If you’re one of the tens of millions of new gun owners that were minted in 2020 and early 2021 (or you’re about to become one) then you’ve probably got a lot of questions: How do you practice shooting safely? What kind of equipment should you buy? What are the requirements for going to a range? What type of firearm is right for you? How do you even handle a firearm responsibly? We’re covering everything with this guide, starting with the four important rules of firearm safety.
The Four Rules of Firearm Safety
As a new gun owner, you should commit these four rules (often call the “Four Golden Rules”) to memory and exercise them every time you handle your rifle, shotgun, or pistol:
- Treat every firearm as if it’s always loaded.
We’ll get into how to properly “clear” and empty a weapon to ensure it’s not loaded. But regardless, you should always treat every firearm as if it’s loaded anyway. This helps to guarantee you never experience a negligent discharge (“ND”), which could result in imprisonment, serious injury, or death.
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
Generally, that means down. And if you’re unfamiliar with some of the gun jargon, the muzzle is the end of the barrel. Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to kill or destroy. This adds another layer of protection against collateral damage in the event you ever have an “ND”.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
This is perhaps the one rule that gets broken most often by gun owners, and it’s not surprisingly the number one reason any shooter experiences a negligent discharge. Always keep your trigger finger outside the trigger well entirely, until you’re ready to shoot.
- Know your target and everything behind it.
This is critical, especially if you’re not shooting at a regulated range. It’s important to know not just what your target is, but what lies behind your target. Even light-caliber ammunition is capable of penetrating walls and hard structures, potentially leading to injury or death. Confirm there is no risk of collateral damage behind your target before shooting.
Responsibly Handling a Firearm
When you begin your journey to gun ownership, you’ll need to handle a few weapons before deciding what’s right for you. When you visit a gun store, don’t be afraid to lean on the staff for assistance and opinions. They’ve sold thousands of guns and can point you in the right direction.
While they can help you figure out what long gun, shotgun, or handgun’s right for you, there are some universal steps you need to take when you visit the range or store and handle any weapon for the first time. In addition to the four rules of firearm safety, you need to understand how to appropriately “clear” a weapon of ammunition to make sure it’s empty. Every firearm make and model varies slightly in its design, but the basic steps are always the same:
- Locate the safety lever on the weapon. Ensure the safety is engaged.
- Locate the magazine well, cylinder, or location on the receiver where ammo is loaded. On shotguns, this is usually found in a tube underneath the barrel. Ask for assistance in operating this mechanism to check that the weapon’s magazine, clip, or receiver is empty.
- Locate the ejection port on the receiver itself (revolvers will not have a port). Ask for assistance manipulating the action to verify the chamber, which can be viewed through the ejection port, is empty, too. This ensures a live round is not in the barrel and the weapon is not currently lethal.
Selecting Your First Firearm
Chances are, you’re buying a gun for self-defense. You’re probably not diving into the deep end of the pool and going on a big game hunt or entering into a three-gun competition. So, we’ll quickly review the different classifications of firearms and their pros and cons and how they relate to you, a new shooter in need of a little protection.
The good ole’ revolver is probably the simplest firearm to manage. Unfortunately, the average revolver also offers poorer accuracy compared to a semiautomatic pistol and it lacks in capacity and reload speed. In a self-defense scenario, the revolver truly is a “one-and-done” weapon, as reloading takes quite a bit of time, even with speed-loaders (a device that allows the cylinder to be reloaded all at once) and plenty of training.
The semiauto handgun, like a Glock or Sig Suer, is what most first-time gun buyers tend to gravitate towards. They have relatively straightforward controls, like a safety and de-cocker, a simple magazine catch and release, and an uncomplicated trigger and sights. Handguns require more discipline to achieve good accuracy, so a little extra training and practice are required when compared to becoming proficient with a long gun or shotgun.
Love it or hate it, semiautomatic “tactical” rifles like the AR-15 have taken America by storm. In fact, the AR-type rifle is the most popular firearm sold in the U.S. If you’re looking for an excellent defense weapon that provides good accuracy, high capacity, low recoil, and relatively easy functionality, this is an excellent first choice.
The popular mode of ownership has been to build, not buy, your first AR. This reduces overall costs, and it allows you to become more proficient in the rifle’s functionality and design. You don’t need complicated tools and most can be assembled with preconfigured AR-15 rifle kits. If you’re the machinist or hobbyist who enjoys mechanics and doing things truly “from scratch”, you can even fabricate the receiver using something called an 80% lower. You’ll need some basic power tools to learn how the receiver and internal parts work, too.
Shotguns are excellent do-it-all weapons. Many first-time gun owners invest in a shotgun because, well, “That’s what my dad had for personal protection.” Except advances in modern ammunition and firearms have made pistols and rifles the typical choice for self-defense. Some shot shells can cause a lot of collateral damage and modern pistol and rifle ammo designed for self-defense is actually safer to use in close quarters. Self-defense shot shells also exist to reduce collateral damage, and shotguns are generally easy to operate, especially when configured as a semiautomatic. You can also obtain plenty of practice with skeet shooting. That makes them a good choice for a first-time buyer all the same.
Investing in Shooting Safety Equipment
Getting time behind the trigger is the only way to become a confident shooter. Except before you even step foot on a shooting range, you need some proper safety equipment: Hearing protection, eye protection, and adequate firearm storage to transport your guns.
Ballistic Eye Protection
Any old safety goggles from the garage will not do. You need ballistic eye protection that can effectively mitigate the risks of shrapnel and high-velocity ricochets. Glasses that are marked with a “Z87” or “Z871./Z87+” rating are the standard for this level of protection. Glasses like the Howard Leights by Honewell provide this level of protection with clear lenses for indoor shooting.
Additionally, you can opt for maximum protection by spending a little extra cash on military ballistic eyewear, like the military-issued Wiley-X Sabers. These feature the MIL-PRF-32432 ballistic lens rating and they provide even more protection against ricochets and shrapnel.
Adequate Hearing Protection
Any gunfire is enough to cause immediate and potentially permanent hearing loss. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, you need to buy proper shooting hearing protection. That means not just buying simple earplugs or shooting muffs, but wearing both. To achieve the necessary noise reduction to protect your hearing, you’ll need to earplugs underneath your shooting muffs. This guide covers hearing protection and firearms in detail.
Proper Gun Cases
Although not technically illegal in most states, it’s simply a bad idea to transport your firearm in the open. You’ll need to invest in a proper gun case – whether hard or soft – to protect your weapon and to insulate against prying eyes. Most ranges won’t allow you to walk onto the firing line without the right equipment, including a gun case for storage.
We covered lots of info here, so let’s briefly recap the big points. The four rules of firearm safety that you must always follow include:
- Treating every firearm as if it’s always loaded.
- Always pointing the muzzle in a safe direction.
- Keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
- Knowing what your target is, and what’s behind it.
Master the steps involved in clearing a weapon, too, before entering a firing range or gun store for the first time:
- Locate the safety lever and ensure it is engaged.
- Inspect the magazine, clip, or cylinder to check no ammo is present.
- Locate the receiver and inspect the chamber through the ejection port.
Don’t be afraid to ask gun store personnel for assistance when it comes to inspecting and selecting a firearm. The four categories include: Revolvers, semiauto pistols, semiauto rifles, and shotguns. Assembling your firearm is surprisingly easy and it’s a great way to become confident in its parts and functionality. Always go shooting with appropriate equipment, to include ballistic eye protection and hearing protection, and a proper gun case for storage and transport.