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Getting Started with Guns

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Paper target at shooting range with bullet holes

Whether you grew up shooting and you're ready to make your first purchase, you're looking into self-defense options, or you're brand new to the world of firearms, we've got info that should help answer some of the most common questions and get you started on the right foot.

In this article:

First off, and most importantly:

Basic Gun Safety

We all like to think most of this stuff is common sense, but it can be very easy for any of us to make foolish mistakes, lose focus, or slip up, unless we have a few things at the front of our mind whenever we're dealing with a gun (loaded or not). So, let's quickly go over the basics.

You'll hear time and time again the "four golden rules of gun safety," but for new shooters we like to focus on one thing that will keep you and others safe more than anything else:

ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

This is the first (and my personal favorite) of the four rules. It means that the firearm should be pointing safely at the target you intend to shoot, from the moment you get to the firing line at the range and take a gun out of its case or holster. It doesn't matter if you're reloading, picking the gun up, putting it down, clearing a jammed round, or even if the gun is visibly empty - it should always be pointing in a safe direction. Put another way, never point your firearm at anything that you do not wish to destroy.

Classic scoped hunting rifle on soft rifle case
Always case and uncase your guns while they're pointed in a safe direction!

When you're at home cleaning or maintaining the firearm, take extra care to ensure it's completely unloaded (including and especially the chamber), and be constantly aware of the direction the gun is aiming as though it could go off any second.

Now, you may be thinking this sounds like overkill, but it can be shockingly easy to slip up, even for more experienced shooters who tend to grow complacent over time. The best way to solve this is to bring your gun in its case to the firing line (the spot from which you actually plan to be shooting) and never point it in any other direction than at the target.

The remaining three golden rules of gun safety are:

  • Treat every gun like it's loaded and ready to fire, no matter what

  • Know your target and what is beyond it

  • Keep your finger away from the trigger up until the moment you're ready to fire

These are all excellent rules to live by and think about whenever you're in the presence of a firearm. They are not optional, and there are never any exceptions. However, we like to emphasize the first rule (always point the gun in a safe direction) the most because even if you screw up every other rule and actually fire the weapon through outright negligence and carelessness, you're a hell of a lot less likely to do any real damage if you always take care to ensure the gun was aimed at something you planned to shoot anyway.

And it should go without saying, never mix guns with alcohol, drugs, or any other substance or activity that affects motor control, focus, or judgement.

Here's a more comprehensive look at gun safety, as well as what safety gear you'll need!

Get Shooting

Now that we covered our safety basics, we can really get going here, and it's hard to top the lifelong value of getting yourself an in-person one-day introductory shooting class, where you'll get hands on shooting experience and training. Much as I'd love to say that internet articles could be the end-all and be-all of gun education, nothing beats a real teacher helping you to learn proper technique, and nothing helps you choose the right gun like actually getting some range time before you make a decision on what to buy.

And, good news - It's incredibly easy and often very affordable to take a beginner's shooting course. Most towns will even have multiple companies that offer this service. When in doubt, just search for a shooting class on google or google maps, and let the reviews point you in the right direction.

Shooting instructor at indoor shooting range with paper target, beginner intro course
Nothing beats having a great instructor.

If you already bought a gun, get yourself to a class as soon as you can. If you don't have a gun yet, that's arguably even better - you'll get the chance to learn what you like and figure out what's important to you and feels good in your hands before you walk into a gun shop, allowing you to make a much more informed decision. Plus, since a shooting class will of course be at a shooting range, many companies will give you the option to rent a gun and buy ammo at the location for your use during the course.

Now that you know the basics in safety, handling, and marksmanship thanks to that shooting class, it's time to buy yourself a gun! If you already bought one, this next section will very likely still be helpful, so consider giving it a read:

Choosing A Gun

Many new shooters will naturally be drawn to handguns (especially small ones) as their entry to the firearms world. This is often due to a few assumptions: they seem less intimidating in both size and appearance; they seem less dangerous; they seem easier to shoot; and finally, they seem like they'd be far more affordable.

All of these assumptions are completely wrong.

To clarify, there's nothing terribly wrong with buying a pistol as your first gun - TONS of new shooters do this - but you may be doing yourself a disservice if you don't have all the facts straight before committing to one.

Handguns are great for a lot of things, and if self-defense / concealed carry is your main reason for being here, then there's no better option for most people.

However, there are some major drawbacks, especially as a new shooter. Handguns are, generally speaking:

  • Easier to bump the trigger accidentally

  • Much easier to subconsciously gesture with

  • ⁠Easier to drop

  • Easier to lose

  • Easier for a young child to handle

  • More likely to jam, including due to "limp-wristing"

  • Much harder to aim properly or master

  • ⁠Harder to load, rack, or clear jams

  • Often don’t come with an external safety switch/lever.

On top of all that, a particularly SMALL pistol is typically:

  • Notably more difficult to control while firing, thanks to physics

  • Less accurate

  • Less comfortable.

All of these things can make a handgun a less-than-ideal choice for a new shooter, when compared to rifles or shotguns. Plenty of people make it work either way, for better or worse, but there's a very good reason why children have been taught to shoot on pellet guns and small-caliber rifles for the last hundred years.

And I don't care if you're 8 years old or 50 years old - there's no better teaching tool than a rifle chambered in .22LR ("twenty-two" or "twenty-two long rifle"), a famously small, fun, low recoil, and incredibly affordable type of ammo. A rifle like this will give you an excellent and sustainable way to become acquainted with guns, practice gun safety, and honestly have a great time at the range. Even the most experienced hardcore shooters will often have a .22 rifle around when they're just looking to have a good day of shooting, and some professional competitors will even practice with one as well when they're looking to save on ammo costs.

Whoever you are, you can't go wrong with a .22 rifle. If you're in the market, we recommend (and will happily sell you) the famous and highly affordable Ruger 10/22.

However, if your heart is set on a pistol, there are also some great options that can fire .22. Starting with a .22 pistol is not only significantly more affordable (in gun price and ammo price), but can help you focus on things like honing your ever-important trigger technique without having to put up with the significant recoil that you normally get with a pistol.

Just want to buy a self-defense pistol ASAP, and won't have it any other way? In that case, here's what we recommend:

  • Chambered in 9mm (very effective, incredibly common, and affordable)

  • A reputable, reliable gun brand (S&W, Beretta, Glock, Steyr, CZ, etc.)

  • Don’t buy your self-defense gun based on price tag alone. If you're trusting your life to it, then your life is worth getting a quality firearm.

Time to Buy

Alright, you've made it this far - you know all your safety basics, took a class, and now you have a good idea of what type of gun you want. There's an endless number of choices for buying a gun online, but - especially if you're buying a pistol - you'll want to go to an actual gun store in your town.

What should you expect? If you've never been to a gun store, you'll want to approach the counter and tell the employee what type of gun you're shopping for. Let them know that it's your first gun. You're encouraged to physically handle any gun they have for sale - just ask. And you should know by now how to safely handle one, to check that it's empty, and to point it only in safe directions.

Now for the most important part - Try every gun they’ve got that fits your needs. Rack the slides, try the mag release, aim down the sights, and yes, try out the triggers.

FDE FN 509c Tactical on soft case.
The FN 509C. Cool gun, lousy trigger. Always safely test it in the store before buying!

This is encouraged and expected as long as you're demonstrating good gun safety and aren't swinging the point of the gun around. If you're unsure of where it's safe or acceptable to point it, just ask the employee! Really get a feel for each one, and try not to let the employee’s bias affect you TOO much. What’s important is that it fits great in your hand, and that it’s a reliable gun from a reputable brand. As we mentioned before, having some experience in a beginner's shooting class will help a lot in making an informed decision.

Depending on your state and local laws, you might be able to just buy the gun after a quick background check and walk out the door with it in less than thirty minutes. If not, the gun store should certainly let you know before you buy, as they can get in a lot of trouble if they illegally sell a firearm, or sell it to someone who isn't allowed to own it.

However, you should read up on your laws regardless, and make sure that you know in what ways you may be limited in your ability to own a gun, any steps you may need to take first (such as a local permit, if applicable), or any restrictions your local government has placed on certain types of firearms.

Before making the purchase, you should also already be prepared to store it at your home! Educate yourself on safe storage and the other vital details of responsible gun ownership BEFORE bringing a gun home.

Where to Shoot

If you took a class, then you already know one shooting range you can go to, but there are likely a number of other options at your disposal. Here's a good tool for seeing all the major shooting ranges in your area.

You'll notice that some shooting ranges might require memberships, are located indoors or outdoors, have different rules and restrictions on the types of guns allowed, and provide different distances to shoot at. We recommend looking into each of them and giving them a try till you find the one that's the best fit for you.

If you're looking to increase your skills with a specific type of firearm, there are likely also a number of classes offered in your area for any skill level or firearm discipline. If you're focused on self-defense, consider taking a CCW course and a self-defense class. Many companies will even offer private lessons, usually at very affordable rates.

I also highly recommend trying to find a good spot to shoot outdoors, but be sure to follow local laws and rules, be mindful of any current restrictions due to risk of fires, and shoot responsibly. This should go without saying, but never shoot at wildlife, existing structures, signs, and so on. Not only is this lousy behavior, but it's also obviously illegal and could get you in a lot of trouble.

Shooting outdoors with scoped rifle and bipod
Who'd want to leave their trash in a place like this?

Being a responsible outdoor shooter also means picking up your targets, spent casings, and anything else you brought, as well as ensuring you're following best practices in selecting the location and the direction you choose to shoot. Having said all that, there's no better experience than shooting outdoors, especially with a couple friends to join you.

We've covered just about all the basics, but make sure to check out our other articles for even more useful information! Make sure to grab some ammo, good luck, and happy shooting!


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