There is a pervasive belief in the gun world among both newcomers and supposedly seasoned shooters that women who shoot require special treatment. From pink revolver grips to lacey not-a-holster holsters, it’s an issue that has persisted for decades. In reality, women who shoot are just like men. Do all men have the same sizes of hands, identical skill levels, and matching gun-related needs? No, and neither do women.
Let’s get this out of the way early: guns are inanimate objects and neither know nor care about your gender. When you’re new to the world of guns that can be a tougher concept to grasp, but we’re here to help. These are the tips and tricks you, as a woman, can use to make your way through the world of concealed carry gun ownership. The great thing about them is they really do work across the board.
The First Rule
According to the late Jeff Cooper, the first rule of a gunfight is having a gun. If you don’t have a gun or you’re not sure you have the right gun, here’s how to choose one.
The first tip: do not shop at a local gun store where you are not treated well. If you’re being treated with condescension and all you hear from the guy behind the counter is every stereotype on earth, leave. Do not give them your time or your money. According to one of the leading stereotypes, all women are petite with delicate hands. Absolutely not. That is no more accurate than saying all men are over six feet tall with hands big enough to palm a basketball. All shooters are different sizes with skillsets at different stages. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all gun.
There are a number of problems with telling a woman to just get something small. Smaller guns deliver more felt recoil – surprise! – and are typically harder to grip properly. You’re almost always better off choosing a slightly bigger gun in a larger caliber. No .22 LR or .380 ACP need apply. With a gun like the Glock 48, you get a SlimLine 9mm that’s easier to grip and also very accurate; with a Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander you get the same, only it’s a 1911. If your hand size allows for it, try a double stack like the Glock 19. Yes, any gun is technically better than no gun, but having a gun that fits your hands and is chambered in a capable caliber is far better than a tiny, unmanageable pistol.
You are completely capable of carrying – and concealing – a full-size gun. It is possible that it is going to mean making concessions in your wardrobe. Yes, you have to dress around your gun, not make your gun fit your fashion. Guns are life-saving tools, not fashion accessories. In order to have the ability to defend your life, you might need to dress differently. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be forced to dress like a tactical hobo. I conceal a variety of firearms while wearing tank tops, skinny jeans, and fitted tees. As long as you have the right holster-and-gun-belt combo for your body type, it works. (Yes, having a quality holster and gun belt matters and no, it cannot be a skinny cloth or dress belt.)
There are a ton of different holsters on the market which can make selecting one a little overwhelming. Holsters come in everything from leather to Kydex to hybrids. They might be molded or soft; they might be marketed as one-size-fits-most or for specific models. Reality is all experienced shooters have to discard boxes of holsters that just did not work for us for one reason or another (it is possible I have an entire stack of 18-gallon tubs of holsters). So, what do you need to know before throwing fistfuls of money at a holster you might end up hating?
Many gun owners gravitate to leather for their holsters, and for good reasons. Holsters made from high-quality leather tend to be comfortable, durable, and versatile. Never buy a leather holster that isn’t molded to your specific gun, though. Designs that are simply sewn or glued into the general outline of a firearm are not even a little ideal. Retention is going to vary by design and quality but one big plus of leather is it does not usually break or snap apart during a struggle. I’ve had Kydex holsters literally torqued and broken right off my hip (yes, it hurts and leaves a mark). On the flip side of that, I’ve also taken handguns away from men who outweighed me by more than one hundred pounds because they were using poorly-made leather holsters. The manufacturer matters as does the specific design within the manufacturer’s line.
Kydex is currently the Cool Kid of the holster world. It is nice that it can be easily shaped and manipulated to so precisely fit different guns. Then there’s its longevity and durability and you can see why it’s so appealing to so many shooters. A good Kydex holster protects the trigger guard and keeps the slide and front of the frame secure with no risk of shifting or sliding. Your gun should always remain exactly where you put it. The downside is Kydex not only can but will break. It’ll crack like an egg. I have an entire collection of broken Kydex holsters as does a friend of mine, Firearms Academy of Seattle firearms instructor Tom Walls. But if you’re determined to get one, check out Galco Gunleather. They make some of the toughest and most well-designed Kydex holsters on the market.
Nylon needs to be mentioned but there isn’t much nice to say about it. When we’re new gun owners we all buy totally wrong holsters at some point. The soft, formless shape of Nyon holsters-that-are-really-a-sleeve often appeal because they’re cheap and seem comfy. Sure, there are different types of soft holsters but soft is soft. Unsafe is unsafe. Some are thicker or stiffer, some have clips, and some are marketed as not needing any kind of attachment point. Do I have any? I do, but the only one I actually use once in a while is the Blackhawk nylon scabbard for my Ruger Super Redhawk I use for hunting. It isn’t my ideal, but it does work and it is significantly safer than nylon holsters made to be worn on the belt. Are there circumstances in which nylon works? Yes, but they’re rare. Am I willing to shove a loaded handgun sheathed in nylon in my pants? Absolutely not.
Hybrids usually have leather backers with a Kydex face pinned or screwed to the backer. As with all holsters, you should be familiar with the ins and outs of hybrids. They can be extremely comfortable. In fact, I’ve used hybrids from CrossBreed during cross-country trips, hunts, and trips to the grocery store. A big strike in the negative column is how fast hybrids crack or fail in some other way such as body heat bending over the sweat guard. I’ve tossed a lot of hybrids when the sweat guard gets worn enough to crease and fold over and lost others to stress cracks around the screws holding the holster face to the backer. You should pay attention to wear on all your holsters regardless of the material. Nothing is perfect.
The cute belt you got at the mall or off Amazon will not work for carrying a gun. In order to be a responsible, effective concealed carrier you need an honest-to-goodness gun belt. Most belts are not made to withstand the weight and torque of a holstered gun. That includes so-called work belts. High-quality gun belts have features like reinforced stitching, stiffeners, and steel cores. They are made to stand up to the pressure of carrying a gun, unlike not-a-gun-belt-belts that will sag, crease, and fail. If dress belts are a must-have, take a look at Galco Gunleather’s CB3 Concealable Contour Belt. But whatever else you do, get a proper gun belt. Without the right belt, it’s almost impossible to comfortably, successfully conceal your gun. It won’t even matter if you have the right holster; the right holster paired with the wrong belt is a fail. Get a good gun belt. Get several.
It is entirely possible you’ll end up having to adjust your wardrobe to better accommodate your handgun. If your job makes it truly impossible to change how you dress, find the safest way possible to deal with it. Believe me when I say you can find safe ways to make it work. I spent years carrying in scrubs so I am quite familiar with how hard it can be. Sometimes you’re going to have to make concessions. If you have no choice but to wear a corset or bellyband holster – wearing scrubs, for example – check out Crossbreed’s Modular Belly Band. The reason that specific bellyband is better than most is because you can get Kydex-faced holsters made for your exact model of gun to use with it. That gives you far superior retention compared to what the majority of belly bands offer (or fail to offer, as the case may be).
You Can Do It
As someone residing in the Lone Star State, I know what it’s like to conceal a handgun when the temperature jumps past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And as someone who has lived in states like Wisconsin, I also know what four feet of snow and 25-degrees-below-zero feels like. No matter where I am I can conceal my handgun. I’ve carried in tank tops and skinny jeans, jeans and sweatshirts, and fitted tees with zippered hoodies. You can always make it work. A great deal of the credit for successful concealment goes to having the right holster and a good gun belt. It also helps a great deal to try carrying on different locations on your belt. One carry position does not work for every person or for every outfit. Work with that but also train for it. You should always train with your carry holster. It is not something that can be neglected.
Just Say No
This is the obligatory mention of bra holsters, purse carry, and lace wrap “holsters.” There are differing opinions on these all over the gun world and within the industry. These are mine, with some facts thrown in.
Regarding bra holsters: can you holster and draw your gun from a bra holster without muzzling anyone with that gun, including your own body parts? Back in 2015, a woman named Christina Bond tried to adjust her bra holster and accidentally shot herself in the head. Yes, really. Bond’s gun of choice was a .22 LR pistol. The bullet entered through her eye, killing her immediately. Where does the muzzle of your gun aim when it’s under your bra? Are you muzzling important body parts and people? Yes. Bra holsters are all but impossible to use without muzzling yourself and others with your loaded gun. It’s also difficult to draw safely and quickly from one.
There are women who are staunch supporters of bra holsters. Some of them – many who are members of big, well-known women’s only gun groups – go as far as saying an attacker will be so amazed to see their supposed victim lift her shirt they’ll stop what they’re doing long enough to allow you to draw your gun. Assault doesn’t work that way. An attacker won’t be so shocked you’re lifting your shirt they change their mind about attacking you. In fact, it’s way more likely they’ll think you’re doing them a favor (or not care at all or take the opportunity to pin your occupied hands to your body).
So, what’s the best solution? Easy, don’t use a bra holster.
On to purse carry. Five years ago a mom by the name of Veronica Rutledge made a post-Christmas Walmart trip. Accompanying her was her two-year-old son – and her Smith & Wesson Shield in 9mm which she’d placed in a Gun Tote’n Mamas concealed carry purse. Rutledge did what all women do and sat her purse in the shopping cart’s seat area next to her toddler. What happened next was captured by Walmart’s surveillance cameras: her toddler son removed the pistol from the purse and pulled the trigger, shooting his mother in the head. Rutledge died right there.
Yes, what happened to Rutledge is definitely a worst-case scenario. Even so, it illustrates one of the many pitfalls of purse carry. If you carry your gun in your purse it must be under your direct control at all times. There’s no draping it over the back of a chair, dropping it in a shopping cart, or otherwise placing it beyond your instant control. You and only you are responsible for your gun. If you’re going to turn your purse into an off-body holster, treat it like a holster by keeping it on you. Also, train with it.
You’ll never catch me recommending a purse or bag carry to anyone. If you are really stuck and it’s your only option, make a concerted effort to purse carry safely. Of course, your midriff-baring shirt does not force you to purse carry it just means you chose a shirt over safely carrying your gun. Purse carry has a lot of drawbacks like a sluggish draw, high risk of snags and failures, and problems related to theft or negligence. And guess what, firing from inside the purse isn’t an answer. Shooting your gun inside a purse has the incredible risk of obstructions to your gun’s muzzle – have you seen the stuff toss loose in your purse – and then there’s the extreme heat of escaping gases that not only can but will burn your hand. That or catch your purse on fire (yes, it has happened).
Lace wrap holsters and lace thigh holsters are only worth one word, really: no. They are not safe, they are not effective, and they should not be marketed to women like they are as though they’re a fantastic idea.
Dress Around Your Gun
It is not only possible but important to dress around your gun. The idea that you should make your gun fit your clothing by buying the smallest or cutest gun possible is A Bad Idea. If you are going to be a serious gun owner it means making some changes. Learn to dress around your gun, get a high-quality holster and gun belt, and train. Training is a big part of successful concealed carry. Just having a gun and carrying it is not the answer. You need to train.
Understand that it takes all of us time to learn about guns and proper carry methods. If your primary concern is fashion, hit the pause button. First and foremost you should be concerned with defending your life and the lives of your loved ones. That doesn’t mean you can’t dress cute it simply means your priorities need to shift to fit the self-defense lifestyle. It’s well worth it. Just ask any woman who has used her gun to defend her life.