Top 10 Defensive Guns for Women

There is no such thing as a man’s gun or a woman’s gun. A woman should choose a gun she likes and can shoot well, regardless of what any husband, boyfriend, father, brother, instructor, gun salesperson, or woman friend thinks about it. That said, it is true that most women have smaller hands and less hand and arm strength than most men. It’s because of this strength issue that we find ourselves often recommending certain handguns to women or to men.

My recommendations are not intended to put women in a box and infer they should pick one of the guns in this list. The list is derived from my 20 years in the business of helping women learn to shoot and qualify for a License to Carry. It’s a list of guns that have often been chosen and have worked well for the women I’ve had the privilege of advising. The numbers do not represent a ranking. Number 10 is just as good as Number 2, for example.

Smith & Wesson LadySmith .38 SPL revolver, right profile
The Smith & Wesson LadySmith, representing .38 Special revolvers suitable for carry, is liked by many women because of its simplicity.

Small Frame Revolver

My wife carries a Smith & Wesson Model 60 LadySmith .38 Special. It’s a pricey gun that I lucked upon through a trade-in when I owned a gun store. If money isn’t an object, this is a fine revolver for any lady who wants to carry a revolver. More affordable options that will fill this role are the Taurus 856 or Taurus 609.

These are all .38 Specials. I’m a fan of .327 Federal Magnum for a carry revolver. Taurus has one when you can find it in stock, and Ruger has one in its SP101 model. Charter Arms makes some nice carry-size .38 Special revolvers, some with pretty colors (if you are into that).

  • Pros: Easy to Use
  • Cons: Limited Capacity
  • Cost: Upper End $800–$900, Lower End $300–$400

Smith & Wesson Equalizer

The Equalizer follows on the heels of Smith & Wesson’s popular EZ-Rack Shield. It is 6.75 inches long, 4.5 inches high, 1.04 inches wide, and weighs 22.9 ounces. It is a double stack 9mm which ships with 10, 13, and 15-round magazines.

The slide is cut for optics, which allows the user to mount the most popular micro red dots. The trigger has a clean break at just a little over 5 pounds with a fast reset. The barrel is 3.675 inches long, which provides a nice sight radius for use with iron sights. The sights are white three-dot models. The front and rear sight are both drift-adjustable.

The Equalizer features a grip texture and pattern that are designed to give you more control when firing and more comfort when carrying. An ambidextrous manual safety is an available option. The mag release button can be turned around for left-hand shooting. The slide is easy to rack due to reduced spring tension and deep cut serrations.

S&W Equalizer 9mm semi-automatic pistol
The S&W Equalizer is easy to rack, optics ready, and has a 9mm capacity of up to 16 rounds.

People who struggle with slide operation will find this gun much to their liking. A supplied Uplula magazine loader makes loading magazines a breeze. This gun could be a life changer for people who know they should be shooting and carrying a gun regularly, but struggle with operating the slide.

  • Pros: Easy to use, optics-ready, 10–15 round capacity
  • Cons: Can’t think of any
  • Cost: Around $500

Smith & Wesson CSX

Smith & Wesson’s CSX is a little gun that doesn’t know it’s little. The individual parts, such as the sights, slide lock, magazine release, and safety, feel strong and function perfectly for the role they play. The thumb safety, slide lock, and magazine release snap into and out of place precisely and with no hint of looseness.

The slide serrations, front and back, are small to go with the small height of the slide, but they are deep cut enough to provide a secure grip. Cocking handles (small protrusions on each side at the rear of the slide) are there to assist. This gun is not unpleasant to rack. An opening at the rear of the ejection port serves as a loaded chamber indicator.

Hand holding a Smith and Wesson CSX 9mm handgun
The CSX, shown here in the author’s hand, is a small gun that handles well because its steel frame gives it substance. It operates much like a 1911 and can be carried “cocked and locked.”

The sights are dovetail mounted, drift adjustable, and have a bright single dot up front and two dots in the rear. Anti-glare serrations on top of the slide add to the overall coolness of the gun. The slide lock and frame safety are ambidextrous, and the magazine release is reversible. The trigger has a blade safety, which when depressed results in a nice, flat trigger face. The single-action trigger breaks at just a little over 5 pounds.

The CSX is packaged with two magazines (10 and 12-round), and an extra palm swell that allows you to adjust the gun to fit your hands. Although the CSX doesn’t have a grip safety, it was designed to be carried cocked and locked. This is safe because the thumb safety is precise and secure, and there’s a trigger safety.

I must admit, I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable with this at first, However, after several shooting sessions, and a thorough understanding of how the action and safeties work, I became comfortable with it. It is a 19.5-ounce pistol that’s only 6.1 inches long, which makes it easy to carry. Because of its metal frame construction, it is also comfortable to shoot.

  • Pros: Well-made, ambidextrous, easy to operate, 10–12 round capacity
  • Cons: No optics cut
  • Cost: $500–$600

Smith & Wesson Shield Plus in .30 Super Carry

The Shield has been around for several years and is one of the best-selling handguns of all time. The Shield Plus is like a Shield on steroids. The outward dimensions are essentially the same, but the Shield Plus uses a double-stack magazine. To make this work, the caliber is smaller. Not a lot smaller, but small enough that with .30 Super Carry ammunition, a Shield Plus will hold 17 rounds.

Smith & Wesson Shield Plus in 30 Super Carry, right quartering away
Smith & Wesson’s Shield Plus in .30 Super Carry — a new caliber that offers ballistics similar to 9mm in a cartridge that is smaller in diameter, so the gun can hold more. Actual capacity fully loaded is 17-rounds and that’s in a Shield format.

Currently, defensive ammunition in .30 Super Carry is available from Federal, Speer, and Remington. Ballistic comparisons show the cartridge to be more powerful than .380 and not quite as powerful as 9mm. The small difference in 9mm muzzle energy, expansion size, and penetration is easily made up for in the Shield when you consider 17 rounds on board versus 9 rounds for the 9mm Shield.


That extra capacity can mean a lot. It certainly gives me a comfort level. As far as recoil goes, I can’t tell much difference. I am a regular user of my .30 Super Carry Shield Plus. I really like the idea of a 17-round Shield that weighs 19.3 ounces, and tapes out at 6.1 inches long, 4.6 inches high, and 1.1 inches wide.

  • Pros: Familiar Shield format, optics-ready, 17-round capacity
  • Cons: New Caliber
  • Cost: $400–$600

Mossberg MC2C

The MC2C is just under 7 inches long, 5 inches high, and 1.04 inches at its widest point. The width is .95 inch everywhere forward of the slide lock. It weighs 20.2 ounces empty, and 29 ounces loaded. The Mossberg carries 14 rounds with the standard magazine and 16 rounds with the extended magazine. To me, it’s a big deal to be able to carry 14 rounds in a gun the size of any number of single-stack nines.

Mossberg MC20 on a Birchwood Casey splatter target with a box of Speer Gold Dot G2 ammunition
Mossberg, known mostly for its shotguns, has created a nice, everyday carry pistol in the MC2C. This gun shoots so well, and carries so well, that it has become a favorite for the author and a number of other gun writers.

The sights are dovetail mounted and come standard in a low-profile, snag-free, white 3-Dot configuration or with TruGlo Tritium Pro Night Sights as an option. Texturing on the sides, as well as front strap and back strap, are just aggressive enough to be effective without hurting your hand. There’s a textured pad on both sides of the frame where your trigger finger should index and a Picatinny rail forward of the trigger guard.

The trigger guard is large enough for gloves and curves up slightly at the rear to facilitate a high grip. The beavertail at the back of the frame facilitates a high, tight grip, and helps mitigate recoil. There is a rounded treatment at the front and top of the slide for easy holstering.

The trigger has a wide, flat profile with an integrated blade safety. Trigger pull is right at 6 pounds. The MC2C ships with a 13-round flush magazine and a 15-round extended magazine, both made from a coated steel that offers low friction and long-term wear-resistance. It’s fun to shoot, and it is a confidence builder.

When I was testing the gun, four regular shooters and two guest shooters put it through its paces, and everybody enjoyed shooting the gun. Accuracy was a delight. For many months, the MC2C has been my daily carry pistol, only to be displaced when I need to test something new.

  • Pros: Very nice grip, rounded carry treatment, good trigger, 13 or 15-round capacity
  • Cons: No optics cut
  • Cost: Around $400

Ruger Max 9

The Ruger Max 9 is an 18.9-ounce gun that is 6 inches long and 4.5 inches high with its extended magazine that holds 12 rounds. A 10-round, flush-fit magazine is also included in the package. The grip offers plenty of hand purchase thanks to a sandpaper-like texture all around. It is one of the better grips I’ve experienced on a small gun.

Ruger Max 9 in a Phalanx Defense Systems holster
The Ruger Max 9, shown here riding comfortably in a Phalanx Defense Systems holster, represents Ruger’s entry into the double-stack micro market.

The slide is cut for a red dot sight, and it is also tapered with rounded edges to make for easy holstering. Front and rear sights are both adjustable. The front sight is a fiber-optic and the rear sight is all black. Slide serrations exist front and rear. You can get the Max 9 with or without a frame safety. The trigger has a blade safety. I enjoyed shooting the Max 9 and found it reasonably accurate for personal protection.

  • Pros: Ruger’s rugged reliability, lightweight, small, cut for red dot sight
  • Cons: Can’t think of any
  • Cost: Under $400


SCCY was building micro pistols with double-stack magazines long before the current crop of micro-nines became so popular. If you’re familiar at all with the SCCY CPX Series pistols, the DVG-1 has some interesting differences. The DVG-1 is striker-fired. The CPX series pistols are hammer-fired.

While the DVG-1 has an advertised 5.5-pound trigger pull, the CPX guns have a 10-pound trigger pull. The trigger on the DVG-1 is straight, and the CPX trigger is curved. The DVG-1 has front and rear slide serrations. The CPX slides only have rear serrations. Also, the DVG-1 has a reduced grip circumference compared to the CPX grip. It measures 5.5 inches at its widest point, compared to 6 inches on the CPX models.

SCCY DVG1 9mm handgun, left profile
The SCCY DVG1 is a striker-fired pistol with a 5.5-pound trigger pull. It’s made very well and sells for under $300. It is an excellent choice for a concealed-carry pistol whether on a budget or not.

The DVG-1’s machining is flawless. Its fit is tight and smooth. Everything about it says quality, yet it’s a gun that retails below $300. That’s with two magazines and a trigger lock. Also, with each of the magazines you have, the choice of a flat base plate or one that is extended with a slight pinky-finger curve. You may be tempted to use the flat base plate for carrying, but trust me, when you shoot the gun, you’re going to want the extended base plate.

The sights on the DVG-1 are three-dot sights, easy to see. But if you want to change them, any aftermarket Glock-pattern sight will fit the DVG-1. More and more manufacturers are adopting the Glock pattern sights, and it was a smart move on the part of SCCY to follow that trend. I’ve shot my DVG-1 extensively and found it to be carry-pistol-accurate and trouble-free.

  • Pros: Inexpensive, yet well-made; easy carry; nice trigger; 12+1 capacity
  • Cons: No optics cut
  • Cost: Under $300

SIG Sauer P365XL

Of the guns listed here, the SIG Sauer P365XL is the one that can be found in my daily carry holster most often. The P365XL packs 12+1 or 15+1 capacity in a micro-compact. The P365XL is highly concealable in size, while maintaining the comfort and shootability of a full-size pistol.

SIG Sauer P365XL 9mm handgun fitted with a red dot sight
SIG Sauer’s P365XL is the sales leader in this group of firearms. It represents SIG’s legendary quality in an easy-to-carry package size.

The P365XL comes standard with an extended slide, 3.7-inch barrel, a grip module with extended beavertail, and integrated magwell. The XL features a crisp, clean, P365 trigger pull with a flat profile trigger that breaks at 90 degrees. Also standard are the signature XRay3 Day/Night sights with a rear sight plate assembly that allows direct mounting of the new SIG Romeo Zero or the RMSc reflex optics. SIG is like the BMW or Mercedes of gun manufacturers — you can feel and experience that quality every time you shoot a SIG gun, including this one.

  • Pros: It’s a SIG, with SIG quality built-in; optics-ready
  • Cons: Perhaps price
  • Cost: $800–$900 depending upon options

Glock 43X

Glocks are well-made and a pleasure to shoot. The G43X is one of those micro-nines that started with the frame of a single-stack nine but was modified slightly to handle a larger magazine with more rounds. The gun ships with two 10-round magazines.

Glock 43 9mm pistol, left quartering away
Glock took its single-stack Glock 43 model and modified it to hold 10 rounds. Although it’s a smaller gun, the operating controls and their locations mimic the popular Glock 19.

There’s a reason why the G43X feels so comfortable and doesn’t beat the shooter up with recoil. The action components of the G43X are so close in size to the action components of the popular mid-size G19, it’s difficult to feel any difference while shooting. The grip circumference is similar, the trigger reach is almost the same, and the sights are identical.

Slide serrations on the G43X are vertical — five in the back and three in front. The trigger guard is raised in the back where it joins the grip. That’s to facilitate the high grip we all want. The front strap is mildly checkered, as is the back strap. There’s a small ledge on the grip where your thumb rests. My medium-sized hands fit the grip nicely.

  • Pros: Feels nice, shoots nice, Glock reliability and simplicity
  • Cons: Can’t think of any
  • Cost: Around $500

Springfield Hellcat Pro

At 21 ounces, with a footprint of 6.6 inches in length, 4.8 inches in height, and 1-inch wide, the Springfield Hellcat Pro is smaller than most of the mid-size carry guns. Springfield’s engineers managed this without sacrificing the features shooters demand. The frame has an adaptive grip texture that feels secure without hurting your hands. The finish on the grip is interesting because it wraps around the grip and makes the front and back strap feel as though they were checkered. Springfield calls it Adaptive Grip Texture. It’s made up of staggered pyramid shapes that are flattened on top, interspersed with shorter ones that are pointed on top.

There is a thumb rest high on the grip that guides your hand into the proper position. The beavertail is extended, which aids in reducing felt recoil. The slide has front and rear serrations to aid the shooter when racking the slide.

Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro 9mm handgun on a green and white paper target with a five bullet holes
Springfield Armory’s Hellcat Pro is a compact pistol chambered in 9mm that offers 15+1 capacity in a smaller footprint than any other gun in its class.

The Hellcat Pro comes out of the box ready for an optic. It also has great sights installed. The front sight is a large luminescent tritium dot, and the rear sight is a tactical U-shaped notch. The trigger guard is undercut to give the shooter a high grip. The trigger has a flat front surface with a blade safety. The Hellcat Pro’s trigger pull averaged 7 pounds. There was about .5-inch take-up and a very smooth break.

The Hellcat Pro, like every Springfield I’ve ever shot, is very accurate. Any shooter with basic skills can do well with it. As mentioned above, the frame is designed to be held in a manner that delivers accurate shots.

  • Pros: Springfield quality, excellent grip, 15+1 capacity, optics-ready
  • Cons: None that I can think of
  • Cost: $500–$600


These guns aren’t pink. The guns featured in this round up would be as welcome in a man’s holster as they would be in a woman’s holster. However, in my opinion, any one of these guns will work well for a woman who wants to be well-armed with a gun she can manage easier. I’m sure many of our readers can think of other guns that should also be on this list, so let’s hear from you. Limiting my list to 10 was the most difficult part about this assignment.

Like the author said, a woman can shoot any gun a man can, but some models seem preferable. Which “Lady” guns do you recommend or have had success with? Share your answers in the comment section.

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