In the wake of Charlottesville, a lot of people who would have never considered owning a gun before are wondering if they need to change that position. What I will try to provide here are some politics-neutral thoughts about learning to shoot and being a responsible gun owner that might help you make a choice.
UPDATE: Thanks to members of the Liberal Gun Owners group on Facebook for their feedback on this post. I have updated a few sections to represent their input (especially on shotguns and rifles).
Will a gun keep me safe?
A gun is only a tool to help you keep yourself safe, and one that can only ever do a small part of that job. Part of learning how to use a gun is learning that it isn’t a magic wand that makes everything okay. Under the right circumstances, with some luck and preparation, having a gun and knowing how to use it could save your life or the life of someone important to you.
What kind of gun should I get?
If you want portability, concealability, and cheap practice ammo, a semi-automatic pistol is a great place to start. After you get some gun safety training and shooting training, most ranges will rent you a variety so you can “test drive” them in multiple calibers. Just getting a feel for the gun in your hand in a store isn’t enough. You have to fire it.
I’ve found that 9mm gives a great combo of power and price, but if you want to start a LONG thread on any gun forum, start an argument about which is the best caliber.
If you go by foot-pounds of force, probably the most powerful pistol rounds are going to be the 10mm, though your choice of gun models drops dramatically.
Perhaps the best combination of power and model choices is the .40 Smith & Wesson.
.22 is probably the cheapest and weakest, but it’s still a bullet and can do some damage.
The best thing with rentals is that you can try multiple calibers and models and find what feels good to you, but you will have to buy your ammo at the range’s prices. They’re a little high, but once you pick a caliber, you can buy in bulk. I will recommend picking one caliber and getting 1 or 2 guns in it, then just getting good with those guns in that caliber.
The “.22 behind the door” has long been the most common home defense gun, and it’s killed more people than most others if for no other reason than it’s ubiquity.
If you want long-range accuracy and maximum power, a rifle is your pal. This can range from a cowboy style lever gun to bolt-action to an AR-style. I’m not much of a rifle person, but thanks to some friends, I do know that for home defense, a mid-power rifle can be your best buddy when it comes to training and firing. It gives you the best of both worlds, allowing for home defense and longer range applications.
A high-power rifle, on the other hand, poses a greater risk of the bullet going through your assailant, your walls, and into a neighboring home. For home defense, research your rounds.
If you want a short-range weapon with maximum power, get a shotgun and fill it with buckshot. This will inflict more damage close up than any pistol and is pretty much a guaranteed 1-shot stop. Most people who never plan to take their gun out of the house or engage in a protracted battle opt for a shotgun.
I may have implied at some point that it doesn’t need aiming. In the distances within a home, the spread of projectiles will be about the width of a fist. It needs aiming like anything else.
Do I really need to take a class? These things are literally point-and-shoot
Handling a gun safely is not something you want figure out through trial and error. Gun safety training (in person, not just watching some YouTube videos) is essential.
Then a shooting class or classes and shooting practice are truly important. Here’s why:
1: Every shot that misses gives your assailant more time to react, fight back, and do harm. You need to hit with the first shot and all your follow-ups. You don’t get a mulligan in a gun battle.
2: A bullet doesn’t poof into nothingness if it misses its target. It finds another target that you didn’t intend. I’ll let your imagination chew on what those unintended targets could be.
And this applies to shotgun owners too. You do need to aim and they can kick pretty hard. A number of “funny gun fails” videos will feature at least a few clips of people losing control of their shotguns.
If the first time you shoot your shotgun is during a crisis, you’re screwed. You need some practice holding it, aiming it, and keeping hold of it while firing.
Almost all gun ranges offer classes. And if you’re too far from one, you probably know a gun owner who might be willing to take you under their wing. Whether liberal or conservative, I have rarely met a person who loves shooting who would not help someone new to the sport learn the ropes.
Myth(ish): Most shootings happen with the victim’s own gun
This is a statistic that is regularly taken out of context. Suicides and accidents account for nearly 2/3 of all gun deaths every year. So, yes, a lot of people are killed with their own guns… by themselves. The number of incidents of people having their own gun turned on them by someone else is not high.
Some have asked me to note that one instance in which an owner’s gun is turned on them is in cases of domestic violence. This is WAY more complex a situation than I can or should address in a blog post. Please call or visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) if you feel you need help with an abuser.
Killing vs. protecting
I do not own guns for the purpose of killing bad guys. Yes, I might joke that if the Nazis tried to drag me from my home, they’d eat a few bullets in the process. But I have a wife and kids and the #1 consideration at all times is: KEEP THEM SAFE!
If you’re trying to keep your family safe, then engaging in a gun battle is always the last resort. You evaluate your situation… can you get your family to safety and call 911, either on the way or once safe? If that’s an option, you take it.
Let me be clear, owning a gun is not a substitute for knowing the routes of escape from your home, and having and practicing an evacuation plan.
Killing the bad guys… fighting your way out in a blaze of glory… that’s for movies. Everything can be replaced except your and your family’s lives. You only engage in a gun battle when you HAVE to.
“I just couldn’t take another human being’s life”
I’d like to believe that if you are truly committed to protecting, not killing, then when you reach the point where you have no other option but to pull the trigger, it’s not taking another human being’s life. It’s saving your life and/or the lives of your spouse, parent, or child. More people would be able to do it than think they could.
But to be honest, you have to be able to pull that trigger. If you truly doubt you can, it’s better you don’t have it. If you pull a gun and then can’t bring yourself to use it, you’re increasing the odds it could be turned against you and/or your family.
Sadly, having a gun handy increases the likelihood of suicide or violent outbursts for the simple reason that there are fewer hurdles to obtain the means and less time during which to reconsider the choice.
I am not trying to stigmatize depression. But if you or a member of your household suffers from depression, you probably need to self-select out of gun ownership.
I’m afraid of my gun(s) getting stolen and used in a crime
Even bank vaults get cracked on occasion. The only way to guarantee 100% that your gun won’t get stolen is to never have one.
That said, a responsible investment in a gun should budget a minimum of $100 and up to $1000 to secure it. For under $100, you can get an inexpensive safe and bolt it to the wall or floor. It will prevent casual theft and slow down any thief who is trying to get in and out quickly enough that they may bypass it.
For 500-1000, you can get a safe that is heavy enough that one person can’t lift it alone, then bolt it to the wall or floor if you want to secure it even more. That won’t stop an experienced safecracker with some time on their hands, but it will definitely stop a run of the mill burglar.
Kids & Guns
Most of what I said about keeping them from being stolen applies to keeping them away from kids in your home. I also go in for the element of demysticizing them so there’s no curiosity. You don’t have to take them shooting, but you need to teach them how to conduct themselves in a safe manner.
Anyway, hope that helps. Love to see any constructive advice in the comments. Rudeness will be deleted (my blog, my rules).