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So You Want To Own a Gun (Part Three)

Training for self-protection outside of the home with firearms (concealed carry)

Carrying a firearm outside of the home is a much more complex situation than using a firearm for home defense.

Once again, I’d strongly recommend the “refuse to be a victim” type courses that teach you to think defensively and to be aware of your surroundings so that you avoid dangerous situations in the first place. There is a lot of truth contained in the statement “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The same holds true of the basics/introductory training. You simply must know how to operate your firearm safely and effectively before you consider doing anything with a firearm. These foundational courses will teach you the basics, and then you need to practice the fundamentals: not until you get them right, but until you can’t get them wrong.

When you start talking about carrying a weapon outside of the home, things change quickly, starting with legal requirements. Be sure to check applicable laws, as most states require you to get a concealed carry permit. To get such a permit typically requires “x” amount of classroom instruction on when deadly force can and cannot be applied, and you can expect to spend from a half-day to more than a day learning merely these legal parameters, along with taking a written test. Afterward, shooters will go to the range and prove to the instructors that they can manage to operate a weapon without shooting themselves ... and sadly, that is just about all that is required in most states.

There is a difference between these legal minimum requirements, however, and actually developing the mindset and tactics required to be “safe and deadly” outside of the home, and the tools you should use. While I’m hesitant to suggest there is any “right” combination of weapons and accessories for concealed carry, the basics are always the firearm itself, ammunition, and a holster.

While I am a strong proponent of .22LR for training, rimfire ammunition is not as reliable as centerfire handgun ammunition, and reliability is the most important aspect of a personal defense weapon. The “conventional wisdom” for years has been that the minimum acceptable caliber for a self-defense pistol is .380 for semi-automatics and .38 Special for revolvers. These are still not bad guidelines.

After the choice of a handgun, the next requirement is the purchase of a good concealed-carry holster that retains the weapon, covers your triggerguard, and helps conceals it, in that order. All too often I’ve seen a new shooter drop $500 or more on a new handgun for concealed carry, then buy a cheap nylon holster that costs less than a box of practice ammunition. The weapon is rarely secure in these “one size fits most” holsters which quickly lose their shape and which are never comfortable, and the uncomfortable-to-carry $500 concealed carry piece now becomes a “safe queen” instead of an important part of your personal on-call life insurance plan. Plan to spend a minimum of $50 for a decent holster (often far more), and don’t plan on having just one. Holsters are situational, depending on what you are wearing at any given time of the year. A pistol carried on an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster may be fine in jacket weather, but an inside-the-waistband (IWB) may be required in warmer weather. For ladies, the holster choices get even more variable because of the variety of ladies' apparel.

Last but not least, ammunition matters in a self-defense handgun. Buy whatever practice ammunition you can afford and dryfire practice when you cannot afford to shoot, but whatever you do, do not skimp on self-defense ammunition. These cartridges are designed to save your life at the most desperate of times, at which no person has ever been heard to say, “I’m glad I got this on sale.” From a legal and practical standpoint, there is one obvious recommendation regarding your selection of handgun ammunition. Find out what brand and type of ammunition your local law enforcement agency uses, and use that. Odds are that it will be a premium self-defense cartridge that has been heavily tested and proven. It is also going to be very hard for a prosecutor or civil attorney to argue with you for using the same ammunition issued to law enforcement.

Once you have the correct firearm, holster, ammunition, and permit, I’d strongly suggest saving up the money to take training classes, starting with the NRA’s “Personal Protection Outside of the Home” class, which will help impart some useful skills that you can then use in your later training on your own time. I’d also investigate local training schools and instructors. Word of mouth of knowledgeable shooters is essential here in selecting a good trainer, and safety is always paramount. Look at these training classes as a smart investment. One day of training with a top-flight instructor cadre is money well spent, equipping you with both knowledge and a plan to incorporate into your training.

Now that we have self-defense covered, we’ll move on to training for hunting, target, and competition shooting in the next installment.

Don't miss the previous article in this series.