Getting a new shooter into the game is a difficult proposition. The reality is that one gun is not likely to satisfy all of their needs. What makes a firearm an excellent CCW also makes it a poor target pistol also makes it a poor training firearm. It’s important to consider a lot more than just ‘good gun, good round’ when outfitting a new shooter for the first time. Everyone’s built differently– not just in terms of the size of their hands, but even how their shoulders and elbows align with their wrists or how their wrists rotate to mitigate recoil. This is the reason there’s such a fantastic and diverse selection of modern firearms, to accommodate every body type, carry requirement, and personal preference.
The classic ‘lady’s gun’ is a .38/.357 snubnosed revolver. This may be a poor choice for several reasons– a DAO (Double-Action Only) revolver is a difficult trigger to master and can lead to some very discouraging range days. Focusing on DAO shooting requires many hours at the range to master, and a commitment to dry fire practice at home afterwards. 100 dry fire repetitions per day for a month is no big deal to a serious competitive shooter but it’s downright cruel to expect that of someone ‘considering’ getting into the game. There’s also a temptation to teach SAO (Single-Action Only) shooting. Cocking the hammer between shots is bad for defensive handgun use, because you’re no longer ‘training like you fight’– not to mention that it’s an unspeakably slow way to run a gun!
If DAO/SAO are confusing you, check out this sexy little animation which clarifies the difference.
Even a .38 has a stout recoil in an ‘airweight’ revolver, and in .357 it’s downright unpleasant. This can lead to ‘recoil flinch’, which is a problem that in some people becomes impossible to correct. One range trip can ruin a handgun owner for life, even if they stick with the shooting sport. I’ve seen men and women both who have habitual trigger flinch after years of shooting around big-bore pistols and shotguns.
Some gun shops guide people to choose a semi-automatic pistol in .22 or .380 ACP. These ideas have merits but serious drawbacks, too. Semiauto rimfires are notoriously unreliable even under ideal circumstances and .22 is absolutely not a good defensive round. A .380 is skirting the edge of acceptability for defensive use, but .380 autos are often direct-blowback, not delayed; so they tend to have a sharper recoil despite being in a weaker caliber. In a subcompact frame with narrow grips and bad ergonomics, they can be downright mean to hang on to.
I might recommend a .22 magnum revolver with a 4″ barrel. It’s not the best defensive round– not by a lot. But it’s dangerous enough to do real damage, easy to learn on, and because rimfires require a lighter hammer strike, the light and very smooth triggers tend to be much more forgiving to new shooters.
However, SIG has ridden to the rescue with ‘Grandma’s Gun’– the SIG P250 or P320 chambered in .380 ACP or 9mm. With a Browning-style action, compact grip frame, and double-stack magazine, it might very well be the ‘perfect’ first pistol. The P250/320 system is a modular handgun design that’s very revolutionary– the trigger and firing mechanism are all self-contained, and can easily be dropped into the various sizes of module for small-or-big-handed shooters. And P250 fairly forgiving DAO stays consistent after the first shot, which makes it a prime training tool for someone still developing their trigger-finger muscle. The P320’s trigger is a striker mechanism with a neat trick– you can dry fire it without racking the slide. This is an invaluable training tool.
I would recommend the P320 over the P250 because, having handled both, the P320 has a slightly more forgiving, and more consistent trigger mechanism, being a striker-fired versus a DAO hammer. The price on the P320s has dropped spectacularly. Downside: The P320 is only available in 9mm, but for the extremely recoil-adverse, I would recommend the Ruger ARX 9mm. It’s slightly hotter than a .380, about the same weight, and functions as an FMJ round– in .380, you need excellent penetration and better-than-average shot placement for maximum effect. Expansion becomes a secondary concern.
Don’t forget, the buck doesn’t stop with the gun. Pick up at least 250 rounds of training ammo and 50 rounds of your planned carry ammo. Get two holsters, one for inside the belt/daily carry, and an outside-waistband one for trips to the range.
The two fastest growing groups in the shooting community are women and Millennials. Both groups are seeing the trends in civic unrest and creeping criminal activity and think it prudent and reasonable to be armed and ready for that threat. Don’t be ‘that guy’ who gives a petite woman a 12 gauge loaded with turkey rounds, or the guy who mocks his kids for having difficulty mastering a .44 magnum’s recoil. Part and parcel of being a gun owner is to encourage others to pick up the sport and practice of gun ownership, and do so in a safe and responsible manner. Starting them off with the right tools is just a no-brainer.