There’s an oft-repeated saw about the social utility of firearms. It goes something to the effect of “G-D created men, Sam Colt made them equal” or “Abraham Lincoln freed all men, Sam Colt made them equal.” The central (and very libertarian) ideas behind the saying are that because of the mass production and distribution of quality firearms at a reasonable price, no person can physically impose his or her will on another because of social, caste or physical superiority. While the axiom is, at its core, true, it has unfortunately been rather sexist in its application. More egregiously, at least from my perspective, it’s resulted in a class of literary heroines who are, because of their gender, weaker and less capable than they ought to be.
|Ladies' Muff Pistol, circa 1820|
The meaning of “ladies’ gun” has changed little over the centuries. It refers to a small (petite, even!) pistol, firing a diminutive projectile and, generally, on which special attention has been paid to appearance and cosmetics. Such guns have traditionally been marketed to both men and women who want to provide a means of protecting either their significant others or themselves, but with a feminine flair. The marketing is effective; spend some time at any popular shooting range and it won’t be long before you spot a fashionably dressed woman with impeccable makeup and a perfect manicure shooting something dainty and, well, pink.
As both a professional in the field of weapon and firearms technology and an instructor who’s been teaching people the fine art of personal defense with a firearm for the better part of twenty years, I’ve got a number of issues with the concept of the ladies’ gun. Note that NONE of these issues have to with the modern ladies’ gun’s “protective coloration” – that is, the fact that they come in pink. A gun’s color is a purely cosmetic issue, not a tactical or a technical one. If someone wants to play Barbie with their carry piece, that’s irrelevant to utility. The factors with which I take issue apply to both practical (i.e., “serious social situations”) and literary applications. A couple of contrasts might be useful to better illustrate the points.
Before I begin, let me state unequivocally that the availability of a firearm – any firearm – is far better than none; this post is about why traditional Ladies’ Guns are a bad choice.
Contrast Number 1: Ladies’ Gun Cartridges vs. “Manly” Cartridges
I’m going to let you in on a (very) little secret. Other than in places where it’s prohibited by law or by the property holder, I’m always armed. (Breaking the law with respect to firearms is BAD.) On top of that, I usually carry a primary pistol and a backup. (Kind of like having both a seatbelt *and* an airbag…).
|Compensating? .500 S&W above full size .44 Magnum|
Modern ladies’ guns, on the other hand, are generally chambered for smaller calibers that are considered less difficult to shoot, and that allow for the gun itself to be smaller. A quick Google of “Ladies Gun” will yield numerous offerings in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, .38 Special and 9mm Parabellum. Anybody want to hazard a guess as to why most American police agencies abandoned all but the 9mm Parabellum decades ago? Or why elite military units have returned to the .45 ACP, choosing it over the 9mm Parabellum?
|.38 Special "Pink Lady"|
Contrast Number 2: Mechanics Matter
Size and operating mechanism differences impact the ease and effectiveness with which a gun can be both carried and shot. Is it easier to haul around a smaller, lighter gun? Sure. However, choosing convenience when it comes to a gun’s weight represents a tradeoff against shooting characteristics, for two reasons.
The first is nothing more than simple physics: The smaller the gun, the lower the mass. The lower the mass, the more readily the gun will be acted upon by motive forces such as recoil. The smaller gun will jump more when fired, requiring more time to bring it back on target for a follow-up shot. Time matters. Think about it - when your heroine is beset by a burly beast of a brute (Hey, writers, did you dig the alliteration?) does she really have time to spare? As an aside, this is particularly important when you arm your heroine with a revolver. Revolvers have no reciprocating components to channel or buffer recoil forces, and thus the sum of the recoil is transmitted to the shooter’s hand.
The second reason obtains from the nature of the operating systems prevalent in small semi-automatic pistols. Many pistols chambered in typical Ladies’ Gun calibers use a mechanism called “blowback.” In blowback operated guns, there is no delay between the time the gun fires and the time that the breech, or slide, begins moving to the rear. While simple and less expensive to manufacture, the blowback mechanism amplifies perceived recoil, increasing the time between shots. Again, does your heroine really have that kind of time? (As an aside, a new generation of small pistols using a locked breech mechanism is taking hold. These include the Taurus TCP ,the Ruger LCP and the Kel-Tec P3AT.)
As a result of these mechanical differences, the typical Ladies’ Gun is more difficult to shoot and, as a result, requires more training and preparation time be effectively used.
Conclusion: Sexism and the Myth of the Ladies’ Gun
As can be seen, there are a couple of important corollaries to the axiom about Sam Colt making men equal.
|Pink as it gets...but in .40 S&W. Useful!|
- But only if they are given an equal opportunity, ballistically and mechanically, to defend themselves.
The idea of the “Ladies’ Gun” is sexist. It promotes the myth of feminine helplessness and the idea that women both seek and require tools that trade off effectiveness for putative aesthetics. But then, maybe it’s just me. I like heroines who are strong and capable. Strong and capable heroines deserve the same tools and opportunities as strong and capable heroes.