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.