The question of how much firearms training is enough is something that gets bandied about among trainers, competitors, enthusiasts and the general public quite a bit. Of course, social media is a place to find just about any opinion supported fervently and loudly, the more extreme the better. But for someone seriously considering getting a firearm, the question is often lost in the noise that follows its asking. Just making sense of it all and sorting truth from hyperbole can be daunting.
The first order of business is to decide what purpose the firearm will serve. Do I just want to have a gun to shoot for fun with family and friends? Might I be interested in hunting? How about competitive sports with guns? What about carrying a gun for self-defense? Sometimes the purposes overlap. Often, starting with one purpose can lead into others. Exploring these questions can help with the decision of what firearm or firearms to acquire. Different levels of training and training emphases are required for each purpose.
Some basic rules apply to all firearms, regardless of purpose, to ensure safety. Pretty much any training will start with these rules as the foundation.
1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
Get into the habit of handling any firearm as if it is loaded, regardless of its condition. Don’t try to have rules that apply to loaded guns and others that apply to unloaded guns. Keep it simple and you’ll never have to explain why an unloaded gun just fired. Treat them all as loaded all the time and you won’t have to remember which set of rules apply this time.
2. Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
The troublesome muzzle end of the gun, from which bullets can issue at astounding speed, is always pointed somewhere. With rule number 1 in mind, keep the muzzle of any gun away from anything (and especially anyone) that you don’t want to have a bullet hole in.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until the gun is on target and you have made a conscious decision to shoot.
Since guns are designed to have the human hand close around them, finger on trigger, it is essential to train your trigger finger to stay off the operating lever until you want to shoot. This means far enough outside and away from the trigger guard so that it won’t easily slip onto the trigger if you are startled or lose your balance. Keep a mindful link on that trigger finger and place it in firing position only when you decide you need it to be doing its job.
4. Know your target and what is beyond and around it.
Never shoot at a noise without visual verification of what made it. Also be mindful of where your bullet might go once it has passed through the target. Bullets pass through objects and bodies. Know that your round will be contained safely after it hits the target. This is pretty easy on a formal shooting range with bullet traps. Not so much in self-defense situations in the home or on the street. If you think your bullet could hit something you wouldn’t be able to live with a hole in, don’t shoot.
5. Lock guns securely away when not in use.
If a firearm is not going to be within your immediate control, lock it in a vault or safe or some hardened area of your home that only authorized persons can access. Guns are prime items for burglars to steal. Left lying around, they are temptations for children or other untrained persons to handle unsafely, often with tragic results.
Getting into the habit of following these rules with any firearm at all times can head off a lot of trouble. Those of us that handle guns regularly need to be especially mindful in order to avoid becoming complacent and making a bad slip.If a firearm is going to be used for pleasurable plinking only, adherence to the safety rules and learning how to operate the particular mechanism of the firearm for basic loading, unloading, aiming and firing at safe targets will get the shooter by. Of course, knowing how to clean and maintain any type of machine is going to extend its longevity and keep it functioning safely and properly for many years. New guns come with owners’ manuals that are great resources for how to care for the gun. If the gun was purchased used and has no manual, information is available online from the manufacturer of the firearm. With make and model, the shooter can find out what’s needed to care for most any gun. This information is usually stamped somewhere on the body of the firearm, along with its caliber.
If firearm acquisition is for hunting purposes, it will be necessary to learn more. Safe methods of carrying a long gun (rifle or shotgun) in the field will be something to study. Also, the Department of Fish & Game regulations about what animals are legal to hunt, when hunting is allowed, where hunting is allowed, any quantity limits on game animals and local firearm transport regulations will be needed for each area one is interested in hunting. Start by researching the regulating agencies for your area of interest and go from there. Guided hunts can be researched online as well and can be a good way to learn about hunting. It helps to read up on the behavioral characteristics of the creature you are stalking. Understanding how animals travel, what they feed on, mating seasons and behaviors and how they avoid or evade predation will help you be a successful hunter.
Many people want to own guns to get involved in the shooting sports. There are many shooting games and leagues available for just about any age group, interest and firearm out there. Just a few of the most well-known are International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), 3-Gun Nation, and Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Many more are available besides these. Decide what type of games you might want to compete in and start searching online for leagues that might interest you. Most websites will have links to local clubs that can offer contact information for how to get started as well as local events available.
Most competitions allow the shooter to progress up the rankings as their experience and skill accrues. These leagues welcome new shooters as well as experienced ones and often are especially encouraging to female competitors. All female shooting groups such as Babes with Bullets and A Girl & A Gun offer support and training opportunities for women that want to get involved in shooting sports in a fun and low stress “just us girls” environment. Since competition is basically about placing shots in premium target zones in the shortest possible time while following the rules of the game, skills that enhance efficiency of firearm handling will help with success. Gaining mastery of trigger control is going to be essential. So, too, will quick gun handling skills. Everything from smooth drawstroke and presentation of the gun to target, reloading techniques, malfunction clearance and efficient movement of the gun and the shooter’s body from target to target will all help shave time and improve accuracy for those winning scores.
The most sober use for firearms is saved for last. Use of a firearm for self-defense is something many people start with because they feel a need to have the security of a firearm available. This is, in my estimation, where the rubber meets the road with regard to firearm ownership. Carrying a firearm for self-defense should be a daunting and serious decision for anyone. The responsibility entailed with this is none other than life and death. Many people will carry a gun without really exploring the consequences should it become necessary to use that gun against another human being. In today’s twitchy political climate, any use of a gun from merely displaying it publically to shooting someone and killing them will have legal repercussions. A wise person will educate him or herself beforehand as to these possibilities and make the decision to carry a gun for defense based on cost/benefit analysis. This is a very personal decision and, often, one that must be taken in steps. And like any personal decision, it should be made on the basis of what you, personally, believe to be the right thing for you. Well-meaning friends and family may want to influence your decision one way or another. Ultimately, it is only you that should decide in your own time and by your own path.
The individual states are responsible for regulating the issuance of permits for concealed carry of a firearm. Some only require that the applicant have a clean background to issue a permit. Others require some proof of competency with a firearm such as a certificate from a recognized training organization. Still others require some knowledge of state law governing defensive firearm use. To learn what your state requires, research state law regarding concealed carry of firearms. An excellent resource for information on all states laws regarding concealed carry can be found at www.handgunlaw.us. This site will also show what other states practice reciprocity with your state of issue (meaning that they will recognize your state permit as good enough to allow you to carry in their state). Information on whether states offer permits to non-residents is also posted along with restrictions on non-resident permits. When travelling to a state where your permit is recognized, be aware that you must abide by that state’s laws regarding concealed carry of firearms and restrictions of the practice. The Handgun Law website will have this information enumerated. Since each state differs, it is incumbent upon the firearm owner to be informed about the laws where they find themselves to be. Ignorance will not be a “get out of jail free” card should you have contact with law enforcement.
State requirements for training are set pretty low in most cases. Why is this so? The right to self-defense using firearms is recognized in the Constitution of the United States to be a natural right of every citizen. Anything that restricts a citizen in good standing from exercising that right can and should be deemed unconstitutional. Just because you are not required to have much training, if any, does not mean that it’s not a good idea to find a way to get as much as you need to be safe and legal.
As you may have gathered from the paragraph above about the responsibility to understand and abide by state laws regarding concealed carry of firearms, legal education is a big part of being a responsible citizen carrying a gun for self-defense. Many people have had their lives ruined by not understanding the legal requirements for use of deadly force in self-defense. One of the best resources for armed citizens on legal issues can be found at Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network (ACLDN). A membership in this organization, founded by long-time trainer Marty Hayes after successful completion of his law degree, nets the member a treasure trove of educational materials from the most widely recognized authorities on the legal use of deadly force in self-defense. In addition to providing information to members that can prepare them for the responsibility of carrying a firearm for self-defense, the network also offers up-front monetary assistance to members that become involved in legitimate self-defense cases with legal consequences. Affiliated legal experts and expert witnesses are also available to help mount a defense against legal or civil charges resulting from a self-defense incident.
Once a good grasp of the legal issues around using firearms for self-defense is obtained, the responsible gun owner needs to train with their firearm to gain skill in safely drawing the gun from its holster however it may be concealed. Also crucial is learning how to accurately hit the intended target even under stressful conditions. Skillful manipulation of the firearm during reloading and clearance of malfunctions needs to be something that can be done without taking the focus off of potential threats. Understanding the use of cover and concealment and how to move to and shoot around varying types of cover will be valuable skills to have. And, just as with learning about hunting, an understanding of the behaviors and tactics of human predators can go a long way toward avoiding trouble to begin with and coming out of trouble alive should it find you. Some excellent insights on the human predator can be had in the written works of Marc Mac Young, Rory Miller, and Col. Dave Grossman to name a few of my favorites.
A firearm for self-defense should be considered the last resort. Learning about other methods of defending yourself short of using deadly force is a good idea. This includes everything from developing a commanding and aware bearing and good verbal de-escalation skills through use of improvised weapons and hand to hand fighting techniques for when a gun is not available or is inappropriate to the situation. Building the toolbox for self-defense is a subject for another article.
There is a lot to this owning a gun business! Fortunately, the process can be tailored to your needs and desires easily and there is always room to branch out and explore new aspects of firearms ownership. Take it a step at a time. There are lots of trainers out there that can share their knowledge about pretty much any aspect you wish to explore. The internet is a wonderful tool for finding what interests you and what is available in your area. When considering investing your money in any class, it’s a good idea to find some honest reviews and talk to other shooters that have taken the training before committing your resources. Start local, if possible, and go from there.
Keep in mind that trainers are individuals that have been shaped by their experiences. There is rarely only one right way to do any skill. Trainers will advocate what they think is best based on their own background. Try what they are asking you to try and see if it works for you, too. If it doesn’t, you’ve still learned something. Shooting is an American martial art.
There will always be a bit of the “my kung-fu is best” mindset with any curriculum you encounter. Trainers, by and large, will be the first to understand that folks interested in improving their skills are going to have the American eclectic approach to doing so—sampling a lot of things and choosing what they feel works best for their own bag of tricks. After all, that’s what they did on their way to becoming trainers.