2020 has been a record-setting year for firearms sales. With the threat of coronavirus, empty supermarket shelves, and recent social unrest, an estimated 6 million firearms have been sold in the United States since the beginning of March. According to statistics from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, approximately 40 percent of those purchases were made by first-time gun owners. Overwhelmingly, a handgun was the weapon of choice of these fledgling shooters.
Since the country is seeing a deluge of brand-new gun owners, now seems a good time to review basic gun safety. We’ll also throw in a few training tips for those brand new to handgun shooting. While we’re definitely focusing on the rookies in the room, it's always a smart idea to review the basics from time to time. Even if you’re a seasoned shooter, you may find a nugget or two in the paragraphs below.
Start With The Basics
Before we even get into the fundamentals of handling a handgun, let’s review the four rules of gun safety. These rules were first outlined by the legendary Jeff Cooper, the father of the modern handgun shooting technique. The following four rules should define every decision and action you make when handling a firearm. Commit them to memory, and follow them religiously.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Know the Mechanical Characteristics of Your Handgun
There are a lot of different handguns available to modern shooters. While the basic mechanics are the same (pull the trigger, firing pin strikes primer, gun goes pew), there is a ton of variety in the details. Also, not all guns are loaded, unloaded, or safely carried in the same way. In addition to understanding general gun safety, it is up to every gun owner to know how to handle his or her individual firearm.
It is irresponsible to use a firearm without understanding its characteristics. For example, older, single-action revolvers should be carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. It is unsafe to carry one of these any other way.
Study the instruction manual that came with your firearm. If your firearm didn’t come with a user’s guide, there is probably a copy somewhere online. In this modern information age, there is no excuse for not knowing how to safely use, clean, store, and carry your specific firearm.
Store Your Weapon Safely
Because handguns are commonly used for home defense, many gun owners fail to store them safely. If someone breaks into your house with the intent to do harm, you definitely want your handgun to be easily accessible.
The safest place to store your home defense weapon is holstered on your person. Carrying your gun provides the quickest access while guaranteeing your weapon is never left unattended. However, toting a holstered weapon around the house isn’t always comfortable or practical.
Fast, easy access to a home defense weapon is critical for its effectiveness, but that doesn't allow you to forgo common sense and safety. While most people wouldn’t dream of leaving a shotgun on the nightstand or tucking an AR-15 up under their pillow, plenty of people do the same thing with their handguns. Even if you live alone or there aren’t children in the house, leaving a loaded handgun lying around can be dangerous. Also, many states have laws prohibiting what they deem “unsafe storage” of firearms. You could potentially go to prison if someone else is hurt by a negligent discharge.
Quick-access gun safes provide a nice compromise between safety and accessibility. Some even unlock with a simple touch, using your fingerprint as a biometric key. You can slide one of these convenient safes inside your nightstand, or under your desk or bed, so you can store your handgun loaded, chambered, and ready to go should the need arise.
Use Your Safety Gear
The primary purpose of your handgun is protection. However, you also need to protect yourself by using personal protection equipment when you shoot. Before you head to the range, make sure you have proper protection for both your hearing and your eyes.
Even in a controlled environment like a gun range, there are risks of ricochet and wayward brass harming your eyes. Ballistic eyewear will protect your eyes from these hazards, but they could also save your eyes in the event of a rare catastrophic weapon malfunction.
Hearing loss from gunfire is another serious risk. To learn more about how you can preserve your hearing when you shoot, check out our Guide to Ear Protection for Shooters.
Join a Class
Shooting a handgun accurately and effectively isn’t as easy as Keanu Reeves makes it look on the silver screen. We highly recommend signing up for a beginner’s handgun class. A qualified instructor can walk you through basic shooting technique.
Having in-person instruction is invaluable. Although there is a plethora of information on the web, informational articles and instructional videos can only take you so far.
A handgun is pretty useless if you don’t know how to shoot it effectively. Ultimately, proficiency with your handgun is your most valuable self-defense weapon, not the handgun itself.
The only way to develop proficiency is with practice. However, you shouldn't expect to develop proficiency with only the occasional visit to the gun range. Proficiency is developed over time, with repetition of good form, until you develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is particularly important in a self-defense situation, because your thinking will be clouded as your brain deals with a massive dump of adrenaline.
Range fees and the cost of ammo can add up quickly. Plus, it can sometimes be hard to find time to head to the range for practice. Thankfully, you can hone your handgun skills at home by regularly running some dry fire drills. If you want some more tips on dry fire practice, check out this awesome video from Winchester Ammunition.
Owning a handgun is a huge responsibility. Learn the rules of gun safety and always practice safe shooting habits. However, owning a handgun isn’t all somber hard work.
It’s okay to have fun; just make sure you shoot responsibly. And to all the new handgun owners across the country, welcome to the club!