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Sexism at the Gun Counter: How Gun Dealers Market Micro Pistols to Women

By Matt Smith

Pistol shooting is the most popular weapons training we offer. I mean it’s not even close. We teach precision rifle, tactical rifle, shotgun, you name it. Pistol training wins by a landslide every year. Probably because it is widely considered the ultimate self defense weapon. You can carry a pistol comfortably and still maintain the image that I am not a “gun nut”.

I respect that.

Not everyone is an over the top gun enthusiast. Some people just want to protect themselves and have the confidence of having the weapon. In fact, those are our favorite kind of people. They are the ones that come to pistol shooting for honest reasons and have genuine reverence for the weapon instead of a bunch of bad habits they picked up from YouTube.

Pistols are inexpensive, easy to store, easy to carry, and unfortunately very difficult to master. Which brings me to the main point:
Gun dealers are marketing sub-compact pistols (AKA micro pistols) to women in a way that can only be described as sexist. I will give you some anecdotal evidence and then hit you with our numbers to back this up.

SDR Instructor teaching a student how to properly manipulate a weapon

I have physically stood at the gun counter, on more than one occasion, and listened to a gun dealer tell a female customer one of the most bulls#*t lines ever recited in the gun trade. “Since you are a woman and have small hands then you will be better off with a sub-compact pistol”

Few things aggravate me more than to hear someone being told that a sub-compact is a good first pistol to own. This is especially criminal when it is a new gun owner or someone who has never shot before (I will use this opportunity to state that if you haven’t shot before don’t buy a gun. First go shoot a rental pistol. Once you understand the characteristics of a pistol then go shop for one to own).

Now for the hard evidence. Sheepdog Response has seen an explosion of Protectors of the female variety. We started running a women’s only version of the course and they sell out as fast as we can schedule them. We have seen upwards of 25% of a 40 person co-ed Protector course being female students. That is a huge marker for success for us. We actively try to create an environment where everyone in the family feels comfortable training. Unfortunately, nearly 25% of the women who attend our courses come equipped with a micro pistol. I make it a point to ask them what led to the purchase and the resounding answer is “I was told it would be easier for me with my small hands”. UUUUGH!

Sub-compact pistols are not just tiny versions of big guns made for people with tiny hands!

Ladies, please don’t let the guy at the gun counter pick the gun for you. I know new shooters have to rely on “expert” opinions but just know that some of the folks behind gun counters are experts on guns like the salesman at the used car dealerships are experts on cars. Yes, I just compared some gun salesmen to used car salesmen. People in both professions can feel free to get pissed and rip me apart in the comments. But if you are telling new women shooters to buy micro pistols then you are part of the problem.

Sheepdog Response student shooting during a protector 1 course

Sub-compact pistols were designed to be concealed by experienced shooters. So let me list a few reasons they are awful guns for beginners:

  • They have shorter barrels which makes them inherently less accurate. Some of them have barrels that are not much longer than the round inside it.
  • The short barrel length means they have to use tighter spring configurations making it much tougher to manipulate the slide or lock it back. So if you do truly have small hands you have selected a pistol with one of the hardest slides to rack.
  • The reduced surface area makes it very difficult to establish a good grip. Oftentimes the new shooter inadvertently finds themselves pressing the magazine release or holding the slide lock down preventing the gun from functioning correctly. Most often the thumbs wind up putting pressure on the slide and causing malfunctions.
  • The magazine is much trickier to change. Because, even with small hands, your hand is in contact with the base of the magazine so it won’t readily drop out when the magazine release is depressed. I often have to train shooters with all hand sizes, the special technique required to change mags on a micro (Hint: it requires a little firing hand contortion). Those who shoot sub-compacts know exactly what I am talking about.
  • Any inconsistency you have as a new shooter will be amplified when shooting a smaller pistol. If you are a bad shot, you will become a terrible shot. If you have trouble with trigger squeeze it will pull your shot even further off target. If you have a bad grip, it will now be a horrible grip that causes countless malfunctions.
  • Many training courses will not allow new shooters to train with sub-compact pistols (because of the issues listed above) so good training will be tougher to get.

Many women who were sold these pistols as a first firearm just become frustrated at the results and either quit training with it or carry it around with the false sense that they will miraculously become good with it when they are faced with a life and death situation. That is why it is completely dishonorable for a gun dealer to talk a new shooter into buying one. These dealers took someone who came to them for the right reasons and either ruined the experience for them or left them defenseless. It really disgusts me.

So let me conclude by saying, mid-size and full-sized pistols are much better for first time shooters. Even if you have smaller hands you will find that the learning experience is much better. A good mid-sized pistol will maintain the predictable characteristics of the full-size firearm while being easier on a shooter with small hands. If you purchased a micro-pistol from a less-than-honorable dealer I recommend trading it in for a bigger pistol until you develop the skills necessary to reliably operate a micro. Once you have a firm grasp on the fundamentals it will be much easier to select a pistol that fits your needs, your hands, and your lifestyle.

Train on!

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