The First Step, Now What?

This past year, we saw more new gun owners in our classes than we had previously in the past several years. I want to congratulate each and every one of these individuals and families who are taking the first step towards personal responsibility. I think it’s pretty obvious, that more people are recognizing their personal safety is their personal responsibility. I believe that an armed society is a polite society; people treat each other differently knowing that their actions have consequences. As more and more people enter the gun world; training, education and knowledge will become very important.

While there is no substitute for a good head on your shoulders, recognizing that one of the best measures to ensure your personal safety is owning a firearm is a pivotal step. The mere presence of a firearm will not make the evil spirits go away, it is a not a sacred talisman that you carry for good luck. It is a tool, an inanimate object that in the hands of a skilled operator represent a fundamental human right, the right to self-defense. So, what does the first time gun owner need in addition to the firearm? Opinions vary, but in our experience they will need a good dosage of safety, education and preparation to effectively employ their firearm in a self-defense scenario. The biggest mistake one could make is believing they will rise to the occasion, a seasoned operator understands that under stress they will default to their level of training, good or bad.

My intention is to address a lot of these issues to help first time gun owners navigate through these unfamiliar waters. I will over the span of the next several months communicate some basic guidelines to help get you pointed in the right direction. In this first piece, I’m going to focus on safety; I’m going to talk about firearm safety, firearm storage and a family plan. These first few topics will be instrumental in establishing a long lasting and solid base in firearm ownership. I do want to caution you that it is not a complete list, but simply a guideline. Remember personal safety begins with personal responsibility. That responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders, the reader and gun owner.

Now, lets talk safety. We have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some folks who literally have never picked up a firearm, much less fired one. Regardless of their level of skill we always start with safety. From a professional point of view, safety is free. Establishing safe firearm handling habits and range etiquette early cannot be emphasized enough. There are some cardinal rules to follow such as “all guns are always loaded”. This simply means that we treat every weapon as if it were fully loaded, no exceptions. That would lead to “do not point the weapon at anything you don’t want to kill, destroy or buy”. No joke, if you don’t want to kill it, buy it or destroy it, then don’t point the muzzle/barrel at it, at all, not even for a little bit. From there we have “Keep your finger straight on the trigger index until your sights are on target”. If your sights are not on the target, then your finger should be straight on the frame. We finish off with “know your target and what’s beyond”. You have to be positive that what you are pointing at warrants lethal force. Be absolutely certain; don’t shoot at shadows, noises or anything you cannot positively identify. Make these rules habit anytime you are around firearms and then make anyone around you with firearms follow these same rules regardless of their skill. You would be amazed at how much they can positively affect your surroundings when strictly followed. There is an inherent risk with firearms that we all accept, but that risk is greatly mitigated through following these firearms safety rules exercising good judgment and being responsible.

From there you might want to establish some protocol for handling firearms. Things like safe areas to point and handle firearms, cleaning areas, how you handle firearms around others, how you conduct yourself at a public firing range and how you might transport a firearm. If you have small children in your home, their safety is of critical importance. The first thing I recommend is to teach them what to do and what not to do. Following some basic guidelines from the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, teach your children that when they see an unsupervised firearm to stop, don’t touch, leave immediately and tell their parents. Drill this into them so that time after time after time they understand proper behavior around unsupervised firearms. Within your own household you will establish safe guidelines, but more importantly is teaching the children how to act when they’re in other households. The biggest mistake that first-time gun owners could make is failing to teach their children the safety required to be around firearms. Of course, the material needs to be age-appropriate but as the children grow up so too must your guidelines. Some might argue that teaching children firearms safety is inappropriate or irresponsible. Yet we routinely teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street to and not to talk to strangers. These guidelines are only as good as the parents and adults who instill these them into their children. Are they foolproof? No, kids are struck crossing streets and abducted by strangers more than we all want. Those terrible incidents are no excuse to avoid teaching children safety in general.

A question that comes up I try to address early on is storage of firearms. You first have to understand the difference between an unloaded firearm being put away for long term storage versus a loaded firearm stored for quick assess. Be familiar with your state’s laws regarding firearms storage, they vary so you will have to take the initiative and discover them on your own. If your state does not have draconian laws for storage then define which of these two storing methods best suits your needs. Long-term storage of firearms is best accomplished in rugged firearms safes. There are many to choose from so define what you intend to use it for and your budget. With regards to storing loaded firearms for self-defense within your own home, there are a few good options. The best options will be constructed of steel with keypads that allow the user to input a digital code to gain access to the firearm. These metal gun vaults come in a variety of models with features such as battery-powered backup, AC powered, tamper resistant, foam lined and spring-loaded doors. These mini gun vaults can be secured to a hard surface through bolts and or through the use of a cable. Do some research and look for suitable options given your circumstances and location.

A brief word on conditions of readiness, modern day semi automatic pistols can be stored in several different conditions. There are generally four conditions, condition one; has a round loaded in the chamber, hammer cocked with the safety on and a fully loaded magazine inserted (common on M1911 style single action pistols). Condition two; has a round loaded in the chamber, hammer forward and a fully loaded magazine inserted (common on double action style and striker fired pistols). Condition three, no round loaded in the chamber; hammer forward with a fully loaded magazine inserted. Condition four, no round loaded in the chamber, hammer forward and no magazine inserted. Select the condition of readiness you’re most comfortable with for quick access. Remember each condition has its own pros and cons, give careful consideration to your situation and the likely responses that would require a pistol to be effectively employed quickly

As a family, it’s important to have serious discussions about the use of the firearm in a self-defense situation. First, be as familiar with the law as you possibly can, read up, ask questions and learn as much as you can about your rights to self-defense within your own home. Probably the most important discussion to have is using deadly force. Make sure you’ve discussed it with your family that if circumstances deteriorated to the point that in order to protect life you would employ deadly force. Talk it over with your family to make sure they understand and they support your decision. It is vitally important that these discussions happen early on, before the incidents could occur. The last thing you want to do is try to answer those questions in the middle of a fight for your life or your family’s life. Any family safety plan is going to be comprised of multiple layers of security measures. Simple common sense measures such as external lighting, locking your doors and family pets all go a long way towards ensuring your safety.

People are quick to demonize firearms and people who are willing to use firearms to protect themselves and their loved ones. Don’t fall victim to this type of personal bashing, it is your God-given right to defend yourself, your loved ones and your home. Once you’ve made the decision to use a firearm and you’ve made the first step by purchasing a firearm the next few steps will require you to do some homework. You should start by learning firearms safety; firearm storage options and developing a family safety plan together. Remember a firearm is an inanimate object; it takes human intervention to be used for good or evil.