We use the term “responsibly armed” American quite often around the USCCA, but have you ever thought what that term really means?

Think about it for a minute. The word “responsibly” comes first. It’s almost as if that’s a reminder that one must first be a responsible person before going out into the world armed. Carrying a gun every day is a huge commitment that carries with it a level of liability most people never consider. You literally have in your holster the power to take a life. And while it is never our goal to kill anyone, an attacker may die as a result of our reaction to his actions. That should be sobering enough to make you stop and think seriously about the lifestyle choice you make when carrying a gun.

To be a responsibly armed American is to get the training you need in order to fully understand the choice you have made. I’m not advocating government-mandated training. To me, mandates are just another barrier to entry for those wishing to carry a gun. It is much more important to me that gun owners decide on their own what level of training they desire. You see, when a gun owner does that, it is clear that he or she has thought about the possible outcomes. The beauty of training is this: The more training you get, the more you learn about the possible outcomes. As you train, you come up with more questions, which are answered through more training, which prompts more questions. That is just the opposite of a death spiral.

One of the biggest problems I see with gun owners is that they assume they know what is going to happen before, during and after a deadly force incident. I blame Hollywood for portraying such incidents so inaccurately — but at the same time so enticingly — that gun owners just buy in to the idea that a deadly encounter is really nothing to worry about or something you simply “work through” if you prevail. I have a friend who was shot by an attacker in early 1990 and still has trouble venturing out in public. And that says nothing about the medical bills and the legal nightmare of the trial. The man who shot him was recently released from prison. That’s just one more level of stress to deal with.

But let’s get back to the issue of responsibility and what it takes to be a responsibly armed American. Like I mentioned above, responsibility starts with training. You need to know the safety rules of firearms use and the guidelines surrounding effective deadly force decision-making. These guidelines start with situational awareness and conflict avoidance and end with knowing when to pull the trigger.

Before you pull that trigger, you need to be confident that you have honed your marksmanship skills to the point that if you are required to put rounds downrange, those rounds will hit their intended target.

Firearms Training is Many Things

Good training is not just about tactical training and marksmanship. You also need to educate yourself about the laws surrounding self-defense in the jurisdictions in which you plan to carry a gun. Every state has different laws, different definitions and different prosecutors and judges. You are responsible for knowing what you will face after being involved in a fight for your life.

Do you have an attorney or access to an attorney? If not, figure that out now, because you don’t want your family to be scrambling around the morning after a shooting trying to get you out of jail.

Carrying a gun is no small thing. There are plenty of elements that go into doing it correctly. Each element is like a link in a chain. You don’t want that chain to break when you need it most.