The Importance of Firearm Training
A firearm is a tool and, with any tool, it’s important to be properly trained how to safely and proficiently use it. With most tools, if you use them improperly, you can hurt yourself. For example, if you swing a hammer in an unsafe manner, you may bang or even break a finger. But it’s unlikely you’ll hurt anyone else nearby—unless your hammer swing is that out of control! If you’re unsafe with a gun, on the other hand, not only could you injure or kill yourself, you could do the same to others around you.
It can’t be stressed enough: Owning a firearm should not to be taken lightly.
So, if you’ve taken the step to acquire a firearm of your own, you owe it to yourself—and those around you—to train to be safe, conscientious, and competent with that firearm. And it all starts with training to be safe not only with your firearm but with every firearm you handle.
TYPES OF TRAINING
1. BASIC GUN SAFETY
If you only ever take one type of firearm training, please, please, please make it safety training. Safety training may not make you a badass expert with your firearm, but if you learn it, practice it, and implement it every time you touch a firearm, it will prevent you from being a dumbass novice. And a threat to those around you.
Think back to when you took driver’s ed. Yeah, you learned how to execute three-point turns, merge onto freeways, parallel park, and other driving skills. But do you recall how much time you spent learning safety tips and watching videos on how deadly unsafe driving can be? That’s because a car, like a gun, can be a deadly weapon, so knowing what it can do and how to handle it is a big part of being a safe driver. And which would you rather be surrounded by on the road: expert drivers who can flawlessly execute three-point turns, or drivers who are safe and sane every time they get behind the wheel? Safe and highly skilled is ideal, but if you can only choose one, go with safe every time.
If you were lucky enough to grow up around guns and knowledgeable gun people, then you may not need a formal safety class. But, if you’re new to firearms, then taking a reputable gun safety course is a must. And the sooner you’re enrolled, the better. Because one of the first things they’ll teach you is the awesome power of the firearm you’ve purchased—and how much respect it should garner every single time you touch it.
There are lots of organizations that offer gun safety courses, and you can easily find one near you with a simple Google search. But, if you’re unclear which gun safety course to take, you really can’t go wrong taking one through the NRA, which has been around since 1871.
2. HUNTER SAFETY
If you purchased a gun to hunt with, basic safety procedures still apply. But there’s a whole set of other safety practices specific to hunting, which hunters should be trained in. Especially given that hunting is primarily done with long guns, which can do a lot of damage and have extended ranges.
Hunting safety courses aren’t designed to teach you how to be a good hunter, as in a hunter who’s adept at harvesting game. Although, being safe should also make you a better hunter. These courses are designed to teach you how to be a safe hunter in order to keep you, fellow hunters, and any innocent bystanders out of harm’s way. They address things you may have never even thought of before deciding to become a hunter, such as how to safely cross over a fence with a firearm. Or how to safely hunt in a duck blind occupied by you and other hunters.
If hunting was your reason for getting a firearm, then consider hunting down one of these safety courses before hitting the fields or forests. Even if it’s only an online course, you’ll be glad you did. And so will other hunters! The NRA offers the most comprehensive online hunter education course available—and it’s FREE to anyone interested.
Self-defense with a firearm is not intuitive—no matter how many movies you’ve seen where renegade cops clear dark, abandoned buildings or investigate noises in their cool bachelor pads that are way too expensive for police officer salaries. Plus, half the time these “experts” hold their guns wrong. Some don’t even rack their shotgun until after they’ve been pointing at an intruder long enough to have a plot-twist-revealing discussion. And then, only to let the intruder know that they really mean business.
If you purchased a firearm for self- or home-defense, you should strongly consider taking some tactical training because many defense situations are going to involve pointing that firearm at another human being. And a whole lot of things can go wrong real quick if you don’t know what you’re doing—things that can’t be undone once done.
As a responsible gun owner, it’s up to you to seek proper defensive training. Just make sure it’s through a knowledgeable, reputable organization that doesn’t have a “shoot first” philosophy. The best-case scenario in a self-defense situation is where the things are de-escalated without any firearms being discharged.
Shooting is a skill, and it can take more than just practice and repetition to get good at it. Especially if you’re practicing and repeating bad habits.
If you’re interested in being more than just “good enough” with your gun, taking a marksmanship class could take your shooting to the next level. At the very least it’ll make you aware of any bad habits you have and focus your attention on fixing them. It could also raise your safety game because confidently placing your rounds where you intend to send them makes anyone or anything downrange from you that much safer.
This category is a bit all-encompassing because there’s a wide array of specialized tactical training available out there. Not just for specific situations—clearing buildings, concealed carry, low-light, etc.—but also specific to firearm type. You can find pistol courses, tactical rifle courses, long-distance-shooting courses, tactical shotgun courses, and more.
The best advice in this arena is to go with an organization that’s reputable, knowledgeable, and proven. Unfortunately, there are some outfits that are more sizzle than steak and may teach you techniques that are more harmful than helpful or could even get you killed. So, do some research and ask around before blindly signing up for tactical training.
SEEK EXPERT ADVICE
You’ve probably heard the expression, “garbage in, garbage out.” Well, if the training you’re getting is garbage, unless you realize it and seek out better instruction, garbage is what you’ll put out when it’s time to act.
We’ve harped on it already, but it can’t be overstated how important it is to seek proper training from proven, reputable sources. Fads come and go, but the best firearms training is tried and true. The best way to make sure what you’re learning is good information is to go with proven organizations, like the NRA. Read reviews and do online research to identify top prospects. Or, if you have a local gun shop, stop in and ask the staff if they can recommend anyone for the type of training you’re looking for. If you have friends who’ve taken training of their own, ask them for recommendations.
Make sure that your firearm instructor is licensed and certified. Gun laws vary by state, and so do certification requirements. Certain organizations, like the NRA, have stringent, formalized requirements to become an instructor certified by them. It bears repeating: The more reputable the organization, the more likely you’ll receive top-notch instruction.
There’s lots of good gun training videos on YouTube, but there’s lots of bad training videos as well. So, be careful and selective in viewing YouTube videos. Remember, anyone with a cell phone, a gun, a YouTube account, and an opinion can make and post a so-called training video. But that doesn’t mean their video isn’t full of bad or even downright dangerous advice.
PRACTICE, PRACTIC, PRACTICE
It’s not enough to simply be taught certain firearm skills and then check those boxes complete. You also have to practice what you’re taught. Regularly, if you hope to make it second nature.
Safety skills should be practiced every time you handle a firearm, but you should also regularly practice performance skills such as clearing malfunctions, drawing a pistol from a holster, speed-loading a magazine—whatever it is you’ve been trained to do.
Studying something and then doing it a few times during a course isn’t enough. Schedule regular range sessions to stay sharp. And practice maneuvering skills at home with an unloaded firearm or dummy rounds. If you haven’t invested in training dummy rounds for your firearm already, do so. They provide a better weight representation of a loaded weapon for training, they’re great for practicing loading and unloading magazines, and they allow you to practice trigger control of your gun without dry-firing it.
TRAINING NEVER ENDS
Having a firearm is a lifetime commitment, and so is training with that firearm. There’s always more to learn. If you’re happy with your level of training, you should continually refresh what you already know and test yourself to make sure you’re up to speed and not cutting any corners. Not to mention that, as you get older, your speed and dexterity may no longer be quite what they once were. Refreshing your training on a regular basis helps to chip away any rust that may’ve formed in your techniques.
SERVE AS A RESOURCE YOURSELF
As you become more knowledgeable and proficient with firearms, you become a resource for others. So, if you see someone doing something unsafe, speak up and offer some friendly advice. If someone comes to you and asks your opinion about a certain course you’ve taken, offer them your feedback. If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews, pass along your firearm knowledge to them when you can.
Don’t hesitate to represent. One or two encouraging words or pieces of advice from you could set another gun owner on the road to safer, more proficient use of their firearm. And that only helps keep all of us safer—gun owners and non-owners alike.
The NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) is a great resource for firearm safety and training videos and written content – for both seasoned veterans and new gun owners alike. Check out their full line-up of safety literature here.