I JUST BOUGHT MY FIRST GUN. NOW WHAT DO I DO?
“YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN” is a statement that reflected the perception of many non-gun owners after hearing ominous reports that their local law enforcement agency had just advised that officers will not be dispatched to emergency calls regarding breaking and entering, assault without injury, willful property damage, and even theft. The sudden realization that law enforcement is no longer just a call away and that law-abiding citizen may have no effective means of defending themselves has motivated thousands to descend upon gun stores and purchase an untold number of handguns.
As a result, there is an incredible amount of persons walking out of such stores with no real idea of how to effectively use their new purchase, an imperfect understanding of the principles of lawful self-defense, and little realization of the danger to both the owner and those around him or her that can result from poor gunhandling or bad judgment. I recently stopped at a local gun store and was still slightly awed by the amount of handgun muzzles constantly sweeping others, much of which was performed with index fingers firmly resting on triggers.
Before I am taken to task for looking down my nose at new gun owners, please know that the reverse is true. If you are new to handgun ownership, please know that not only are we glad that you joined our community but impressed that you would take up the sword rather than rely on the compassion of others who might care less whether you live or die. I think part of the challenges facing new gun owners might be summed up in an old saying that goes like this: “Folks just sometimes don’t know what they don’t know”. As a long-time defensive firearms trainer, I can say with some certainty that new shooters with open minds and proper attitude can be brought up to speed relatively quickly. While good physical skills on average might take a few months to develop, much progress can be made in terms of developing general and situational awareness, mental preparation, and effective tactics in just a few days.
The purpose of this article is to do no more than get the new gun owner started in the right direction. Those willing to invest a little effort into taking immediate action on some recommendations and sincerely committing to follow up on others should find that they just significantly increased the odds in their favor that they won’t be caught up in a deadly force situation, that if forced to use their firearm to protect themselves that they will be able to use it effectively without being incarcerated later, and that no one will ever be harmed by their negligently discharging their firearm because of unsafe gunhandling. Set out below are thirteen tips for new gun owners.
- Batten Down the Hatches: New gun owners should keep their exterior doors locked, garage doors down, and valuable items like big-screen televisions, laptop computers, and similar items out of sight to persons walking or driving by. Parking in well-lit areas when grocery shopping, avoiding gas stations where others are loitering, and moving quickly through transitional areas without using cell phones can go a long ways towards reducing the chances that they will be accosted by others whose intentions are not benign.
- Safety, Safety, Safety: New gun owners should memorize the four major firearm safety rules and never deviate. Complacency is the enemy of all concealed carriers and the consequences of a negligent discharge can be enormous. The four major firearm safety rules are:
- Treat all firearms as if loaded at all times.
- Never let the muzzle of the firearm cover anything you are not will to destroy, injure, or kill.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are pointed at the target.
- Be sure of your target and what lies in front, to the side, and behind it.
- Read the Owner’s Manual: The chances are close to 100% that you will learn something about your handgun by reading the manual. Most handguns made by different manufacturers differ in some manner, with some differences being minor while others are major.
- Safety, Safety, Safety: I am not being redundant here. Most new gun owners will start handling their handgun during or after reading the Owner’s Manual, and it is easy to forget the four major firearm safety rules. Use every opportunity to ingrain safe gunhandling skills.
- Understand the Laws of Self-Defense: New gun owners need to understand the role that Ability, Opportunity, Intent, and even Preclusion plays in determining whether use of a deadly weapon is appropriate. This knowledge is critical. If the situation did not warrant the threat of lethal force or use of lethal force, the new gun owner may find that he or she is now subject to criminal charges, trial, incarceration, and/or being bankrupted. If the situation did indeed warrant the threat of lethal force or use of lethal force and the new gun owner fails to timely act, he or she may also be subject to being seriously injured or killed.
- Get the Right Support Gear: I suspect (perhaps incorrectly) that many new gun owners who purchase handguns during times like this are largely about concerned about home protection. The ugly truth is that while that is indeed a possibility, being attacked outside of the home in a transitional area like a parking lot, sidewalk, ATM, or gas station is more likely. This makes ownership of a quality kydex holster that hugs the body important. Some concealed carriers prefer leather, but I strongly recommend that new gun owners start out with a good kydex hip holster, at least one spare kydex magazine pouch, and a good belt. The handgun I carry the most (a Glock 48 in 9mm caliber) divides its time between residing in a JM Kydex outside-the-waistband holster and a Keepers Concealment appendix holster. I use JM Kydex magazine pouches with closed belt loops and the EDC Foundation belt.
- Get Professional Instruction: New gun owners who just purchased a firearm because they perceive an immediate need for one are different than gun owners who started shooting recreationally years ago and then opted to become concealed carriers. The quickest and definitely safest way to develop competence is to start with professional instruction. I am an avid believer that all concealed carriers should take defensive handgun classes from qualified instructors who understand the complexities involved in a possible fight to the death in which use of a handgun plays only one part of many. At the very minimum, a NRA Basic Pistol Class or the equivalent taught at a local gun range by a credentialed firearms trainer is a good start for a new gun owner who realizes that they need to learn how safely operate their new handgun, properly draw their handgun from and return it to the holster, and the basics of marksmanship.
- Stage the handgun in the home properly: Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine you are in the front of your home, then somewhere in the middle, and then in the rear when suddenly either the back door or the front door is violently kicked in. Where would your defensive handgun be staged, and can you get to it without being cut off? Also, is the handgun staged so that it can’t be accessed by children or unauthorized adults? I am sorry if I shook up anyone’s world, but this is something that new gun owners should really give some thought to. I know several firearm trainers who carry a handgun on their person while at home. Please note that almost all of them carry a small handgun like a Sig 365, Glock 43, or lightweight snub-nose revolver rather than a full-sized pistol in those situations.
- Learn What Real-World Criminal Assaults Look Like and Visualize Your Response if You Were the Intended Victim: I encourage students to check out the Active Self Protection website hosted by John Correia. John has done a great job of finding and narrating actual videos from around the world of violent criminal attacks. There is much to learn by watching these videos, including the degree to which the victim ignored obvious clues that he or she was in danger or chose an action that resulted in in personal disaster to themselves.
- Get Your Learn On: New gun owners would be well-served by checking out highly informative podcasts and articles on the CCW Safe website in the News section. There you can find information addressing such topics as what distance the majority of civilian gunfights take place (it’s closer than many people think), the mentality of many violent criminal offenders and why it matters, the dangers of transitional areas, viable responses to home intrusions, and so much more. I am a Shawn Vincent fan, and his articles and podcasts with noted defense attorney Don West discussing recent court cases involving concealed carriers shed tremendous light on actions taken by others that new gun owners absolutely want to avoid if they prefer living at home to prison.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Competently wielding a handgun is a series of fine-motor skills. How many repetitions does the average person need to perform before a new skill becomes a reflexive motion? I don’t think there is an average, but for me it is about three to four months of practicing for about ten minutes three to four times a week. The good news is that much of the practice can be done by doing what is referred to as dry-fire practice; that is, the new gun owner practices drawing his or her fully unloaded handgun from concealment, aligning the sights with the target, and pressing the trigger without moving the front sight off of the target. This should be followed by live-fire practice of 50 to 150 rounds performed at least once a month. However, I would also recommend that new gun owners not start until they have had professional instruction from a qualified instructor. It is disheartening to work hard to learn a new skill only to later find out that one was doing it wrong, and now has to unlearn and replace it with something else. Don’t ask me how I know this.
- Adapt to a New Lifestyle: New gun owners who have decided to become concealed carriers should read an article I wrote that is published on the CCW Safe website under the title “The Concealed Carrier Lifestyle”. My article is based upon the writings of well-known writer, instructor, and expert witness Massad Ayoob. It is a relatively short article that contains a lot of good advice for new gun owners who understand both the responsibility and accountability they took on when they drove home with their new handgun whether they wanted to take the same on or not.
- Prepare for the Journey Through the Legal System if You Have to Use Your Gun: Many new gun owners have car insurance, home insurance, medical insurance, and even life insurance. I suggest one more, and that is pre-paid legal insurance (and it’s more affordable than many people think). Obviously, I recommend CCW Safe for a multitude of reasons, but I encourage new gun owners to do the research and make an informed decision after checking out their options. Getting caught up in a situation in which a new gun owner was forced to use a handgun to defend him or herself is bad enough, but it probably isn’t going to end there. Law enforcement will be involved, and if charges are filed the situation is going to continue to get worse, with a worst-case scenario being conviction, imprisonment, and possible financial ruin.
There is one last thing. Savvy concealed carriers and even many law enforcement officers have been saying “YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN” to each other for decades. There is a saying that has been around for years that goes: “When seconds count, law enforcement is only minutes away”. We have become quite comfortable with the idea that we have to be our own First Responder. Embrace the concealed carrier concept with open arms and mind, put in the time to get mentally schooled and physically skilled, and then see what happens. For the majority of us it is an acceptance that bad things sometimes happens, an understanding that by our actions we have some control as to whether or not it happens to us, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we were prepared for it.
Steve is a long-time defensive weapons instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (www.ptgtrainingllc.com).