The man charged straight at me. He was huge, nearly three hundred pounds and over six and a half feet of nothing but muscle and violent intent, and he was unbelievably fast. I backpedaled rapidly but coolly as I shot repeatedly.
My shutter clicked and clicked, and I got one fantastic photo of a former NFL lineman completely flattening the opposing quarterback who’d tried to sweep around and up my sideline.
You get used to being the small one. I’m a poor physical match for a hand to hand fight with many of the people around me, but I’m unwilling to be cast in the role of victim. I carry a handgun at times in recognition that not all of the people around me might be willing to let me live in peace. It didn’t take long to learn, though, that a lot of gun design did not have people of my size in mind. There are some special considerations to gun choices for smaller people; and these are the topic of this post.
In long guns, compact design rules.
It’s basic physics. The longer the lever arm, the more impact the weight at the end will have. It’s also basic physics that the smallest deviations of the far end of a rifle barrel are magnified all the way to the target. That means a shooter has to hold the end of the barrel under tight control, and the farther away it is from the shooter the harder it is. When the shooter’s arms don’t reach very far along the barrel length and the barrel is heavy compared to arm strength, that’s really hard to do.
How to minimize this problem? Have the barrel end as close as possible to the body; while keeping the actual barrel length as long as possible (since the longer the expanding gas pushes the bullet, the faster it goes).
Option one: Go with carbines. Carbines are pretty normal in design but have shorter than usual barrels. There is a little decrease in bullet speeds and a bit less accurate aiming on iron sights. On the other hand, the carbine is easier to hold on target and easier to maneuver in close quarters such as within buildings or woods.
Option two: Bullpup designs. My favorite is the Tavor X-95; Salty and I have a review of it on this site. Bullpups start the barrel closer to the butt of the gun than usual, so you get a full length barrel in a rifle that barely meets legal minimum lengths (at least in my state).
Size matters…grip size.
My Glock 19 fits my hand beautifully. Salty’s Glock 17 fits his. The reverses are not true. Try before you decide. Besides general hand feel, be sure to check if your fingers are long enough to activate releases and safeties.
How much finger strength does the weapon require?
Salty’s got a charming, fun Nagant pistol from pre-WWII Russia. It literally took me two hands to get the trigger pulled. Not my first choice for a self-defense handgun, you might say. Ok, most guns aren’t nearly that bad, but some magazine releases and safeties require enough force that a simple finger push won’t activate them; I have to change my angle on the grip to make it happen. That’s no good; it slows down operation of the gun and varies its position in my hand, compromising aim. Go through a full range test before you decide.
The right caliber for the job.
To be honest, I think some shooters think of caliber as a proxy for other sizes, and end up with the mindset that bigger is always better. Large calibers on compact frame handguns can really beat up your wrists, though. Would you care in a fight? Heck no. But it will discourage you from having as much range time as would be good for you. You’ve got to consider the gun’s mission though, since larger calibers do have more stopping power.
For handguns, I favor the 9 mm. It’s comfortable enough and cheap enough to fire that range time is a pleasure. If you shoot FMJ most of the time and just do a magazine of personal defense ammo every now and then to make sure the gun likes it and stay familiar with the added muzzle rise, you’re good to go. I think the extra rounds are a good trade for the lesser stopping power compared to something like a .45 caliber. Unless I’m hiking in bear country.
Things that don’t really matter
Pink is a nice color. Salty’s got a lovely 9 mm in pink; and a very pretty bicycle in it too. (If you don’t think pink is a manly color, you’ve never seen Mario Cipppolini win a bike race when his team’s color was pink.) But gun makers, you get nothing but disdain from me when you make gun stocks pink to attract the ‘girly market’. Bleh.
Tiny .22 handguns that can hide under the little black dress? I’ll carry a bag and something I can trust. Rimfires just aren’t reliable enough for my taste for personal defense, and even with good ammo a small number of .22 rounds coming out of a short barrel sounds doesn’t seem like enough to convincingly end the trouble.