So, You\'ve Bought Yourself a Gun
[Editor\'s note: This piece was originally published in Sierra Times . Because of the importance of this information, it\'s republished here. You are welcome to share this essay with anyone you think will benefit from it, via sending the URL, the text in an email or as an attachment, or by downloading and printing it. If you distribute the article, please do so in its entirety, and with authorship information intact.]
So, you\'ve bought yourself a gun...
What are you going to do next?
I hope you\'ll invest the time needed to learn about your firearm, and how to handle it safely. I hope you\'ll get training with it, so that the tool for self-protection you have will be exactly that, rather than becoming the least touched item in your nightstand drawer.
Think about it this way: would you buy a new car without knowing how to use it, or planning to learn how? Would you buy a computer, or any complex tool, and toss it and the owner\'s manual in a corner until you absolutely needed to use it, and had to use it well?
If you do that with a gun, you can make it more likely that you\'ll get hurt. Or killed.
Guns are tools--tools for self defense. It takes time and practice to learn to use your gun properly. If you invest the time well, getting quality training, it will repay you well. Even if you never need to draw your gun, the knowledge that you can stop a deadly threat is a comfort to many people.
Starting out with your gun
If you haven\'t bought a gun yet, before you do, please read my previous article in this series about buying a firearm. It\'s important that the gun match your needs and body well. If you have a gun, the first thing to do is learn gun safety. Most gun accidents stem from not always, always following gun handling rules. Briefly, they are:
- Always treat a gun as if it\'s loaded, even when you know it isn\'t.
- Don\'t point a gun at anything you don\'t want to shoot.
- Make sure of your target and what\'s beyond it.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you\'re ready to shoot.
- Whenever you\'re handed a gun, check to see if it\'s loaded. If you don\'t know how to do that, give it back or to someone who does know how to check it.
- Always use eye and ear protection when practicing.
- Never use a drug that might affect your judgment while you\'re shooting (including prescription drugs).
The first thing to do is read the manual, so you thoroughly understand the workings of your gun. This will help you clear a malfunction safely, too. Read through the manual with your gun out, so that you can look at the diagrams and your gun. Practice working the controls (they\'ll vary, depending upon what type of gun you have and its action) until you can work them smoothly. Most experts instruct individuals to use the dominant hand to work them as much as possible, so that time isn\'t wasted switching the gun between hands.
If you\'re new to guns, it\'s a very good idea to get basic firearms instruction from a qualified instructor. A local range may have such individuals; a sure bet is the NRA. Whatever you may think of their politics, the National Rifle Association does a fine job with its various educational programs; visit the NRA web site to find the closest NRA range. Good training is important, because you don\'t want to ingrain bad habits into your motor memory. When stressed, people fall back on that motor memory, and lose most fine motor control; it\'s crucial to have solid gun-handling skills in place from the beginning. If there isn\'t an NRA range nearby, check with gun-owning friends to find a good instructor. If you already have a gun, decide which one is going to be most important for your personal defense system. That needs to be the gun you practice most with.
Gun storage and safety
If other people live with you, it\'s crucial that you devise and follow some plan for keeping your firearm safe, yet accessible to you. If you have an adult roommate, encourage him or her to buy a gun, then go through training individually and as a pair. At a minimum, this person must be taught safe gun handling, or the gun must always be inaccessible to him or her. Most firearm accidents happen due to carelessness by owners, and unsafe handling by those who don\'t know about guns. If an adult in your household can\'t or won\'t learn safe handling, she or he must not have access to your firearm. Trigger locks don\'t offer much protection; a cable lock that prevents the gun from being loaded (and the key always stays on your person) is a better solution. Greater security is offered by lockboxes, and more by gunsafes. As you move up this ladder, the gun becomes less accessible. You need to decide what balance of safety and accessibility is appropriate for your situation. Read about various safety tools, look at them at gun shops, and talk to gun owners.
If you have children, safety becomes more complex. Young children are constantly exploring things. Many experts therefore encourage parents to teach their young children never to touch a gun, and to leave a place where they find a gun and tell a parent or other adult about the gun.
I think this is a bad idea. Forbidden items become much more tempting to curious minds. The gun becomes an alluring object, one they\'ll go to great lengths to find. You can\'t childproof your gun. Instead, gun-proof your children, starting as early as they understand speech (around 1 year old). Handle your firearm safely and matter-of-factly in their presence. If they show interest, talk about the gun, show them the gun--while under your very strict supervision--and tell them what it\'s for and how dangerous it can be. If they ask to see it, indulge them as much as possible. As they\'re able to understand, show them the safety mechanisms and teach them safe gun handling. For them, this means never touching your firearms without permission and supervision, until they\'ve shown they can be responsible with them (a B-B gun is a good first test of their abilities).
Give your children a demonstration of the power of firearms, including that B-B gun, as soon as you can (when they can follow basic safety rules). Fill some gallon milk jugs with water, get a cantaloupe or watermelon, and thick wood blocks. Starting with the smallest caliber gun you have, show them how destructive a shot from it can be. Work your way up to your most powerful gun, letting them walk downrange with you between tests so that they can see the shredded backs of the milk jugs, and the holes in the wood (or splintered blocks, depending upon your guns). Save the melon demonstration for last; tell them to imagine it\'s a head. The splattering melon should be an impressive lesson in the destructive power of a gun. The idea isn\'t to scare your children, but to drive home the points that: 1) guns are not toys; and 2) guns can hurt people very badly.
Last, teach your children how to safely check to see if a gun is loaded, and how to make an unsafe gun safe. Talk with your children as they get older about what to do if they\'re at a friend\'s house and a gun is discovered. If you\'ve done all this, they\'ll understand the potential danger of such a situation, and either will be able to defuse it, or will likely leave. With this background, you can be reasonably sure that your children will be safe with firearms anywhere.
As with anyone else present in the home who isn\'t willing or able to practice gun safety, all firearms and ammunition must be kept safe from a child. Exactly how to accomplish this changes as the child matures, both physically and intellectually. The tradeoffs are the same, too; only you can decide what will work best in your situation.
Ammunition comes in different types as well as calibers. Depending on the personal defense situation, some may be better than others. If you live in a house with neighbors close by, or an apartment building, you don\'t want to jeopardize innocent bystanders when you shoot at a bad guy. Frangible ammunition is a good choice in these situations. It\'s designed to break up in the first thing it hits, which reduces \"over-penetration\" (going through an object) or ricochets. Quality frangible rounds are made by Glaser and CorBon. Sometimes, though, you may want more penetration. For example, heavy winter clothes can absorb a lot of the impact of frangible ammunition. For such situations, a hollowpoint round is a good cartridge to use. In a hollowpoint round, the bullet has a hole in its front, which causes the bullet to expand in its target. This can cause more tissue damage, too. Some individuals load a combination of frangible and hollowpoint ammunition, with the hollowpoints being the last rounds to be fired.
In any given caliber, you can also find various \"loads\" to choose from. The bullet can be shaped differently, or the amount of powder can vary. Thus, the same caliber round can fire with greater or less power. Some guns (particularly semi-automatics) can be picky about the kinds of ammunition they\'ll take. Read your manual, and always make sure your firearm can handle the type of ammunition you want to use.
Getting good defense training
If you expect your firearm to help you overcome a lethal threat, you must be trained in defensive techniques. Other forms of practice are fine, but they don\'t hone all the skills you\'ll need to deal with a drug-crazed bad guy who\'s decided to make you his target. As soon as you can after your basic gun training, take a self-defense course. I recently attended a National Shooting Sports Foundation media seminar, where media invitees received one-on-one training with various shooting sports champions. I asked for their recommendations of the best defensive training facilities. The responses were: Blackwater, in North Carolina; Firearms Academy of Seattle; Gunsite, in Arizona; Lethal Force Institute, based in New Hampshire but conducts courses across the country; and Thunder Ranch, in Texas. Each offers a variety of courses designed to improve your defensive shooting skills under safe, realistic conditions.
Once you learn the fundamentals of defensive shooting, practice regularly to keep your skills sharp. Most gun ranges, for safety reasons, don\'t allow practicing many of the defensive techniques you\'ll learn; devise some way to safely do these drills on your own. A good choice for regular, basic practice is to join a shooting club or range. Check your local phone book for any close to you. You may want to join the International Defensive Pistol Association, or the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Each offers shooting events throughout the year, at locations around the country. The Single Action Shooting Society focuses on cowboy style guns, that shoot single action only. Their emphasis is on shooting as quickly and accurately as possible, a valuable skill.
Beyond your firearm
Personal defense is more than carrying a gun. It involves becoming more aware of those around you, potentially dangerous situations that could develop, and using various tools to stop different threats. You cannot use your gun for every threat, just as you can\'t use one screwdriver on every screw in your home. Firearms are the last resort, when you\'re in fear for your life or that of loved ones. There must be a reasonable threat of lethal force present for you to justify using your gun. A jerk three houses away shouting insults and threats isn\'t an imminent threat, and you would almost certainly be found guilty of a crime if you shot him. Getting to know the local legal consequences of shooting someone, even in self defense, is an important part of your defensive plan.
Consider how prepared you are to defend yourself beyond your gun. Are your living quarters secure, or are there easy places where bad guys can hide, and enter your home? How secure are your windows? Do you wear lots of jewelry, thereby making yourself a potential target? Do you look like an easy victim? If you\'re a woman, do you take risks that put you at a greater risk of rape?
These are some of the questions to consider in constructing a complete personal defense strategy. It needn\'t cost thousands of dollars; it does require thinking and planning. In these times of heightened unrest, the time, money, and effort invested into creating a sound personal safety strategy is well worth it.