Hand-Me-Down Guns

This is the second article by Susan.  For her background and shooting resume, click here.

Some women who decide to learn to shoot a handgun will have a family member or a friend who already shoots and has guns.  You may have even been given a gun to use, without having had the choice of picking something that you want.  Your first concern is to be certain that the gun fits your hand properly.  Don’t worry, most revolvers and some semi-autos can be customized to fit different sized hands if the gun doesn’t fit properly in its present condition.

Just as with a gun you may be interested in purchasing, handle the unloaded gun and check that it fits your hand. Learn the controls of the gun and be certain that you know how to lock open the action (semi-auto) or cylinder (revolver) to make it safe, before going out to the range to shoot the gun.  Obviously if the person giving you the gun is a shooter, let them make arrangements to transport the gun and listen to the list of safety instructions they give you (they are safe shooters, right?).  If after shooting 5 or 10 rounds you feel the gun is causing you actual discomfort or pain, then by all means stop shooting.  But if you don’t find any problem, I recommend shooting the gun for a minimum of 50 rounds to be certain it will work for you.

If you are not used to shooting, your arms and shoulders will quite likely be tired before shooting a full box of ammunition.  When you feel tired, stop - make the gun safe and put it down - step away and take a break for 10 to 15 minutes.

Think about what you did -

If you can you answer “yes” to all these questions, this gun will quite probably do very well for you.


Revolvers tend to have more options if the gun doesn’t fit your hand properly.  Aftermarket grips of differing sizes are made by many companies. There is a vast array of styles and shapes in different materials that range from beautiful exotic woods, hard plastics & rubbers to ivory or synthetic ivory.  Shop around - by looking at and trying the grip of different revolvers for size and fit, you may be able to find the grips that work best for you - then ask the brand and style of the grip - the manufacturer may make that style to fit your gun.

Many semi-auto handguns also have aftermarket grips available.  Typically they are either cosmetically different (exotic wood, ‘stickier’ rubber) or a bit larger dimensionally, adding to the overall size of the gun’s grip.  Unfortunately, if a semi-auto is too large for you, there is not a lot that can be done to cure the problem.  If this is the case, you should strongly consider either trading the gun toward something that fits properly or putting that one away and buying a different gun.

If you think that installing a new set of grips may allow a better fit of your hand to the gun, you should consider bringing the gun with you to search for new grips.  I strongly recommend that you call first and ask about transporting a gun.  Case the unloaded gun and bring it with you to any large gun shop - or watch for notification of an upcoming gun show where there will be numerous booths to visit and a much larger array to choose from.  Find out the local regulations for entering a gun show with a gun - not all places allow this.

If you can bring the gun with you, most likely you can find a set of better fitting grips for it.  However, if you cannot bring your gun with you, take note of all important details - manufacturer, caliber, model number, serial number  - and if you know it, the date of manufacture.  Knowing the length of the barrel is not required, but may come in handy if you become interested in other accessories.  Bring all the pertinent information with you.  If you cannot take the gun, then bringing the grips from the gun is another good option.


Before bringing a gun anywhere, you will need to find out the laws in your area to transport a handgun and follow them exactly.

        Places to find this information include:


Quite probably there are other locations on the internet, as well.  However, be very aware that any information found on the net may not be up to date.  Also, when checking, be certain to verify not only the requirements for your location, but also your destination, and all points in between.  Failure to do so may land you in jail.

Local gun shops may also be able to provide information on laws in your area, but I don’t suggest taking chances and assume the information is 100% reliable; better to check with a law enforcement agency for the facts. Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse  - find out the laws from a law enforcement officer - it may be very costly to take someone’s word on what is and what is not allowed.


It’s great if you are given a gun for your use, but I would offer a few suggestions:

Ask if the gun is ‘on loan’ to you or is being given to you.  If it is a gift, request a bill of sale.  This should list the manufacturer and model, the serial number and description of the gun, the seller’s name (the person who is giving it to you) and your name.  I’d also recommend that it is clearly stated as “given as a gift” or perhaps “sold for one dollar”.  This makes the gun officially yours.

If the gun absolutely does not suit you or fit properly, the best thing to do is trade it for something which does fit.  However, I strongly suggest you find out if the gun should be kept in the family for sentimental reasons, etc, before making the decision to trade it.  If, after selling or making changes to it,  you find out that the gun was used by great-grandpappy Burt to defend the family from maurading moles, you’re going to be in a heap o’trouble.  Better to find out that it should be put away safely and securely, before the family disowns you for getting rid of a family heirloom.

If you receive a gun without a user’s or owner’s manual you should attempt to obtain one. You can ask at a local gun shop for the mailing address of gun manufacturers.  Call or write to the manufacturer and include the make and model and serial number - ask if there have been any safety modifications suggested or required and ask them for a manual - typically there is no cost to obtain one.  If no manuals are presently available for your gun (which may occur with some older models or some imports), let gun shops know you are searching and also check at gun shows - these typically are places where you can obtain a manual for a reasonable cost.

Having a manual allows you to follow procedures for cleaning and maintaining your firearm according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Manuals also typically provide information on safety procedures; ammunition requirements; loading and unloading procedures; and a drawing or photo showing parts numbered and named - all very helpful and important information.  Take the time to read and understand the manual, and you will better be able to maintain and shoot your firearm.

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