemble and clean your firearm after every so many rounds, and if you’re willing to make a commitment to practice shooting so many rounds per month (one hundred is generally considered the minimum), then you are free to choose a pistol if that’s what you feel most comfortable with. If you’re the kind of person who is going to take the lessons, clean the gun, and put it in the drawer of your bedside table and not think about it again until something goes bump in night, then you should restrict your choices to revolvers. And when I say, “put it in the drawer of your bedside table,” I am of course speaking metaphorically. If you have children, any firearm should be locked away whenever it is not in your immediate physical possession. Even if you do not have children, you should take steps to secure the gun, in accordance with your local and state laws, whenever it is not in your immediate possession.
Caliber. Do not buy any firearm for self-defense predicated on the caliber; nor should you pay the slightest attention to the self-proclaimed expert who tells you the only caliber with reliable stopping power is the [fill in the blank with something almost certainly unsuitable for a lady]. I have been shot. I have seen too much real footage of men being shot. I have shot and seen others shoot countless big game animals. The only invariable constant that you can always count on happening one hundred percent of the time is that it is impossible to predict how any living thing will react to being shot, regardless of caliber. What counts is how accurately you can place your shots under stress (and, trust me on this, if you have to use a gun for self-defense, you will be stressed beyond anything you have ever dreamed of) and that means it must be a caliber you are comfortable shooting. If that’s a .44-magnum, great. If it’s a .22, so be it.
If reading all this makes you feel somewhat overwhelmed, you are probably not a gunperson and should restrict your choices to a revolver, if anything at all. If reading all this fills you with anticipation, then you are probably a gunperson and your choices are greater.
And if you are a gun person, I strongly recommend that, in addition to taking the basic lessons with your local NRA instructor, you consider training at any one of the excellent shooting schools around the country. There are more than I know about, but two of the most famous are Gunsite in Arizona and International Tactical Training Seminars in Los Angeles. (I have trained at both of those and can recommend them unreservedly.) There are many more that have excellent reputations, more than I can list, but as I do not have firsthand experience with them, I’ll leave it to you to do your homework. Some of these schools offer ladies-only classes (Gunsite does) and there are also a number of ladies-only shooting schools, organizations, and clubs. Some schools are more expensive than others, none are cheap, but the good ones provide invaluable training.
Enjoy shooting, and above all be safe.