In the last few months, about five million of us bought a firearm for the first time. New gun owners want to know how to keep their family safe, and armed defense isn’t obvious. In fact, Hollywood taught us to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Becoming a safe gun owners today is more challenging than usual due to the quarantine. New gun owners want to learn how to handle their firearm. Let’s also talk about the legal use of lethal force, and about the fundamentals of armed defense. There is a lot we can do with what we have.
I want you to learn about your new firearm. Set your gun aside for a moment. I want you to read the owner’s manual for your gun. If you bought a used gun that didn’t come with a manual, then you can ask the manufacturer for a replacement. Most documentation is available online, so print a copy. Skim it once, and then study it. Write down your questions as you go. Most of the answers are in the manual, but you have many other resources at your fingertips. Use the internet to answer your questions. One of the most important things in that manual is how to tell if your gun is loaded, and how to load and unload your gun.
The manual also tells you which ammunition you can use. That isn’t always obvious. Compare what the manual says with the ammunition you have.
For the next step, make sure your firearm is unloaded and that every single cartridge of ammunition is out of the room. Now you can safely go through the manual again with the gun sitting directly in front of you. Compare what the manual says with how things look on your firearm.
We have to talk about the basic rules of firearms safety before we can do more than look. A gun is a lethal tool. Both beginners and professionals follow a few rules to handle firearms safely. There is also more to each rule than seems obvious at first. These rules are both mental guidelines and physical habits you need to develop.
- Treat all guns as if they are loaded unless you immediately verified that they are empty. Even then, treat them as if they are loaded so you form safe habits.
- Point the gun in the safest direction until you’ve decided to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your firearm is pointed at your attacker and you have made the decision to shoot.
- Identify your target and what is around it.
Now you have to identify the controls on your gun. There is a particular way to hold a handgun, a rifle and a shotgun. In addition, there is a way that works best to hold your particular model of firearm. That is something you might be able to learn now.. but maybe not.
You need a safe place to handle your gun. We take those four rules very seriously, and you can’t manipulate your firearm in an apartment with two layers of sheetrock between you and your neighbors. You are responsible for where your gun is pointed. You need a solid wall that would stop a bullet if you’re going to handle your gun. That could be a concrete wall, a cinder block or brick wall, or a brick fireplace. Your refrigerator or filing cabinet might stop some bullets and might not stop others! Experienced shooters practice outside in a shooting bay surrounded by raised earthen berms so that every bullet stays on the range. You have that same responsibility even though you are at home and your gun is “unloaded”.
With your firearm pointed in a safe direction, exercise the firearm as shown in the manual. Be aware of where your firearm points at all times. Open the chamber. Verify that the chamber is empty, and that the firearm is unloaded. Exercise the safety devices on your gun. Learn to hold the gun the proper way when you carry it, and when you present it for firing. I know you want to press the trigger, but wait one more minute. Trust me that we’re almost there.
I want you to own three types of ammunition. You want ammunition so that you can practice loading your gun, so that you can practice shooting your gun, and you want ammunition that will defend your family. They are entirely different.
All firearms are lethal. They make ammunition that is designed to do the most damage to top a lethal threat when you are defending your family. For now, avoid using ammunition that is rated at higher than standard pressures. Self-defense ammunition is typically build with a soft or hollow nose, also called hollow point ammunition.
They make simulated ammunition called snap-caps that won’t fire in your gun at all. These simulated cartridges are often colored bright red or orange. This simulated ammunition lets you practice safely loading and unloading your gun. If you have a pistol, then you’ll want snap-caps so you can load and unload your magazines and practice loading the magazines into your firearm. Yes, loading and unloading your firearm is something you have to learn and practice.
You’ll also want ammunition that you shoot at a firing range. That ammunition is assembled with solid nose bullets. It is typically called training or practice ammunition. For now, avoid using reloaded ammunition.
There is an entire course of exercise called dry practice. In a room that has been cleaned of all ammunition, you can practice manipulating your firearm while following the four safety rules. You need a “safe backstop” like that wall we talked about before, and it helps if you have snap-caps.
Learn how to hold your firearm. Load it and unload it. Verify that your gun is loaded or clear of ammunition. With pistols, this is called a press check. Learn how to carry your firearm when it is not pointed at a target. Practice putting your trigger finger on the frame above the trigger guard when you’re not ready to fire. If you have a handgun, did you get a holster to go with it? Study what the sight picture looks like when your gun is in the firing position and your sights are on the target. Practice making the gun safe, and making it ready to fire. Practice transitions from a “low ready” position to a firing position. Practice putting your sights on target and not pressing the trigger. Also, with your sights on the target, make the decision to shoot and press the trigger.
The most dangerous thing about dry practice is when you’re done and you reload your firearm. People get confused by their habit of touching a “safe gun” when the gun is now loaded and dangerous. I suggest you put your gun away for an hour or so before you reload it and put it into storage. Read the references provided for more instructions about “dry fire procedures and practice”.
Where will you put your gun? Responsible gun owners protect their firearms from “the three “C”s. You are responsible for keeping your firearm away from children, criminals, and crazy people. If you bought your first handgun, then I suggest a small bedside safe with a four button combination. These safes cost about a hundred dollars.
Keeping you safe at home means we have to talk about the basics of armed defense. Unless you live alone, you want to talk about your defensive plan with your family or roommates. Lock your doors and windows so that intruders can’t walk into your house. If you have children or roommates, then you want to move to one room so you only have to guard a single doorway. I’m simplifying a complex subject, but you only use lethal force when you face an immediate, unavoidable, and lethal threat.
You have to identify your attacker. That means you want them to be in the light where you can see them and see what is in their hands. Two unarmed drunk teenagers aren’t a lethal threat to you and the four other members of the college wrestling team who live with you. A single teenager might be a lethal threat to a small woman protecting her young children. The appropriate action depends on the totality of circumstances.
You have to think about these situations before they happen or else you’ll freeze in place. I want you to plan for the situations where you should shoot and for the many situations when you should not. Ask yourself what you’ll do if a stranger comes to your door, or if your drunk neighbor is lost and sitting on your doorstep. Most situations do not call for the use of a firearm.
Calling for help is always a good idea as soon as you have time to do so. Think about what you’ll say to the police as you call for help. Check the references I’ve listed.
This is more than you can learn in a day. Break your study into small pieces and practice a few minutes a day. You can expand on each topic to fill several days of training.
Put your time in quarantine to good use. You’ll be safer for a lifetime, and better prepared to take your first self-defense class when quarantine is lifted.