Beginning your journey as a responsibly armed gun owner may seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Use this beginner’s checklist as a guide. It should be reviewed by every new gun owner or anyone considering a firearm for self-defense.

Set a Checklist & Show Up Prepared

Realistically consider the level of training with which you need to start. When you attend a class to learn to shoot, your instructor should not have to show you how to load your gun or where the safety, slide lock or magazine release is located. Before taking a concealed carry class, you should be able to load the firearm, rack the slide, handle the controls and have certain experience gained in dry-fire repetition. And don’t come underprepared. I have had students show up at my concealed carry classes without spare magazines, with their guns locked and the keys at home and even without proper ammunition.

Safety comes first! Obey safety rules and wear proper hearing and eye protection.

Safety comes first! Obey safety rules and wear proper hearing and eye protection.

Safety Comes First   

Gun owners control safety as much as possible in every step of familiarization and training. Is training inherently dangerous? No more so than using a chainsaw or driving a vehicle. Begin with the gun’s owner’s manual. Read it from cover to cover … then read it again. Safety is covered extensively — as it should be. The owner’s manual is included for a reason.

A Reliable Handgun Checklist

An appropriate handgun should be selected after much study to confirm it is the right firearm for you. Find a handgun that is the right size — not the largest or smallest — and the right price — neither the most expensive nor the cheapest.

Ideally, you should fire the pistol for function at the range to confirm its reliability. A $100 .22 or a 30-year-old, unreliable Llama pistol isn’t something you should trust your life with. It will put a roadblock in your training. There is a gap period between purchasing a handgun and attending a shooting class. Make the most of this time with self-study to make sure you have the right gun and that it’s a reliable tool.

Correct Ammo

Ammunition isn’t cheap, especially in the current panic-buying shortage. Be conservative when expending it, but not at the expense of limiting your practice at the range. For example, instead of running 200 cartridges through your gun, fire 100. This is the realistic minimum to confirm reliability in a handgun.

Be certain you understand the differences in caliber. These .357 loads are very different.

Be certain you understand the differences in caliber. These .357 loads are very different.

Use good-quality full metal jacketed loads or lead round-nose loads in revolvers. Hollow-points are not necessary just yet. Black Hills, Federal, Fiocchi, Hornady, Remington, Speer and Winchester offer affordable ammunition well-suited to practice and initial proofing. 

Be certain you purchase the correct caliber of ammunition for your gun. The caliber is marked on the frame, slide or barrel. Who wants to end up with a box of ammunition they can’t use? Once you purchase the ammunition, few shops will trade ammunition with you. Insurance and safety concerns specify dealers cannot purchase “used ammunition” or privately held ammunition.

Lubrication, Disassembly and Cleaning

A pistol should be lubricated properly before it’s fired. This usually means lubricating the long bearing surfaces where the slide rails meet the frame. A drop on the barrel hood and the cocking block are needed. Some designs need more lubricant than others. Consider the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Learn to field-strip the pistol to maintain your gun. This isn’t a detail strip involving the trigger action. Field-stripping is removing the slide, barrel and recoil spring for regular cleaning. Each handgun has a different procedure.

Cleaning after a trip to the range is simple enough. Remove powder ash from the bore, breech face and chamber. Spray the trigger action to free trapped powder residue. Use a copper brush and then run a cotton patch through the bore until the patch comes out clean. A cleaning kit is not expensive. It simply needs to be suited to the handgun you are using.

Other Gear Checklist

Eye and Ear Protection

Holsters, spare magazines and handguns are equal parts of a shooting kit.

Holsters, spare magazines and handguns are equal parts of a shooting kit.

For range work, a good quality set of hearing protectors and eye protection is mandatory. Don’t go too cheap. You will thank yourself later for purchasing the best you can afford.

Spare Magazines

You’ll need at least three magazines. Make sure to keep them on your body — one in the pistol, one on the belt and one resting. Some pistols include two or three magazines, others with only one. Factor this into your budget.

Quality Holster

A quality holster is important. A cheap, floppy, fabric holster is no good. A sturdy strong-side belt holster is well-suited to range work. For concealed carry, most of us will choose a quality inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster.

Check Each One Off

Some of the items listed require money to acquire, while others demand education and practice. Proficiency is purchased with study and time. If you’re a new gun owner, take the time to review this checklist. It will save you much time, money and embarrassment — and could even save your life.