» QUESTION: With the evolving current events in the United States and the rest of the world, the two of us have made the decision to own one or more firearms, probably handguns, for personal protection purposes. We have resisted this measure for some time simply due to our lack of knowledge on the subjects of firearms, personal defense training and education, the law and other regulations regarding firearms, and a host of other reasons too long to list. You might say that we don’t know what we don’t know and have decided to take the plunge and get engaged in expanding our knowledge base. Fortunately, a friend of ours passed on his copy of Concealed Carry Magazine, and after reading it from cover to cover, we got motivated to start the process. Please help us to get started by giving us some suggestions about where to start and the processes necessary to become responsible and knowledgeable gun owners.
» ANSWER: I have to say it does my heart good to hear from people like you and your family. All too many people buy a gun and a box of ammunition, then get their concealed carry license and call it good with no other education or training, not realizing or caring whether they could perform successfully if they ever had to use the gun for its intended purpose.
There are many aspects of gun ownership that should be considered prior to and in the early stages of owning a gun. Some are common sense and some have to be learned.
You have already completed Step 1 in the process by deciding why you want or need a gun. Just to broaden your horizons, some people want to have a gun for recreational purposes, which might include casual target practice, hunting, competitive shooting or collecting interesting pieces of history. These, along with personal defense, are good, solid reasons for wanting to own firearms. After you accomplish your initial goal, don’t be surprised if you branch out a bit into some of the other areas of firearms usage simply for the enjoyment of it.
Firearms are mechanical devices and not particularly intuitive as to how they operate, so a little hands-on training with a professional will go a long way.
A good next step would be for you and anyone else in the family who will be using firearms to get a little education on types of firearms. A word of caution here is to treat this endeavor seriously by seeking the advice of a professional in the business of firearms training and education. There is so much misinformation (by well-meaning individuals trying to be helpful as well as in the media channels of today) that you have to be careful about where you get your education. When you have an electrical problem, you don’t call a plumber for help, and so it is with firearms.
Simple safety comes before anything when learning with firearms present. Two things top the list: muzzle management and trigger finger discipline. The muzzle is where the bullet comes out of the gun. It should be pointed in a safe direction where, if it were to fire, no personal injury and minimal property damage would result. The trigger is what makes the gun fire and should only be touched when the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction or at a target that you intend to shoot. There are more rules that you will learn, but these two are where you start.
Your firearms trainer should be able to easily explain and show you the differences between pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns (at a minimum). Nomenclature — what the various parts of a gun are called — is important as well. This will help you to recognize one gun or part from the other and start you on your way to becoming firearms conversant.
One of the most overlooked aspects of firearms ownership is handling. Simple things like opening the action of the firearm to verify that it is clear and free of ammunition when it is first handled are absolutely imperative. Firearms are mechanical devices and not particularly intuitive as to how they operate, so a little hands-on training with a professional will go a long way to you becoming familiar with firearms.
Even the triggers, which cause the handguns to fire, have slightly different feels and functions with enough variety to require a decision as to what best fits your needs.
Since you think that a handgun will be your best choice for personal protection, you will need to learn the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic. There are positives and negatives to each; however, becoming familiar with both prior to purchasing will help you make the most informed decision as to which suits your needs the best. There is no right or wrong answer here and certainly nothing that can’t be changed in the future as your knowledge and comfort level evolve.
The pistol and the revolver both have triggers, sights and muzzles that operate similarly but have differences in operating buttons and levers that should be learned to determine what the comfort level in handling might be. Even the triggers, which cause the handguns to fire, have slightly different feels and functions with enough variety to require a decision as to what best fits your needs.
Then there is how to load and unload each handgun with live ammunition to get it ready to do its job. One has a cylinder to hold the ammunition and the other has a magazine, each with its positives and negatives.
After safety, you will need a thorough understanding of handling, loading and unloading, as well as how to clear a malfunction or stoppage should the gun cease to work when you need it to work.
While learning the handling aspect, it is always a good time to learn maintenance, cleaning and lubrication as well as preservation of the finish. A gun is like any other mechanical device — it needs a little attention now and again to keep it in top working order.
Fitting the handgun to the individual shooter’s hand will enhance the first shooting experience and increase the likelihood of hitting the target consistently.
A discussion regarding the fuel for the gun — the ammunition — can and should be had prior to first firing the gun. You must be able to recognize what fits a particular revolver or pistol. Generally speaking, the .380 ACP and 9mm Parabellum for semi-automatics and the .38 Special for revolvers are the recommended starting points for defensive handguns. In addition to what fits, the differences between practice ammunition and carry ammunition must be addressed in order to purchase what is needed for each particular application.
Prior to going to the range, fitting the handgun to the individual shooter’s hand will enhance the first shooting experience and increase the likelihood of hitting the target consistently from the start.
One way to tell if your instructor is fully knowledgeable is if and how the fitting process is done. Fitting guns to shooters is like fitting shoes to feet. There are different sizes of hands and different sizes of guns. One size does not fit all! The key is to center the grip of the gun in the web of the hand between the thumb and index finger so the muzzle will point at your target as if you were pointing your index finger. Without shifting the grip, the trigger finger should be able to reach and pull the trigger to finalize the fit. Using these guidelines, blended with the comfort of how the gun feels in the hand, will give you a good starting point to maximize control and accuracy when firing.
Many gun shops these days also have a range associated with them. The new vogue in these shops is a “try before you buy” program. If you are lucky enough to live near one of these shops, you will be able to fire the gun of your choice before purchasing. This will confirm your decision one way or another prior to making an investment in hardware and the accessories that go along with it. Many times, these shops offer rudimentary training to their new customers to support their purchases.
A touch-pad lock box secured to something substantial so it can’t be picked up and carried off is a good beginning point for a new gun owner.
Keep in mind, where training is concerned, you usually get what you pay for. A firearms trainer who makes a living training and educating others on a full-time basis is a good indicator of quality. There are trainers who are good who only do it part time, but as you said, you don’t know what you don’t know. Get a good foundation from a known source and you will have few bad habits to unlearn.
Carry and storage locations are always considerations after the purchase is made. Start simple at first with a strong-side belt holster and complementing ammunition carriers. With experience, you might want to experiment a bit with other carry locations like many of us do. It’s certainly no sin to own multiple holsters for one gun.
Storage locations are designed to protect the gun from unauthorized users (among other things). A touch-pad lock box secured to something substantial so it can’t be picked up and carried off is a good beginning point for a new gun owner. Ease of access for the authorized user of the firearm should be a consideration as well. Usually, when you need a gun, time is of the essence.
When you apply for your concealed carry license, have a list of questions regarding your legal concerns in your locality. You should be able to have most of your questions answered or, at a minimum, be referred to the government authority responsible for that information.
I’ll end with a personal bias. Each of you needs to have your own gun to use, care for and learn to shoot well. You never know when one might have to back up the other, plus it’s fun to practice your new endeavor together. It’s a lifelong process, so why not take every opportunity to learn and improve your knowledge and proficiency? Your lives might depend on it!