For anyone interested in a long version of the history of Women & Guns, I direct you to our website, womenandguns.com. But the fact that we are celebrating a quarter century prompted me to ask some of our Contributing Editors to give me a list of products that they thought made the biggest impact on women gunowners in that same time frame.
Women & Guns’ official launch was February 1989. Sonny Jones, its creator, timed it to coincide with the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, the firearms industry’s largest gathering, at the time, held in late January or early February (SHOT was only 10 itself at the time).
Also launching at the 1989 SHOT Show was Smith & Wesson’s LadySmith revolver. Both the magazine and the gun had been gestating for some time before their official debuts.
The concept for a women’s firearms magazine had been Sonny’s idea, based on her own interests, her own personal experience, and her observation that she was not the only woman with an interest in guns.
Sonny attended the 1988 Gun Rights Policy Conference (the third GRPC) for Machine Gun News (she and that magazine were both based in Arkansas at the time). The grassroots activists attending GRPC confirmed her impression that there was a niche for the magazine she had in mind, and she received a lot of encouragement both from activists and leaders in the firearms civil rights movement.
In the Fall of 1989 Sonny sold the title to the Second Amendment Foundation and moved to Washington State to continue to edit it, until 1991 when she went to work for the National Rifle Association (NRA) for a few years on their Refuse to Be a Victim program, before going back to “civilian” life. (If you’re reading this, Sonny, drop us an email, we—and a bunch of other folks—would like to catch up with you.)
S&W’s road to the modern LadySmith was probably a little longer. The company was aware that they had a good number of women customers, and that those women particularly liked many of S&W’s revolvers. The biggest complaints they received about their existing line were about gun fit. Unprecedented for a firearms manufacturer at the time, S&W put a lot of time, money and effort into researching a new handgun for women, before releasing the first of the new LadySmiths in 1989.
The name “LadySmith” was one the company already owned, having marketed some small pocket or “muff” revolvers under that name at the turn of the previous century.
Things—things like new magazines and new guns—don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t just spring from either a big company like Smith & Wesson or the mind of one woman overnight and they don’t appear out of thin air with the vague hope that anyone else would be interested in them. Both the magazine and the gun are, in a larger sense, a response to changes in American women’s lives that had been taking place in the approximately 20 years prior to their introduction.
More and more women were working, single heads of households, and even those in traditional relationships were taking a more active role in their family’s financial well-being, and, eventually, for all these women, across all social strata, the subject of home defense and personal protection was arising, and being addressed in a variety of ways.
The late 60s saw the beginning of more across-the-board interest in self-defense practices like karate and judo, and the many global variants. Women and children joined the ranks of those going to the dojo, and it’s rare not to drive more than a mile of suburban plaza frontage without seeing one or more outlet.
Firearms for home defense were also traditional—estimates have remained fairly steady at some type of gun in every other American household—but when the make up of “households” began to change dramatically, so did the types of firearms used for this purpose. Shotguns, in many ways, the perfect home defense gun, were less suited to urban homes, and could be unwieldy for unfamiliar operators.
Another big change took place in the 70s, women were joining police forces, first in cities, and later in less populated areas, and they were also beginning careers in the military. Of course there were women in police departments going back to the 1930s, and women who served with distinction in wars dating back to antiquity, but the 1970s saw the first glimmer of military and law enforcement as careers for women.
Since the firearms market followed closely the law enforcement and military market, manufacturers with government contracts were beginning to realize that the market was slowly, but surely, changing.
In 1989 when Women & Guns began, there were only a handful of states that had legal provisions for carrying a concealed handgun outside the home. One of the earliest adopters of a statewide “shall issue” carry law was Florida, and one of the leading forces behind it was a woman—Marion Hammer, who still runs Unified Sportsmen of Florida and served two terms as NRA President in the 90s. (Hammer, too, was the driving force behind NRA’s wildly successful Eddie Eagle program, which has taught gun safety to millions of children in K-12 grades.)
It’s been a long, long road, but last year—forced by a court ruling—Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow some sort of concealed carry. Since the push for carry laws began in earnest in the 80s, most states have adopted the “shall issue” model, whereby legally qualified people—regardless of race or gender—who pass that state’s criteria, must be issued a license. Shall issue is now the norm. There are two other variants—“Constitutional Carry,” as practiced in Vermont, Alaska, Wyoming and Arizona, which allow carry by any legally qualified person with licensing and so-called Discretionary Carry states (which include New York, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts), where the holdover practice is that a given licensing entity can deny a carry permit based on the licensing authority’s “discretion.”
What the decades-long journey to licensing fairness has produced is—surprise! Not a lot of “Wild West” shootouts—but a lot more people in the market for a handgun, including a lot more women.
As more and more women enter the marketplace for guns, the marketplace inevitably changes. So does the aftermarket.
Lyn Bates and Roger Lanny, who have been writing for Women & Guns since soon after its inception, and Diane Walls, who’s tenure with us started later, have given the idea of products that have made a difference in the last 25 years a good deal of thought and come up with the ones they thought had the greatest impact. In one case, two women living at opposite ends of the country picked the exact same product, and in another, picked the same category of product. We invite readers to submit other products they feel deserve a place of honor. As we receive readers’ suggestions, we’ll publish them.
Gun purses started out as afterthoughts to the carry methods for men. First there were the fannypacks-for-carrying-guns period, so long ago it was roughly contiguous with the early Paleolithic. Somehow, women were supposed to love this method. What woman would not love a pack that, worn in front, made her look pregnant, and, worn in back, well, you don’t really want to know.
Next came the first gun purse period. Now there was an actual purse with a separate compartment for the gun, but usually not a purse you would want to be seen with. The gun compartments often closed with Velcro. Was the noise of it opening supposed to scare the bad guy away? Some Velcro eventually tired of doing its job, and let a gun escape. This was the time period that gave gun purses the reputation of being unavoidably ugly.
Now there are so many gun purses to choose from, everyone should be able to find one that suits their aesthetic sensibility as well as their practical stuff-carrying needs, their gun and their pocketbook. Velcro closures have been improved. Many purses have nice quiet zippers on the gun compartment, and many zippers have locks.
There are so many producers of gun purses that it becomes a wonderful adventure exploring their websites to find one with the right combination of beauty and practicality: Coronado Leather, Woolstenhulme, Galco, Gun Tote’n Mamas, Border Leather, Roma Leather, Ladies Protection, Concealed Carry Lady, Secure Purse, Carry Chic, American West, and many, many others. (Bates)
Concealed carry purses have been available for many years. Recently, two companies owned by women have come into prominence by offering beautiful products that spare more than an afterthought to safely carrying a handgun. Both Claudia Chisholm of Gun Toten’ Mamas and Kate Woostenhume of Designer Concealed Carry are welcoming input from female shooters into how to improve the safety and accessibility of carrying a handgun in a purse. Both companies have developed designer looks that any woman, regardless of how discriminating in taste, can be proud to own and carry. Whether the unisex messenger bag is your thing, a sporty look, classic, wild or designer chic there will be something you’ll love to be found with either of these designers. Check them out. (Walls)
I’d add that gun purses evolved from the growing needs of women—and the entrepreneurially spirit of the women who needed them before they existed. Most of the early gun purses were from Mom & Pop companies—with emphasis on the “mom.” Women who were starting to legally carry felt the need themselves, and did something about it. They married their own skills (often sewing the purses themselves) to their own desire, and the purses first began appearing at gun shows, before eventually making their way to trade shows like SHOT. (Tartaro)
With the advent of more and more compact handguns (see my entry on “Compact Handguns” below), and higher and higher capacity magazines (assuming you live in a location where your rights haven’t been abridged), inserting sufficient rounds to top off that magazine has become more and more difficult. Many women with typical hand strength, or anyone with arthritis or similar issues, may well find loading magazines to capacity a task ranging from Herculean to impossible as the magazine spring compresses more and more.
Fortunately, since we are the tool-bearing and inventing mammals of the world, a solution to this problem was created and put into production. Some companies include a magazine loading tool with their firearms (such as the Glock loader seen around the magazine). For those pistols not so fortunate, there are a number of companies who fill the void. One of the best is the ADCO Super Thumb, which is available in different caliber and single or double stack configurations.
All these devices work in the same manner; they consist of a “hood” which slips over the magazine, and incorporate a plastic stud which depresses the top round, allowing you to readily insert the next. The beauty of this is that it allows you to utilize the force of your entire hand to push or pull down that top round, instead of solely relying on the limited strength in your thumb.
ADCO is even available on Amazon; how’s that for convenience? (Lanny)
Let’s face it, the world of women shooters needed a bra holster that worked. One that wasn’t a joke. One that wasn’t a lace-covered frou-frou. One that was made for women to use, not for men to look at.
Lisa Looper, a former police officer, came up with this idea for a plastic clamshell that would hold a gun securely and discretely. It’s called the Flash-Bang. It attaches to a bra in the center, with different straps for different kinds of bras, B cup or larger, via a strong snap that will not accidentally come undone. The gun is positioned horizontally. The clamshell goes from the back of the trigger guard forward, so the trigger is safely covered.
To draw, use one hand to pull your garment out of the way, the other to grab the grip and pull straight down. That opens the clamshell and releases the gun.
Unlike many other methods of concealment for women, this is fast to draw from. It is also relatively easy to re-holster, and extremely concealable under a wide range of different kinds of clothing.
$49.95 is a very reasonable price for a holster that is molded specifically for your gun. It is available for more than 50 makes and models of guns, revolvers and semis. (Bates)
Cerisse Wilson, a young entrepreneur, creates her custom leather holsters with a woman’s needs in mind as well as a woman’s fashion sense for her company, Soteria Leather Holsters. She creates both inside the waistband and outside the waistband holsters for many models of firearms. Finishing touches like contrasting stitching in a wide range of colors, embossed designs and jeweled snaps allow the customer to add their own personal fashion statements to their carry gear. Check out the wide range of options available for you and your gun. (Walls)
Unfortunately, far too many women and girls who shoot or have tried firing shotguns or rifles have the same painful memories. Their husband, father, brother, or significant other takes them to the range to shoot his favorite rifle or shotgun. Minimal instruction occurs, and the poor novice goes away with either a bruised shoulder, bruised cheek, or both. Dislike and avoidance of shotguns ensues.
What happened? Well, aside from possibly poor or nonexistent instruction, the long arm was undoubtedly too big and/or too heavy to be effectively fielded by a small-statured individual. It is beyond the scope of this piece to include sufficient directions and instructions, but suffice to say that any individual should be looking for the correct length of pull (LOP), the distance between the middle of the trigger to the end of the buttstock, for them (to be sure, there is more to fitting a longgun than solely LOP—but it is a very large factor). Most guns come through with a 13.5” or 14” LOP, while most women need one that is 12” or 12.5”, sometimes even less.
Getting the correct LOP is not as simple as an arm measurement, and ideally would be done with the assistance of a knowledgeable instruction, or a gun fitter.
Fortunately, manufacturers now produce so-called youth models, different calibers (a 20-ga shotgun instead of a 12), and models specifically designed and built to reduce the forward weight of the longgun. Additionally, some arms have adjustable LOP to tailor-make a correct fit. While in others, you can change the stock, and/or the recoil pad. Sometimes an adjustable/collapsible stock is the answer. And they now come in colors, pink camo, for example, if that’s what you are looking for. Happy shooting. (Lanny)
The Elektra model from STI is designed with women in mind. This carry-sized Officers Model 1911 is finished in brushed stainless on the slide and matte aluminum on the frame. Stylized serrations on the slide have a graceful look and excellent grip in the hand for manipulation of the gun. A ball-milled front strap treatment adds to the attractive look and positive grip feel. Pearlized grip panels come in your choice of smoky black, pink, ruby red, sapphire blue or royal purple with matching color enameled logos for a whole lot of pretty in your holster and in your hand. The short trigger and deeply undercut beavertail grip safety make it an easy fit to those with small hands. It’s available in either 9mm x 19 or .45ACP calibers, with an MSRP of $1472. (Walls)
In the beginning, there were handguns, large, manly handguns, and little, petite womanly guns. The former were for serious business, and the latter were for discrete, last chance uses and tucked in tiny bag purses or stuck into garter belts.
Well, women have just as serious needs as men do, perhaps more so at times. So, fast forwarding—manufacturers, seeing both a need in their customers, and a marketing opportunity, started offering smaller models in their lineup, yet chambered in the same calibers as their full-sized guns.
At first they were all metal, heavy, and suffered occasional reliability issues. Today, with the inclusion of polymers, aluminum and titanium, and with better manufacturing techniques and firearms operational understanding, smaller handguns which are both reliable and concealable are at hand. Several of these are shown in the accompanying photo: Glock 19; Kahr PM9/CM9, and Ruger LC9. There are many others.
Most of these are single stack, which creates the dual benefit of being more concealable, and also fitting smaller hands with less of a trigger reach. Others, although incorporating double-stack magazines for capacity, now have interchangeable back-straps to accommodate a wide range of hand sizes. Some prime examples of these are the Gen 4 Glocks, the Smith & Wesson M&P line (except the Shield) and other fine brands. Do insure that the built-in finger grooves on some models fit your hand and help your grip rather than compromise it. (
And, with newer handguns, come newer ammunition. In the good old days, people eventually found out that many types of ammunition in general use for self-defense or police work didn’t do what they were tasked to do—to whit—stop an assailant’s/aggressor’s violent actions. Over the years, it was discovered that bigger bullets, or rounds traveling faster, were more effective in this critical task. Of course, when one fires such a round, one experiences more and more recoil as the size and/or the speed of said bullet increases. And larger size bullets mean that for a given size gun (you DO want it to be concealed, don’t you?), you get to carry fewer and fewer rounds.
Increased recoil tends to be inimical to both accuracy, and achieving a short amount of time between delivering one accurate shot and the next. Defensive carry recommendations went from .25 and .380 to .38 Special to 9 mm to 45 ACP to the new kid on the block—the .40 S&W. And, of course, smaller guns weigh less. Unfortunately, one can’t get away from physics—the lighter the firearm, the more the perceived recoil.
Luckily for all of us, manufacturers have improved all ammunition. This is especially evident in the design of defensive handgun ammunition, which has seen its effectiveness increase by leaps and bounds. So much so, in fact, that, say, today’s 9mm defensive ammunition is thought by most to be as effective as the much larger round of yesterday, perhaps even better. Less recoil, good efficacy.
I suggest mid-range weight 9 mm (not 115g nor 147g) and not +P (for better controllability in light compacts). Several that come to mind are: Federal HST; Remington Golden Saber, and Speer Gold Dot.
I don’t want to re-ignite the fabled 9 vs. 45 and/or faster vs. slower flame wars, so I will just present my thoughts. PLEASE do not write me or W&G—YMMV, and that is just fine.
Note that there are many other fine brands of reliable self-defense ammunition on the market. It is incumbent upon each individual to both decide which ammunition they should carry for self-defense, and also to completely vet that ammunition in their carry firearm for 100% reliability, accuracy, and controllability. (Lanny)
Marty Hayes, longtime trainer in armed defense and Director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, decided to undertake a law degree in order to form the Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network for the benefit of all membership in the event of involvement in a defensive shooting. Through his studies of Judicious Use of Deadly Force, with Massad Ayoob, and work as an expert witness in legal cases involving defensive use of firearms, Marty realized a need for this type of resource network that wasn’t being met. His purpose is to provide education in use of deadly force issues as well as a network of resources in the training and legal professions that could help a member develop a court defense for a justifiable shooting should it become necessary. The network uses membership dues to keep a fund to aid in defraying legal expenses for members with legitimate cases of self defense. Marty is quick to point out that this is not an insurance product but, rather, a resource group that can come to the financial aid of members and act as expert witness support in the event of litigation. The educational materials sent to members upon joining are, in themselves alone, worth the membership dues of $125 per year. The peace of mind that comes with having the best experts in the field available and referrals to legal practitioners that know how to mount an affirmative defense is priceless. (Walls)