Results: NRA Women Ladies Pistol Project 4—Houston Edition

Our latest handgun survey proved that “right for you“ is not a motto but a maxim, one that every woman should carry with her into her next firearm purchase.

by posted on January 3, 2022
Lpp4 Lede 2

We have to keep meeting like this! 

The NRA Ladies Pistol Project (LPP) began in 2016 with a defined and ambitious mission to determine if certain guns that were regularly purported to be “good for women” were just that—and if so, why? More than five years later—and with four LPPs under our belt—they are questions we are still asking and, more importantly, getting real answers to, with results serving as a viable platform for women’s opinions and perspectives on pistol design and functionality.

With the conclusion of the 4th Annual NRA Ladies Pistol Project (LPP4) in October 2021 in Houston, Texas—the first time we took the show on the road—the data used to determine which pistol was “right for her” includes the opinions of women who reside outside of the vicinity of NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va. The participants in LPP4 were largely Houston-based, save for two: NRA Board member and NRA Women’s Leadership Forum Co-Chair Janet Nyce; and pro-2A author Liz Lazarus, who traveled from their home states of Pennsylvania and Georgia, respectively. We also welcomed several members of the Houston chapter of A Girl & A Gun as first-time participants. NRA Publications Editorial Director Mark Keefe and the American Rifleman TV crew were on hand to document the event—an episode that will air later this year on the Outdoor Channel, and will feature compelling interviews with many of the women who shared with us their journey to firearm ownership. 

The logistics of planning an off-site event necessitated inviting fewer participants than previous LPPs, but the size of our modest but enthusiastic group did not affect the gracious Texas-size welcome extended by the posh Athena Gun Club, which accommodated us in grand fashion by renting to us its private seven-lane VIP range. At 8 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2021, nearly 18 months after it was first scheduled—twice cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic—Ladies Pistol Project 4 was finally underway. 

NRA Women sponsor Winchester Ammo generously supplied the nearly 1,300 rounds of FMJ ammo fired by the 18 women who convened to survey 14 handguns—12 9 mm semi-automatics and two revolvers chambered in .38 Spl./.357. Ear protection was provided by Walker’s Game Ears, while Wiley X protected their eyes in style. Other sponsors included Smith & Wesson, Taurus and Dirty Bore gun cleaner. Much of the heavy lifting on the range was once again performed by Donna Worthy, owner of Worth-a-Shot Firearms in Millersville, Md., as well as NRA Women contributor Heidi Rao (a Houston-based NRA Instructor in all disciplines), who joined our LPP crew for the first time. Both experts were on hand as instructors and Range Safety Officers.


NRA Women Contributor Heidi Rao (left) and Donna Worthy, owner of Worth-A-Shot Firearms, served as Instructors and RSOs for LPP4.

As with the previous LPPs, the objective was to determine how easily women of various ages and hand sizes could operate different handguns. For example, could they reach controls easily—the magazine release, safety and slide stop? How easy would it be to rack the slide, and how did they perceive the recoil on a particular model?

Recap
So how did results compare to past LPPs? It may be useful to recap the evolution and outcomes of LPPs 1, 2 and 3.

In LPP 1, 35 women fired 18 handguns. Cumulatively, the top five pistols favored by the women were: 1) SIG Sauer P238; 2) Walther CCP; 3) SIG Sauer P320 Compact 4); H&K VP9; and 5) Springfield EMP4, ultimately validating what had been reported at the time in various media: Women do like to shoot these guns. 

LPP2 commenced in the summer of 2017, with a primary focus on a combination of .380 ACP and 9 mm semi-automatic pistols that might be used for concealed carry. The number of pistols increased to 24 (and included the Glock 19, which we were excoriated for omitting in the first LPP), and the number of female participants rose to 55. Cumulatively, the top five pistols were: 1) Glock 19; 2) SIG Sauer P238; 3) H&K VP9SK; 4) Walther PPS M2; and 5) Glock 43. The indisputable results of the Glock 19 as the clear winner gave us pause to wonder if there were a pistol in existence preferred over this perennial favorite. Beyond the preferences of the guns used for the study, other interesting conclusions were drawn. The most interesting revelation in both LPP1 and LPP2 was that women preferred semi-automatic pistols to revolvers, debunking one of the most common schools of thought about what constitutes the ideal firearm for a woman. The data also showed a preference for striker-fired pistols, with barrel lengths between 3.25” to 4.2”, and pistol weights between 20 to 20 ozs. 

By 2018, LPP3 expanded even more, with 68 women firing 26 guns—a combination of .380 ACP and 9 mm semi-automatics, and .38 Spl./.357 revolvers. The event took place over two days at an outdoor range during a hot, humid summer. Results were: 1) Smith & Wesson M&P380 Shield EZ; 2) Glock 19; 3) SIG Sauer P238; 4) Glock 42; and 5) Glock 17. The fact that a new .380-cal. pistol emerged as a new favorite, unseating the ubiquitous Glock 19, even by just half a point, was big news. The new-for-2018 380 EZ, with its easy-to-manipulate slide and other controls, had already been garnering high praise from the concealed-carry market. With nearly a perfect score 17.382 out of a possible 18, LPP3 corroborated all that had been theorized in tests and evaluations that appeared in gun magazines typically read by male audiences.

What was left to determine was how the women in Houston would rate the 14 guns presented to them to test fire. Would the reduced sample set of guns and fewer participants affect overall results? Divided into two heats of seven guns, the women followed the same methodology as in past LPPs: five rounds fired through each gun, followed by an 18-question survey for each gun.

Questions and Answers
One question that would be answered is whether women’s preferences in handguns change over time. After all, in the three years between LPP3 and LPP4, a lot happened. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, coupled with a spate of civil unrest throughout the country, was followed by a national rush by many to purchase handguns for the first time in record numbers. Of the 8 million new gun owners in 2020, 60 percent of them were women, many of them purchasing for reasons of personal protection. Simultaneously, gun manufacturers responded to the demand, and ordered hot assembly lines round the clock, and expanded the number of new pistols from which to choose.

One of those new guns introduced in early 2020 was the 9 mm Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ, a big sister to the wildly popular M&P380 Shield EZ S&W brought out in 2018, but in a chambering many consider more appropriate for self-defense. Because selections for LPP4 were limited to 9 mm, we naturally included this new EZ. To ensure a variety of manufacturers were represented, there were 10 other new makes and models, as well as pistols that rated highly in previous studies, along with two classic revolvers.

LPP4 Results
Here is how the 14 handguns fared in order of overall scoring (out of a possible 18) in Ladies Pistol Project 4—Houston Edition:

Make and Model ( * denotes new model)

Average Overall Score (18 max possible)

Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ*

16.611

Walther PDP Compact*

14.833

Glock 19 (Gen 5)

14.666

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus*

14.555

SIG Sauer 365XL*

14.411

Ruger Max 9*

14.222

Glock 43X*

14.166

Taurus GX4*

14.055

Springfield XDME Compact*

13.944

Ruger SP101 (revolver)

13.625

Kimber R7 Mako*

13.611

Mossberg MC2sc*

12.588

Smith & Wesson Model 60 (revolver)

12.588

Taurus G3C

12.277

When analyzing overall scores, it is important to remember that the scores are averages for this particular group of guns and specific to this group of ladies. While it is interesting to note that our findings about which features in handguns women seem to prefer are consistent with our past data, even the gun that scored the lowest overall average was designated a favorite pistol by at least one of the participants. It is for this reason that we emphasize this study is all about what is “Right For You,” even it it’s not the right gun for the woman shooting in the next lane.

Based on comments by participants, the high-scoring EZ came out on top for its “easy to load magazine and minimal recoil.” Another survey respondent said, “This is a pleasure to fire, comfortable, easy to handle, rack, load. Nice grips. Definitely worth five 'hearts'. While in LPP3 most women complimented the gun’s easy-to-rack slide, their favorite overall feature in the 9 mm model was the easy-to-load magazine. One woman, however, deemed the pistol “too large for concealed carry.”

Walther pistols have been included in all four LPPs, and continue to receive favorable reviews. The new PDP Compact was no different, placing just behind the EZ in terms of points tally, with the majority of women praising its low recoil, and noting that it just "felt good" to shoot.

The Glock 19, a perennial favorite worldwide, placed third overall in this survey. Even for the never-Glockers, it is difficult to find anything negative to say about the form and function of this iconic pistol. “For a girl who doesn’t like Glock, I like this one. Hard to load [magazine] but easy to shoot and very accurate,” said one LPP4 participant.

The new-for-2021 M&P Shield Plus, which placed fourth overall in the standings, was praised for its ease of use, smooth trigger and bright sights. “This is my EDC!” proclaimed one participant. Others found it had too much recoil for their liking, while others commended it for its low felt recoil. One woman said “the space in the trigger well made for a tight fit,” causing her thumb to hit the edge, illustrating once again that what’s right for one shooter might be completely wrong for another.


Participants fired five rounds through each pistol, then completed a survey about the features of each gun they did or did not find appealing.

The SIG 365XL was the most recent followup to the concealed-carry pistol that started the trend to high-capacity 9 mm carry guns, the SIG P365. The newer model, which has an extended grip length, was deemed slightly heavy for on-body carry and having a hard-to-lock-slide by one woman, while others declared it their favorite pistol of the day. “This will be my next EDC,” said one.

Testimonials: An Empowering Day
As with previous LPP events, the overwhelming testament by participants was that it provided them with a unique opportunity never before offered to them.

"It was an amazing day with women from different parts of the country, different skill levels, and inspiring stories," said Karen Robertson, noting that "there was no judgement, so I felt comfortable with my lack of gun knowledge." By the end of the day, she said she felt empowered and hopeful. "I had no idea that something like this even existed. What an eye-opening experience!" she said. "Being new to guns it was great to shoot 14 different firearms and give my opinion on each one. Hopefully this will help other women make informed decisions when purchasing a gun. I want women to know that one gun does NOT fit all, and they should purchase what feels right to them, not what someone else says they need."

Kim Donaghe said she had previously been intimidated by the idea of shooting a revolver. "However, everyone at the event was more than ready to teach you how to use any of the guns and made me feel comfortable enough to try out the revolver," she said. "I actually loved both revolvers and am no longer intimidated by them." Donaghe also said not only did the experience teach her what she should look for in a gun, but which questions to ask when seeking out which gun is right for her. "When discussing some of the guns with the other women in the group it was amazing at how many of us had different opinions of each gun. It shows that there was not one gun that fits all. I look forward to more experiences like this one."

Crystal Lugo, who said the Ladies Pistol Project went above and beyond expectations, emphasized that she "met some amazing, strong, and passionate ladies with all different levels of firearm experience. It was a safe environment." Lugo added that she never felt intimidated or inexperienced learning to use firearms that she had previously not operated. "The experts not only showed me how to safely operate the variety of pistols, but they also gave me tips on how to grip and load it ... I walked away having learned what I do and do not like about a pistol, and I am happy to know that my feedback will help other women empower themselves to find the right pistol." 

Nisha Prudhomme said, "This event provided a warm and welcoming environment to meet other NRA women with whom I was able to collaborate with about my firearms training journey and experience. We also shared our thoughts with each other about the various firearms that we were able to shoot for the duration of the project. The event was very exciting, and I made a lot of great new connections with other NRA women."

Prudhomme continued, saying, "The findings from the Ladies Pistol Project are a valuable resource that can help women make informed decisions about their firearms purchase. Some of the most critical factors in determining a firearm's suitability for a shooter cannot be determined by simply looking at one and holding it in a store and without shooting it. I am confident that the findings from this research will help many women by removing much of the guesswork involved and overcoming the challenges usually encountered when it is time to make their next firearm purchase. 

NRA Board member Janet Nyce commented on the usefulness of the event. “I get to instruct, but often don’t get to handle different firearms. This gave me a great opportunity to see what’s out there and to offer comments on why I did or didn’t feel I’d buy that piece.” She added that participating in this workshop was wonderful. “I learned so much from the instructors and the new firearms were so much fun. I’m sure glad I attended this.”

Conclusion
In conclusion, the LPP again proved a good forum to discuss which features and design made a particular pistol “good for women.” Through the dedicated efforts of the staff and, most importantly, the participants, the LPP4 proved that “Right for You“ is not a motto but rather a maxim, one that every woman should carry with her into her next purchase.

LPP4's top five, clockwise from top left: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus; Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ (center); SIG Sauer P365XL; Glock 19; Walther PDP Compact.

 

 

 

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