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Over at americanrifleman.org Jim Wilson offers 4 Life-Saving Tips for New Shooters: Get Professional Training, Buy the Best Defensive Gear You Can Possibly Afford, Internet Gun Forums are a Waste of Time and Practice. OK, sure. But this writer – who’s never been in a gunfight or served in the military, but is an NRA Pistol Instructor (FWIW) – thinks that’s a bit advanced for new shooters who might, by the way, be well-advised to start his or her firearm education with a rifle. Anyway, here are my three life-saving tips for new shooters . . .

1. Get Professional Training – Wilson’s right, of course. But I’m talking about the most basic training possible, easily provided by instructors without any street or military combat experience. Gun safety. Loading. Grip, stance, trigger pull. Reloading. That’s it. No fancy moving and shooting. No discussions of using cover or concealment. No self-defense strategy. Grip, stance, trigger pull. Wash, rinse, repeat. Go to the range at least once a week for six weeks. Each time you go, have a pro make sure you’re doing it right.

2. Don’t Buy a Gun for at Least Six Weeks –  “A good defensive handgun is a lifetime investment, so why not get a good one?” Wilson opines. True dat. Only there’s no way a newbie can know what gun they want/need/like until they’ve got some serious trigger time under their proverbial belt. A beginner’s well-advised to rent a variety and/or try someone else’s gats until they have a feel for what floats their ballistic boat, and can understand the opinions provided by others.

3. Read The Truth About Guns – This website provides a farrago of firearms-related material: history, gun and gear reviews, politics, crime, law, insight into irresponsible gun ownership, self-defense tips, pro-tips, the works. [Hint: select Guns for Beginners in our content search widget.] A newbie immersing themselves in TTAG’s gun gestalt also learns to cherish and protect their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, without which all the gun training and technique in the world is useless.

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61 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Three Life Saving Tips for New Shooters

  1. Good point about internet reading, At times I have found more accurate info online than I have from gun store employees.

    • I’ve actually told a salesman at the gun counter, “if you knew what the hell you were talking about you wouldn’t be working here.”

      Good times.

    • Throwaway.
      I read on multiple forums online that you need to clean and lube a brand new gun before shooting. When I went to go pick up my Shield, he tells me there is a “break-in” oil that the company applies for out of the box shooting. Skeptical, I read the manual and there it says to clean the gun before shooting. Sigh… “break-in” oil is for cars.

        • Actually, Honda’s still use break-in oil that contain molybdenum-disulfide, but it’s only Honda that does this as far as I know.

      • Right idea, horrible choice of words. It’s not break in oil so much as rust inhibitor. Manufacturers have no control over the environment products are shipped in.

        Air conditioned factory > cross country on a hot truck > air conditioned store

        Just about anyone shipping anything ferrous loadsit up with rust preventer so it doesn’t rust before it gets to the customer. We use an RP that’s roughly the same consistency of gun oil, most gun manufacturers use cosmoline to make sure it stays put.

  2. I like it. And I agree with all your points, even the last one. Some may call it a bit self serving, but the reality is, most new gun owners aren’t aware of what it’s like for gun owners and 2A rights. Sites like TTAG get them immersed and invested in the realities of life with a gun outside the range. It is info they need to make informed decisions and arguments. And that’s a good thing.

  3. Internet forums have been a GREAT way for me to get user experiences unmediated by corporate marketing departments or stupid gun mag-rag, including any of the NRA’s magazines.

    • The American Rifleman and alike are like porno mags, for me, I read them for the pictures.

    • Iraqveteran8888 is excellent for beginners. They have a lot of videos on the basics like sight alignment experienced shooters have known for years

      • IV8 is awful.

        Their gun recommendations are like any gun store, they recommend what is in stock, not what’s good.

        • But in between the sales pitches, he still does provide the newbie with a lot of good, basic, info. The older gentleman(Barry??) with the grey beard was much better, but unfortunately, he recently passed on. If you check out the old vids of him doing cut shotgun shells, the attempts to blow up various firearms with reloads, etc, it is a wealth of information, even for quite experienced shooters.

    • Right on Dirk! I was going to say the same thing including the Hickok45 recommendation. Forums can be a waste of time to the uninformed if you don’t know enough to ask the right questions or have enough knowledge to sort out the bull shite. At least on YouTube, the “expert” explains most of what you need in the video and you don’t have to read the ignorant comments if you don’t want to.
      I hate forums when someone asks a great question about a problem they are having and then you get 57 responses of people saying “Yeah! That is the same thing with me.” Then you have to read through 83 more “guesses” on how to fix something. Computer and car repair forums are the worst.

  4. All and all pretty good advice. People new to firearms would be well served to learn about guns as well as other firearm issues.
    TTAG is a great place to do that.

  5. Credit where credit is due- there is a lot of excellent information here. I’d advise people to read from other sources too though, for the sake of diversity

  6. While I agree with the second point based on my own personal experience, I think that might be the hardest one for folks to adhere to. For many people, myself included, the purchase came before the education. But at least in my case, it provided a centerpoint around which to base my education. I wasn’t reading about things in a vacuum, but could figure out how what I was reading applied to what I owned, and how I did things. I got lucky and didn’t regret my first purchase after I learned more, and I know it doesn’t work that way for everyone. I would absolutely encourage as much research as possible before that first purchase, but sometimes you just get bitten by the bug.

  7. 5 Boycott any web site that changes its RSS settings so newsreaders don’t work. Adios TTAG! Never again.

    • Bye.

      Seriously, it’s a glitch. It’s a known issue, and proper operation will be returned when it’s figured out. If you can unbunch your panties between now and then, you’ll be more than welcome to return.

    • It’s ok, we don’t need readers like you who get upset over the smallest things, other readers aren’t so incompetent and helpless that they can’t open up the webpage. You want to leave? Nothing lost.

  8. Here are my four:
    1. All guns are always loaded, all the time
    2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not prepared to put a hole in.
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
    4. Know your target AND what is behind it.

    Not really MINE, but hey…..

    • Both 1 & 2 must make it interesting just having a gun.

      1.) would suggest you’ve never shot it, since presumably it didn’t actually contain ammo when you received it and since you’re behaving as if it were loaded you can’t load it.

      If someone else has been sneaking and loading it I’d have to assume the gun is filthy, since you shouldn’t and can’t properly clean a loaded gun, thus it must never have been cleaned.

      2.) would suggest that you don’t carry the gun. Not muzzling yourself or anyone else while actually carrying a gun is extremely difficult to impossible. Vertical holsters at best are muzzling anyone on the floor below you in a multi-level structure and horizontal ones muzzle everyone behind (or beside you with small of back horizontal carry). The most common carry positions muzzle the hip, feet and legs, buttocks or groin at some point during holstering, standing, sitting or etc depending on method of carry.

      Those rules sound great, but as with most absolutes they are logically fallacious and bear out to be either useless or used with so many caveats attatched as to beggar the meaning of the word ‘rule’.

      A sensible set of rules would include treating a gun as if loaded until visual and tactile examination confirm otherwise, tending not to muzzle self or others unnecessarily, keeping fingers and objects out of the trigger guard unless preparing to fire and firing either only when safe to do so or when emergency requires it.

      I habitually carry two pistols, one between three and four on my belt and another on the interior of my left calf/ankle. The primary is pointing into my right buttocks whenever I’m seated and the BUG is pretty much always pointed into my lower leg/ankle/foot whenever I’m wearing it. It’s been this way for years and there is little to be done about this self muzzling if pistols are to be carried concealed. In all my life I have never seen a gun fire while in a holster with no one messing with it. Based on this huge experience, I’m completely comfortable with my own holstered weapons muzzling me and if I weren’t I’d have to give up practical concealed carry.

      I think there is a point where we have to say that the basic ‘rules’ are fundamentally flawed and admit that caution and judgment are the real safety tools. Don’t play around with guns, do be careful to make sure they are unloaded before administrative handling or cleaning, don’t point them unnecessarily at things you wouldn’t want to shoot or at least point them generally at things you’d be less upset about accidentally shooting, don’t go near the trigger unless you mean to shoot. . . these are the things we actually do to avoid accidents, not following some absurd absolute rules.

      • The gun muzzle facing people and things while holstered is not the same thing as pointing it. The gun is always treated AS IF it is loaded, until verified otherwise… each and EVERY time it is handled. Trigger finger discipline is imperative. The only “safety” on any gun (or other tool) is the mess between your ears.

        You sound like a cocky “know it all,” and I do hope you (and anyone else present) survive your inevitable negligent discharge…

      • Ardent said, “…A sensible set of rules would include treating a gun as if loaded until visual and tactile examination confirm otherwise…”

        You had me — right up the the word “until” crept into your rule!

        You should ALWAYS treat a gun as “loaded” — it does not matter if you have “confirmed” anything about its state of readiness.

        I can show you a couple of lever-action .22 rifles with tubular magazines that will, in the hands of someone not completely familiar with them, “pass” your “visual and tactile confirmation” of being “unloaded” — then still chamber and fire a round.

        You can remove ammo from these firearms in one of two ways. One way is to repeatedly cycle the action. This risks losing live cartridges (which tend to go flying), damaging cartridges, unintentional discharge, et cetera. The other way is to extract the “follower” from the magazine and tip the gun muzzle down. This will pour the ammo into a small pile. You then work the action to be sure there is no round chambered.

        Unfortunately, sometimes one round gets “stuck” at the breech end of the magazine. Without the follower, this round will sit there when you cycle the action. When you reinsert the follower, the gun still has a round of ammo it it!

        Sometimes, even after you re-insert the follower, the round is “cocked sideways” a bit and will not feed on the first (or second, or even the third) cycling of the action. Thus, you can re-insert the follower and cycle the action and the gun will “look and feel empty”; but, as soon as you “jar” it a bit (repeated action cycles, setting it down hard, slapping it on the side, et cetera), that final round WILL feed.

        If you “treat this gun as loaded UNTIL you have performed your ‘visual and tactile’ inspection”; but do NOT treat it as loaded AFTER said inspection, somebody could easily die!

        I discovered this problem because one time I put ten rounds into one of the rifles, but only got nine back out when I was preparing to haul the gun home in my car. Further investigation disclosed its occasional tendency to not feed that last remaining round.

        This has never been a safety problem because, except for automotive transport, the gun always has ammunition in it AND it is ALWAYS treated as loaded, regardless of how many rounds I think are in it. When I have to be sure all the ammo has been removed, I either remove the ammo by cycling the action (first option, above), or I use the bore light I carry to confirm there’s no round left in the magazine.

        Your picayune commentary notwithstanding, there is NEVER any excuse for treating a gun as though it were unloaded; “until” has no place in rule number one.

    • Too bad some of the idiots they have working at the gun counter at Cabela’s don’t know #1 and #2. Literally from the second I walked in the door Saturday, I had to avoid being muzzled by an employee with a rifle, then got to the counter and this old guy working there (who had to mention his “law enforcement” experience) pointed a Glock 30 right at my chest.

  9. If you’re looking for a place to start, reach out to your local pistol shooting club, or IDPA league. They’ll likely point you in the right direction, or be able to put you in contact with people who can provide assistance on the cheap. If you’re invited out to the next shoot, you might even get to try out a few guns for free.

    At least where I live, the only shooting range with rental guns is owned by a hippie who charges an arm and a leg, and also supported local legislation requiring private sales take place through a FFL… which was thankfully vetoed by the governor. I’ve advised all the new shooters I’ve run into to steer clear of his shop, but there’s not a whole lot of choices here due to lots of free open spaces to go shoot making running a range a tough business case.

    I understand recommending people to try out several guns before they buy, and I absolutely agree (and provide anything in my collection to try out), but unless rentals are cheap in your region some people simply can’t afford $1-200 to try out a selection of pistols to see what fits. If all you have is $3-500 to get started, you’re kinda screwed. That’s why I’d recommend reaching out to a club, they’re more likely to help without trying to make a buck in the process.

    • I agree. If you want to learn about what works, go to the competition which x gun is employed. The competitors will be straight up with you. Gun rental is hit or miss. I know one range that rents guns out and it is whatever is for sale, used, under the counter. This does not guarantee you will see what you want to shoot. I say read ALOT of forums, and read some more. I was lucky enough to have a military firearms instructor for a father but I still took handgun training classes from qualified instructors. Qualified as in real world combat or police experience. You are going to have to dive into the handguns eventually. Just buy something that fits your hand, is reliable and something you can afford. The rest will work itself out. You might hate the gun, fine, sell it to a friend but try to stay away from the exotic on the first purchase like remaining in common calibers, and standard barrel lengths.

  10. Hmmm…I pretty much get all my info online. The gun stores I frequent are fairly worthless for advice. And I haven’t bought a gun magazine in years. My old friends who shoot & hunt live at least 50miles away too. I’m pretty much completely on my own. We also had a business meltdown 2 years ago. I just want to protect myself & my family. TTAG has been very helpful ,as well as other forums and sites. I also jumped in feet first several years ago with my first gun. As with a lot in life I’m self-taught at 60. It happened to coincide with computers & smart phones.

    • If you haven’t bought a gun magazine in years, what do you do when the old ones run out of boolits?
      /sarc

  11. Training is over rated. RTFM. Read some books and even reads the internets. Guns are not that complicated and can be easily self taught.

    • It takes about 2000 repetitions to unlearn a bad technique, and about 2000 more to learn the correct technique. The new shooters who spend $40 to $60 on my three-hour “this is the end the bullet comes out of” class seem to think it’s well worth it.

    • I agree with Larry. Ask me how I know…at least I got expert help before getting to 2000 repetitions of bad.

  12. Read many different sources. NO source is the be all end all Nirvana of information. Sites have a tendency to fall in love with their own writings and fail to see the forest for the trees. Learning to manipulate the weapon is fairly straightforward. Learning when to fire and when not to are the big questions.

  13. and another tip for a new shooter is get a air gun (BB or pellets) and go out with a older shooter to see and learn basic use and rules first hand and all the safety rules first hand. Then after that look at what use you want a firearm for and again talk to some long time shooters , do some read up about that type of arm before buying, also ask to try out that type gun as a loner first…

    • I’m training my grandkids 10 YO Boy and 8 YO Girl with air soft handguns. When we go to the range it’s rifles and handguns. Of course it’s always safety, safety safety the 4 rules of firearms.

  14. You have to be careful what you read. Take for instance the blogger is a avid Glock user. He is writing about his shit, good or bad. The next writer is a avid Ruger shooter. The info they are selling is what is suited for them. I always take this info. with a grain of salt. All shooters fix there guns to fit there little ways, rubber grips extractor changes, sight changes, etc. when a individual finishes up with his favorite pistola it may or may not fit you personally. Anyway to each his own. I recently purchased a Sccy 9mm and I heard from all those Glock owners it is a piece of shit, well I got news for those guys. Glocks are far from a perfect world. I am very, very good with this gun and if there is doubt I’ll shoot off with whoever. All I’m saying guns are very personal and a individual has to do little things to it to make it special to him or her. Take care out there, they are everywhere.

  15. My wife took a 6 or 8 hour self defense law class at our range taught by a self defense lawyer and put on for free for women through a local “well armed woman” chapter. At least 80% of what she learned, I already knew from reading this website.

    TTAG really is a great resource, and it’s extremely entertaining!

  16. If you are ever wondering what the best caliber is for carry, just go to a gun forum and ask. They would be happy to answer.

    • And lots of times, those are just useless “The best caliber is .45” or “Don’t buy anything less than 9mm” answers.

      People really need to learn about the guns and what difference in caliber means. They need to gather information, then make their OWN decision; whether it’s a .22, .380, 9mm, .40, or .45 – ALL valid self-defense choices. You simply choose what YOU need and works for YOU.

  17. Do you understand loading a magazine jeff? Kinda’ clueless about sarcasm. Never use a sarc tag. Duh indeed.

  18. I like the advice of seeking professional training from an NRA certified instructor before just buying a handgun and hitting the range. In addition to your local gun range offering classes, you can go to nrainstructors.org to find a listing of independent instructors in your area and what upcoming classes they’re offering. I would favor independent instructors, as these will be official classes and taught to the NRA’s specific curriculum.

    So you’re benefiting from the NRA’s century+ of firearms training experience. Good habits tend to take root easily when learned, while bad habits tend to be difficult to uproot, once learned. Learning “by the book” from an experienced instructor, as opposed to at the side of your brother-in-law or that guy who works a few cubicles down from yours at the office, is more likely to instill superior techniques and habits.

    While it’s somewhat peculiar to think of the NRA in this way today, what with their prominent political and legal activity, improving firearms handling and proficiency was the NRA’s original mission way back when it was founded post-Civil War. That commitment continues to this day, with classes being taught by men and women who are genuinely dedicated to firearms heritage and future, and not out just to make a quick buck.

  19. Most new gun owners can’t wait 6 months to buy their first gun, because OWNING a gun is a part of the whole experience. And they really want to experience that. Therefore, I would change # 2 to read:

    Don’t buy your first gun for at least 6 weeks. Every time you go to the firing range (see # 1), rent a different gun (or two) to just try it out and see how it feels/works for you. Try different calibers, different action types (DA/SA, SAO, striker, revolver), and different manufacturers. When you do buy your first gun, don’t spend too much money on it (less than $500, maybe less than $400) and get a gun that can do everything fairly well. After 6 months or a year, you will have the experience to know what kind of gun really fits the style of shooting you have come to like. Then you can spend a lot of money to buy the kind of gun you really want.

  20. Re: Renting guns (long post, cliffs at the end).

    Renting is probably the most expensive way to figure out what to buy.
    Just using average costs in my own locale:

    -$20 rental + $25 range time + $20-$30 ammo = $65-$75 for one session. If you try out 4 guns, you’re out about $260-$300. That’s at least half the price of a quality gun, with very little to show for it.

    -Obviously the best option is shoot your friends’ guns for free ;-). If not possible, there are still better options.

    -At least one local range here has “road tests”, where you shoot 10 handguns and 6 long guns for $99. Range time and ammo included. And you shoot under supervision of an experienced NRA instructor, so some [very] basic instruction is also included. And you can ask lots of questions of someone who knows what they’re talking about (at least more than average gun store employee).

    or

    -Even if that’s not available your area, you’d be better off doing a lot of research and buying what you *think* you want (Say a Glock 19 or GP100).
    Best case, you’re set.
    Worst case scenario: You spend way more than an hour with the gun, decide you hate it and have to sell it. You can probably sell it for $50-75 less than you paid. Rinse, repeat.
    Even if you have to do that 4x before you get the gun that’s right for you, you’re out no more money than you would’ve been renting, but have A LOT more hands-on experience with each gun:
    dry firing,
    field stripping,
    sight adjustment,
    running drills [malfunction, reloads, drawing from a holster],
    trying out accessories,
    getting a feel for how it carries,
    how well you can conceal it, etc.

    All of which you can do at home for free and most of which you CAN’T do with a rental gun.

    TL;DR:
    The following are all better and cheaper than renting:
    -Borrow from friends
    -Find a multi gun rental package
    -Buy, give it an extensive tryout and sell/trade if you must.

    • All of the ranges around me that rent do so on a flat rate basis. It’s $15 or so to shoot anything on their wall. Trade out as often or as little as you like. My two most common ranges have about 30 and about 45 handguns hanging on their rental wall.

      • @Matt:

        That’s pretty good (God, I hate NJ).
        I’d put that in the “multi gun rental” category. Def. a good option.

      • I guess that’s pretty good, but you still need to pay for the ammo and the lane, which can get expensive.

        My two closest ranges charge on a “per gun” basis (I think it’s $9 at one location). I’m also in FL.

  21. Never had any professional training. Started shooting IPSC by jumping in and holding on with a Glock 17. I shot with Todd Jarret, Larry Vickers, Kyle Lamb, Chris Tilley and others. Learned by observing and getting my ass kicked all over the courses of fire. Have learned a lot in 30 years of shooting and still have a lot to learn. One things for sure, educations are expensive. I’ve made some bad and costly gear and equipment mistakes over the years. My best advice would be to go to matches and see what works for the pros. There is a reason there’s not a lot of guys winning pistol matches with Sig, Ruger, Beretta (and others) pistols. As far as defensive training for the home or the street, I don’t know. Too many posers out there that talk the talk but have never walked the walk. Cant see spending $600 to shoot up cardboard cutouts at 25 yds with an M4 rifle. Remember, look left and right after you shoot…

  22. I would add consistency and some will disagree, but a consistent “bad” technique is better than multiple “good” techniques.

  23. Interesting read. A few years back, these three things are exactly what I did, but not in that order. My local gun shop, Targetmaster (am i allowed to do that? if not, editor please remove) has a ‘platinum’ membership for about $300 that offers you unlimited range time with a guest, the ability to ‘rent’ for free any of their rental guns (including full autos!). You only have to pay for the ammo (and buy it from them). Over a course of about 6 months I brought my gun guy friends many times, tried out their weapons and they got a chance to try a gun they always wanted to, etc. Interestingly, after about 6 months of research, I settled on a G19, which is the very first gun I shot, and got me thinking….hmm…maybe I should get a gun. The only thing I’d add to the list of three above, is get local info too. I find GREAT info for PA residents on Pennsylvania firearms owners association website. Need to understand the local regs.

    • So you’ve settled on a G19, have you tried a Springfield XD? A lot of people say they are similar in design, and they really look similar too.

        • Oh look, another Glock Fan-toy. An XD looks a lot like it, and feels very solid, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, just busy hating. And by the way, I wasn’t asking YOUR opinion.

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