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The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

Image source: Bloomberg

The man sat on a chair across the table from me, a phone cradled to his ear, hunched over the clipboard in front of him in an effort to block out the din of the packed arena. He carefully spelled out the letters of my name and address to someone on the other end of the line, and went on to fill in other details.

He was reading the words off a federal form 4473 which I had just filled out and handed back to him. I stood waiting in nervous and happy anticipation while the gun dealer ran my information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of anything bad turning up. My background is about as squeaky clean as they come. It wasn’t that I am anti-government, either. It is indeed true that I would rather not share any more information with the government than I have to, including whether or not I drink raw milk or keep farm animals and whether or not I own a gun, but had already resigned myself to the fact that this is the way it’s done.

It was that it was my first-ever gun purchase. Although I am not new to guns — not brand new, anyway — I had never shopped for and purchased one for my own use.

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I am not really a “gun person.” But when my husband and I took up homesteading I began to see the usefulness of gun ownership in a whole new light. My husband taught me the basics on his hunting gun — just enough that I might be able to defend myself and my barnyard if I absolutely had to — but I recently began to consider taking it a step further.

The idea of having my own gun crept up on me. It seemed preposterous at first. I mean — me?!  Owning a gun?! My husband and I discussed it, and the conversation got serious last summer when livestock predation was on the rise. The firearms available to me were not adequate — they were either too big for my comfort or not accurate enough for the job at hand.

And it wasn’t just the animals that I became concerned about protecting. The world is changing, even way out in rural America where I live. It is becoming the kind of world where we hear about meth labs and opiate addictions in communities startlingly near to us. Violent crimes, home invasions, and robberies are no longer restricted to metropolitan areas.

An elderly lady was beaten in her own home in the next village over from me. Another neighbor had a man walk right into her house — and when confronted, he pretended to have mistaken it for someone else’s home and left. These are anomalies, but that may not always be the case.

I walked into a gun shop one day and began my education. My husband is savvy about guns, but I wanted to learn on my own.

I had done enough research to know I wanted a small shotgun. Between the two generally standard sizes — 12-gauge and 20-gauge — I knew I would prefer the smaller 20-gauge. Shotguns come in an even smaller “410 bore” as well, and I asked some questions that would help me compare and contrast the two smaller options.

Gun aficionados had advised me that a multiple shot is a better choice than single, and that a pump action is best.

The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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What I learned at that first gun shop is that 20-gauges are a lot more common and only slightly more expensive than 410s, but ammo for the smaller gun is a lot more expensive.

“A lot depends on what you’re going to use it for,” the guy explained. If I was going to do a lot of target shooting, cost of ammo was a factor. If it was strictly for the occasional varmint or for self-defense, or “for the house,” as the salesman phrased it, cost of ammo was irrelevant.

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The way he talked so casually about a woman owning a gun for self-defense, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, made me feel less self-conscious about it.

He had a wide variety of actions on hand to show me, as well. The “action” of a gun is basically how the shell — in a shotgun — or the bullet — in a rifle or handgun — gets into the chamber. There was a “break action,” where the end of the barrel snaps open and the shells are loaded into side-by-side chambers, and a “lever action” which loads the shell when a handle under the barrel is flipped forward and back. He also showed me pump action guns, which are generally able to store four or five shells in the magazine and load them one by one when an outer casing on the barrel is slid forward and back. There were single shots as well, which is just like it sounds — one shell is loaded right into the chamber.

There are also bolt actions made, but they don’t appear to be common. There are also semi-automatics, but the guy could tell I wasn’t ready to look at or pay for anything like that. Later in my shopping experience, I did consider the merits of semi-automatics. These are firearms which, once the first shell or bullet is loaded, the next one pops into the chamber automatically as soon as the first is shot out. I found a lot of them on the market, which may be because they are popular, or possibly because they are significantly more expensive — usually about twice the price — and the cheaper choices get snapped up first.

I had to chuckle at the pink camo 20-gauge pump shotgun he showed me, regarding it as a novelty. Little did I know in those early shopping stages that — pardon the pun — targeting women is a burgeoning trend. Pink is in!

As a busy homesteader who rarely leaves the farm, there wasn’t much time to focus on gun shopping. In the eight months that slipped past between the time I first made the decision to purchase a firearm and finally doing so, it seemed to me that the selection diminished and the prices rose a bit.

The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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Wandering in and out of gun shops intermittently throughout that period of time, I felt that as a woman shopping alone for a gun, I was mostly treated courteously. I did encounter one gun shop owner who got pretty overbearing and pedantic when I told him I was new to guns. Later, when I went back to the same shop with my very knowledgeable husband, the man was less obnoxious.

I live in a state where guns are easily and legally sold between individuals, and I spent some time exploring that option. By the time I started looking at online classifieds, however, I had come to the realization that a regular-sized gun would not suit me. After handling dozens of guns at shops and a few friends’ guns, it was clear that I needed a short stock at the very least, and perhaps the whole firearm needed to be small.

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My husband advised me against a couple of brands — not because there’s anything wrong with them, but just not ones he likes. Factoring that into my search for a youth sized model 20-gauge pump action at a reasonable price, within a reasonable driving distance, made for slim pickings in the personal sales realm.

I ended up finding what I wanted at a gun show. I walked a little taller as I carried my purchase out of the arena, my receipt handy in case security had any questions at the door and almost a little crestfallen when they didn’t.

It can be intimidating to consider buying a gun if you are new to them, and difficult to know where to begin. Based on my experience, I would encourage anyone in that situation to give it a try. Do not be afraid to shop on your own, and treat each encounter as an opportunity to learn, but follow up with your own common sense research and evaluation. Give yourself permission to be new, and do not accept being judged for inexperience or trepidation. No one has the right to treat you as if being uncomfortable around guns is a character flaw — we all start somewhere. If you do have someone in your life whom you trust and is comfortable with guns, get that person’s advice before you make your final choice if you can.

And above all, be safe, and get trained. This article is a about the fun and challenges of buying a gun, and not about safety and training. But please don’t interpret that to mean that those things are not important — they are absolutely crucial and should not be dismissed or minimized.

Whatever your style and whatever your choice, may your journey into gun ownership be fun, productive, and safe.

What advice would you add for women shopping for a gun? Share it in the section below:

Pump Shotguns Have One BIG Advantage Over Other Shotguns. Read More Here.

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  1. “It wasn’t that I am anti-government, either.”

    I think you are confusing the people who SERVE WITHIN our governments – yes, plural – with being the government themselves. They are not, they are basically employees – elected, hired, contracted, etc.

    You see, our legitimate government IS the US Constitution. It defines our government, and it also assigns the authorities (often called powers) that “We the people…” DELEGATED and separates who is

  2. “After handling dozens of guns at shops and a few friends’ guns, it was clear that I needed a short stock at the very least, and perhaps the whole firearm needed to be small.” If you dont have friends with a variety of firearms to try out, most shooting ranges have some you can rent , to use at the range. For inexperienced shooters.I recommend double action revolvers, in .357 mag,they also use .38 special. There are more guns to choose from now than any time before, in every price range.

  3. “It wasn’t that I am anti-government, either.”

    You are confusing the people who SERVE WITHIN our governments – yes, plural, state and general (federal refers to the complete system) – with being the government themselves. They are not, they are basically employees – elected, hired, contracted, etc. This is important to know.

    It is also important to know and understand that the US Constitution REQUIRES the American people to be arme3d and TRAINED with every type of weapon they can afford. That if they cannot afford one, those that serve within our government are REQUIRED to supply said weapons to the people.

    All who serve in our governments, at all levels – state and general – are REQUIRED to take an Oath to “Support and Defend” – or in the case of those who serve as US Presidents to Preserve, Protect and Defend – the US Constitution and NOT any person, position, group, etc.

    You see, our legitimate government IS the US Constitution. It IS in writing for all to know if they would bother.

    Abraham Lincoln: “We, the people, are the rightful masters of both congress and the courts – not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow men who pervert the Constitution.”

    Thomas Jefferson: “Our rulers can have no authority over natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as injurious to others.”

    President Andrew Jackson, farewell address: “It is well known that there have always been those among us who wish to enlarge the powers of the general government, and experience would seem to indicate that there is a tendency on the part of this government to overstep the boundaries marked out for it by the Constitution. Its legitimate authority is abundantly sufficient for all the purposes for which it was created, and its powers being expressly enumerated, there can be no justification for claiming anything beyond them. Every attempt to exercise power beyond these limits should be promptly and firmly opposed, for one evil example will lead to other measures still more mischievous; and if the principle of constructive powers or supposed advantages or temporary circumstances shall ever be permitted to justify the assumption of a power not given by the Constitution, the general government will before long absorb all the powers of legislation, and you will have in effect but one consolidated government. From the extent of our country, its diversified interests, different pursuits and different habits, it is too obvious for argument that a single consolidated government would be wholly inadequate to watch over and protect its interests; and every friend of our free institutions should be always prepared to maintain unimpaired and in full vigor the rights and sovereignty of the states and to confine the action of the general government strictly to the sphere of its appropriate duties.”

    Michael LeMieux: “The Constitution has very little to do with the American citizen. It was written to establish a Federal Government and to place the boundaries by which that government would operate. The constitution was never designed to provide or enumerate the rights of the citizens but to restrain the federal government from meddling in state and ultimately citizen affairs.”

    U.S. Supreme Court CAHA v. U.S., 152 U.S. 211: “Generally speaking, within any state of this Union the preservation of the peace and the protection of person and property are the functions of the state government, and are NO PART of the primary duty, at least, of the nation. The laws of congress in respect to those matters DO NOT extend into the territorial limits of the states, but have force ONLY in the District of Columbia, and other places that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the national government.”

    Tench Coxe: “Who are the militia? are they not ourselves. Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American…The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” And from ‘Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution’, on the Second Amendment where he asserts that it’s the people with arms, who serve as the ultimate check on government: “As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow-citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms”.

    Richard Henry Lee, First Senate: “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves …”

    George Mason, Co-author of the Second Amendment: “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few public officials. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”

    Thomas Cooley: “The right is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the law, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon… If the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for that purpose”.

    Patrick Henry: “If you have given up your militia, and Congress shall refuse to arm them, you have lost every thing. Your existence will be precarious, because you depend on others, whose interests are not affected by your infelicity.”

    Joel Barlow, Revolutionary War veteran, American whose political writings were debated on the floor of Parliament said of the US Constitution: “… not only permitting every man to arm, but obliging him to arm.”

    Constitution of the United States of America, Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    Cockrum v. State: “The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it from the State government. It is one of the high powers delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of the general powers of government. A law cannot be passed to infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and independent of the lawmaking power”.

    Bliss v. Commonwealth: “Arms restrictions – even concealed weapons bans – are unconstitutional, since arms bearing is an individual right and the legislature may not restrict any aspect of such a right.”

    Nunn vs. State: ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ The right of the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as are used by the milita, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State. Our opinion is that any law, State or Federal, is repugnant to the Constitution, and void, which contravenes this right”.

    Andrews v. State explains, this “passage from Story, shows clearly that this right was intended, as we have maintained in this opinion, and was guaranteed to, and to be exercised and enjoyed by the citizen as such, and not by him as a soldier, or in defense solely of his political rights.”

    US Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water”.

    The congress has the duty to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal when they are needed to enforce the US Constitution, the laws, or defend the people and the nation. This is using private citizens in their own privately owned crafts to defend the USA and her people, this is using the Militia.

    Clause 15: “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions.

    This clause is very straightforward. The militia of each state is entrusted with the defense of the USA and her people, not just with the defense of their state; and they are to be armed with weapons that can repel any invasions bearing modern weapons of war. Congress is required to provide those military grade weapons for the militias in the next clause.

    Clause 16: “To provide for organizing, ARMING, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress”.

    Clause 16 lays out the duties that those that serve within our governments – state and general (federal) have to the people so that the peoples Militias are always armed with any weapon that might be needed to enforce the US Constitution, each state’s Constitution, or to defend our nation from invaders.

    I hope this assists you and others in understanding our US Constitution – our LEGITIMATE government as a Constitutional Republic with DELEGATED powers from the people that IS in writing. America is not now, nor has she EVER been a “democracy”.

    That it IS our constitutional duty to OWN and TRAIN with arms for many reasons including to stop those who serve within our governments from ordering the ignorant against the American people. BEFORE you laugh this off, remember that Obama gave himself First Degree Murder powers that can, and have been, used on Americans. That there is no such thing as “assassination powers” here in America, it is JUST First Degree Murder, and quite probably mass murder and a crime here in America, up to and including *Terrorism against the American people.

    *28 C.F.R. Section 0.85 Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.

    • Thanks for the comment. We were using “government” in the most common usage of the term, although we do understand your point. 🙂

  4. Just a few important notes concerning pump shotguns.

    First and most important for home defense / tactical pump shotguns is knowing what “cruiser ready” means. Here is a very good YouTube video that explains this quite well:
    Cruiser Ready: How to Store A Home Defense Shotgun

    My only difference from the above safety video advice is that, for example, the long tube magazine spring on a Mossberg 500 pump shotgun (12 or 20 gauge) can be replaced for $4.99 to $7.99, ordered directly from These springs take being compressed for long periods of time quite well with no harm done, and even if you needed to replace it, it doesn’t cost all that much and it is not a real big deal to do yourself. I.E. – I would load the magazine as full as it goes and just leave the chamber empty. A spare magazine spring ordered ahead of time will likely sit in a drawer for years, but you’ll have it just in case you ever need it.

    For those who may doubt the “drop safety” issue – where a shotgun with a shell in the chamber can fire even with the safety on if it is dropped or it is casually leaned up against something and it then falls over – here is a painful video of exactly this happening in real life via YouTube. Warning, somewhat graphic ouch as guy takes birdshot into the back of his leg from his own falling shotgun.
    Guy Shoots Himself in The Leg With Shotgun [WARNING +16]

    A search on for “shotgun falls and goes off” (minus the quotes) and similar search terms will show other videos of shotguns falling and going BANG! exactly as described above. The key is store the gun with an empty chamber and only pump a round into the chamber when needed. When the time comes, grab the gun and pump a round into the chamber in less time than it takes to talk about it. Easy.

    No conversation on shotguns with short (18″ – 20″) cylinder bore barrels (“cylinder bore” means no choke) would be complete without mentioning the Federal Premium Tactical Law Enforcement shells with the FLITECONTROL wad. I capitalize the FLITECONTROL wad as this is the fairly recent technological advancement that enables short no choke barrel shotguns to shoot tight/small pellet patterns at good distances, just as if they were full length, full choke barreled shotguns. The FLITECONTROL wad was originally designed for Law Enforcement shotguns which are generally tactical shotguns with short 18″ – 20″ cylinder bore barrels. Just like what you should already have for home defense.

    9 pellets of 00 buckshot (LE 132-00 or LE 127-00) will hit in a tight spread of only about ~8 inches at 25 yards (75 feet) from most typical “cylinder bore” shotguns as described above. Patterns can actually get worse (bigger) if they are fired through a choke as that is not what the FliteControl wads are designed for. At in-house ranges of 30 feet (10 yards) or less, the pattern grouping will range from no bigger than your fist to down to hardly bigger than the barrel opening, much like shooting solid slugs. You have to AIM a shotgun and you want all of the pellets to hit the target, especially if you have other people / animals / neighbors in the area. There is an old saying that basically says every pellet (or bullet) that misses the target and continues downrange has a lawyer attached to it. Remember that.

    The Federal Premium FliteControl wad “LE 132-00” (the LE stands for Law Enforcement) are LOW RECOIL shells with a muzzle speed of 1145 fps instead of the full power 1325 fps (feet per second). The low recoil shells are much easier on your shoulder and minimize over penetration, whether it be through the target’s body or interior walls and etc. The LE 127-00 are the full power 1325 fps versions of the same thing. At close ranges in such small tight patterns these things are designed to take a man down. After all, you can kill a full grown buck deer at 35 – 40 yards (105 – 120 feet) with authority (LE 127-00), thus the term “buckshot” in the first place. For ladies or smaller folks with an aversion to too much kick, the low recoil “LE 132-00” double aught buckshot are just the ticket.

    Here are some low prices:

    Notice the rifled slugs (that will also load and shoot out of your smooth bore shotgun) in “low recoil” loads as well. They will still punch clean through an old refrigerator or car doors and whatnot, which may change your ideas on what makes for good “cover” to hide behind, since your shotgun can so easily punch holes in so many solid seeming things. Experiment and learn!

    $3.87 for a box of 5 shells translates to $38.70 for 10 boxes of 5, or 50 shells of LE-132-00. Not bad at all. They are out of stock on the LE 127-00 (full power) at the moment but you can wait or shop elsewhere. A selection of rifled slugs and 00 buckshot will make for a real nightmare to anyone meaning to do you and yours harm.

    With a Mossberg 500, you can change to a long barrel with the Accu-chokes for hunting to put duck/pheasant/turkey etc. on the table, and then swap back to the 18.5″ security barrel with the above ammo for solid home defense. Best of both worlds. There are even rifled barrels available that you can mount a rifle scope on for deer hunting at longer ranges. (Out to perhaps 150 yards or so) The rifled barrels take the sabot rounds instead of the rifled slugs. Sabot is french for “dart”, pronounced “say boh”. I make do with an 18.5″ cylinder bore security barrel and a 28″ barrel with the accu-choke system – chokes that thread into the end of the barrel, ranging from improved cylinder to modified to full choke, and there is a Turkey choke available too.

    A Mossberg 500 with 2 or maybe 3 interchangeable barrels can meet a lot of requirements pretty cheap, and do them all very well… YouTube has videos on just about any gun and ammo you can think of, and even some very good FBI standard ballistic gel tests of various different types of ammo for rifles and pistols and whatnot, so you can learn quite a bit before you buy _anything_. A nice free resource if you have an internet connection that can do video. 🙂

    “Participating in a gun buy back program because you think that criminals have too many guns is like having yourself castrated because you think your neighbors have too many kids.” – Clint Eastwood

  5. Thanks for the tips! I am sure that it can be intimidating when purchasing your first gun. I will have to keep this in mind when I start looking for one. I am lucky that one of my brothers knows quite a bit about guns, so I might have to take him with me when I start looking. Thanks for sharing!

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