1. Don’t let anyone pick out a gun for you.
I’ve seen this scenario, or one like it, play out countless times at the gun store counter. A guy walks up, wife (or girlfriend, or chick friend, etc.) in tow, looking for a gun for the lady. While the intended recipient stands patiently nearby, the gun shop clerk and her hubs chat away, deciding between them what will suit her best.
Are either the husband or gun store salesperson “bad guys” because they’re trying to help a newer shooter make their first firearms purchase? Absolutely not. Women may be the fastest growing demographic of firearms purchasers, but the firearms enthusiast hobby is still largely a male one. It’s a regular thing to have a guy with firearms experience be the one to introduce a lady in his life to the shooting sports. I’m one of those gals; my dad started teaching me about guns as a kid, and we still shoot together regularly. But, instead of making decisions for me, he gave me shooting experience, answered questions, and pointed me to further research so that I could choose what guns would work best for myself.
The issue with the above scenario lies not with the intentions, but with the subjective nature of shooters: no two firearms owners are completely alike. Spend some time doing your own research, on and off the range. Rent different guns. Let family and friends take you shooting. Read reviews online. Handle firearms yourself so you can determine what firearms fit your grip and which guns’ perceived recoil you manage best. Figuring out what works for you will ensure you don’t end up with a dust-collecting safe queen, and a case of buyers’ remorse.
2. Women have great natural potential as shooters.
I mentioned before that shooting is still a male-dominated hobby; however, that shouldn’t suggest that women have a disadvantage with learning to shoot. On the contrary, many a firearms instructor has informed me (and I’ve witnessed it in my own range experience) that women have remarkable natural potential as shooters. In one of my human physiology classes in college, my professor explained that women tend to have a thicker corpus callosum (the part that connects the left and right halves of the brain), which translates to nerve impulses traveling more frequently, and quickly, between the left and right sides of the brain. In practical terms, women are biologically inclined to be better multitaskers. This bodes well for a mentally challenging sport like shooting. It helps new female shooters to learn the nuances of marksmanship technique and employ new lessons quickly.
There’s a societal angle that often lends itself to women having sharper learning curves when picking up a shooting sport. Several firearms instructors from different training companies have informed me that women tend to be more open-minded when receiving shooting instruction. They have a tendency to listen better and accept direction more readily than male shooters. This allows them to potentially internalize instruction more rapidly, making them better shooters.
3. A gun will not make you safer, but it may save your life.
As a martial arts instructor, one question I’ve been asked more than once is, “How do you defend against a sucker punch?” That’s just the problem though; the definition of a sucker punch is that it catches you off guard, when there wasn’t opportunity for protection or prevention. The same concept applies to self defense with a firearm. Just because you carry a concealed firearm, or you keep a shotgun by the bed at night doesn’t give you a guarantee of safety, nor does it grant you outstanding situational awareness. Your best bet for surviving a self defense situation is to avoid one entirely, which is, of course, not dependent on owning a firearm.
The unfortunate thing is that, even with a practiced heightened sense of awareness, you cannot anticipate everything. You may find yourself pitted against an overwhelming force, or surprised from your sleep, or in any number of unfortunate, but inescapable twists of fate. I don’t say this out of paranoia, but realism. If you’re purchasing a gun for self or home defense, you cannot look at it to be your safety net or attack prevention guarantee. Be vigilant. Exercise situational awareness. Train. And should you find yourself in mortal danger with the opportunity to counter the threat with lethal force, having a gun could boost your odds of surviving the conflict. But, even though carrying a firearm doesn’t provide its owner with a protective bubble, personally, I’d rather have the option of responding to a lethal threat with a self defense tool capable of improving my odds of survival.
4. There is no such thing as knockdown/stopping power.
Before you get too far into this paragraph, allow me to apologize for the graphic nature of the news story I’m about to reference. Remember that Florida “zombie” (later identified as Rudy Eugene) who, high on bath salts, was eating another man’s face? Eugene was unfazed by the Miami police officer attempting to stop his attack. Even after being shot once, Eugene continued ripping at his [still living] victim’s face. The officer fired an additional three times before the naked face-eater dropped dead (I was unable to find a report note the caliber used). A separate news report from New York tells the story of 24-year-old Angel Alvarez, who, after firing at an officer, survived being shot at least 21 times. Also, a Dallas man, victim Vicente Banuelos, Sr., survived after being shot 5 times in the chest and stomach with a semi-auto .45. Former Arizona senator Gabrielle Giffords lives after being shot in the head by a would-be assassin.
What all of these examples highlight is that, while it’s true that one round fired from a self defense pistol has a remote chance of stopping an attacker, a pistol round does not deliver enough impact power to immediately stop or knock down an attacker. Even after a shot to the heart, the mortally wounded may retain consciousness for as much as 15 seconds. Remember this when choosing a handgun for self defense. Don’t be swayed into purchasing a specific gun for its caliber’s professed “stopping power.” Select a gun that is reliable and you shoot well. That is more important than any caliber. And keep in mind that the caliber handgun on your person is better than any caliber handgun left in your gun safe.
5. Shooting is a perishable skill; train, practice, repeat.
Shooting isn’t like reading, or riding a bike. Instead, it’s more akin to learning a foreign language. You may remember the gist of the fundamental skills in play, but if you don’t regularly practice, your aptitude and finesse will erode and will need to be built up again. If you want to maintain your skill with operating a particular firearm, you’re just plain going to have to use it–regularly. If you analyze the techniques necessary for accurate marksmanship, there are many small factors that your mind and body needs to manage. Grip, trigger squeeze, sight alignment, and even breath and heart rate are only a handful of factors that, if managed ineffectively, can play a part in pulling a shot off target. If you want to maintain more complex skills, such as integrating shooting on the move, drawing from a holster, or firing at moving targets, you’ll need to spend time honing those skills in addition to basic fundamentals practice.
Most self defense scenarios are likely to occur within a 0-15ft range. At those close distances, you don’t necessarily need to be Annie Oakley to be effective, but the more accurate you are, the better your odds of putting those rounds where they count, increasing your odds of surviving the encounter. In addition to marksmanship skill, it would also benefit you to be practicing other techniques that you may need to employ in a self defense scenario, for example, drawing from holster, shooting with your weak hand, and malfunctions clearing. The more of these skills that make it into your muscle memory, the better your chances of employing them successfully when your survival depends on it.
And, just as you learn with any sport–shooting or otherwise–it’s not only the amount of time you spend training, but also the quality of the training. One of my favorite phrases from my martial arts instructor, that I’ve since heard in many other disciplines, is “Perfect practice makes perfect.” If you spend 50,000 rounds a year practicing poor shooting habits, you will only succeed in doing an excellent job of shooting poorly–not exactly a desirable outcome after all the effort (and ammo) expended. One of my friends, firearms instructor Brannon LeBouef (owner/head instructor of Nolatac Firearms Training) has a great way of putting it: “Every round is an opportunity.” Whether you’re attending a dedicated firearms training event, or just plinking at cans in the empty field out back, every round you send downrange is an opportunity to exercise fundamental shooting skills. Each time you drop a spent mag is an opportunity to squeeze in a repetition of good technique reloading a fresh one. This doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun with your range time, but, especially if you’re looking to break a performance plateau, keep in mind how often you provide yourself with a chance to try to shoot better.
Along your journey into the expansive world of firearms, there will be plenty of lessons to learn. But, one of the wonderful things about the community of shooting enthusiasts is that there are plenty of folks who want to share their passion for the sport and who are willing to offer their aid and experience. Out of everything that you learn, however, these five facts are, arguably, among the most important. By sharing them with you, I hope to give you a starting point from which to begin navigating your learning journey, and to encourage you to keep shooting, keep training, and find what works best for you. You never know, you may end up needing your firearms skills to fend of a face-eating zombie man, and you’ll be ready.