If you're not familiar, The Well Armed Woman (TWAW) was founded in 2012 to help introduce women to shooting. Since that time, it has become one of the largest resources for female gun owners, providing a welcoming introduction to the world of firearms and the instruction needed to become proficient. A nationally recognized non-profit organization, TWAW now has 400 chapters in 49 states and a membership of over 12,000 women.
To help keep the knowledge spreading, TWAW also offers instructor courses that highlight the differences that women firearm owners have compared to their male counterparts, and makes these work to their advantage.
TWAW was founded by Carrie Lightfoot, who found herself all alone in an empty nest and felt vulnerable. A friend took her shooting, and she felt empowered by the newfound ability to protect herself. But, as she looked for resources and equipment tailored to women, she kept running into dead ends, as most everything in the firearms industry at the time was designed with only men in mind. She took it upon herself to break the firearms industry of its strong male dominance, and she jumped in with both feet.
Since then, Carrie has become a USCCA Training Counselor, NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Certified Personal Protection In The Home Instructor, and a NRA Refuse To Be A Victim Instructor, and is active in the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum
To reach an even bigger audience, she penned “The Well Armed Woman’s Concise Guide to Concealed Carry” to share her knowledge with anyone with a library card.
Part of her role at the helm of TWAW is to keep her finger on the pulse of what women want, as it pertains to shooting. To that end, the organization conducts an annual survey to determine what's currently popular with female shooters, and why. This info gives others that may just be dipping a toe in for the first time a place to start, especially with a purchase that is so driven by personal preference. The survey data helps pare down the field a bit, giving women a good jumping off point for their own research.
In 2018, more than 4,000 respondents weighed in with their favorite handgun.
One of TWAW’s prior surveys indicated that women own 5.6 guns each, on average. It would seem that gun manufacturers took note, and designed more handguns with what Lightfoot calls “women friendly” options: guns with slides that are easier to manipulate, grips sized more appropriately for smaller hands, and smaller models that are more easily concealed without sacrificing shootability. This led to the more diverse models of handguns being purchased by women in the past year, which signifies a step in the right direction for the firearm industry.
Though the field may be diverse, there were certain themes present. All of the popular handguns are semis, with no revolvers finding their way into the top 10. Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, Ruger, and Glock made up the lion’s share, with more than one offering apiece in the head of the class.
The Austrian polymer pistols are legendary, carried by military and police the world over. The G43 is a single stack, 9mm pistol that is highly concealable due to its diminutive size. But the smaller frame doesn’t mean it can’t handle abuse—the G43 endured the same torture tests all its bigger brothers in the Glock lineup went through.
The aggressively textured grip has a built-in beaver tail design, which works with all hand sizes and allows the shooter to acquire a high and tight grasp for accurate rapid-fire shooting. The magazine holds six rounds, with a large release making fast reloads possible.
With over a million people purchasing the S&W Shield in just a few years, it should come as no surprise that a great number of them are women. In fact, this is the first year the Shield has not been number one on TWAW’s survey since its introduction.
Smith & Wesson scaled down its full-sized M&P pistols to build the Shield, incorporating all the features from the duty gun into a slimmer, more lightweight pistol designed for concealed carry. The small polymer frame is less than an inch wide, making it easy to conceal and features an embedded stainless steel chassis system for increased rigidity. The striker-fired mechanism provides short, consistent trigger pull that lends itself to accuracy. Maintenance is simple and safe, with M&P’s patented take-down lever and sear deactivation systems allow for disassembly without pulling the trigger.
The grip is a little longer thanks to the eight-round magazine, which provides more surface area to get a good grip when drawing in a hurry. The M&P Shield ships with two magazines; one extended capacity and one flush, for around $370. It's available in its original chambering of 9mm, but also in .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Performance Center versions of the Shield are also available.
The G19 is the company's original concealed carry pistol, as it was a scaled down version of the original full size G17. It's smaller than many other Glock pistols, but its firmly in the compact category, not subcompact. Many find the G19 to be just the right size, and for those who don't, the G19X offers a longer grip with the short, G19 slide.
Chambering in 9mm means recoil is manageable even with the somewhat reduced dimensions, and the double-stack mag manages to hold 15 rounds—excellent capacity for a concealed carry gun.
Carrie believes seeing a larger pistol so near the top is an indication that women as whole are becoming more accomplished, confident shooters. The G19 starts around $540.
4. TIE SIG Sauer P238
SIG describes the P238 as a micro-compact because of its small footprint that is at home in an ankle rig or small handbag. The pint-sized handgun is built with similar lines to the 1911, so fans of the century-old design will find the thumb safety, magazine release and slide stop lever in familiar places.
The all-metal frame takes a single-stack mag that holds seven rounds of .380 Auto in a small package. A single-action trigger gives the P238 unmatched accuracy in a pistol its size, and an ambidextrous safety works for both right- and left-handed shooters. Another feature that endears the P238 is the smooth slide that is easy to rack. Real-world prices are around $740.
As you may have guessed from the name, the M&P .380 Shield EZ was devised with ease of use in mind. Like the P238, the EZ Shield has easy to rack slide, but it goes further with an easy-to-load magazine and easy-to-clean design. The magazines have a protrusion on the follower that makes them easy to load, so stuffing eight rounds in is no problem, even for those with less finger strength.
Built with safety in mind, the EZ features a grip safety, a tactile loaded chamber indicator that allows you to see and feel if a round is chambered, and the gun dissembles without the need to pull the trigger. The gun may be had with or without ambidextrous, manual thumb safety. Released just this last year, it received the NRA’s Golden Bullseye award and has already found plenty of favor with the fairer sex. Smith & Wesson lists a price of $400 for the EZ.
SIG also calls the P365 a micro-compact, but it manages to squeeze 10 rounds of 9mm into the magazine—12 with the extended mag. The P365 was just released last year, and to say it was well received is an understatement. Many find it to be surprisingly easy to grip and shoot for a gun of its size, due to its unique ergonomics—plus its extremely concealable under most any type of clothing and with various carry methods.
Like the S&W Shield, the SIG P365 was selected as a Golden Bullseye winner by the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated Magazine as the Handgun of the Year for 2019, but also received Guns and Ammo Magazine’s 2018 Handgun of the Year; the Industry Choice Award for Handgun of the Year; 2018 Ballistic Magazine’s Editor’s Choice for Compact Semi-Automatic Pistols; and the NASGW-POMA Caliber Award for Best Overall Product.
Expect the P365 to gain in popularity as time goes on—a sub-compact pistol that shoots like a larger gun and has a solid ammo capacity without an extended mag is really the sweet spot for self defense. Look for the P365 to sell for about $500.