So You Want To Own a Gun (Part Two)

With our initial installment, we discussed how people come about wanting to own their own firearm, and the pivotal question for all first-time purchasers: “What do you want to be able to do with your gun?”

The answers are as varied as the people considering gun ownership. You may want to be able to protect yourself and others in an insecure world; you may be nurturing a desire to master the skill of marksmanship. Possibly, the competitor in you desires to push yourself and to excel in one of many shooting sports. Or maybe, it’s just: “That looks fun and I want to do it.”

You know what? That’s perfect. As long as you want to do it safely.

Whatever your specific interest, there are several ways to ease yourself into the world of shooting if this is your first experience with firearms. The path I’d recommend to inexperienced shooters starts with a formal beginner’s class. These classes focus on demystifying the mechanics of firearms while simultaneously imparting the essential rules of gun safety.

The NRA’s Home Firearm Safety course is a great non-shooting foundational class that aspires to impart “basic knowledge, skills, and to explain the attitude necessary for the safe handling and storage of firearms and ammunition in the home.” It’s like the classroom portion of driver’s ed — such a class starts you off on the right path, putting safety first. Even if you later decide that you don’t want to own a gun, you leave prepared with knowledge of gun safety, and that’s never a bad thing. In an ideal world, every novice would take such a basic gun safety course (either the recommended NRA course or something comparable).

Next, ideally you would spend some range time with a friendly, knowledgeable, and patient instructor who has various firearms for you to try out and is willing to show you how firearms work and teach you basic shooting techniques.

You might be surprised to find your own circle of friends could lead to contact with someone who may be able to satisfy some or all of those goals. If you don’t find such a shooting buddy, you can find gun ranges in most civilized parts of the country, where you can rent firearms (particularly handguns) and try them out.

Firearms are built with different goals in mind, and no one gun can do all things. At this point, you need to start narrowing down your goals and individual circumstances, as these are ultimately going to inform the purchase of your first gun.

If your eventual goal is to obtain a concealed carry permit or to obtain a handgun for personal protection or sport, the course of action I’d suggest is to first look at a handgun chambered in .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR). The .22 LR is an inexpensive, low recoil, and relatively quiet cartridge that allows shooters of every skill level to focus on the fundamental skills of shooting without being distracted by the kick or noise of larger-caliber weapons. I’d advise trying out both revolvers and semi-automatic pistols to decide which appeals to you, which feels more comfortable in your hand, and which has controls that you can manipulate.

At this point, you may notice a very loud wailing and gnashing of teeth around you. In all likelihood, that is the multitude of handgun shooters crying out in anguish at the mention of “.22 LR” in any proximity to a discussion of concealed carry and defensive handguns. Their complaints are not without merit — the conventional wisdom is that the smallest acceptable cartridge for self-defense is a .380 ACP in a pistol or a .38 Special in a revolver. I’m not disagreeing with that sentiment at all.

I’m suggesting you’ll learn faster, and often without imparting many bad habits you have to overcome later, if you learn your fundamentals with a .22 handgun. It’s all about the fundamentals. Even advanced courses boil down to learning to use the fundamentals more efficiently to promote accurate shooting. As former Delta Force operator and noted weapons trainer Larry Vickers has noted: “Speed is fine. Accuracy is final.”

If your goal is to learn to use a long-arm for anything other than wingshooting, I’m going to make a similar, and unsurprising, recommendation. Semi-automatic or bolt-action (your preference) .22 LR rifles are a ridiculously inexpensive entry into firearms ownership, with decent quality new rifles retailing for $200 or less, and used rifles for even less than that. Unlike most other rifles, rifles chambered in .22 LR are also welcome on many “pistol only” ranges that don’t have the ability to safely contain centerfire rifles. Again, practice is key. So where do you get the training you need in order to learn the fundamentals?

While is is often abused as a political punching bag, the National Rifle Association does a marvelous job of firearms education with the Home Firearms Safety course, and then their hands-on “FIRST Steps” and “Basic” series of classes for owners of rifles, pistols, and shotguns. They also have a well-regarded hunter safety program that is required in many states to get a hunting license. In general, these NRA courses are the McDonald’s of firearms instruction: you’re going to get the same basic ingredients prepared the same way, and you’ll find them almost everywhere. For what they offer as foundational courses rooted in safety, they are hard to beat.

A very useful rifle-specific alternative to NRA rifle training is Project Appleseed, which is a combination of rifle marksmanship training and American heritage that welcomes rifle shooters of any stripe, and is designed around a course of fire tailored to those carrying magazine-fed .22 LR semiautomatics.

We’re talking foundational shooting, which probably is disconcerting news to someone interested in whether their first pistol should be either X or Y. Your first gun should be one that you can use to master the fundamentals. After you’ve fired a few thousand rounds downrange, you’ll have a better idea of who you are as a shooter and will be able to make a more informed decision on what will satisfy your particular needs.

Of course, merely buying a gun doesn’t make you a shooter any more than buying a car makes you a NASCAR driver. In our next installment, we’ll talk specifically about gun and purpose-specific training.

Read Part One here.