Americans bought more guns this holiday season than ever before. The FBI says they processed a record number of background checks on Black Friday (about 2 per second!), so it’s safe to say that some of you got a gun for Christmas. It’s also likely that some of you are brand new gun owners. Welcome to the club!
But before you run outside and start shooting your new gun like Ralphie on Christmas morning, there’s a few things you should know. First of all, I highly recommend you get some professional training. The NRA has nearly 100,000 instructors around the country. Use this form to choose a course and find a local instructor.
This is for your safety, the safety of others, and the reputation of gun owners in general. The last thing we need is another irresponsible gun owner accidentally shooting someone. News stories like that just give more ammo to the people who would like to ban guns altogether.
With all that in mind, here are 9 dangerous mistakes that new gun owners often make:
1. Failing to Safety Check – This one should be obvious: Whenever you pick up a gun, ALWAYS check the chamber or cylinder to confirm that it isn’t loaded. This needs to become an unbreakable habit. Be sure to safety check a gun if even when the individual who hands you the gun just checked it themselves.
2. Not Pointing the Gun in a Safe Direction – This is another obvious one. Even if you’ve already safety checked the weapon, you should still treat it as if it’s loaded and keep the muzzle in a safe direction at all times until you’re ready to fire. Some people might think this is a little paranoid, but a lot of accidental shootings happened when someone was convinced the gun wasn’t loaded.
3. Not Indexing – This is another important gun safety technique that we’ve all been taught but that too few people abide by. There are many firearm accidents that could have been prevented had the user of the gun remembered to keep their finger above the trigger rather than on it. Never wrap your finger around the trigger until the weapon is pointed downrange and you’re ready to fire. Make it a habit to index every time.
4. Improper Storage – It’s very unwise to store your guns out in the open where kids or burglars have easy access to them. Instead, keep your weapons locked in a safe or at the very least, high in the closet underneath some clothes where they’re hard to find. Of course, you might want a firearm in an easy-to-reach location in case there’s a home invasion. The quick and easy solution is to carry your gun around your house while you’re awake and keep it on your nightstand while you sleep. I have a Gunvault next to my bed because it’s easy to open in the dark.
5. Lack of Personal Training – If you buy your first gun and can’t accurately shoot it, conduct a reload, clear a malfunction, or holster it based on muscle memory, then you better start practicing and seeking professional training from a certified instructor. Otherwise, you won’t be very well prepared for emergency situations. In order for an action to become muscle memory, studies show that you’ll need to conduct at least a thousand repetitions of it. Use fake ammo to practice clearing jams, and buy at least 1,000 rounds of ammo for practicing your skills on the range.
6. Failing to Educate Family Members – Oftentimes firearm accidents aren’t caused by the owner of the weapon, but by a family member of that owner. Educate your spouse or significant other and your children about guns. They should come to respect them, not to be afraid of them. Teach everybody in your household to index, point the gun in a safe direction, and safety check it before instructing them on how to shoot on the range (after you’ve mastered the weapon yourself). Keep in mind that children are naturally curious about guns, but they should still know that they are off limits when you’re not around.
7. Wrong Ammunition – It’s actually shocking how many accidents happen annually simply because people use the wrong type of ammunition in their guns. For example, 5.56x45mm NATO firearms can shoot .223 Remington ammo but not the other way around (even though the two calibers are almost identical). Firing the wrong ammunition can potentially cause the firearm to explode in your hands. It’s also important that you know the differences between different variations of the same diameter of bullet. For example, .45 ACP, .45 GAP, and .45 Long Colt are NOT interchangeable because although they’re the same caliber, the casings are different.
8. Wrong or Cheaply Made Holsters – You should never use a two dollar holster for a five hundred dollar or more gun. A cheaply made holster won’t adequately protect your gun and will fall apart very quickly. In addition, confirm that your holster is made SPECIFICALLY for your same make, model, and caliber of gun. For example, sometimes holsters are different for 9mm and .45 versions of the same gun because the frames of the guns are different. If you use an incorrect holster, it’s possible to accidentally fire a shot while trying to wrestle your gun out of it. Conduct plenty of research before buying a holster for your gun.
9. Not Learning About Firearm Laws – It’s your responsibility to research the local, state, and federal gun laws that are relevant to you. If you plan on conceal carrying your new gun, find out what it takes to obtain a concealed carry license. Additional laws that are your responsibility to find out include whether your state is a stand your ground state, whether your state has any prohibitions on certain guns or magazine capacities, how many guns your local city allows its inhabitants to own, and so on. Yes, many gun laws are ridiculous and far too overreaching, but for now you still have to obey them to avoid fines or worse. The good news is that firearm laws are very easy to research online, and anything you don’t learn on your own you should be taught by a firearms instructor.