Smith & Wesson 642 (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

Millions of Americans are exercising their right to keep and bear arms for self-defense by buying a gun to keep and (let’s hope) bear. It’s not an easy transition. Newbies face a farrago of firearms choices: type of gun, caliber, storage, holsters and more. Like any journey, there are some natural steps in the progression from non-gun owner to gun owner. Here are three practical questions all first-time gun buyers should ask themselves . . .

1. Am I willing to shoot another human being?

When I debate gun control, I ask antis a simple question. “If you had a gun in front of you and someone was just about to attack you or your loves ones – really attack you – would you use the gun to defend yourself or your loved ones?” Believe it or not, some people say “no” or “I don’t know.” If that’s you, don’t buy a gun. Chances are a bad guy will disarm you and bad things will happen.

One way to explore this issue: Google and read your state’s laws on the legal use of deadly force. While that won’t fully address any moral qualms surrounding a defensive gun use (DGU), it’s reassuring to know there are accepted rules for shooting another person in self-defense. Generally, you can shoot someone only if they pose an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm.

Range time will also reduce the natural anxiety about that possibility. Hands-on experience shows you that you can control your actions when loading, handling, holding and firing a gun. That you don’t “have” to shoot until you’re ready. That guns don’t “go off” on their own (a fear shared by many people who’ve never shot a gun). That you can shoot when you want to.

2. Can I keep my gun pointed in a safe direction?

There are four rules of gun safety: treat all firearms as if they are loaded, don’t point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire, and be sure of your target and of what’s beyond it. The second is the Mother of All Gun Safety Rules. It should never be violated. If you’re not confident in your own ability to keep your gun pointed in a safe direction, don’t buy a gun.

How do you know if you’re capable? Ask yourself a simple question: how safe am I? Do you always wear a seatbelt when driving? Do you store chemicals, medicines and other inherently dangerous items (e.g., chainsaws) safely? Most people consider themselves safe – it’s the other guy who causes car accidents! But be honest. Are you ready for this responsibility? If you’re unsure, spend time practicing and becoming comfortable with gun safety at the range – before purchasing a gun.

3. Am I willing to practice getting my gun?

The vast majority of DGUs end without a shot fired. The bad guy or guys see the gun and think better of attacking the gun owner. That’s how you want it to be. That calculus depends on how quickly you can show the perp your pistol (or rifle or shotgun).

The best case: carry a handgun on you at all times. If you are bearing arms, you must practice bringing you gun to bear. That requires a carry system or systems (gun + holster) that suits you; a system that allows you to quickly and efficiently draw your firearm. When selecting a gun for carry, ease of presentation is your primary concern. Not make, model or caliber. The gun and holster that enable a rapid, efficient draw.

If you’re depending on a stored handgun, rifle or shotgun for self-defense, the same need for quick access applies. Before you buy a gun, think about how you’re going to store it. If you’re locking it up, are you confident you can get to it lickety-split? Combination, biometric or key safe? Where will you store it?

In all cases, practice retrieving your gun. (Unload the firearm first and put the ammunition away from the gun.) The first rule for winning a gunfight: have a gun. Any gun.

40 Responses to Guns for Beginners: Three Things You Should Ask Yourself Before Purchasing Your First Self-Defense Gun

  1. “Chances are a bad guy will disarm you and bad things will happen.”

    Chances are a bad guy will disarm you and bad things will CONTINUE TO happen. FIFY.

  2. On the first one. For Christians it is worth reflecting that the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is actually “Thou shalt not murder” in Hebrew. It is often misquoted – more accurately it is “murder”.

      • It doesn’t help matters that the KJV used the word “kill.” Because of that, “Thou shalt not kill” is actually an accurate representation of the KJV’s language (thus not really a misquotation), even if it is an inaccurate translation of the original meaning.

        More modern translations generally read “you shall not murder” or something equivalent.

        • When it was written, some 5000 years ago, “murder” related to killing a guest in your tent. If you waited til he was 500 yards down the road, there was no prohibition on killing him, that was business as usual.

        • Larry You sure the guy who explained that theory to you was not talking cubits or goat heads or some such?

    • True enough. The Good Lord personally directed and sanctioned the legal killing of many, many, many different people.

      And what did it get us? Now there’s 7 billion fuglies, walking around MY planet, eating MY food, stinking up the place.

  3. #1 is really the one that gets most of them. after sandy hook my wife wanted a CCW. after about 3 weeks of her really thinking about it she came to the realization that she wasn’t sure if she could pull the trigger on another person. I applauded her reasoning because it showed she took it seriously and decided it was not for her.

    • An alternative to number 1 is “Can you keep your temper and not shoot someone who is just really pissing you off but not threatening death or bodily harm to you or others?” That’s the reason my wife and a few others I know don’t carry. I’m confident my wife would shoot her boss if she carried daily.

      • This is reason I don’t understand. When people say they would shoot someone who makes them mad I ask them: ‘Do you often try to kill someone who pi–ed you? Is it lack of particular tool (firearm) that keeps you from murdering them?”
        I don’t believe your wife ever stabbed her boss with scissors or even hit him. How would presence of a gun change her inhibitions?
        My mom says guns make killing too easy but good hit over the head or sticking sharp object in a person is not that difficult either. Killers will kill using anything from bare hands to cars and decent folks will not – no matter how many implements of death they have to their disposal.

  4. A corollary to 1 is know when you are willing to draw, or not, regardless of the permission of law. Just took my TX CHL course and was a bit dumbstruck (but not totally thanks to a few comments here a while back mentioning it) that protection of property can be a valid DGU in TX.

    I’m hard-pressed to think of much, if any, property that would be worth killing someone over. If we’re were hand to mouth and the property was how we earned our meager scraps, it might have been different. It’s a personal limit, and one that I can’t mentally cross. I don’t begrudge those who do, and do so legally.

    Threaten me with grevious bodily harm or my family with so much as a paper cut, and ending you is a thought that percolates in the back of my mind. Point being, know your limits and don’t bring a gun to bear when you know you won’t or shouldn’t use it.

    • If someone tries to steal your car, and you need that car to get to work, and you can’t afford another car, and don’t have theft insurance, that person is basically threatening your life. Just like if you were out miles from the nearest town and someone tried to take your car from you, that is also life threatening because you could easily die of dehydration before making it to water.

      • Ok, you need your car to get to work. What makes you think that shooting the thief is going to get you car back? Let’s say you’re lucky and get a head shot. Now there are pieces of brain all over the inside of your car. Most likely the car will be impounded as evidence and stored for months. Good luck getting the smell out.

        • I think Vhyrus was approaching the subject from the perspective of stopping the thief before they steal your car. And since harsh words never seem to persuade hardened criminals to stop their illegal antics, a truly determined property owner may have no other option to stop the thief other than using deadly force.

      • ^ This!

        If a criminal is stealing a leaf rake from my back yard, I cannot see how that could ever rise to the level of justifying deadly force.

        Take away something integral to someone’s life — and something that they cannot readily replace — that is threatening their life.

        • “I didn’t want to shoot him officer, but he picked up that rake and tried to hit me with it, I had to do something!”

          Or… Screw that guy, it’s MY rake!

          /sarc-ish

    • “I’m hard-pressed to think of much, if any, property that would be worth killing someone over.”

      A valid point.

      On the other hand, a shot in the pelvis won’t kill them and it will ‘encourage’ them to stick around until your local LEO shows up to apprehend them.

      As a bonus, that kind of pain may very well give them something to think about the next time they contemplate larceny.

      Just sayin’…

      🙂

  5. 3 contradicts 1.

    If you pull the gun but don’t fire your now part the vast majority of DGU cases. Yet somehow you say they are now most likely going to continue having a bad day because they didn’t pull the trigger?

    Your saying if you aren’t 100%, without any doubt willing to pull the trigger at any moment you shouldn’t get a gun? That only holds water if you buy into the anit’s way of dismissing all the DGUs where the trigger wasn’t pulled.

    While you should be willing to pull the trigger, it’s best to have a 95% chance of a good outcome by just pulling the gun out (and finding out whether you actually can pull the trigger) than have a guaranteed bad outcome by not having a gun or doing anything.

    • Correct. I am saying don’t have a self-defense gun unless you’re willing to pull the trigger on another human being.

      If you draw your gun and are NOT willing to fire, MAYBE the perp or perps will beat feet. Maybe they won’t. If they don’t you are in worse trouble than you would have been if you didn’t have a gun.

      Remember that a gun is not your only self-defense option. And there are times when pulling your gun isn’t the best option anyway.

      • Which may be one of the major advantages of open carry – you don’t have to actually draw your gun because the bad guy already knows it’s there. If he keeps coming anyway then you had better be ready and able to draw and fire.

    • There is no contradiction. Think of it this way: you carry with the mindset that you will fire if necessary. You find yourself in a situation where lethal force is necessary, but the act of presenting the gun causes the threat to disappear, along with the necessity of firing. Therefore, you do not fire.

      However, on the other hand, if the sight of the gun did not convince the attacker to break off, then you would follow through and fire to stop the threat. Either way, there is no contradiction.

  6. If someone tries to steal your car, and you need that car to get to work, and you can’t afford another car, and don’t have theft insurance, that person is basically threatening your life. Just like if you were out miles from the nearest town and someone tried to take your car from you, that is also life threatening because you could easily die of dehydration before making it to water.

    • This is why stealing a man’s horse used to be a capital offense. You could be hanged for horse thievin’, because a man could die out there without a horse.

      • Horse rustling was a hanging offense not so much because the potential impact on the victim was harsh, but because of the economics of the rustler’s decision making.

        The deterrent value of a given punishment is the result of the interaction of several major variables; primarily the severity of the punishment, discounted by the probability of being captured and convicted of that crime.

        Think of an example in reverse, for something good like winning the lottery. The potential jackpot must be very high, because the probability of anybody winning is fairly low, while the probability of a specific person winning is extremely low. Suppose the jackpot were a measly ten dollars. Would you pay a buck to play that game?

        Of course not: the ten dollar potential prize has an expected values of less than a penny, because that ten dollar potential jackpot is discounted by the roughly 1 in 16 million chance of winning (probabilities depend on the specific structure of the game.) Therefore, the potential jackpot must be in the millions of dollars to persuade you to play, to overcome the long odds of winning.

        In the case of punishing horse thieves, there is a very small probability of “winning”; that is, of being caught/convicted. Horses might not be branded. Brands can be mutilated. Horses are highly mobile. Law enforcement tracking and recovery resources were barely-to-non-existent. Steal a horse and you could very well get away with it. (Note: Statisticians use words like “winning” and “success” in the pure sense of a particular outcome occurring. It’s a value/judgment-free usage that doesn’t imply good or bad about the nature of that outcome.)

        Because the probability of success (capture/conviction) was so low, it was necessary for the “prize” of punishment to be disproportionately high, i.e., hanging, in order to provide an effective deterrent to committing the crime in the first place.

  7. not criticizing anyone, i just can’t comprehend not being able to answer a resounding “yes” to number 1.

    I’m not looking or hoping to have to harm anyone, but if someone legitimately threatened my kids with harm and the only way to stop that person involved the most violent agonizing horrific end a person could meet, i still wouldn’t bat an eye.

    “well, just rape my wife or kill my kids, because i can’t bring myself to kill another human being”…just makes no sense.

    • The indoctrination of left-wing ideas and ideals is very strong in some people, and they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that spouting high-minded ideals will get them out of a scrape with someone who wants to hurt them.

      Hence the old joke: “What a conservative? A liberal who has been mugged.”

    • “i just can’t comprehend not being able to answer a resounding “yes” to number 1.” But there are people who just can’t bring themselves to aggress against someone else, even if they understand they are going to be hurt or killed. Sometimes, especially if they truly believe they will be hurt or killed.
      I used to teach a “self defense” class in Austin. I didn’t call it that, I called it “damage control”, because if you were in the position where you actually needed to use this stuff you had probably already screwed up. Anyway, part of the course was a full contact match, with headgear, light, free finger gloves, and some other minimal protective gear. Your opponent was usually a large, male, experienced fighter. The fight stopped when the referee called it or when you were physically unable to continue fighting.
      There was always a small percentage of people, almost always women, who, even after months or years on the mat, after lots of light sparring, even after so many very physical drills, that simply would not fight when it really came down to it. I watch people literally try and get into a ball and cower in a corner while their opponent kicked them until the ref called it off. I watched people intentionally give their opponent their back to get choked out faster. They would beg, they would cry, but no matter what, they wouldn’t fight back. Whenever I saw that, I recommended that they seek someone else, because I couldn’t help them. They are victims, just prey. I can’t fix that.

  8. “Newbies face a farrago of firearms choices:”

    By Robert Farago on October 19, 2015

    I saw what you did there…

    • Yeah, he does that often. Methinks he likes to see “his name” in print… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  9. NUMBER ONE is #1…it’s not a toy or a talisman. It’s real. Women especially need to be real sure. My wife taught self-defense to women and she related how many of the goofy gals said “I could never hurt another human” or similar tripe. Willingness is easily #1…

  10. I want to reinforce the importance of the mother of all safety rules: keeping your firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times. (This is an alternate statement of the rule, “Never point your firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.)

    While firearms are astoundingly robust and virtually never “go off by themselves”, there are a few cases where firearms actually fired without anyone or anything pulling the trigger. For example, a stuck firing pin on a pump-action or bolt-action rifle or shotgun will cause the cartridge/shell to fire when you simply pump the action or slide the bolt forward. There have also been defective triggers on firearms that enabled the firearm to fire itself.

    The moral of the story: keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction until you aim at a verified target!

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