Archive for December 29, 2011

Holsters

Anytime you carry a gun on your person, you should use a holster for it.

Any decent holster will cover the trigger on the gun, decreasing the chance of an accidental discharge from something bumping the trigger.

Another important advantage is that the holster will keep the gun in the same place so you know exactly where it was at. Where this really comes into play is when dropping a gun into a purse, briefcase, or pocket.

There are companies that make purses, briefcases, backpacks, etc. that are designed for carrying a gun. These have built-in holsters for holding the gun securely. Anyone who has ever fumbled for keys in a purse or briefcase knows how important it would be for the gun to be exactly where you know it to be if you need to get at it quickly.

There are also special holster made for pocket carry. These slip into a pocket, keep the trigger clear, and hold the gun securely. They are usually equipped with small hooks or tacky material to keep them in your pocket when you draw the gun.

The most common holsters are belt holsters and shoulder holsters. Anyone who has seen a detective show or movie has seen shoulder holsters. These are worn slung over your shoulders and secure to your belt on each side. The gun can be held with the barrel facing down (vertical) or behind you (horizontal). These holsters are easy to conceal under a coat or jacket. The opposite side from the gun will often have a pouch for holding spare magazines or speed loaders.

Belt holsters are worn on your belt and come in two categories, inside-the-waistband (IWB) and outside-the-waistband (OWB). An OWB holster is like what you see police wearing. They can be more difficult to conceal because the entire holster must be covered.

They attach to your belt via belt loops, straps, slots, or sometimes a “paddle.” Paddle holsters have a piece of metal or plastic that slide inside your pants behind your belt while the rest of the holster is on the outside. This makes it easy to remove the holster without taking your belt off.

An IWB holster is similar, but is designed to slide inside your pants partway. This puts the lower half of the holster, the section below the belt, inside your pants so it is easier to conceal. It will have straps, loops, or plastic clips that go over your belt for stability. Sometimes the straps holding the gun to your belt have snaps so that it can be unsnapped and removed without taking your belt off. This type of holster tends to keep the gun very close to your body further aiding in concealment.

It is very important to use a holster instead of just tucking the gun into your waistband. A gun carried in such a manner is prone to slipping and being dropped as well as increasing the possibility the trigger could snag on something and fire the gun, a bad proposition since it will likely be pointed at some part of your body.

There are also ankle holster which strap around the lower portion of your leg. These are commonly used for carrying a small gun, especially a back up gun. As long as the gun isn’t too bulky, they can easily hide a gun. However, your pants leg must be pulled up to draw the gun, which can be a problem.

Other holster types include fanny packs, belly bands (wide elastic bands which wrap around your body like a girdle), and even some that are built into shirt, pants, vests, or other clothing items.

Only you can say which one is right for you, and I recommend you try different ones until you get the one that works best for your needs and fits your gun well.

Concealed carry

After being a gun rights activist for over eight years now, I find it easy to forget that not everyone thinks about guns when they hear the words “concealed carry.” Every so often I’ll mention it and get a quizzical look while the person tries to figure out what I’m talking about carrying concealed.

Concealed carry is simply carrying a weapon, usually a firearm in this context, that cannot easily be seen (like a plain clothes police detective), as opposed to “open carry” which is carrying one in plain sight like you see uniformed police do. You’ll often see it referred to as CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon).

There are many ways to carry concealed, but the easiest way to do so while carrying a gun on your person is to simply wear what’s called a cover garment, which is generally a loose outer shirt, jacket, or vest. In the picture to the right, you can see a shirt being used as a cover garment. When carrying like this it is helpful to have a holster that holds the gun close to your body (we’ll talk about holsters another time) because otherwise there will be an obvious bulge (called “printing”) if you’re wearing a thin cover garment.

It is for this reason that some people carry a smaller gun in the summer than in the winter. In the winter, you can wear a heavier shirt or a sweater which hides the gun better because it is thicker. You’ll also be wearing a heavier coat while outdoors.

One important thing is to not put yourself in a position where you’d want to remove your cover garment if you want to stay concealed. If, for example, you’re relying on a jacket for concealment and you go into a warm room where a jacket makes you too hot you could end up uncomfortable or look out of place.

Another simple way to carry concealed is to put the gun into a purse, briefcase, backpack, fanny pack, or other similar container. Purse carry is very popular with women. One thing to keep in mind if you’re going to do that is how fast you can get to your gun if you need it. It is advisable to use a container made for carrying a gun.

A quick search in the internet will reveal a wide variety of purses, bags, etc. that are made for doing so. The reason for this is that these containers hold the gun in a very specific place where you’ll know right where it is at. Anyone who has ever dug through a purse or briefcase looking for something knows that is not what you want to have happen when being confronted by a mugger.

Another concern with “off body carry” is that these bags, purses, etc. can be set down, which opens a whole new can of worms. It could be stolen, forgotten, rummaged through by a kid, or any other variety of things when the gun is beyond your immediate control. Purse snatching is a common crime and if you’re not careful the thief will have your purse and your gun. Not to mention the fact that you have to then go to your container in order to retrieve your gun if you need it.

Speaking of that, there is another thing to keep in mind when carrying concealed versus openly, and that is getting to your gun. If it is in a container, you usually have to first open that container. While a lot of containers designed for carrying a gun usually have a quick opening mechanism like velcro pull tabs, that still slows you down.

If carrying on your person, you have to “clear” your cover garment first, meaning move it out of the way. This can be done with your shooting hand or your opposite hand, but does require practice to do it smoothly. You can also have a problem with your gun snagging on the cover garment, such as if an exposed hammer catches in the material. For this reason, many guns designed for concealed carry have rounded edges, bobbed (shortened) hammers, or hammers that are shrouded (covered) or not there at all (hammerless).

It is important to remember that in Ohio, like most states, a license or permit is required to carry concealed. Each state varies in their procedures and we’ll talk about getting one in Ohio in a future article. Basically, you have to take a class and apply for a license at your local sheriff’s office.

For more information about concealed carry, a great resource is the Ohio CCW forums.

Revolver vs. semi-automatic

One question that is always sure to spur a lot of debate is whether a revolver or semi-automatic pistol is the better choice for self-defense. While the pros and cons of each are many and provide far more material than can be covered in one article, I will lay out the primary arguments for each.

A revolver has fewer moving parts than a semi-automatic pistol. This tends to make them very reliable with very little maintenance required. There are simply fewer parts that can break on a revolver and fewer things that can go wrong while firing one. In most cases, if the pistol fails to fire when you pull the trigger (bad ammunition can cause this to happen) you simply pull the trigger again and a new cartridge rotates into place. That’s part of the reason why some call the revolver the original point and click device.

There are some drawbacks to revolvers, however. Since the ammunition is contained in the round cylinder, they tend to be fatter than a similarly sized semi-automatic. This can make them more difficult to conceal, though only slightly so, particularly with a smaller round like a .22.

Most revolvers only have six shots, though many ultra-compact semi-automatics don’t have many more than that. Revolvers are also slow to reload. Speed loaders (special tools that hold extra ammo for a revolver) can make reloading faster, but still not as fast as a semi-automatic.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that if a revolver does fail, it can do so spectacularly and completely lock up the gun. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate this is very rare, but if it happens the gun is usually completely useless and requires a gun smith to make it function again.

Semi-automatic pistols try to make up for the deficiencies of a revolver, but add numerous shortcomings in the process.

They are often thinner, lighter, and can hold more ammunition (often twice as much or more). The removable magazines make them quicker to reload for most people. However, semi-automatic pistols also have some drawbacks.

The first of which is that they are more complicated to load. With a revolver, you load the cylinder, close it, and you’re ready to go. With a semi-automatic, you insert the magazine and must rack the slide. Not that much more complicated, but if you forget that all important second step (under stress while being attacked or simply because you forgot two years ago when you loaded the gun) nothing will happen no matter how many times you pull the trigger.

If a cartridge fails to fire, you must rack the slide to get rid of the bad cartridge and load a fresh one. A cartridge can also fail to extract when the slide cycles (moves back and forth) causing a jam. Jams in a semi-automatic are often easier to clear than with a revolver, but you still must know how to do it.

The slide itself can be a problem. You must have sufficient strength to pull back the slide, and I’ve witnessed many people who simply can’t do it if the internal springs are too strong. I’ve never seen anyone unable to close the cylinder on a revolver.

Many semi-automatic pistols have a safety that must be disengaged before firing. Again, failing to do so means the gun won’t fire. I’ve also heard stories of untrained individuals attempting to disengage the safety and instead hitting the magazine release button causing the pistol to unload.

More moving parts means there is more to break, though most quality semi-automatics tend to have long service lives. These moving parts do require more maintenance and also provide more opportunities for the gun to jam when dirty, something that rarely happens with a revolver.

In my opinion, revolvers are the better choice for a person who wants a reliable firearm and does not want to invest the time into proper practice. Though, for me, the semi-automatic is the better choice.

I practice regularly to be sure I’m familiar with the controls and have built muscle memory for dealing with malfunctions. I can also shoot a semi-automatic faster than a revolver. My pistol holds 11 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, as opposed to the six rounds in a revolver. With one extra magazine, I have 21 shots versus the 12 I’d have with one speed loader for a revolver.

It all boils down to a matter of personal preference, and really any gun is going to be better than no gun. It is a decision you have to make for yourself.

Firearms terminology

One of the most daunting things for a new gun owner is dealing with the terminology. Below is a list of some of the more common terms and what they mean. This is obviously not all inclusive, and mostly just covers the basics.

Action: The group of moving parts for loading, unloading, and firing a gun.

Automatic: A gun that fires many times rapidly while the trigger is held down. A “machine gun.”

Barrel: A metal tube through which the bullet travels to leave the gun.

Bore: The inside of the barrel.

Breech: The back end of the barrel, opposite of muzzle.

Bullet: The projectile, usually made of lead.

Butt: The back end of the stock or grip.

Caliber: System of measurement of the bore of the gun.

Carbine: A short barrel rifle.

Cartridge: Sometimes referred to as a “round”, the cartridge contains the primer, case, powder charge, and the bullet.

Case: The metal tube that contains the powder and forms the body of a cartridge. Sometimes referred to as “brass” as this is a common metal used.

Chamber: The part of the gun where the cartridge resides just prior to being fired. In a revolver, the chambers are in the cylinder. In a semi-automatic, the chamber is at the breech of the barrel.

Choke: A slight tapering of the barrel of a shotgun just before the muzzle. This tapering controls how tightly the shot is compressed before it leaves the gun.

Choke tubes: Short pieces of metal which screw into the muzzle of a shotgun that allow you to change the choke of the gun.

Cock: Prepare the gun to fire, typically by pulling back the hammer.

Comb: The top part of the stock of a shotgun.

Cylinder: The part of a revolver where the cartridges are loaded. It spins as the gun is fired.

Cylinder catch: A button or lever which is used to release the cylinder on a revolver so it swings out.

Decocking lever: A lever on some guns used to help safely uncock the gun.

Double action: When the trigger is pulled on a double action gun, it pulls the hammer back before releasing it.

Dry fire: To pull the trigger on an empty gun. Useful for practicing techniques like trigger squeeze, sight alignment, and holding the gun steady while pulling the trigger.

Ejector: Mechanism in the inside of the action which ejects a spent casing from the gun so a new one can be loaded.

Ejector rod: A rod of metal in a revolver used to manually eject cartridges from the cylinder.

Firing pin: A small piece of metal inside the action which strikes the primer of a cartridge causing it to fire.

Frame: The backbone of the gun, the framework to which all the other parts are attached.

Gauge: The measurement of caliber specific to shotguns.

Grip: The part of a gun you hold on to, most commonly used to refer to handguns. Often made of wood, rubber, or plastic.

Hammer: A piece of metal on some guns used to strike the firing pin when the trigger is pulled.

Magazine: Stores ammunition. For many handguns, it is often removable and can be loaded ahead of time for quick reloading. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “clip”.

Magazine release: A button or lever on a gun which is used to release the magazine from the gun.

Muzzle: The end of the barrel where the projective exits, the “business end”.

Powder: A chemical compound (gunpowder) that catches on fire and burns rapidly. This produces a lot of gas which expells the bullet out of the gun.

Primer: The part of a cartridge that is struck by the firing pin to make a spark which ignites the powder charge.

Receiver: The outside frame of the action where information about the gun (caliber, chamber length, serial number, etc.) is often stamped.

Safety: A mechanical device in the action of a gun designed to prevent the gun from firing if the trigger is pulled. As a mechanical device, it can break so should not be relied upon totally.

Scope: An optical sight similar to a small telescope used most commonly on rifles but also occasionally on handguns and shotguns.

Semi-automatic: A gun that will fire each time the trigger is pulled and reloads a new cartridge each time. Not to be confused with “automatic”.

Single action: The gun must be cocked before each trigger pull.

Sight: Used to aim a gun, typically a combination of a front sight and rear sight which must be aligned.

Slide: The outer portion of the action on a semi-automatic handgun which slides back and forth as the gun fires.

Snap cap: A “dummy round” that is used to dry fire a gun. It contains a spring inside to absorb the energy of the firing pin.

Stock: Rear and front outer portions of a rifle or shotgun used for holding the gun. Typically made of wood, but also can be plastic.

Trigger: A lever on the lower portion of a gun used to fire the gun.

Trigger guard: The semi-circular piece of metal around the trigger which helps prevent it from accidentally being pulled.

What is caliber?

Last time, we talked about buying a gun and some of the things you need to know. One thing that’s obvious when you first walk in to a gun store is the wide variety of guns available. Rifles, shotguns, and handguns of all makes and models.

These different guns are divided into sizes called “caliber.” The caliber of the gun is a measurement of the inside of the barrel, which is called the bore. In most modern rifles and handguns, there are spiral grooves cut into the barrel. These grooves make a bullet spin like a football so that it is more accurate. To get a bit technical, the high part of the spiraling is called the lands and the low part is the grooves. Caliber in these types of guns is usually measured as the distance between the lands.

Shotguns handle their caliber designation a little bit differently. Instead of being a direct measurement of the diameter of the bore, they instead use a measurement of weight. The gauge of a shotgun is the number of lead balls the diameter of the bore that it would take to equal one point. So, if you had a lead ball the same diameter as the inside of a 12 gauge shotgun, it would take 12 of them to equal one pound. A 20 gauge would take 20 balls for its smaller diameter barrel. This is why, for shotguns, the lower the gauge the bigger the gun.

An exception is the .410 shotgun, which is a measurement of the caliber instead of the weight.

For rifles and handguns, the bigger the number the bigger the bullet. So, a .375 is much bigger than a .22. Both of those are measured in hundredths of an inch, but caliber can also be measured in millimeters. However, even then things aren’t always so simple.

Some rifle calibers, for example, denote not only the diameter of the bullet but also can include the length, weight, or grains of powder in the cartridge. That’s a bit complicated for this article, though. One thing that should be pointed out, though, is for the common .22 cartridge. There are .22 long rifle cartridges and .22 shorts. As you would expect, one cartridge is longer than the other. It is important to know which cartridge your gun is chambered in when buying the ammunition.

Caliber itself as a measure of diameter can be confusing as well, though, because sometimes estimations are used to distinguish between different sizes of cartridges. For example, a .357 and a .38 are the same diameter bullet, being 0.357 inches. However, the .357 has a lot more gunpowder in the slightly larger cartridge.

Some of the more popular cartridges for handguns are the .22, .38, .357, .40, .45, and 9mm. Which one is right for you is subjective. Many people will tell you that the smallest caliber you should consider for self defense is a .38 because the larger bullet and more gunpowder gives a better chance of stopping someone from attacking you. However, lower caliber handguns are popular because they have less recoil or “kick” when they are fired. On the other hand, if you are in a self-defense situation, your body will be filled with adrenaline and you will not feel the recoil anyway.

There is far more to caliber than can be covered here. For more information, I recommend you read this excellent article on Wikipedia.

Buying a gun

For many people who have never bought one before, buying a gun can be a daunting prospect. What laws do I need to know about? What do I need to bring? How do I go about picking one out? Can I buy one for my wife? How do I get it registered? All are common questions. In this article, I’ll try to cover the basics.

In Ohio, buying a gun is a pretty straight forward process, but there are two different sets of procedures. You do not need any kind of permit to buy a gun (but you do need one if you want to carry it concealed or in a motor vehicle).

For private sales, there is very little regulation. If you want to buy a gun from someone you know, they can sell it to you without all the red tape noted in the next paragraph, provided you’re not prohibited from owning the gun (we’ll come back to that).

Most people, though, buy their first gun from a gun shop or the sporting goods department of stores like Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc. For commercial sales of handguns, there are a few hoops to jump through.

Once you decide which gun to buy, there is paperwork to fill out. You’ll be given a Form 4473, which is a firearms transaction record published by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. It asks you to list information such as your name, address, date of birth, and some questions about your background (are you a fugitive from justice, have you been convicted of a felony, etc.). You will also need to produce identification, such as a driver’s license or state ID. Once you fill out this form, which takes about 5 minutes, the store clerk will call the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system conducts a quick records check (usually less than a minute) to try to determine if you are disqualified from owning a firearm. Three things can happen, you can be approved, denied, or delayed. Approval is most common, denied means they found what seems to be a disqualification (you can appeal), and delayed means they need more time to conduct a more thorough check. The last one can sometimes happen if you have a name that is similar to someone who has committed a felony.

Once that is completed, you’re good to go. Ohio has no waiting periods on firearms purchases and does not require gun registration. Some local cities used to require guns to be registered, but those laws were overturned when the Ohio legislature passed “statewide preemption”, which means only the state and federal government can pass most types of gun laws.

Now, for both private and commercial sales, you still have to follow laws about who is allowed to own a firearm. While both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions guarantee a right to bear arms, you can lose those rights for certain things. Being convicted of a violent felony, assault on a police officer, many drug offenses, suffering from alcohol abuse, being adjudicated mentally incompetent, and you must be at least 18 years old for rifles and shotguns and 21 for handguns. Note that even if you meet those requirements, a gun shop can still make the decision to refuse a sale if they’re not comfortable with it. For example, someone who appears clearly agitated might be asked to leave.

When it comes to buying guns for someone else, that’s ok as long as that person meets the requirements in the preceding paragraph. If they’re allowed to own a gun, it is legal for you to buy one for them. This usually comes into play when guns are bought as gifts. However, if the person you are buying the gun for is not allowed to have one, that is called a “straw purchase” and is a felony.

As to the question of how to pick out a gun, well, that will require another article. Some things to keep in mind are your price range, how the gun feels in your hand, what you intend to use it for (different guns are used to hunt different animals and some self-defense handguns might be no good for hunting), how strong you are, etc. Most gun shops have friendly, knowledgeable clerks who will be more than happy to answer your questions and help you decide.

Please note that I only tried to cover the basics. For more information, please read this informative fact sheet from the NRA: http://www.nraila.org/statelawpdfs/OHSL.pdf

Firearms Fundamentals: gun safety rules – Part 2

Yesterday, we talked about the three primary rules of gun safety. As pointed out in the comments section, safe gun handling goes far beyond just those three.

Of utmost importance when shooting, whether target practicing or hunting, is to know your target and what is beyond. Most targets don’t stop bullets, so you need a solid backstop large enough to account for misses. A short backstop can be a problem because a poorly aimed shot could miss it entirely. Misses must be taken into consideration while hunting as well. If you shoot uphill at a deer and miss, where is that bullet going to go? Shooters are responsible for every bullet that leaves the barrel.

I also mentioned yesterday at one of the biggest causes of accidents is ignorance, or a lack of knowledge of safe gun handling. In keeping with that, it is very important to know how your particular firearm operates. How to load it, how to unload it, and how to handle it in a safe manner. When buying a gun, be sure to always ask the seller to show you how it works and read the manual. If one is not provided by the seller (for a used gun, for example) you can often contact the manufacturer or search for one on the internet.

When you target practice, you should always wear ear and eye protection. Hearing can easily be damaged by repeated gunfire, and there are a myriad of ways your eyes can be injured: spent casings (brass) hitting you, bullet fragments ricocheting back from the target, etc. It is also a good idea to wear a hat, long pants, and long sleeved shirts to guard against being struck by brass or fragments. When shooting, you must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This includes any legal medications that warn against handling automobiles or machinery. Anything that can impair your judgment or abilities must be avoided while shooting.

You also need to be sure that your gun is in safe operating condition (have it checked by a gunsmith if something doesn’t seem right) and that you only shoot the proper ammunition in it. Accidentally loading it with the wrong size ammunition can cause the firearm to malfunction and result in injury. Sometimes the type of ammunition can cause problems. For example, with 9mm ammunition there are cartridges loaded with additional powder which creates higher gas pressures when it is fired. This is referred to as +P or +P+ when even more is added. A handgun that is not rated for those higher pressures can fail if loaded with that ammunition.

Even when storing firearms, there are important factors to consider. Guns and ammunition should be stored so they cannot be accessed by unauthorized persons and should be stored separately so that if one is accessed the other is not. Trigger locks can be a great form of secondary protection, but a gun with a trigger lock can still be stolen if it is not in a safe or locked storage cabinet. Never put a trigger lock on a loaded gun as you would then be manipulating the trigger on a loaded gun!

I highly recommend that anyone who owns a firearm take at least one gun safety class. Yesterday, I mentioned the NRA Basic Pistol program, which is a great beginner class for learning gun safety. Many gun ranges and gun shops offer training as well, and the cost is very reasonable considering that such training could very well save your life or the life of someone you love.

Owning a firearm is a serious responsibility, but with proper training and observance of some basic rules is a very safe activity.

Stay safe out there!

Firearms Fundamentals: gun safety rules – Part 1

The topic for this week is the most important: gun safety.

A firearm is a tool designed to propel a projectile (the bullet) at a high rate of speed. Where that bullet goes is up to the person pulling the trigger. A gun by itself is neither good nor evil, it is the person handling it that makes that determination.

One of the things you lean in an NRA Basic Pistol course is that there are two main causes of firearms accidents, ignorance and carelessness. Ignorance is not stupidity, it is a lack of knowledge. If you don’t know how to safely handle a firearm you will make mistakes. Carelessness is knowing those rules, yet failing to apply them. The three basic rules are the most important:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until it is ready to use

If these rules are known and always followed, injuries due to gun accidents are much less likely to occur. If the gun is pointed in a safe direction yet fires, nobody will be injured. If your finger is not on the trigger (the most common mistake I see), the gun will most likely not fire, even if dropped. And if the gun is unloaded, it can’t fire.

Keep in mind for that last rule that “unloaded” means verified unloaded. Every gun is to be considered loaded until you prove otherwise. It doesn’t matter if the Pope himself tells you a gun is unloaded, you always verify for yourself. Open the cylinder, rack the slide, and physically check the chamber to be sure no ammunition is present. We’ve all heard about accidents occurring when somebody “thought it wasn’t loaded.” Trust, but verify. If you ever watch someone experienced with gun safety handle a firearm, you’ll see them check to see if a gun is unloaded every time they touch one, even if passing it from one person to another. Each one will check.

Sometimes I get asked, well, if you are supposed to keep a gun unloaded until it is ready to use, how does that apply to a gun for self-defense? Are you supposed to load it while someone is breaking in to your house? The answer is simple, a gun being relied upon for self-defense is currently in use for that purpose.

The last thing I want to say about keeping a gun unloaded until ready to use is that it is especially important while cleaning a gun. Anytime a gun is being cleaned it should be triple checked to be sure it is unloaded and no ammunition should be present anywhere in the room.

Gun safety is an important topic with a lot to cover, so we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow in Part 2.