NOTE: Originally published on Sep 29, 2020
Firearm sales in the Spring and Summer of 2020 have been astronomical to the point that we no longer miss the Presidency of the greatest gun salesman on earth, Barack Obama, who did more to promulgate gun ownership than any President in recent history. Bravo sir.
Now the data says that nearly 40% of the latest gun purchases were new owners. That is fantastic to see so many Americans utilizing their Constitutionally protected freedom to defend the lives and property of themselves and their loved ones.
On behalf of the gun community: Welcome newbies!
Now, this article is for you newbies to give you some pointers and tips that will help make your journey safer, cheaper, and more efficient. Although we are focusing on tips for new people, they can also be good reminders to you old-hands.
Enjoy! And share it around if you find it helpful.
1. Find a place you can practice and use it regularly
This is exceptionally important and often overlooked by new owners (and old ones if I’m being honest). Practice makes perfect and firearm skills are no exception. No matter how many articles you read, videos you watch, or shooter games you play, nothing compares to live-fire practice with your firearm. Chances are that you don’t live in an area where you can just go outside and start firing your gun. If you live in a community, it’s very unsafe and almost certainly illegal to do so.
If you do not identify a place you could practice, then you will not do it. It’s that simple. And trust me, you need the practice.
How much practice are we talking about? Be prepared to fire HUNDREDS of rounds of ammunition through your gun before you really start to feel comfortable. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Ammunition commonly comes in boxes of 50, so it does not take many boxes to hit that number. We will talk about ammo more later.
Now again, where you go shooting is important. If you are new to firearms, or are a long-time gun owner who plans to do something new like legal concealed-carry, you should definitely look for a Shooting Range where you can obtain safety lessons, do’s and don’ts, and basic training from qualified instructors. Once you are familiar with the basic skills and safety practices of shooting and just need to put in the time, then you can save money by finding other locations to go shooting.
Safety Tip: Prefer to go shooting with a buddy rather than shooting alone. If you do go alone, make sure somebody knows where you are and a reasonable time you should return.
Shooting is a perishable skill and needs to be done regularly. Use it or lose it!
2. Clean and maintain your firearm after each use
Firearms are complex mechanical devices inside which you are detonating a tiny bomb each time you pull the trigger. Not only do those explosions create wear on the internal mechanics of that device, but it also creates a yucky mess. The primary culprit here is Carbon from burnt gunpowder. It cakes the inside of the firearm and gums up the works. If not cleaned properly and regularly, a firearm will eventually stop working. Not might; WILL!
You should clean your firearm, ideally, after each use. The method of cleaning changes depending on the firearm itself, but some general points still hold and some common equipment is always necessary.
Common cleaning equipment:
- Cleaning rod, brushes, and patches (or Bore Snake)
- Solvent resistant disposable gloves
- CLP (Clean-Lubricate-Protect) solution
Be sure to check your gun’s manufacturer manual. If a manual did not come with your gun, you can likely find it online at the manufacturer’s website or in a gun forum. Search DuckDuckGo.com (or Google.com if you’re into that).
The following are some general cleaning points to hit:
- Unload the gun. Remove magazine; check the chamber. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
- Clean the barrel with a cleaning rod and alternating brushes and solvent covered patches.
- Clean and lubricate the action and chamber with solvent.
- Wipe down outside of the gun with a cloth to remove dirt and fingerprint oils.
There’s a lot more to good cleaning and maintenance than we can hope to cover here, but please dear God don’t just go shooting and neglect to clean your firearm!
Take care of it, and it will take care of you.
3. Purchase different ammunition for practice and defense
Not all ammunition is created equal. Not only are there differences in quality, but even more importantly, differences in function and utility are paramount. Generally speaking, you want to focus on having two kinds of ammunition: target grade vs. defense grade.
When you are target practicing, which is the vast majority of the shooting anyone does with their gun, you want to prioritize low cost ammunition. This will often be of the "ball ammo" or full-metal jacket variety because it is the easiest to manufacture and hence the cheapest available.
For home defense (and even hunting), the priority changes from cost minimization to performance maximization. Often, the best ammo for these cases are the "expanding" variety such as hollow point or soft point variety. The design of these bullets is more complicated and hence more expensive but they have particular characteristics that are more preferable in these situations:
These expand when impacting a target and transfer more kinetic energy into it which causes (a) larger wound cavities and (b) less penetration. The larger wound cavity is more obvious in it’s benefit: it causes more damage. The reduced penetration may be less obvious but it is actually a good thing: you want less collateral damage such as that caused by a bullet exiting the target with a lot of force and continuing on into whatever is behind it.
So the summary on ammunition is to have two kinds of it:
- Large amount of cheap, target grade ammunition (probably full metal jacket)
- Small amount of more expensive, defense grade ammunition (probably soft or hollow point)
4. Know the Firearm and Defense Laws in your State
While the federal government of the United States of America has far reaching laws and procedures, in most people’s day-to-day lives it’s the laws of your resident State government that have the biggest effect.
The quick way to find the applicable laws where you live is a quick google search to find one of the many helpful websites that have condensed the various state rules into easy-to-follow content. The following are some examples:
Federal laws naturally apply to everyone across the US. The following are just some of the relevant Federal gun laws:
- Gun Control Act of 1968: Prohibits certain people from possessing firearms like convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful drug users, etc.
- Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: requires that gun dealers give purchasers a background check before they can obtain a gun.
State level laws however are exceptionally important because they determine some of the following things:
- Waiting Periods: How long must a person wait to obtain a gun after purchasing it?
- Open and Concealed Carry Laws: Who, when, and how to carry a loaded firearm in public?
- Magazine Size Restrictions: How big, by bullet capacity, can your magazines be?
- Stand Your Ground Laws: How must a person defending themselves act to be assumed in self-defense. Do they have a duty to retreat? What locations does a duty to retreat apply to?
- Gun Transportation Laws: During transportation, can ammunition be stored in the same container as firearms or must they be separate?
And many, many, more.
You absolutely must have a working knowledge on what is and is not legal in your state. Remember, ignorance of a law isn’t a good legal defense.
5. It’s a "Magazine" not a "Clip"
Really now. Don’t call a magazine a clip. There are things called "clips" but they are probably not what you think.
Now why is this important? Because it’s one of the most common indicators of gun ignorance. Other gun owners will be some of your best sources of training and information in your life, so you need to be a good community member as well.
Put in the effort to educate yourself as best as you can.