I’m sure SilencerCo’s “How Its Done” video will find favor amongst many members of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia. I’m equally sure that most potential consumers couldn’t care less. You put the can on the end of your shotgun, load it with up with shot or slugs and Bob’s your uncle. By the same token, I bet the majority of people who bought the ill-fated, poorly constructed Remington R51 have no idea what a Pedersen roller-delayed blowback action is. [Click here for the video.] That said, how much does the average American need to know about firearms function. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard “GLOCK…you pull the trigger it goes bang.” So how much do you know about guns (mechanics, ballistics, metallurgy, etc.) and how much should a gun owner know?

72 Responses to Question of the Day: How Much Do You Need to Know About Your Guns?

  1. As long as one knows proper assembly/disassembly & cleaning/maintenance procedures that’s pretty adequate for any gun. Things like best load for a particular gun are good to know, but mainly if you’re handloading. Your average plinker won’t care.

    • Add to that the basic rules of gun safety, the local / state laws pertaining to your gun and a basic understanding of when it is appropriate / legal to use a gun for self defense (i.e., imminent imminence, and all that) and you’ve pretty much got my list.

  2. I don’t think a deep understanding of firearms is required. Hell, they don’t teach a deep understanding in the military or most police departments.

    Understand your manual of arms, practice enough with it to be considered proficient (most actions going off mostly muscle memory), and understand basic field stripping.

    What ticks me off are people who won’t go to the range and put at least 200 rounds through their weapon before trusting their life with it. If it’s just a hunting rifle, fine, but for home defense or CCW it is ridiculous not to have a basic level of proficiency with it.

    • I second that. I was in the military for a while and got out with no understanding of how the M16 worked beyond the basics; field stripping, making the chamber and bore shiny and manual of arms. I you can’t fix it, give it to the unit armorer, if he can’t fix it (most likely he can’t) he’ll send it to third shop. Of course, this was Clinton’s peace time military, rifles were for parades.

  3. “You put the can on your shotgun, load it with slugs (NOT SHOT)” AFAIK the Salvo 12 works just fine with shot, they are shooting clays with it in the video after all, kinda tough to do that with slugs. The rods keep the wad closed until it exits the suppressor. Then there’s the federal target loads on the bench in the video, and the fact that other reviewers are talking about it being tested with shot.

    • I would be buckshot would be a no-no, especially buffered shot. Which is a shame because honestly thats when you want this, when something goes bump in the night. My Benelli SuperNova (26″ barrel bird gun) is already so damn long and heavy, I wouldn’t run this on that ever, it already feels like swinging around a telephone pole when shooting fast crossing shots. This would be righteous on a Keltec KSG though.

      • Why not? buckshot is also contained in a wad, and I don’t think a little bit of that buffer powder is going to hurt the can.

  4. All shooters ought to be able to field-strip/clean their guns, and to safely diagnose/fix the various forms of misfire.

    Anything beyond that is just a bonus.

    • What about being able to recognize when a part looks like it is starting to fail? Diagnosing a failure, rather than just tap and rack.

  5. The more you know the better. That said, I don’t think its necessary to know enough to be able to write a book about its design. Simply knowing how to load, clear a malfunction, and a basic takedown and cleaning should be just fine.

  6. The video specifically says you can shoot wadded shot with the can. Further, that’s what they use in their test.

    So, how much should people know about their guns? It probably matters less and less the further you get from being a professional gun writer.

  7. I don’t think you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms in order to have one. However, much like any other expensive piece of equipment, you should know how to properly operate and maintain it. If you know how to correctly field-strip and clean the weapon, as well as what ammunition works best for it, you’re probably fine.

  8. The two most important things to know about your firearm are: Where the muzzle is pointing right now; What conditions might cause it to fail in an emergency (even revolvers can fail with certain ammo if the hammer spring weakens); And what/where your backup plan is. Ok, that’s three things. If you know enough to know those, you probably also know how to clean it and shoot it effectively. ok, thats five things. The ten things you should know are…

  9. I like to be able to completely strip my firearms down to individual pieces, unless it is too much trouble to put back together (Mossberg trigger group *cough*).

    I don’t expect this from everyone, but I have a very strong understanding of each component in each of my firearms.

    I can do a complete takedown of my 22/45 of my PF-9, and rebuild them in less than ten minutes… maybe less for the PF-9. I enjoy it, I guess.

    • I’m with you on this. I like to know everything I can about every piece of machinery or electronic thing I have, but I’m a geek who used to rebuild my own carburetor and change my own clutch disc. Cutaway animations fascinate me – that’s how I learned about striker-fired pistols like the Glock:
      http://youtu.be/c1VD1D1hLsQ?autoplay=0

  10. I choose to know a lot about my guns, that stretches from the history of the design (Yes I read the “Glock” book… twice), all the way to the manual of arms, quirks, ins and outs, construction, why this or that material was used, etc. That is on top of religiously studying the manual of arms, and knowing how to field strip and detail strip every component. I definitely had a few hairy moments the first time I took down my 1911.

    Honestly though, 90% of that isnt necessary that’s because I’m a science nerd and I get off on that stuff. Shooting is a hobby/lifestyle for me and as I do with cars, and my other hobbies, I study every detail because that’s “fun” for me. I fix my car in the driveway because I enjoy that, I have the money to pay someone to do it, but I do so myself out of an enjoyment of and desire to learn.

    I think as a n absoluet must, you should at least be moderately proficient in the manual of arms for your choice of firearms. knowing how to field strip is also good even if you have to read the instructions to do so, the confidence to do it is more the important thing, there is exactly ZERO excuse for not knowing how to break gun down and clean it. My cousin shoots a winchester model 70 and he was complaining about a sticky bolt, but didn’t know why. He practically shit his pants when I broke it down all the way to the firing pin (I was 17 at the time but had done it no less than 100 times with my own M70). A few shots of ballistol on the bearing surfaces and a wipedown with a silicone rag and the thing was smooth as butter. The whole thing was gummed up from over oiling and never cleaning etc. I ran a bore snake though the gun for him, just out of pity, probably the only time that gun has ever been cleaned. Which is probably fine for him, he has killed maybe 10 deer in his lifetime and I would wager he has only shot the rifle twice that much in the same period of time,but there’s no excuse. That rifle is a classic, and it will be all gummed up and fouled if he ever leaves it to his kids.

    • I was thinking about the automobile comparison, the similarities and the differences.

      Some car owners really should know more than they do, for safety reasons. Tire pressure, oil, coolant, battery are all maintenance issues that, if neglected, could leave you stranded in a dangerous situation. On the other hand, you don’t need to understand the principles of internal combustion to safely operate a vehicle.

      What’s peculiar about guns is they need to be disassembled in order to clean them properly. Guns get dirty just by using them, and need more cleaning than pretty much any other tool we might own. We really should be familiar with all the parts and how they fit together.

  11. How much do most people want to know about any technology?

    Everyday, people use technology they don’t fully understand, appreciate, or respect.

  12. At minimum, you should know the manual of arms and how to properly strip, clean, and reassemble the gun. If you don’t know those basics, you are headed for trouble. If you intend to hunt and not just shoot paper / clays, then you need to understand proper load selection.

  13. Ummm, “roller-delayed”? There are no rollers in either the new junk R51 or the old Model 51. It is a hesitation-lock design utilizing a tipping breech block. Roller delayed is a H&K MP5 or a Cz52 pistol, totally different beasts.

    • Yep. Very similar to a C96 Mauser. From 1896. It uses the friction of the locking block riding against a frame ramp to ‘hesitate’ unlocking. The Japanese used it in the Taisho 14 pistol as well. As did many others.

      There IS ‘Nothing new under the Sun’ in guns, it seems.

  14. First, how did you know that Bob is my uncle?
    As to what is important to know about firearms? Know the manual of arms such as where the safeties are and how they work. Know if your sights are adjustable and how to adjust them if needed. Know what caliber or guage it is chambered for and what is safe and NOT safe to shoot in it. Know how to PROPERLY clean your firearm.

    or

    You can load up some .357 +p magnums in your alloy frame rusty 5 shot snubby .38 special with the bored out chambers that hasn’t been cleaned since the Reagan administration and blow your hand off while blinding yourself and injuring 6 other people at the range.

  15. Personally, I’d be embarrassed to know nothing more about firearms than where to put the ‘bullet clip’ and which direction to point the roundy open-end thingie whilst yanking rudely on that dangly curved thingamabob inside that loopy thing; However, that’s pretty much sufficient until after the thing has been fired a few times. THEN you might have to clean it, and more esoteric knowledge will be required. Until that time comes, ignorance is bliss. For up-close-and-personal firearms use, knowing generally where to point it and having the certainty that it’s going to fire is enough.

    One does not have to know how to field-strip a Ford Fiesta to drive it; It’s only important to know that when it goes ‘Hmmmmmmm’ that it’s working, and when it goes ‘Hmmmmmm-SPANG!’ that it’s broken. If one knows where the fuel goes, where the key is, and which way to point it, that’s enough–most of the time. After ‘Hmmmmm-SPANG!’ happens is the time to worry about having more knowledge of the machine, and that’s what mechanics are for.

    Guns are a considerable degree less complicated than a Ford Fiesta, and probably less deadly. Should gun owners (and car owners) have more than just a very basic knowledge of their machines? Yes. Is it a prerequisite? No.

    Of course, understanding the operation of the Madsen air-cooled Peabody-Martini-derived, short-recoil, non-reciprocating-swinging-breech-block machine-gun action IS rewarding in itself, if you care about such things.

    • The only exception to that is when your gun goes ‘Hmmmmmm-SPANG!’ because you assembled it wrong you have to count your fingers and eyeballs.

      When your Festiva is dead in the water it only goes slightly slower than when it was running.

  16. Ten things to know about your gun:
    1. Basic operation principles (blowback, gas, etc.)
    2. How to break it down & clean it in detail.
    3. Understand the manual of arms and complete it by muscle memory
    4. Know what the gun is designed for.
    5.Know the max effective range.
    6. Know where the serial number and model number is written.
    7. Know the caliber (I know duh… but I have seen it happen)
    8. Know where you hid the Owner’s Manual
    9. Register on the manufacturer’s site
    10. Know more than you think you need to know.

  17. I try to know as much as I can, but I’m a nerd. Basically what everyone above stated. But if im going to be opening my mouth about opinions and buying potential I try to back up my statement

  18. I see a distinct difference in “need to know” and “have no excuse for NOT knowing”.

    I don’t think you need to know more than the manual of arms, maintenance regimen, 4 rules and some common sense. I don’t see however why you wouldn’t in the least read up on what you own. The internet is too readily available NOT to at least have a look.

    If I don’t research before I buy I always do so afterwards to make sure I actually know the things I think I know. Knowledge is a tool like any other.

  19. I’m not really mechanically inclined but I really enjoy cleaning, reassembling, tweaking and understanding everything about the guns I have. Maybe a bit OCD about cleaning after a range visit too.

  20. Btw, 140 decibels is the threshold for instant nerve damage. So bring some light earplugs or something.
    I don’t think shotguns can get much quieter anyway, so it’s not a big deal. Definitely great for home defense because you won’t blow your ear drums out if you have to shoot a shell or two without hearing protection, but yeah.

    • They can, and don’t even need a suppressor, but the price negates any practical use even for military use, coupled with how loud a shotgun action is means you probably won’t ever see it happening.

  21. I choose to know how to take every one of my guns down to individual parts. I was raised by my father, who if he called a repairman, it was admitting defeat!

  22. 1. Pedersen’s locking mechanism that was used on the original Model 51 was “hesitation locking,” not “roller locking.” Roller-locked blowback mechanisms are seen on some of H&K’s guns, starting with the G3.

    2. The feminization and subsequent justification of men no longer knowing how to use hand & power tools, fix their own cars, much less how to disassemble/clean/re-assemble firearms, thaw a frozen pipe, take a tire off a rim and put a new one on, etc… appears to continue apace. Man evolved to use tools. It is what gave us an advantage over other apex predators that are bigger, stronger, faster and more aggressive. Firearms are one of those tools.

    In only two generations of American males has this evolutionary advantage rapidly unwound, at a pace that would shock (not to mention infuriate) all our ancestors. 100,000 years of evolution, voluntarily tossed aside by men who now care that they never get a paper cut, never mind having actual dirt and grime under their fingernails.

    Returning to the topic of guns, which are really nothing more than power tools:

    In general, the more you know about guns, the less someone can BS you about guns. The more you know about guns, especially older guns you’ll likely be buying used, the less the likelihood you’ll get ripped off. The more you know about guns, the less chance you’ll do something inadvertently stupid (like double-charge a .45 ACP or .45 Colt case when reloading) or buy a gun that will require you add $200+ in tooling so that you can detail strip it.

    • I know how to use all of the power tools I own, but I really don’t think I could detail strip one and rebuild it…I used to work on my cars–the ones built prior to 1970. Today, cars are designed to require you to go to a mechanic, unless you only plan to change the plugs or a belt and the air cleaner filter. Everything else is hidden under a sea of plastic. As to guns, I can detail strip a colt percussion pistol (there’s nothing to them really, just three springs, a few screws, and four moving parts), but I wouldn’t dare try to detail strip a 1911, even if they say the original was designed to be detailed stripped with a spent casing (which I’ve actually seen done, thanks to YouTube).

      • Modulo a Glock, a 1911 is one of the easiest semi-auto pistols to detail strip and re-assemble there is.

        I think my best time for taking a 1911 apart to the pins and putting it back together is about eight minutes. It takes me more time to detail strip a AR-15 and reassemble it than a 1911 (best time for an AR-15 strip/re-assembly is about 18 minutes). The 1911 is really a very simple gun, and the only thing that some people get wrong is putting the disconnector in backwards. The ease of detail stripping a 1911 without tools is one of the reasons why I think it still deserves a place in people’s collections.

        A Glock is even faster to strip/re-assemble, but you now need a punch – of about 3/32nds or 2mm.

        Some guns, like the Beretta 9x series, I simply detest stripping. They’re spring bombs, ready to launch springs and detents into the furthest reaches of the shop. And you need metric pin punches and roll pin punches to get it apart, and you’ll find a #4 crochet hook really useful for putting the springs back in correctly. If it has been disassembled enough times, you’ll need replacement roll pins to put back into the gun to be in spec. The 1911 has no such foolishness.

      • Modern cars are still pretty fixable, just more hassle.

        I had to replace the ignition coils on our 2008 BMW 3 series. Actual swap of the coils? Trivial. Getting to them? Lengthy, but doable. Everything worked afterwards and no extra parts.

    • “men no longer knowing how to use hand & power tools, fix their own cars, much less how to disassemble/clean/re-assemble firearms, thaw a frozen pipe, take a tire off a rim and put a new one on, etc”

      THIS! +1000

      Some say the meek shall inherit the earth and that the pen is mightier than the sword. Watching the marked increase in the dependance the younger generations have on technology and assistance from others makes me truly fearful for the generations to come.

      • Oh I’ve seen this with kids, it’s hilarious.

        “How did you guys meet up for movies and stuff before cell phones”

        We’d… plan in advance to meet there and show up? Not rocket science.

        Seriously, it’s distressing at times.

        • It isn’t the questions that raise my BP any more.

          It is the looks I receive when I give them the honest answers (like yours above). The “Surely, you MUST be kidding, old man…” type of crap.

    • Now, you have something there until you get to, “voluntarily tossed aside”.

      Voluntarily? Between schools eliminating shop classes and fathers who are too concerned with navel gazing to teach their sons much of anything, how exactly do you think this becomes a choice?

      The knowledge is not passed, and is instead locked into the sort of tech schools which people today learn, from a young age, to see as the smooth path to poverty.

      Well. Few have the time in life to pursue both a meaningless business degree, and a mechanical aptitude they’ll never use beyond some time under the shade tree when they’re 35, and can afford such classes with the student loans finally reconciled.

      But let’s go a step further to illustrate. All of us posting here used a computer to do it; statistically speaking, probably a windows machine. Can you remove Norton AV and install something worthwhile? Would you know a worthwhile security software of you even saw an ad for one? Can you update drivers? Troubleshoot a BSOD? Install some RAM? Replace a corrupted hard disk? Or do you just drop it off with someone who can and pay them 120/hr to look up the answer online, or just throw it away and buy new?

      Did you choose this for yourself?

      • Um, yea, I can do all of that. I choose to no longer do it, now running only OS X, Linux or BSD machines. If someone wants me to work on a Windows machine, I charge a very tidy hourly rate.

        People “voluntarily” tossed aside the mechanical skills because they didn’t stick up for them at school board meetings. A larger issue that led to this outcome is that many women decided their children didn’t need fathers, decided to raise boys without fathers and when they did have fathers, many women spent an inordinate amount of time wanting men who were more “sensitive” and “well kept” – looking down their noses at men who work with their hands and get dirty for a living.

        I see this even now – young women who look down their noses at welders, diesel mechanics, machinists, carpenters, plumbers, tradesmen – most of whom are making a pretty good living in this economy, often significantly better than many college graduates. These young men are also not packing around a hefty chunk of student debt, either, which makes them even more financially sound, IMO.

        But they don’t have that “BA” after their name, so lots of women don’t want them, now that women are taking home anywhere from 56 to 65% (depending on the racial cohort) of bachelor’s degrees in the US.

        Yes, it was voluntary and it was a choice.

        Choices have consequences.

  23. More info is always helpful when it comes to semiautomatics. I was at the range and a guy was shooting his ruger 10/22. I had a ar15 out shooting it. He asked if he could try it. I didn’t have a problem as he seemed responsible enough the hour before. He pulled the trigger and fired a round. Then he looked down at the safety readjusted and pulled the trigger again. After that shot he turned the safety on then off and pulled the trigger again. After that shot he looked at me and said “I think you assault rifle is broken, it will only fire one shot at a time”.

    I said all of them are like that unless you buy one listed as a machine gun which cost more then my car. He said “then what’s the difference between that and my ruger?”

    You tell me buddy!!

    • I at least knew they were semiautomatic, but admittedly little more than that before I built one. What surprised me most was the brilliant simplicity of the design.

  24. I would say you should learn as much as you can. Knowledge never hurts, especially if you want to save a little money replacing small parts.

  25. Field strip – yes; anything else, use a good gunsmith. But, keep a detailed repair manual in your SHTF gear for at least one of your guns just in case.

  26. I think it’s like a car. You should know basically how it functions (some concept of how the engine and brakes work, why a transmission matters). You should know how to operate it safely and in what conditions you need to modify your usage. You should know basic maintenance. You should also know enough about your car to understand what’s different from others (or the same in many cases).

    But you don’t need to know how to fix serious damage, completely rebuild it, nor design one from scratch. Now if you’re an enthusiast? Sure! People build cars. I could probably build one, but I haven’t. Doesn’t make me an idiot or an irresponsible car owner. Just because I don’t know how to design a trigger doesn’t mean I can’t safely operate and enjoy a gun.

  27. A gun owner SHOULD know the 4 rules, nothing else is a MUST.

    I do think they should UNDERSTAND what the 2nd Amendment means according to constructors, but again not a MUST.

    I personally try to know as much as possible about my firearms, and like to know as much as I can about other firearms.

  28. I’m one of the geek/nerd types that has to tear it down so I can understand.
    I’ve been a certified armorer for many years.
    I just love mechanical things…

  29. I give it 72 hours after stamps start coming back on those things before someone has a monumental baffle strike from using cupless shot.

    Anyway, there are guns that I buy just to take apart and tinker with. I could find ways to entertain myself if I never again went shooting.

  30. How to operate.
    How to disassemble and assemble for cleaning.
    The 4 rules of safety.
    How to clear a jam.

    I know less about cars and I drive one each day (okay, I can jump start a car, I can change the oil and tranny fluid, change plugs and filters and am careful when the mechanic say . . . the defribulator near the lasulater is next to the fugetaboutit and it’s f**ked up real bad, like $$$$$$$$$$$$ bad).

  31. There is NOTHING in the US BOR and associated documents that commands a US citizen to acquire a certain level of knowledge on any topic even that necessary to the maintainance of a well regulated militia

  32. … I bet the majority of people who bought the ill-fated, poorly constructed Remington R51 have no idea what a Pedersen roller-delayed blowback action is.

    I have no idea what it is, either. It can’t be Pedersen’s hesitation locking system that he put in the gun that Remington updated to get the R51, as rollers weren’t involved in that. It can’t be the roller-delayed blowback action Heckler & Koch adapted from a Nazi machine gun to get the G3, because Pedersen had nothing to do with that. So, what is it?

  33. Salvo 12 already on order.

    I know enough about my guns to completely disassemble, and reassemble them, given all the proper tools are available at the time.

  34. Anon- agreeing with your list on mechanical basics-

    under the heading of operate I would add- in order to be a RESPONSIBLE USER-
    and following up on your reference to cars, as an analogy

    1. Driving school – take a few classes on how to shoot– basic technique, sighting, how to hold and follow thru, and practical uses in the scenario you envision- if you are a plinker at range, or if you intend to use in home defense, or ccw outside the home.

    1a. Bondurant driving school- I still havent done this, but will- and if you are into building skills, you can do same in guns- dont have to at first, but over time add on all kinds of useful defensive gun training, tactical scenarios, etc that just like hunting is a wholesome outdoor hobby and real-world useful too.

    2. Licensing and regs- state laws on the first, and REALLY IMPORTANT- the legal rules and perhaps court cases for the gray area on whats legal use of deadly force, or not, in your state –
    and IMHO, you need to think this thru carefully, in sample scenarios.

    3. “After-market parts” – heh. Its kind of like going to Napa- half the stuff there I dont know how to use it but its all cool, to this 50 year old kid, still…

    And for guns it helps to learn what you can do, and what you cant, before you break it and have to take it to the mechanic- I mean gunsmith, and some of that might end up being the hard way, so add finding a good mechanic to the list for after you do the basics to DIY- holster, lights, grips, night sights, different ammo.

    4. Maintenance- read the manual, and keep it clean, its easy compared to a car, but just like a car, if you dont oil it, its not going to last long…and theres no little yellow warning light, like my wife depends on, if I dont watch over her car….(sigh).

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