Women's Self-Defense Market Is Not A Myth

Shooting Industry, April, 2001 by Massad Ayoob

"Lay off on the stories about women's stuff," says one of our retailer-readers. "They're a tiny part of our market. It's like trying to sell men's wear at Victoria's Secret. It's a lost cause!"


I hear where he's coming from. The typical gun shop tends to be an overwhelmingly male enclave. It's a "guy place." Yet, this does not change the fact that a growing number of empowered women are interested in something the mainstream women's movement has long refused to discuss: self-defense. Meaning: guns. Meaning: sales for you, if you approach the market wisely.


The Women's Shooting Sports Foundation (WSSF) tells us that women own 9 percent of all firearms in the United States. However, it's my understanding that they make up 51 or 52 percent of the population. No wonder they don't have a greater presence at the gathering places of shooters. But let's look at some other figures.


Between 1989 and 1998, says the WSSF, female hunters increased in numbers by 10 percent, at a time when we were being warned that the overall number of hunters was dropping sharply. Women's participation in shotgun target sports increased by a whopping 23 percent, and female presence was up by some 11 percent in airgun target shooting. Female target shooting with handguns, a good barometer of self-defense interest, increased by 19 percent during the same period.
Another good barometer is the number of women attending shooting schools. My school has seen a small but steady increase in female enrollment. I'm hearing the same from some of my colleagues. These are the most seriously self-defense-oriented women, and their growing presence on the training ranges speaks of a broader growing interest among their peers.


The question is: What do you, the gun shop owner, do about it?


Increasing Sales


Gun sales for women split into two basic categories: women who buy for themselves and males who buy for women. The latter is often not ideal. Guys may buy something too hard-kicking, too sharp-edged or with springs so strong that the women can't operate the slides. Such guns usually end up locked in closets, never to be seen again -- and never to create a repeat customer!


The woman who chooses her own handgun has the same ego investment in it as a male customer. It may take her more thought and soul-searching to purchase a home-defense firearm than it would her brother. The kind of woman who enters a male-oriented world to make a significant purchase does her homework. She's heard the stories of women being condescended to at gun shops and cheated at auto dealerships. She studies up on car prices and features before she starts dickering to buy an automobile. She is likely to do the same before she buys a gun.


She may still want or need some professional guidance. That's fine. But she's going to have her "B.S." alert turned all the way up, and the slightest hint of condescending behavior is going to destroy the sale. Make sure everyone on your staff treats women the same way they'd treat men: They should be helpful and respectful and inquire as to need -- rather than pontificating and telling her what they think is best for her.


For the most part, she'll want the same guns you'd sell a man. Her wardrobe may require something more compact if she has or is going to get a license to carry a concealed firearm. She may need something with an easier-working recoil spring for better control of slide operation. If her fingers are short, she'll need something with a proportional reach to the trigger, and if her fingers are willowy and light on strength, she'll need a lighter trigger pull. Since women have been told all their lives that attackers will take their guns away and turn the weapons against them, they are more amenable to guns with retention-oriented features like manual safety catches and magazine disconnector safeties.


These features, as well as a good fit to the hand, have made the Browning Hi-Power and its currently available (and affordable) clones, like the Hungarian FEG, highly popular among knowledgeable women. This also applies to the S&W 3913 series, including the economy version, the Model 908. Easy reach to the trigger makes a compact 1911 pistol a remarkably good choice for small female hands, if the gun comes with the short 1911A1-style trigger. In revolvers, K-frame sizes work best for women 5 feet 6 inches or taller, with proportional hands. J-frames are a better fit for more petite females.


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