So, You’ve Got a Gun. Now What?
Congratulations on the acquisition of your firearm. You’ve joined the ranks of the millions of gun owners in the United States exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
As a gun owner, you’ve taken on a huge responsibility. Not just to store your gun(s) safely in order to protect other members of your household, but also to exercise safety each and every time you handle it, and to become proficient using it. Plus, whether you realize it or not, when you own a firearm, you also become a default ambassador for the Second Amendment. How you act around others with your firearm—or even talk about firearms around others—particularly those who may not be Second Amendment advocates, will influence others’ perceptions about guns.
We hope you’re ready for this responsibility, because it’s a lifelong commitment. So long as you’re one of the estimated 40 percent of Americans who have a gun in their household, you’re obliged to uphold your end of the bargain. Because, unlike with most other objects you own, with a firearm, a single lapse in judgement or letting your guard down just once could literally be a fatal mistake.
So, let’s get into a few of the basics every gun owner—as well as those who may not own a gun but share a household with one—should know. We’ll start with the first decision every gun owner needs to make as soon as they bring a firearm into their home: how to safely store it.
SAFELY STORING YOUR FIREARM
This may seem like a relatively simple thing to do, but it’s actually more complex than you may think, particularly if you acquired your firearm for home defense or if there are any children in your household. So, let’s cover two of the more common scenarios:
1. Your firearm is not primarily for home defense.
If you have a firearm that is not primarily intended for home defense—one obtained for hunting, competition, target shooting, etc.—then you’re going to want to store it as safely and securely as possible. This does not mean, by the way, that you can’t still use that gun for home defense if the need arises. You just won’t be able to access and deploy it as quickly as a gun set up specifically for home defense.
If this is the case with your firearm, then you’re going to want to do some or all of the following:
- Make sure the firearm is unloaded, with no rounds in the chamber or in the magazine or cylinder. If the gun doesn’t need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, it should not be loaded.
- Install a trigger lock on the trigger or a cable lock through the action. Again, if you’re not going to need quick access to the firearm, incapacitating it with one of these devices while it’s being stored or transported makes the firearm safer.
- Store the firearm in a locked gun cabinet. A locked cabinet not only makes the gun safe, if it allows you to see through it, it’s also a great way to display your firearms.
- Store the firearm in a gun safe. If you have multiple firearms, a gun safe is a great investment. It could also protect your firearms from a fire, depending on the fire-rating of the safe.
- Store the firearm in a lock box. Some of these secure boxes or portable safes are designed to open quickly, which makes them a good option for pistols intended for home defense.
- Store the firearm in a gun case. A soft gun case with a padlock through the zippers is safer than an uncased gun. A hard case with a locked padlock is even safer.
- Store the firearm out of sight and out of reach of children. If your gun is not securely locked up, then store it out of sight and/or higher up so kids can’t easily access it. Even if you don’t have kids yourself, you don’t want any young children who may be visiting to have access.
2. Your firearm is primarily for home defense.
Storing a firearm that’s set up for home defense is a balancing act. You want to make the gun as safe as possible, but you also want easy access to it and don’t want to fumble with padlocks, combinations, locks, trigger locks, or cable locks to deploy the weapon. If you’re storing a gun for home defense, consider the following:
- Make an informed decision on whether to keep a round in the chamber. An unloaded weapon is virtually useless, so unless you’re properly trained to automatically load and make your firearm ready for use quickly and efficiently—even at 3:00 am when woken from a sound sleep after hearing a noise—you’re probably going to want to keep a home-defense gun loaded. But should you keep one in the chamber? This is an ongoing debate, but from a safety perspective, it’s always safer to store the gun without a round in the chamber—especially if you have children or children visit your home. If a round is chambered, one accidental trigger pull can be fatal. With proper training and practice, it only takes a fraction of a second to chamber a round and make the gun ready for action.
- Store the firearm so it is easily accessible but out of sight. Even if it’s a shotgun behind a door or a pistol in the nightstand drawer, it’s less likely to be improperly handled by a curious child or untrained adult if it’s stored out of plain sight.
- Store the firearm in a lock box. This is the safest option for storing a loaded firearm for home defense. As mentioned, most of these boxes/mini-safes are designed to be unlocked and opened very quickly with a digital combination or even a fingerprint, so a loaded pistol in a lock box on the nightstand can make it both safe and readily accessible.
LEARN GUN SAFETY AND PRACTICE IT AT ALL TIMES
If you didn’t grow up around firearms, you may never have been exposed to proper gun safety. If you can, take a course in gun safety to learn the right way to do things so you don’t develop any bad habits. Many organizations, including the NRA, offer safety courses and more. You can also do some research on your own, as this is a popular topic with gun owners, namely because we want everyone to exercise gun safety. Just be sure you’re getting your information from a qualified, reputable source.
There are four basic rules, or tenets, of gun safety that EVERY gun owner should be familiar with and practice:
- TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT’S LOADED. Even if you’re absolutely, positively sure a gun is unloaded, treat it as if it is loaded. There are far too many stories of accidental shootings that resulted from “unloaded” firearms. The one way to ensure a supposedly unloaded firearm doesn’t take anyone by surprise is to treat every weapon you handle as if it is There’s really no downside to this practice.
- NEVER POINT A FIREARM AT ANYTHING YOU’RE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY. Another way to say this is to always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. If there’s going to be an accidental trigger pull or discharge, the projectile is going to come out of the muzzle. If that happens, whatever is in front of the muzzle is in danger. Period. So, unless you’ve actually made an informed decision to fire at whoever or whatever is in front of your muzzle, your muzzle should NOT be pointed at them or it.
- KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU’RE READY TO FIRE. Unless your sights are on target and you’ve made an informed decision to fire the gun, your finger should NOT be inside the trigger guard. Instead, “index” (lay flat) your trigger finger on the side of the firearm, outside of the trigger guard. It is physically impossible to pull the trigger if your finger isn’t inside the trigger guard and able to apply pressure to the trigger.
- BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT’S BEYOND IT. Even if you’re a great shot and always hit your target, it’s possible for a bullet to pass through the target and hit what’s behind it. And, if you miss your target altogether, anything behind your target is in danger. So, before you decide to take a shot, be sure your target is what you intend to shoot and anything or anyone located beyond your target is safely out of the way of an errant or pass-through shot.
PROPERLY MAINTAIN YOUR FIREARM
Not only does proper maintenance of your firearm make it perform better and last longer, it also makes it safer. A gun that’s not functioning properly is a dangerous weapon to the operator and those around them. So, it’s imperative to make sure your gun is clean, adequately lubricated, and has received proper maintenance throughout its service life. Proper maintenance is also critical to protect your investment and make sure it’s performing optimally.
Basic maintenance involves cleaning, lubricating, and replacing worn or damaged parts, as needed. To learn more about properly maintaining your particular firearm, consult its user manual. If you don’t have a manual, search for one online or contact the manufacturer.
While performing any maintenance, make sure that you exercise basic gun safety, including treating the firearm like it’s loaded, which means verifying that the gun is completely unloaded before performing any maintenance on it.
USE ONLY THE PROPER AMMUNITION
Your user manual should contain a section on the recommended ammunition for your firearm. What’s more, the specific caliber or gauge for the firearm should be physically stamped somewhere on the gun, typically on the barrel. Using the wrong-caliber ammunition could cause damage to gun and injury or even death to the user and/or anyone nearby.
Use only factory ammunition. Depending on your firearm, using reloads or certain types of ammunition considered substandard by the gun manufacturer may even void your firearm’s warranty.
TRAIN AND PRACTICE WITH YOUR GUN TO BE PROFICIENT
Part of responsibly of owning a gun is being proficient with it. Like any new hobby or activity, it takes practice to become proficient with a firearm. Practice builds muscle memory and confidence, which ultimately shows up in how you handle your firearm.
We’re not just talking about becoming a good marksman, which, to be sure, is a result of training and practice. We’re also talking about being a proficient all-around gun handler, including practicing safety, knowing how to handle malfunctions, reloading, training for specialized situations, and more.
Getting the proper instruction right out of the gate is important, so finding the right instructor is very influential in developing skills and good habits. Again, the NRA is an excellent resource for finding and locating firearms training near you.
After you’ve learned the fundamentals, practicing is on you. Make a point of practicing the things you’ve learned on a regular basis so, if and when you need to put them into action, they’re second nature to you.
Nobody knows everything there is to know about firearms. And we could all use more practice and time behind our guns. The safer and more proficient every gun owner becomes, the safer everyone around them is—including other gun owners.
Because owning a gun is an ongoing journey, we intend to provide additional content to supplement that journey. In the days to come, we’ll be addressing other topics relevant to gun ownership, including more on training, education, support, and even accessorizing your firearm. So, check back regularly to learn more on topics designed to help you get the most out of your firearm and gun ownership.
In the meantime, there’s no time like the present to start familiarizing yourself with your firearm and building a strong base of gun safety to help support good, safe habits for the rest of your life.