So, this is definitely not the first time I’ve heard or experienced what I’m about to tell you. But it still shocks and disheartens me every time someone shares this type of detail with me…

A few weeks ago, an older lady came to a free firearms safety session that our shooting range was offering to the community at a local sporting goods store. The woman plopped down in a chair, right in the front row, and promptly told the other instructor in attendance and me that she carries a firearm in her purse every day. “Great! We’re glad you’re here,” my fellow instructor said (likely considering how he’d persuade this woman to start carrying on body!). Then he added, “So, how often do you train?”

The woman sheepishly shrugged her shoulders and admitted, “Not nearly enough.” She then went on to explain that she worked late hours at a dental office and sometimes felt unsafe getting back to her car at night. I nodded — understanding that feeling completely — as she shared a story of being followed in the parking lot one evening and putting her hand on the grip of her firearm as she quickly got in her vehicle and locked the doors. She also mentioned that her son was a law enforcement officer and always encouraged her to use good situational awareness and make wise decisions. I smiled, glad that she had some foundational knowledge. She then continued to talk through some of the safety rules and the important considerations for those who carry concealed.

It was at this moment, however, as I was considering how to best help this student, when she mentioned — almost as if it were an insignificant detail — that she had never shot the gun that she carries with her every day. The conversation came to a screeching halt. I think I stopped breathing for a few moments. I did my best to mask the horrified expression that wanted to explode all over my face. Then, just to be certain, I looked at her and gingerly clarified, “Did you say that you’ve never even once shot the gun that you carry … every day … in your handbag?”

“Nope,” she replied. “I’ve never fired it. Not even once.”

Sadly, this scenario is not as rare as you may think. I’ve heard it many, many times. Often, a husband, a sibling, a child or just a well-meaning friend will purchase a firearm for a beloved lady in their lives, but that woman will never get the necessary training to be able to safely, comfortably and confidently carry — or use — that firearm.

In this case, this eager-to-learn woman knew a firearm could be a great equalizer, she understood how important safety and training is and she realized the huge responsibility that goes along with concealed carry … but she still chose to carry a gun which, honestly, she knew nothing about. She knew it was an H&K. She knew it was “not a revolver.” But she did not know what model or what caliber. She didn’t know if it had an external safety or not. And beyond not having any experience with the feel of the grip or the trigger, the amount of recoil and the ease or difficulty of racking the slide, she wasn’t even sure if a round was in the chamber.

For people who choose to carry a gun but don’t know how to use it, I say, “STOP!” It’s bad form all around to think you could safely and effectively use a gun to stop a threat with no practice or training with that firearm whatsoever. Carrying a gun with you in your daily life is not just about being physically safe. Someone who chooses the concealed carry lifestyle must also consider aspects of being spiritually, morally, financially and legally safe. That’s not something you do while an attacker is at your throat. That’s something you plan, prepare and practice for, over and over again, hopefully well in advance … and hopefully never having to actually put it to use.

No doubt, I support every responsible American carrying a firearm for personal protection. But the process does not begin and end there. It takes time, preparation, dedication, responsibility, and training. Lots of it! For the woman I’ve written about here, at least she took the right step and filled a seat at our firearms safety meeting. But that was only one step of countless…on a training journey that should last a lifetime.