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Earlier this month I attended a 9 hour course on handgun safety and use. I called it “going to gun school” but really, it was all about getting started with handguns.
On the drive to the armory, I was anxious, apprehensive, scared and a little bit intimidated. Luckily, I learned that these were normal feelings for a handgun newbie such as myself and that if I had been licking my chops in anticipation of the experience, perhaps I was a bit of a whacko.
But I digress.
The reason I am writing this article is to share with you my experience going to gun school, the lessons learned, and a bit of my personal insight into the handgun training process. It is also meant to lessen any fear you may have about being armed yourself. Personally, I hate guns and am anti-gun. But that does not mean that I am going to ignore that I need to have a firearm that I can use to defend myself when a bad guy is threatening my life!
Beginning at the Beginning
Prior to signing up for my training, I spent weeks reading about handguns suitable for a woman wanting a concealable weapon for self-defense purposes. The recent shootings in Seattle cinched the deal for me. When I read that an innocent woman was car-jacked and shot to death that clinched it for me.
Ultimately, I settled on the Ruger LCP-LM which is a 380 automatic. It is palm sized, lightweight, and suitable for a pocket or handbag. Shortly after making the purchase, I applied for my concealed permit which is a fairly easy thing to do in Washington State.
I then shopped for training and chose to attend a course offered by Insights Training in Bellevue, Washington.
There were 10 in my class, 6 men and 4 women plus two instructors. I might mention that although he has had previous handgun experience and had recently attended a class (elsewhere), Survival Husband came along for additional training. Although he may not admit it, I think he came along to give me moral support as well.
The very first thing we covered in class were the Universal Firearms Handling Rules (see below). These rules were developed years ago by a fellow named Jeff Cooper (1920 – 2006) and are accepted as the four inviolate rules of firearms safety. We then moved on to range rules, types of handguns, the basics or firing, the components of a cartridge, hands-on field stripping and gun cleaning, and a discussion of legally justified of use of deadly force.
We also spent a considerable amount of time on the range, firing a wide variety of types and calibers of weapons. This was hand-on training, one on one with the two instructors.
The Universal Rules of Firearms Handling
1. All guns are always loaded.
This is a mindset and is to be regarded as a fact, period. If someone hands you a firearm and says, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” do NOT believe them, no matter who it is. Whenever a firearm is transferred from one person to another, have the owner remove the magazine, lock open the chamber, and show you the empty firearm. With a revolver, have them open the cylinder and remove any bullets. When you accept the firearm, check it yourself.
Remember, there are no accidents, there is only negligence and stupidity.
2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to shoot and destroy.
This rule applies always and everywhere. Apply it at the practice range, in your home, on the go and even when you are performing an inspection and cleaning. A firearm that is holstered properly, lying on a table, or stored properly poses no danger to anyone. It is only when it is handled that there is risk.
Let me say this again: do not point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. I did this quite by accident on the range (pointed a loaded gun at Survival Husband no less) and when I realized what I did, was ready to cry. This is serious and is why practice and skill building are essential!
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
This means that the index finger is high on the frame, not on trigger. In my class this was called the “index position” and was drilled in to us over and over again.
Here is how it works: When drawing your firearm or picking it up, place your “trigger finger” (your index finger) straight along the side of the gun frame. Don’t allow your finger to move into the trigger guard until you have your target sighted. Adding to this, never fire a shot unless the sights are superimposed on the target and you have made a conscious decision to fire.
Under stress – and a “shoot to save a life” situation is the ultimate stress – an unanticipated movement, misstep or surprise could result in an unintentional and negligent discharge. Practicing over and over again is mandatory. In ballroom dance, we use a term called muscle memory when learning various patterns and movements. That is what we want here. Keeping the trigger or index finger on the frame should be as automatic as covering your mouth when you cough – if not more so.
4. Be sure of your target and what is behind and beyond it.
This was called the “big picture rule”. Know what your target is, what is in line with it, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything you have not positively identified. Remember – in many cases the bullet does not stop with your target and can pass through both interior and exterior walls.
In self-defense situations, always be aware of what or who may be behind your target and then assess the risk of hitting an innocent bystander. Be aware of your surroundings, whether on the range or in a life threatening altercation. Do not assume anything.
Lessons Learned as a Result of Going to Gun School
The primary lesson learned while going to school was that a nine hour course was not enough. I need to get out on the range, practice shooting, and practice the “index position” until it is rote. After some range experience, I need to go back and revisit additional training – personal training – using my own weapon.
But there are some other lessons I learned that I want to share with you.
1. Find a quality school with excellent references and a curriculum that focuses as heavily on lecture and classroom as the actually shooting itself.
2. Try out a lot of different handguns before settling on your purchase. Just because Uncles Bob or Aunt Susie recommends a particular weapon or even type of weapon, that does not mean it is right for you. There is nothing like experience with a weapon before the purchase.
3. Do some soul searching in advance relative to how you plan to use your firearm. Home defense? Personal defense? Target practice? Hunting? There are tons of reasons, some better than others. Be aware that the worst reason is “so and so told me to get a gun”.
4. Always assume a gun is loaded and handle it as such. Develop muscle memory so that you carry your weapon safely.
5. All ammo is not created equal. By ammo from a reputable dealer and be wary of re-loaded ammo unless you know the vendor well – extremely well.
6. Memorize the “Universal Rules of Firearms” until you are blue in the face.
The Final Word
My purpose today was to provide just a brief overview of what you can expect when you go to firearms training. I am not trying to convince you that your should own a firearm or further, that shooting is the right self-defense solution for you. (Although you should read my article Can Nice People Shoot? before making that decision.)
Instead, I wanted to relate how I, an ordinary woman and a girly girl if you really want to know, approached the training and where I plan to go from here. I still hate guns but I recognize that in these uncertain times, proficiency with a weapon may be needed to save my life or the life of people I love.
I pray it will never come to that.
Special Note: A hat tip to my instructors Tracy Roberts and Alan Hines who were patient with me, let me work at my own pace. They recognized and dealt with my fear of handguns with compassion and patience.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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From the Bargain Bin: Today I share some of my favorite self-defense items.
Kershaw OSO Sweet Knife: This “oh so sweet” knife is solidly built, stainless steel knife that comes razor sharp right out of the package. It will pretty much cut through anything the price is amazing.
Windstorm Safety Whistle: This particular whistle can be heard a long distance away and above howling wind and other competing sounds.
Pepper Spray: This compact pepper spray with a quick release key ring is perfect for everyday carry.
Sabre Family Home and Property Protection Pepper Spray: When deadly force is not warranted, pepper spray or even wasp spray can be used to deter a prowler or suspicious person. This particular type can be mounted next to a door in a manner similar to a fire extinguisher.
Kimber Pepperblaster 2: Unlike typical pepper spray, PepperBlaster II isn’t aerosolized. Rather, each unit contains two cylinders with powerful concentrations of near-pharmaceutical grade oleoresin capsicum (OC). Each cylinder is driven by a pyrotechnic charge and a piston, and the solution travels at 90mph, giving it enough energy to wrap around glasses or a face mask. The range is 13 feet.
Rothco Type III Commercial Paracord: You can get 100 feet of Paracord for very affordably. This is a real bargain but be aware that price can vary substantially depending on the color.
13 Responses to “Getting Started with Handguns is Not for Wimps”
excellent article for those of us who haven’t committed–or may never commit–to including firearms in our preps. i can’t say i “hate” guns, but it’s true that when a gun enters the picture the stakes go way up in that situation. one can kill or be killed with almost any object, but firing a gun is so much easier than using any other type of weapon. i think your fear is entirely justified; after all, statistics show that a gun is more likely to be used against you than to be used in your defense, and that goes triple for a petite older female. but for someone as conscientious as yourself, someone with a strong moral center who does her research and is committed to surviving whatever comes, i think it makes a lot of sense. with practice i’m sure you can get over some of your fear and become confident about having this deservedly controversial tool at your disposal. thank you for sharing.
The “little guns” are the hardest to control and harder to shoot accurately. They are “contact guns”-you’ve got to have them almost in your face. The best gun for a new shooter, and anybody else, is .45 ACP full sized gun. Yes it’s loud. Yes it has some recoil. Yes it’s a little heavy” Yes it takes time to become proficient with it. Yes it’s big. You CAN handle it. You’re a big girl now. Yes The ammunition is more expensive. And yes it is scary-especially when it’s pointed at you. For over 100 years the Colt 1911 Government model has stood the test of time. The Marine Corps is going back to them. Why? Because the 9mm full metal jacket just zips right through you. This ain’t good because its energy is wasted if it exits. Many “special operators” choose it because it is reliable. Reliability is the key word. If it doesn’t go bang every time you pull the trigger, it’s a nice boat anchor.
1911’s have a century old reputation for two things: going bang every time, and a big heavy slug that stays in the body. No wasted energy as it exits the other side. This is important, because that means more damage is being done to the impact zone, and it hurts more too. There are several brands of 1911 around $500-$700 that are perfectly RELIABLE and always go bang. It’s what the FBI SRT people carry. The series 80 Colt has 4 safeties built into it, 2 internal and 2 external. It is designed to be carried with a shell in the chamber, the hammer cocked, and the external thumb safety on. It will NEVER go off by accident. You have to pull the trigger to set the internal safeties in condition to fire the gun. The thumb safety has to be off. And the grip safety has to be fully depressed. It has only one mode of fire, and you do not have 2 different amounts of weight applied to the trigger as does the LCP. The LCP has a light weight when cocked, and when fired double action, from an un-cocked position, a heavier weight. This ain’t good.
All you have to learn is one trigger pull weight, that you have 4 safeties at your service, and that you can master it with the proper training and practice. The “little guns” are for professionals, who have already mastered the “real guns” and carry them more as a back-up or hide-away than a 1st line of action firearm. You have to remember that many gun salesmen are just that-that don’t really know much more about guns than you, have most likely never been in combat, and all they want to do is make a sale. After all, it isn’t THEIR ass on the line when SHTF and all that stands between you is seconds when the police are just a few minutes away and your assailant needs a slug that will stop him NOW, and most animals also.
As of a year ago, the FBI authorized Remington’s 230 grain Golden Sabre (a re-colored version of the “Dreaded Black Talon” and Federal’s 230 grain Hydra-Shock. Uncle Sam spends million’s determining what cartridge is satisfactory for different conditions, and neither you nor I have that kind of money, so to me it only makes sense that if it works for the FBI, it’ll work for me too. Additionally, any prosecuting attorney or civil suit lawyer is going to have one hell of a time making the case that you used a “too powerful” or “too deadly” cartridge against the poor, misunderstood, underprivileged, inner (or outer) city youth/street animal that intended to rape and murder your daughter and you too. You just shoot until they stop. No more. Once the assailant ceases to become a threat, QUIT SHOOTING!! Otherwise YOU cross the line and become the prosecuted.
There is a movie you should watch-it’s based on the FBI murders in Miami 20 years ago. Appropriately titled “The FBI Murders”. Then you see why these teams are now better (not quite, really)armed than the military. Also, there is work by Dr. Martin Fackler that is about $20 and examines the entire episode forensically. The most enlightening thing I found is that just ONE MORE INCH of penetration would have killed one of the murderers. It didn’t and he went on to kill in what I call a “I’m in a dying death rage” fueled by adrenaline. ONE INCH!! His heart would have been penetrated and he’d have been out of action. Sadly for some families and our nation, we lost some good agents that day because they were under-gunned.
There are some excellent books that teach the facts-Massad Ayoob is one writer/police officer, Jim Cirillo-a much admired New York City Police high risk stake out man who was in many gunfights, Col. Jeff Cooper (don’t ever call him “fellow”-he is the man who established the modern school of gun-fighting that is the foundation of police training all over the country), and Clint Smith. Read ’em. Read ’em again. Take notes like you were school again. Study and then study some more.
With respect to the .22LR, that is a professional killer’s gun. 20 years ago a cabbie here in Des Moines shot a guy 3 times at point-blank range in the forehead and it didn’t even slow him down. Granted, most people don’t want to get shoot, but unless it was all I had I’d use for small game for the pot. Yes, Innuit (Eskimos)have killed Polar Bears with one shot to the head, but I dare say that with 10,000 years of hunting experience behind, there can’t be much they don’t know about killing anything they find, or that finds them. A bunch of .22’s in the chest will make it hard to breathe, but a determined assailant will not be stopped by one, unless there is a perfect heart shot. It takes about 15 seconds before the brain stops working because of lack of blood flow, and a lot can happen in 15 seconds-especially you attacker is on a meth or PCP high. The brain and body may then keep operating for a some few more seconds-remember, the police are only minutes away.
Attackers have had 12 gage slugs ricochet off the skull and gone on to murder their victims. It is well established that a man with knife can cover 21 feet in about 2 seconds. A .32ACP or .380 is not going to stop him unless you make a perfect brain shot. Period. NUFF SAID!! I’m an NRA Life member, avid student of shooting and competitor, and former Marine. And like most firearms student, I’ve had more firearms than I can remember, unless I have a cup of coffee and a good cigar. Just a just youngster at 66, so I’ll be middle aged at 100. Can’t wait11
Congratulations on making a tough decision, and congratulations on having the sense to get some professional training on how and when to use it. Now relax! There are many reasons to own a firearm, as you mentioned – self defense is only one of them: serious target shooting, informal target shooting [plinking], as a woods-walking companion – the list goes on. Not all of the shooting sports are doable with a light pistol intended for concealed carry to be sure, but there is nothing keeping you from adding to your collection. If I may suggest, look for a .22 caliber companion piece for your chosen gun. Ruger makes a dandy .22 pistol, the Mk. III, which is quite reasonably priced. It’s not an absolute match to the LCP, but the shooting principals are the same: sight picture, sight alignment, trigger and breathing control….. And, it is a viable survival/prepping firearm in its own right. Very useful in post-event pest control [think packs of feral dogs or raiding raccoons]. The cost, new, for a basic model is around $300. If you go with a revolver, Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Taurus all make .22 companion pieces to their small framed revolvers [LCR, Chief’s Special, etc.] They cost about the same as their bigger bore counterparts. The advantage is that .22 cost @$2.50 for a box of 50 cartridges as opposed to, what, $20 and up.
There is nothing wrong with a revolver – in fact, it is my choice in a duty sporting or defensive pistol. First of all, it is all mechanical – you pull the trigger, it lifts the hammer, the arm that turns the cylinder is attached to the hammer and so forth. You can use any cartridge the revolver is chambered for, from light target loads to full, “pocket howitzer” cartridges. With an automatic, so much is dependent on the condition of the magazine, how tight you hold it, what kind of ammunition you are using, etc. Most importantly, with a revolver, you can get aftermarket grips that will allow you to fit the revolver to your hand. With an automatic, you are pretty much stuck with the grips you have – it has to go around the magazine. Proper fit is the key to accurate shooting. In a ‘serious social situation’ you won’t have time for all the niceties of technique – it will be point shooting at close range. How well your gun fits you will determine your success – or failure.
Sorry to take so much space; hopefully you will find it helpful.
Wish I had known you have to go through a process to find the right gun. I’ve picked up a couple I changed my mind on later (too big for my hands, too hard to load etc), then found the revolver is actually more to my liking. Good for you, taking this big step. Thanks for sharing your gun class experience. I’d really like to find one I am comfortable with.
Me too. Thankfully, Shelly covets my Ruger LCP so all is not lost. I simply feel more in control with a revolver. Before I purchase another handgun though, I am going to rent different models at the range and work with them awhile. The tought part is there is no range here on San Juan Island so I have to travel to the mainland to practice.
Good luck on finding a school. Insights was fabulous so I lucked out in that regard.
This is still something I need to do. Kudos to you for taking an important step.
Don’t be anti-gun. That’s like being anti-axe, anti-hatchet, anti-screwdriver.
You’ve taken an important step in taking control of your destiny and are exercising your 2nd Amendment rights.
Thank you for the words of encouragement. Every little bit helps. As with any skill worth learning, handling a firearm takes time and practice.
Good article – I’m going to bookmark this. I have my concealed carry license and my husband would really like for me to carry but I just don’t feel comfortable yet. I didn’t grow up around guns and I’m not really used to them.
I think that like you, the key word is “yet”. I have a long way to go to get over my anxiety and fear of handguns but with time and practice, I know I will get there. Good luck to you as you do the same.
You stated that ypou “still hate guns”, then you SHOULD not have one or carry one, If push comes to shove, you will stop and wonder. THAT will cost you a lot and others as well. THINKS about it.
It’s amazing to me how things just seem to fall in to place. I recently have been following your website and blog posts; more specific to todays post, I too handled and bought my very first gun. My first trip to the ‘armory’ was overwhelming, seeing the types of guns for sale (that are legal); stuff that I thought were only used in the movies, then actually handling a gun for the first time. As I entered the range, my hands were so wet with perspiration I could hardly hold the gun, not to mention the ammo. The noise inside the range was defening and every time someone shot I jumped a bit. Long story short, I left the range the first time without ever shooting the weapon. Tip: Go with someone you know and trust when first using a gun, being alone added to the fear factor,no doubt about it. Since then, I have been to a range and shot three different weapons and am currently waiting for the waiting period to be over for me to go pick up my new personal weapon. It is a process, I need to be patient and having a healthy respect for a gun, its use and power is not such a bad thing
Oh my gosh – I don’t think I mentioned the noise and how I jumped as the guns around me were being fired.
It sounds like you are much further along than I am. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.