Tag Archive for Basics

The mindset of situational awareness

Spend any significant amount of time with self-defense experts and the idea of situational awareness will come up. In its simplest form, situational awareness is nothing more than being aware of your surroundings; but even more than that is being able to correctly interpret what is going on around you to determine what threats might be present.

Many of us who choose to carry a gun for self-defense train regularly to increase our shooting skills. But skill is sometimes not enough. Every year, thousands of highly trained law enforcement officers are assaulted and dozens are killed in the line of duty showing a stark example that training is not always enough to survive. As civilians, we have a luxury they do not: avoiding the confrontation. The best way to avoid the confrontation is to see the threat before it becomes a confrontation. Yet, for all the time we spend training our physical skills with the gun, how much time do we spend training our minds for the mental aspect of situational awareness?

Just like we use repetition to build muscle memory shot shooting skills we can use awareness drills to shift situational awareness from a conscious action to an effortless state of mind. Some examples:

  • Note how many people in sight are wearing the same color shirt. This trains you to look for details and patterns.
  • Count how many rings people are wearing to get you used to watching hands for threats.
  • Watch how many people around you make eye contact with you. Criminals don’t like eye contact because they want their victims to be unaware of their approach.
  • Every time you walk into a room look for things that are different from the last time you were in there. This can help you spot things that are out of place.
  • As you walk up to a store, look through the door or window and try to guess who will be the first person to notice your arrival. This can lead to you identifying a dangerous situation before you enter the building.
  • Observe the faces and demeanor of passersby and try to guess what mood they’re in. This will get you used to reading emotions and can help determine who might be a threat for violent behavior.

These practice sessions will build the “muscle memory” for your brain to continue subconsciously observing your environment and raise your awareness. This projects an air of alertness that most criminals instinctively avoid. A potential victim who is paying attention means a lesser chance of success for an attack. It also helps you to spot potential trouble before it is too late or you are forced to employ deadly force so that you can take steps to avoid the encounter.

You don’t need to be paranoid or constantly on high alert to be safe. In fact, trying to maintain the highest state of awareness at all times can lead to fatigue and burn out which can in turn cause you to miss the threat when the time comes. In contrast, a state of relaxed awareness where your subconscious mind does most of the work is easy to maintain.

It is also important to note that since you are training your subconscious, you might not always realize exactly what the threat it. You’ll just have a feeling that “something’s not right.” Trust your gut and go on conscious alert! You have to discipline yourself to listen to your intuition and not dismiss it as “nothing.” With a little practice, you’ll be much more aware of your surroundings and prepared to avoid threats if possible and less likely to be caught unawares if avoidance is not possible.

Dry fire

Today we’re going to talk about a type of shooting practice called dry fire.

Dry firing is simply pulling the trigger on a gun that is not loaded with live ammunition. The gun can be empty or can be loaded with dummy rounds or snap caps. Both dummy rounds and snap caps look and may feel like real cartridges but are fake and cannot be fired. They are designed to reduce wear on a guns firing pin by giving it something to hit and transfer its energy to.

Dry firing guns can have many useful results. One benefit is that it helps you become familiar with a new gun. With dummy rounds, you can practice loading and unloading the gun safely. You can get used to the weight of the gun and the feel of it in your hand. And you can get used to the trigger pull (every gun is different!).

Dry firing can also be used to overcome common problems new shooters have, such as flinching. Flinching often happens when a shooter anticipates the recoil of the gun and tightens up their muscles right before the gun fires. This can result in a badly spoiled shot. Dry fire can be a cure for this problem as it allows the shooter to focus on the fundamentals of pistol shooting without worrying about the recoil. The body becomes accustomed to the process of firing a gun without flinching and that can translate to greater success on the gun range.

Dry fire is also far cheaper than going to the range and can be done from the comfort of your own home. This lets a shooter work on proper grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and follow through on a more regular basis. It is also very useful for practicing drawing and reholstering a firearm.

I like using dry fire to help with target acquisition and decision making. A good monster movie or crime thriller is good for this. Because the camera jumps from person to person quickly, when the bad guy or monster appears on the screen you have to quickly recognize the threat and engage.

However, there are several serious safety issues requiring careful precautions to be taken before every dry fire session to reduce the possibility of an accident.

First, no live ammunition is to be present in any room where dry firing is taking place. Not in magazines, speed-loaders, pockets, bags, boxes, or lying around. This is a zero tolerance policy!

Second, you should always dry fire with the gun pointed at something that could stop a bullet should there be an accident. A bookcase, solid door, brick wall, gun safe, etc. are all good choices.

Third, keep distractions to a minimum. Don’t talk on the phone, surf the web, or carry on conversations with others. Keep your focus on what you are doing. If you set your gun down for any reason, check to be sure it is unloaded when you pick it up again.

Fourth, when dry fire is done it is done. I know of one person who after a dry fire session was putting his stuff away and decided to fire “one last shot.” Unfortunately, he had forgotten that he had reloaded his gun and the gun went “boom” instead of “click.” Luckily, nobody was injured.

Dry fire can be a great practice tool and can be done safely as long as those basic rules are followed religiously.

Improving accuracy

Many new shooters, and to be truthful many experienced shooters, get discouraged at the shooting range by targets that look like they were hit by a shotgun blast. The problem is, they don’t know what to do about it.

The best way to correct accuracy issues is to get help from a professional trainer. If you don’t know or can’t afford one, there are a few things you can do to improve your shot grouping.

Make sure the gun fits you

A gun that doesn’t fit your hand well is much more difficult to shoot well, particularly one that is too big. Not only the size of the grip is important, but the weight of the gun and the amount of recoil (kick) as well. A big, heavy gun that noticeably rises with ever shot can be very difficult to control. If this is a problem for you, consider downsizing. Shooting accurate groups is far more impressive than shooting a big, loud, magnum caliber.

Conversely, a very small gun is inherently less accurate because of the shorter barrel. This gives less time for the bullet to develop a stable flight path as well as making for a shorter sight radius. A medium sized gun in a small caliber (.22, .38 or 9mm) is often the best choice for a newer shooter.

Take your time

The vast majority of shooters have accuracy problems while shooting quickly. Take your time and be sure to aim carefully with each shot.

Proper grip

I see a lot of shooters who hold a pistol incorrectly. A proper, consistent grip can go a long way towards improving accuracy. Your hand should be high on the grip in order to line the gun up as closely as possible with the bones in your arm as well as providing maximum grip surface area for your second hand. For a semi-automatic, the top of your hand should press against the beavertail (a small projection at the top of the grip below the hammer) if your gun has one. Be careful on a semi-automatic to not hold too high or your hand will be cut by the slide (slide-bite).

Take a firm grip with your shooting hand and then add your non-shooting hand getting as much contact between your hands and the grip as possible. You want your non-shooting hand to have considerable contact with the grip as opposed to simply closing around your shooting hand.

Grip pressure is important as well. You want firm pressure, but not so much that you get muscle tremors. You also want a little less grip strength with the fingers of your shooting hand so there is not too much tension interfering with a smooth trigger squeeze. A good rule is to apply 40% of the grip pressure with your shooting hand and 60% with your non-shooting hand.

Trigger squeeze

Proper trigger control is one of the most common problems shooters face. The trigger should be smoothly “rolled” to the rear in a continuous motion while disturbing the sight alignment and sight picture as little as possible. For the proper motion, it is helpful to think of a medicine dropper. If you squeeze a medicine dropper hard and fast, it sprays all over the place. However, if you squeeze it slowly and smoothly a perfectly formed drop will fall.

Be careful to not anticipate the shot. You should not know the exact moment the shot will break. Again, a medicine dropper is a good example. The drop slowly gets bigger and bigger until it falls, but you do not know exactly when it will do so. Anticipating the shot (mentally telling yourself to FIRE!) leads to flinching which will ruin your aim.

I also see a lot of people “slapping” the trigger. After each shot their finger flies off the trigger and outside the trigger guard, returning with force to take a swing at the trigger. This leads to a jerky shot.

Don’t forget your follow through! After the gun fires, continue depressing the trigger those last few millimeters until it stops. Like in many other sports, correct follow through will help you be successful because it minimizes unnecessary movements.

Sight alignment and sight picture

This can be a difficult concept for some people.

Proper sight alignment means the top of the front sight is aligned with the top of the rear sight. It should also be centered in the rear sight with an equal amount of light visible on both sides.

Sight picture is aligning the sights with the target. Some people shoot better with the sights splitting the target like a pie, others shoot better with the target sitting on top of the sight alignment like a pumpkin on a fence. Use whichever works best for you.

The front sight is the most important part of the sight picture. The front sight should be in crisp focus with the rear sight and target slightly blurry. Think of it as looking through the rear sight at the front sight.

Shooting stance

Like a building,  it is important to have a good foundation for your shooting position. You feet should be about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. You should lean forward slightly and resist the urge to lean backwards to counterbalance your gun. You want to be stable and balanced. Some people find it more stable to have one foot ahead of the other and their body turned at an angle to the target, similar to a boxing stance. Whichever works best for you is fine as long as you are stable and balanced.

Breath control

Proper breathing is essential for good accuracy. At an extreme, gasping for breath creates a lot of muscle movement which will disturb your sight alignment and sight picture. You should take slow, controlled breaths. Breath in, let it out slightly, and then hold your breath while squeezing the trigger as you try to minimize the arc of movement of the sights over the target (the movement of the gun). If your trigger squeeze is taking too long and you need to breath simply stop squeezing the trigger, take a few seconds to breath, and then start the process over again.

These are just a few general tips to help improve your accuracy. There is far more to it than just these and as I said earlier, the best solution for poor accuracy is to get help from an experienced trainer.

Wearing a belt holster

Wearing a belt holster seems like a pretty straightforward process. Take a holster, stick your belt thought it, put the belt on. In reality, just attaching the holster to your belt is the easy part. You also have to decide where on your belt to put the holster.

Most people have seen police officers wearing a gun on their strong side hip (right side if they’re right handed). This works great for open carry, but not as much for concealed carry. With your gun protruding from your hip, you are more likely to print (show the outline of your gun through the cover garment).

To keep the gun as close to your body as possible, it is recommended to instead carry in front of your hip (appendix carry) or behind the hip.

In front of your hip can be a good strategy if you are wearing a cover garment that closes in the front, a t-shirt, buttoned shirt, sweater, zipped jacket, etc. Having the gun at the front of your waist tends to allow for a faster draw. Whether you wear it on your strong side or weak side (cross draw) is a matter of personal preference.

If you’re like me and wear an open cover garment (unbuttoned shirt, vest, or unzipped jacket) this is a less desirable position. The gun can easily become visible if your movement or the wind opens the cover garment even slightly. It also can be very uncomfortable if you have a few extra pounds around the midsection.

My preferred position is right behind my strong side hip bone. As illustrated in the picture above, this does keep your gun tight against your body, aiding in concealment. It is also close enough to the front of your body that you don’t have to reach too far around to draw the gun, a particular concern if you need to draw quickly.

It does bring up the question of exactly where to position the gun, a question that can only be answered by what feels most comfortable for you. For me, it works best if the rear sight of my gun is lined up with the seam in my pants. The picture above (click on it to enlarge) shows this position.

Some people like to carry their gun all the way around to the small of their back (SOB). This natural indention does make for a convenient place to carry, however there are several drawbacks.

First, it can be very uncomfortable to sit down and your gun tends to dig into your back because you’re leaning directly on it. It is also much more difficult to draw the gun quickly because you have to reach all the way around. The most important reason I recommend against this method of carry, though, is that if you happen to fall on your back your gun could be smashed into your spine and cause serious damage. For this last reason, some holster manufacturers won’t even make holsters designed for SOB carry.

Regardless of which location on your belt to place the holster, there is one additional consideration: which cant to use.

Cant refers to the tilt of the holster on your belt, and can be in varying degrees. This is best illustrated in the following pictures.

Backward or Rear cant
Vertical cant
Forward cant

The location of the holster and how you prefer to perform the motion for drawing the firearm all determine which cant to use. Most holsters have a fixed cant, but some are adjustable. The cant could eliminate certain positions on your belt. For example, if you want to carry weak side in front of the hip, it would be very difficult to draw from a rear canting holster.

My recommendation is to try several different positions on your belt until you find the one that works best for you, and then stick with it. You always want to carry your gun in the same place whenever possible so that you know exactly where it is and can rely on muscle memory to draw it quickly if you are suddenly attacked.

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!