Firearm safety is a serious matter not only while carrying your firearm loaded and on your person, but at home as well. Most gun accidents occur because of ignorance relating to the operation of the firearm, such as how to check that it is unloaded or as a result of mishandling and not understanding safety techniques. Carelessness becomes a factor when someone experienced with a firearm becomes lax with regard to safety and forgets certain rules like always assuming a gun is loaded or the individual handles a firearm while intoxicated.
People that choose to own firearms must maintain a positive attitude and learn to respect firearms. Forgetting simple safety rules can result in death or permanent injury to yourself or someone else. Therefore, attitude, knowledge and skill are all important factors in responsible and safe gun handling.
The fundamental rules for safe gun handling include:
- Treat all firearms as if they are loaded
- Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
- Keep the firearm unloaded and safely stored until ready for use (a firearm designated for self-defense is considered to be in use)
Beyond the fundamental gun safety rules, there are other considerations to keep in mind when handling a firearm. These include:
- Knowing your target and what is beyond. For example, if you are target shooting and you miss your intended target, do you know where your bullet may travel and the potential range of your bullet? In other words, is it completely safe to shoot in the direction in which you are shooting?
- Know how to use your gun safely. Consult your owners manual and seek firearms training if necessary
- Ensure that your firearm is safe to operate. Is the firearm old and rusty or have you checked the firearm for excessive wear that could result in weakening the strength of your firearm, posing a threat to your safety
- Have you checked that you are using ammunition that is rated for use in your gun? Cross reference the caliber in the owners manual with the markings on the firearm to ensure proper ammunition type
- To ensure your own safety, always wear ear and eye protection when shooting your firearm. Not doing so may damage your hearing or debris may become lodged in your eye
- Never use alcohol or drugs before shooting. Doing so impairs judgment and common sense
- Properly store all firearms so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons, including children and others forbidden to be possession of a firearm based on state and federal laws
- Never handle a firearm if you are in an emotional state of mind such as anger or suffering from depression. As with the use of drugs and alcohol, being in an emotional state of mind clouds judgment and common sense. In addition, if there are family members that experience bouts of emotional states, use drugs or alcohol, it is in your best interest to ensure your firearms are not accessible to these individuals
- Training and education is important in the prevention of accidents. Educate your children and family members on firearms and the safety rules and guidelines regarding gun safety. Educate children so they know what is seen on television is not always reality (if ever)
- Teach your children that if they should find a firearm, they should not touch the gun and should leave the area and report the situation to an adult. The police should be contacted when a firearm is found as it may be evidence in a crime
Individuals with a permit-to-carry need to be specifically concerned about maintaining control of their firearm. For starters, a quality holster is important to protect firearms from physical damage and to cover the trigger to help guard against accidents. If you should have to flee from an attacker, a good holster will help prevent the gun from falling to the ground while you are running.
Some manufacturers make holsters designed to lock the gun in-place and require the push of a button or paddle lever to draw the firearm. This aids in retention and also helps prevent gun-grabs. The downside is that it is an additional step to get your firearm into action should the need arise.
Another issue regarding gun retention is how the gun is held. Holding a gun in the hand with your arm fully extended makes it easier for someone to grab your firearm by employing an arm and gun twist in order to take your firearm away from you. For a trained attacker, disarming someone with a gun can be done very quickly if the attacker is allowed to get close enough. Distance will aid in firearm retention.
In order to help retain your firearm throughout a self-defense scenario, keep your gun in one hand and close to your body. Utilize your free hand to block your attacker. The concept here is to protect your gun from falling into the hands of a criminal and keeping you safe at the same time. Most altercations happen within a distance of ten (10) feet and realistically, most confrontations are much closer. When using your firearm to protect yourself, you will not have the time for proper stance and sight alignment.
Safe Storage of Firearms and Ammunition
When not in use, firearms and ammunition need to be responsibly stored in a secure location so that unauthorized persons cannot gain access. Restricting access can be accomplished by purchasing a gun safe or investing in relatively inexpensive gun locks that disable the firearm, usually requiring a key to make the gun functional again.
Ideally (according to the NRA), firearms and ammunition should be store separately and firearms should always be stored unloaded. Storing the firearm and ammunition separately adds another layer of safety. The exception to keeping firearms unloaded would be for guns used for personal defense. A personal defense firearm is to be considered “in use” and it is assumed that personal defense firearms are always loaded.
In some but not all states, parents are legally liable for the actions of their children when it comes to firearms in the home, negligence and gun accidents. Take the time to teach your children about guns and secure your firearms and ammunition to avoid accidents (MN 609.666 Negligent Storage of Firearms).
Safely Interacting with Law Enforcement and Others
In the State of Minnesota, there is no duty to disclose the fact that you have a Permit to Carry and are armed unless you are specifically asked. The fact that you are armed and have a Permit to Carry only needs to be disclosed if and when you are asked by a state or federal law enforcement officer. You are under no obligation to disclose this information to anyone else, i.e, security guards, retail store clerks, strangers, friends and others that are not licensed law enforcement officers.
When asked by a law enforcement officer (LEO) if you are armed, always state that you have a Permit to Carry, you are carrying a firearm, and identify the location of the firearm verbally. Do not make sudden movements or pull out the firearm to show it to the officer. Always keep your hands in open view. Listen carefully to the officer’s instructions and do exactly what you are told. If there are instructions given that you do not understand, ask for clarification. Always be polite and honest.
During traffic stops, the same guidelines apply. Be polite, answer all questions truthfully and keep your hands in a visible location. In the State of Minnesota, your Permit to Carry information is not available on Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records; therefore, do not assume that when an officer runs your license plate or drivers license that he/she will become aware that you have a Permit to Carry. The Permit to Carry database is accessible to police, but not typically part of a routine check. Having said this, if you believe your firearm will be seen by the officer during a routine traffic stop, consider disclosing that you have a Permit to Carry and are in fact carrying a loaded firearm. This will most likely be better than having the gun discovered accidentally.
Never surrender your firearm to anyone other than a uniformed police officer. This is for your safety and the safety of others. If someone in plain clothes tells you they are a police officer and asks you to surrender your gun, if there is any reasonable doubt that this person is not law enforcement, request that they call for a uniformed officer. This would seem to be a reasonable request baring any other circumstances. The use of good common sense applies here. Did the person flash a badge quickly or did the individual allow you to inspect the badge along with an identification card and photograph? Is it 3AM on a deserted highway where you might not reasonably expect an “undercover” officer or is it 3PM in the electronics section of Best Buy? What were you doing to attract the attention of law enforcement? Put the situation into context and you should reasonably be able to know what the proper course of action should be.
In the State of Minnesota, you may carry concealed or carry openly. While open carry might provide some flexibility and convenience, most self-defense instructors and Permit to Carry holders do not favor open carry. The two primary reasons are: (1) there is a high probability that anyone who sees you with a handgun will call the police and law enforcement will be forced to waste their time and yours investigating your lawful right to carry, (2) you are alerting potential attackers that you have a gun which eliminates or greatly reduces your tactical advantage. Why give others the advance notice that you are carrying a firearm?
Fundamentals of Handgun Use and Mechanical Knowledge
There are numerous brands and types of firearms on the market today. However, with most modern handguns, there are generally two types: the revolver and the semi-automatic pistol. Each type can be found with either a single action or double action firing mechanism.
With single action revolvers, the trigger mechanism performs only one function, to release the hammer or striker. Manually pulling the hammer back or rearward (cocking) on a revolver will rotate the cylinder and place the cartridge in alignment with the barrel and firing pin. Pulling the trigger will release the hammer which then strikes the firing pin and in-turn strikes the primer of the cartridge.
With double action revolvers, the trigger mechanism performs two functions: to cock the gun and release the hammer or striker in one action (the pulling of the trigger). With a double action revolver, the gun can be manually cocked (like a single action) and fired or the trigger of the gun may simply be pulled, allowing the guns action to automatically cock and release the hammer.
All revolvers and semi-automatic handguns have a grip, barrel, front sight, rear sight and a means of loading and unloading the firearm. Revolvers and semi-automatics differ in how the handguns are loaded, unloaded and how rounds (cartridges) are chambered.
Modern revolvers will typically hold between five (5) and six (6) rounds in the cylinder. Depending on caliber, a revolver may hold as many as seven (7) rounds, e.g., some .22 caliber revolvers. With revolvers, they are generally not very complicated and novice shooters will find the revolver to be fairly intuitive as far as loading, unloading and shooting.
Modern semi-automatic pistols will typically hold six (6) to eighteen (18) rounds depending on the physical size of the gun, caliber, magazine type (stacked or staggered) and whether or not a magazine extender is used. Some pistols can accommodate larger magazines than the gun was originally designed for. For example, all 9mm Glock pistols will accommodate Glock’s 32 round magazine even though the pistol was designed for and comes with a 15 round magazine (Glock model 19 for example).
Semi-automatics are generally considered to be more complicated to operate than revolvers. This is due to the fact that semi-automatic pistols have more moving parts and so there is more to remember when using a pistol versus a revolver. Because pistols are more complex firearms, these semi-autos are generally more prone to failure and ammunition “feeding” issues. The shooter therefore needs to know how to remedy these feeding issues, jams and other malfunctions in the field. Do not let these issues deter you from purchasing a semi-auto.
Semi-automatic handguns come with either a single action or double action firing mechanism. On double-action pistols, once a cartridge has been chambered, the hammer can be de-cocked and the safety engaged. When the safety is taken off and the trigger is pulled, pulling the trigger cocks the pistol and also releases the hammer causing the gun to fire. After the first round is fired, the pistols action will automatically cycle causing the fired cartridge to be ejected, a new cartridge to be chambered and the hammer will be cocked in the ready or firing position, waiting for the shooter to pull the trigger.
With single action semi-automatics, when a cartridge is chambered, the gun is always in a ‘cocked’ state, whether or not the gun has an exposed hammer, eg., Kimber 1911, or internal striker, e.g., Springfield XD9.
Using the Kimber 1911 as an example, this gun is carried safely in a cocked and locked fashion. While the hammer is cocked, a manually operated safety is engaged. In addition, there is also a grip safety that is automatically engaged when the shooter is not holding the pistol. When the shooter is ready to fire, gripping the Kimber automatically disengages the grip safety and the shooter is then required to manually disengage the thumb safety in order to fire the gun.
The Glock 19 has no exposed hammer. This gun uses an internal striker. With the exception of the passive trigger safety, all the safety features of the Glock are internal to the gun and cannot physically be operated by the shooter. To disengage all safeties on the Glock pistol, the shooter simply pulls the trigger. Many people like this because when a situation is hot, there may be little or no time to think about the buttons and levers on your gun in order to remove the safety prior to firing.
Because there are so many different types of firearms, everyone that owns a firearm is encouraged to read their owners manual or seek help from someone familiar with your type of gun. The specifics regarding operation of all types of guns cannot possibly be covered in this document. Read your manual and remember the safety rules previously mentioned.
Handgun Selection & Care
So what kind of gun should you buy? That is a great question to ask but is generally hard to answer. Deciding on your first gun is like trying to decide on which new car to buy. You have to consider caliber, features, size and type of gun. How do you plan on carrying your firearm and how often? Have you found a gun range that rents handguns? This is probably a good place to start. Different types of handguns will have different grips and thus feel differently in the hand. Try before you buy if possible.
Here are some steps you can follow for selecting a firearm for self-defense carry.
- Caliber - Identify the caliber you want to employ for self-defense. Ideally this will be the largest caliber handgun that you can control safely.
- Type - Determine if you want a revolver or semi-automatic pistol in your caliber of choice. Beginners seem to be more comfortable with revolvers.
- Size – Now that you know the type of gun (revolver or semi-auto), match the physical size of the gun to your chosen method of carry and dress.
- Do you really want to carry a $1,200 dollar gun around for personal protection? High quality guns can be found new for around $500.00.
- Concealing a handgun is fairly easy in winter (in MN) because of the type of clothing that is worn. In the summer months, shorts and t-shirts are the norm (in many cases). Having a compact .45 on your belt might not work out.
- Could there ever be an occasion when a situation justified having your hand on your gun with the anticipation of needing to draw? Having a gun on your waist might not allow this to be done discretely without alerting the potential attacker.
In short, consider your lifestyle, how you dress and how often you plan to carry a firearm for personal protection. Based on what you decide, your decision should heavily influence the size of the handgun you buy and how you carry the firearm. As far as brand of firearm, I am a firm believer in you get what you pay for. Do some research, ask around then decide.
Carry options are numerous. You can carry off-body in a purse, briefcase or laptop bag and hope none of these items are stolen (or forgotten somewhere) or you can on-body carry. On-body concealed carry seems to be ideal in most settings. For on-body carry options, you have:
In my opinion, pocket carry is ideal (at least for me). My firearm is small and light and your gun is discretely concealed yet readily available at a moments notice. Pocket carry has advantages. Consider all your options then decide.
Cleaning your Firearm
Like most anything else, your firearm should be cleaned after each use. Lead, copper and powder buildup in the firearm can impact the firearm’s accuracy and reliability, especially with semi-automatics. Revolvers are more forgiving of grime buildup.
Cleaning and oiling your firearm helps prevent rust and adds years to the life of your gun. Firearms are not inexpensive so protect your investment and clean your guns after each outing to the gun range. Firearm cleaning supplies will typically include cloth patches, cleaning rod, soft cloth, cleaning rod attachments, small brush, bore cleaner, bore brush and gun oil. Always ensure your firearm is unloaded before cleaning and that you follow the Owner Manual for directions on disassembling and reassembling your firearm. Following directions from the manual will help to prevent damage to your firearm.
Most handguns chosen for personal defense, either for carry or in the home will most likely utilize center-fire ammunition. Center-fire ammunition is a cartridge in which the primer is located in the center of the cartridge case head. Unlike rimfire cartridges, the primer is a separate and replaceable component.
Image above: A cartridge(2) packages the bullet(1), gunpowder(3) and primer(5) into a single metallic case precisely made to fit the firing chamber of a firearm. The primer is a small charge of impact-sensitive chemical that is located at the center of the case head(4) (center-fire ammunition) or at its rim (rim-fire ammunition).
For a self-defense handgun, a firearm capable of shooting a .38 caliber round is generally considered the minimum. However, people have been known to carry .25 caliber pocket size semi-automatics and people have certainly been killed with .22 caliber rounds. The best advice is to find a gun range that rents firearms and try out several. Find a caliber you are capable of handling comfortably.
When matching ammunition to a firearm, always verify that the caliber marking on the barrel matches the caliber marked on the box of ammunition you have purchased and on the head of the cartridge case.
For target shooting, look for inexpensive name brand ammunition that is non-corrosive and has a bullet type of FMJ (full metal jacket). Most bullets are made from lead. Bullets marked as FMJ are lead bullets with a copper jacket covering the lead. Copper jacketed bullets seem to leave less of a mess in the firearm thus making it easier to clean the gun after target shooting. While you can certainly shoot any type of bullet style, the full metal jacketed bullets seem to be among the most popular for target loads. Fully jacketed bullets do not generally have the expansion properties of hollow point bullets.
For self-defense ammunition, only buy high quality name brand cartridges. Most often, personal-defense ammunition comes in some variation of a hollow-point bullet. If your firearm of choice is a semi-automatic, shoot a couple boxes of personal-defense ammunition through the gun to ensure proper functioning and feeding. Some semi-automatic handguns have difficulty feeding hollow-point ammunition so you might need to try different brands or type of ammunition (expanding full metal jacketed [EFMJ] ammo). You do not want to discover a feeding issue with your firearm at the exact moment you need to use your gun in self-defense. While any reputable gun shop, police officer or gun enthusiast can recommend good personal-defense ammunition, Federal Hydra-Shok and Winchester SXT seem to be two of the more popular brands for personal-defense rounds. There are many others so just shop around.
Hollow-point bullets are designed to expand when they enter the body. The expansion accomplishes a couple things. First, the expanded bullet will create a larger wound channel in the body. Generally speaking, the people that die from a gunshot wound die from excessive blood loss. The faster the attacker loses blood the quicker we stop his deadly threat. Second, hollow-point bullets are less likely to leave the body. This is a result of the bullets expansion. This is a good-thing because if you should ever have to shoot someone in self-defense, you do not want your bullet to exit the attackers body and kill an innocent person located to the rear of your assailant. Remember, know your target and what is beyond.