Here's Where To Begin

The Handgun Guide For Women Is A
Fine Navigational Aid For the Novice

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The Handgun Guide for Women is truly a beginner’s guide to choosing and using a firearm. It is well written and unlike other books, makes no assumptions of prior knowledge.

There’s a lot of books written specifically for women on the “how-to” of shooting. Most are on self-defense. The importance of protecting yourself, your home, your property usually centers around the author’s horrifying experience of having gone through the scenario of an attack and the aftermath of dealing with it.

The Handgun Guide for Women is the 4th book by Tara Dixon Engel and the only one dealing with shooting. This is not a book on self-defense—the “don’t be a victim” genre, although it does briefly touch on the issue of personal protection. This is a step-by-step guide to learning the ins-and-outs of a handgun and the responsibility of owning one.

Spiked with the author’s dry sense of humor, The Handgun Guide takes the reader through the decisions of purchasing a gun, how to pick the correct gun for the correct use, keeping it secure and learning how to use it. Perhaps the tag line at the bottom of the book cover should have been an indication. “Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe, and Carry with Confidence.”

Power In Knowledge

In her opening sentence, Engel states, “I didn’t start out as a ‘gun girl,’” and goes on to explain how she was never anti-gun, but was influenced by the mainstream media’s portrayal of who and what gun people are. You know, us overweight, beer-drinking, tobacco-chewing, pick-up driving, no-respect-for-the-law-or-life redneck. Fortunately, she met and fell in love with a man who was the consummate outdoorsman and a passionate hunter. Love conquers all. Or at least in this case, an opinion.

From there, Engel details her journey into the outdoor world of hunting and shooting. The book is peppered with stories of her progression from, in her own words, “The Fighting Young Liberal,” to an NRA-certified instructor in handguns, rifles, shotguns, personal defense, home defense and passionate advocate of the Second Amendment. Along the way, she took a job in a gun store to learn about guns. And then it gets interesting.

Engel is one of the few writers who addresses the disconnect many women have between handguns and long guns. There is no logic why this disconnect exists, but it does. For many women, long guns do not hold the same fear factor that a handgun does and Engel, who suffered from the same confusion, attempts to explain why and does a good job.

Each chapter ends with a bullet point summary recapping the most important aspects of the chapter. Don’t skip to the end of the chapter and read just the summary or you’ll miss valuable insight from a woman whose pilgrimage from novice to expert is worth reading. Throughout the book, there are numbered “Gun Girl Tips” providing tidbits of information and advice.

Engle answers all the “stupid questions” too. The questions never asked by beginners for fear of being the one who asked the stupid questions, but in reality, everyone else is glad the question was asked and really glad they’re not the one who asked it, but wanted to know the answer.

Engel answers all those questions and more.

She truly recognizes the mystification women experience when it comes to first trying to understand guns. An entire chapter is devoted to reviewing all the parts of the different types of handguns, identifying each piece with a thorough explanation of what each part does and how it interacts with the other parts. Detailed photographs of the parts accompany the correlating paragraph so it’s easy to identify and where it is on the gun.

Breaking down the confusing world of ballistics in another chapter, Engel’s humor comes through when explaining the difference (or lack thereof) between 9mm, 9mm Largo, 9mm Parabellum, 9mm NATO, 9×19, 9mm Short, 9mm Luger, and 9mm Makarov, saying “we seem to name ammo in the same cavalier way we might name a pet—based on whatever tickles our fancy on that particular day.” However, by the end of the chapter, the complex world of ammunition makes perfect sense.

The Handgun Guide for Women takes the reader from not knowing anything about handguns to understanding how they work and being able to make an intelligent, knowledgeable, well-rounded choice. Engel works through the myriad decisions involved when purchasing a firearm, whether it’s the first one or the 100th. And what I found refreshing was there were no favorites. When she talks about choosing the model best suited for you and what you’re using it for, there are no recommendations, only explanations and differences. Proper tool for proper use. She does mention her favorites, but only because they work for her and adamantly explains not to be intimidated into buying something because someone else (range officer, instructor, store clerk) says this is the gun to buy.

When it came to concealed carry and using a gun for personal defense, Engel brings up the emotional leap women have to make into actually using a gun to protect themselves. She guides the reader through the decisions needed regarding firearm ownership and whether or not to join the ranks of the concealed carry permit holders. She doesn’t make the decision for you, but clearly outlines the options available.

Even though the title is The Handgun Guide for Women, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, regardless of gender if they’re new to shooting and are interested in learning about handguns. Other books geared towards beginners seem to assume there is a certain level of knowledge about guns and shooting ranges. Engel makes no such assumptions. She covers the basics so thoroughly, that after reading it, any beginner will feel comfortable moving through the often-time intimidating, scary gun world with ease.

For a seasoned shooter like me, much of what I read were things I already knew, but her humor made it interesting. I finished it before the plane landed.

The Handgun Guide for Women, by Tara Dixon Engel, $19.99, paperback, 192 pages, 103 color photos, 5.5×8.5 inches, ISBN: 9-7807-6034-8536, Publisher: Zenith Press/Quarto Publishing, 400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401, (612) 344-8100,