This guest post is by Joe I and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
What are you going to do? Are you going to rush out and buy one? And will you buy some ammo when you get the gun? Are you just going to head out to the range and start shooting? Figure it out as you go? Buying a firearm is a huge decision, and one that can have far-ranging implications. Many people, like myself, grew up hunting and were introduced to firearms at an early age. I was shooting a BB gun by the time I was 4 years old, and I received a bolt-action Remington .22 for Christmas when I was 6. I routinely walked out the back door and into the woods and hunted rabbits and squirrels by the time I was 8 or so.
My father introduced me to deer hunting at about the same time, and I was using one of his .243s to hunt deer by myself when I was 10. Dove and quail hunting were regular activities, and I started out using a 20 ga., but changed to a 12 ga. when I bought my first shotgun. Plinking and target shooting were common activities at my house and my friend’s houses, and a .22 revolver was my first handgun. I used it for plinking for the most part, but did do a little hunting. Larger caliber handguns came later, and a fascination with Elmer Keith and his adventures influenced me to obtain and shoot the big bore handguns he wrote about.
I shot the .44 magnum, the .45 acp, and later the .357 magnum. My point is that I had a natural progression, a culture if you will, of hunting and using firearms my entire life. To me a firearm is no different from a hammer or other tool, and has no inherent danger in and of itself. It was the tool I had always used to do the things I loved doing. My father taught me to shoot as a child, and he taught me the basic safety rules one must follow with a firearm.
Always assume that every firearm is loaded, always point the barrel in a safe direction, never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire, and never fire at anything you can’t identify. These rules kept me safe as a child, and were so totally ingrained into my consciousness that I always check to see if a gun is loaded no matter the circumstances, even if I am looking at a gun in a sporting goods store. And I vividly remember getting my butt busted when I didn’t practice safe and proper pointing etiquette. It’s the ground or the sky, nothing in between, my dad always said.
Obviously, if you grew up the way I did, there won’t be anything I can tell you that you probably don’t already know, and this article will only refresh and encourage you. But for the new person just being introduced to firearms, there are some issues to be addressed. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume you’ve decided you want a handgun for protection. What should you get, revolver or semi-auto? What is the best caliber? What kind of bullets do you need to buy? How about practice? Safe handling?
Before shopping for a handgun it is best to do a little research to help you make a decision on what firearm best fits your unique circumstances. A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a cylinder that revolves around a barrel. Most revolvers have 6 shots, and then have to be re-loaded by swinging out the cylinder, ejecting the empties, and putting new cartridges in each cylinder one by one. This is a fairly slow process, but can be increased in speed by using speed-loaders.
The revolver is tough, rarely malfunctions, is not likely to fail or jam, and is not very picky about what cartridges it shoots. The pistol is a repeating firearm that has one chamber and barrel, and fires each time the trigger is pulled, and the next cartridge is loaded by a mechanism powered by the previous shot.
Pistols have magazines that hold more cartridges than a revolver, routinely 15 or more, and can be reloaded quickly by inserting a new magazine in a well usually in the grip of the firearm. Some autos are particular about specific types and brands of ammo, and one must decide which better fits the purpose they have. Generally speaking, for self-defense the pistol is usually the better choice, and for hunting the revolver usually performs the best.
Of course, each one overlaps, and some people prefer a revolver over a pistol and vice versa. As for caliber, the choices are numerous, but the well-established preferences in the US are the 9mm, .40 S&W, and the .45 acp. Any of these three would serve the average person well, and there are a large variety of manufacturers of each caliber, but Glock, Kimber, Ruger, Colt, S&W, Springfield, and Taurus dominate the pistol market, and S&W, Ruger, and Taurus dominate revolvers.
All of these makers have excellent handguns, and personal preference is usually the deciding factor. Seek advice from friends, go on the internet, research as much as possible, go to the gun store and handle a weapon, shoot one if you can, and then decide on the make and model that best fits you. For people who are elderly, or who have trouble with recoil, .22 cal. revolvers and pistols are viable alternatives and Ruger, S&W, and Taurus make excellent revolvers while Walther, Baretta, Ruger and Browning make great .22 pistols. There are other alternatives as well, and many people like the Warsaw Pact pistols and find them workable and very affordable. The options are almost limitless, so do the research.
Once you’ve decided to buy a specific firearm, the next step is actually purchasing one. There are gun shops in almost every small town and urban area in the United States. Wal-Mart, Gander Mountain, Cabelas, Academy and other national chains sell firearms as well, though there is something to be said for purchasing at a gun shop from people who are willing to go the extra mile for you after your purchase.
Provided you don’t have a criminal record, domestic abuse problem, restraining order, or mental issues, you will likely be able to purchase a firearm. Some states have additional requirements, but the minimum requirement for buying a firearm is to fill out an ATF form which information is then called into a FBI database for approval. This usually takes only a few minutes, although local and state laws may have cooling off periods before one can actually take delivery of a firearm. Once you get the firearm home, read the user guide, and learn to break down the firearm for cleaning.
The owner’s manual will provide the details, but just about every model handgun has a utube video showing one how to take apart and clean the weapon. If one encounters problems, a quick trip to the gun shop where the weapon was purchased usually resolves the issue.
Now, you’ve bought your firearm, learned to take it apart and clean it, so what’s next. There are common sense rules and precautions that pertain to firearms. For one thing, once a gun has been fired, you can never get the bullet back. EVER. So it is of the utmost importance that one learn and practice safety when using and handling a firearm. When cleaning your weapon, always make sure it isn’t loaded.
If it’s a magazine-fed weapon, not only remove and check the magazine, but open the chamber or bolt and check the barrel as well. When you pick up or take a firearm from someone, assume it is loaded. Check to see, don’t take someone’s word, and don’t worry about offending someone. If one can be offended by safety practices, you need to disassociate yourself from them. Never point a firearm in an unsafe direction, or at something you don’t intend to shoot.
Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot and you have acquired a target. And never shoot at a noise or at something you can’t identify, and make absolutely sure you know exactly what the target is before you shoot. Most firearms accidents I’ve seen or heard of are from people who shoot before identifying the target, or who shoot themselves or others through improper gun handling. To reiterate, you cannot get a bullet back once it has been fired. Always think and practice safety.
SELECTION OF AMMUNITION
There are many types of ammunition, and each type has a specific use, although there is a crossover and redundancy in many types of ammo. For example, one type of ammo might be good for both hunting and self-defense. But ammo specialization is the norm these days. I don’t want to delve into the specialty types of ammo in this article(such as shot), but want to keep the discussion centered on what most people use day-to-day.
There are three basic types of ammo we will be discussing here, one is FMJ(full metal jacket) another is JHP(jacketed hollow point), and the third is JSP(jacketed soft point). Full metal jacket consists of a soft core(usually lead) encased in a shell or harder metal, jacketed hollow point has a hollowed-out pit in its tip that causes the bullet to expand or mushroom when it hits a target, and jacketed soft point has an exposed tip of lead that expands when it hits a target.
Each bullet is designed for different things. Although not all-encompassing, for the most part FMJ bullets are best used for practice(they are cheaper, too), the JHP is best for self-defense, and the JSP works best for hunting. FMJ for practice, and JHP for self-defense are usually the best fit for most people, but one does need to practice occasionally with JHPs just to test their skill and the weapon that shoots it. Most military rounds are required by the Geneva Convention to by non-expanding FMJ bullets, so most military surplus will be just that.
Now you have your gun and your ammo and know your safety rules, so you’re ready to get started. What should you do? Go to the range and wing it? Hope someone is at the range who will show you how its done? Pray for a miracle? NO. The single most important thing a new shooter can do is learn from someone who is an expert. For some people who might be a trusted friend, but for most this is going to be a firearm’s instructor.
Most states have concealed carry laws, and instructors are in just about every town and city in the US. Most gun shops have a list of firearm instructors, most NRA Certified, who teach the safe handling and shooting of firearms. For more money there are excellent organizations like Frontsite that will teach shooting and tactics. The Appleseed shooting program is nationwide, and there is no reason for someone not to get the proper training before using a firearm.
Now that you’ve had the training, you can visit your local range and hone your skills. It is unethical to hunt or shoot without practicing regularly, and one should make the commitment to become proficient with a firearm before ever buying one. And besides, if you can’t hit what you’re shooting at, what good will it do you.
A firearm doesn’t make a great club, so get a baseball bat if you can’t commit to being as good a shooter as possible. Any normal person has the inherent ability to become proficient with a firearm. Most cases where people are not proficient are due to confidence and self-esteem issues, and practicing and learning to shoot a firearm well usually solves the problem.
GUN SHOWS AND PRIVATE SALES
I really wanted to mention gun shows under the purchase topic, but after giving it much thought, I decided gun shows needed its own section. Just about every city in the United States has gun shows at least 4 times a year. If you are an NRA member, there is a section in the monthly magazine that lists gun shows in the part of the country the magazine covers.
If not, your local rifle and pistol club will know, and the shows are widely advertised. An internet search for gun show and the city will also yield results. Once you’ve found the time and place, decide on your arrival time. There are two strategies to buying guns at the show, and one is get there early, and the other is to come to the show pretty close to the time when it’s closing.
You will get the best selection if you come early, and the best price if you arrive a couple of hours before closing time. Be ready to bargain on price, as many folks who go there enjoy bargaining and have their prices marked up so they have some room to bargain. Just don’t pay list price. Besides firearms, there are tons of accessories at gun shows, and ammo is usually plentiful and better priced than at gun stores.
But buyer should still beware, as I’ve seen some prices way higher than Wal-Mart, for instance. Other accessories like magazines, scopes, sights, slings, clothes, and knifes are also in abundance, so one can still find useful items even if unable to obtain a firearm.
Another possibility at gun shows are private sales. If you walk around, you will notice people carrying firearms for trade or sale. It is legal in most, but not all, jurisdictions to buy firearms from an individual without having to fill out ATF forms or get ATF phone approval. Check your local laws.
Just make sure you get a bill of sale for the purchase, and that you get the person’s driver’s license number and place of employment. If someone is not willing to give you information on themselves, it is possible the firearm may be stolen, or that they have a criminal record, so just forget it. No amount of money saved is worth the hassle of buying a stolen firearm. Firearms are also routinely advertised in most newspapers, and private sales are allowed, but again, check local laws and take the same precautions you would when buying at a gun show.
Firearms ownership is a big step, and there are issues that come with owning a firearm that are unique. Legal issues can arise when one uses or owns a firearm, and one had better learn and study the laws in the jurisdictions they inhabit or visit. Many cities and states have restrictive laws on carrying a firearm, and ignorance of the law is no excuse. Several people this past year have run afoul of New York City’s restrictive gun laws, and face automatic prison sentences if convicted.
All these things said, it is a right of Americans to own firearms for protection, recreation, hunting, and fun. And we as Americans should be proactive and exercise our rights lest we lose them. And there is an old saying that fits my perspective on firearms ownership, “God created Man(and Woman), but Samuel Colt made them equal”. Sic semper tyrannis.
This contest will end on June 5 2012 – prizes include:
Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.
Contest ends on June 5 2012.