I’ve Bought a Gun for Self-Defense: Now What?

Make sure you know — memorize, review, and practice — the four cardinal rules of firearms safety

OK, you have decided to take that big step and buy a self-defense firearm for home or carry. Or maybe you got one as a present. Regardless of whether you already have one or are thinking of getting one, you need to be a responsible firearm owner. What does that entail?

Well, take it from someone who has owned and used firearms for more than 40 years as part of his daily life, both as a police officer and firearms instructor. Get trained! 

Related: An Open Letter to Those Who Would Harm Cops

The very first things you should learn if you are thinking of buying or already own a firearm are the four cardinal rules of gun safety. These rules apply anywhere in the world and are recognized as being the basis for all gun safety and training. Memorize them, follow them, and make others who are near you follow them, too.

They are simple and easy to remember and understand:

1.) Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, regardless of whether they are or not.

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2.) Never point a firearm at anything unless you are willing to kill or destroy it!

3.) Always identify your target and what is beyond it.

4.) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to shoot.

I make my police recruits memorize and repeat these rules before they are ever allowed to touch a real firearm in the police academy. And then we enforce these rules with no exceptions. That is why we have never had anyone injured in the 20+ years I have been teaching firearms at my academy.

Check out the instructors. Google them, ask around, or ask for references.

If a police recruit violates one of these rules, we remove him from the academy. Firearm safety is that important. So as a citizen learning to handle firearms for the first time — or even if you’re someone who has been handling them but never bothered to know these rules — you must follow them.

Every case of unintentional discharge of a firearm except mechanical failure (which is exceptionally rare) can be traced back to someone violating one or more of these simple rules. Thus, as a new firearm owner, you must know these and follow them all the time. Even when you are alone or are sure a firearm is unloaded and safe, treat it like it’s loaded, and never point it at anything that you don’t want to destroy.

The next important act you take as a responsible firearm owner is to secure your firearms and ammunition when not in use — especially when you have kids around the house. If you have kids, you need to teach them the four rules above. If you teach those rules at a young age and they follow them, you will never be in the news as a tragedy case of a child shooting herself or a friend with a firearm.

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Securing them can be done in one of several ways. A gun safe is probably the best (and most expensive) option, but not everyone can afford them. If you bought a firearm for home defense, locking it in a large, slow-to-open safe kind of defeats the purpose. You can have a firearm secured and yet quickly available if you buy a rapid access safe.

I have a Hornady Rapid Safe myself on my nightstand that has my home defense firearm in it. It opens with an RFI wristband I wear or a quick finger combination. Either way, it’s fast and still secures the firearm from prying eyes. I also carry a firearm on me at home most of the time. Some people wonder why and think this is over the top. Well, as a former police officer having gone to more than my share of home invasions, home invasions do not happen elsewhere. They happen in the home, and carrying a firearm while in the home is one way to help protect against that.

No, I am not paranoid, I am a realist.

Related: How a Texas Concealed Gun Owner Prevented Mass Murder

No place is completely safe these days. No neighborhood is immune to crime. So being armed while at home is something that is an individual decision, but imagine if you do become the victim of a home invasion and you could have protected yourself and your family but chose not to. You have to live with that decision. I choose to be ready even if it is a little inconvenient. I would not be able to live with myself if something happened to my family that I could have prevented but decided not to bother.

So you have memorized the rules and follow them. You have secured your firearm when not using it or carrying it. And now you are thinking of carrying it when you leave your home. Either openly carrying or carrying concealed (depending on what state you live in) is a personal choice and sometimes is decided by what activity you are doing. Regardless, you have decided to take that next step and protect yourself and your family from becoming just another victim of the criminal element that is out there these days.

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You should try to remember that it is much more tactically sound to try to fight an armed criminal with a firearm than it is with harsh words, or worse, on your knees begging for your life and that of your family!

Take a firearms course from a reliable instructor in your area. Check around and ask others you know have been trained whom they recommend. Make sure you do not take one of those hour-long gun show courses that are nothing more than a way for them to make money. You need to remember that your life and the lives of your family may rely on the training you get. And are they not worth a few more hours of your time and a bit more money if needed?

Check out the instructors. Google them, ask around, or ask for references. Make sure you are completely satisfied with your instructor’s credentials and what they teach. There is a huge difference between a good firearms course and one that is put on by instructors just looking to make a buck. Remember that just because an instructor has this or that certification does not make him a great instructor. So check them out, do your due diligence, and be satisfied you have checked them out.

There are outstanding instructors out there. I still take courses from other instructors when I can. You are never too old to learn and will never learn everything there is. Training is a lifelong endeavor.

Related: Guns Save Lives, but Media Largely Ignore

So now you have learned the rules of firearm safety. You have purchased a firearm and taken some good instruction on how to use it legally and safely. Now you need to know, study, and follow your state’s laws on carrying firearms. You do not want to be arrested for something you did not know about.

If you follow those simple steps for responsible firearm ownership, you are one of the citizens who can truthfully say they are ready to defend themselves and their family. Good for you! I know full well that cops cannot be everywhere and sometimes take minutes to respond to life-and-death situations, and more often than not, they arrive after it’s over. Let’s hope that when they arrive, you are the one still standing because you have protected your life or the lives of your loved ones legally and successfully!

Chris Wagoner is a U.S. Army veteran and senior OpsLens contributor. He has been in law enforcement the last 35-plus years. He specializes in LE Firearms Instruction and is in charge of a large police academy in North Florida. In his spare time he is a freelance military reporter and owner/founder of the largest military videos channel on YouTube, “3rdID8487.” This OpsLens article is used by permission.

Read more at OpsLens:
Learning to Shoot: How Much Training Is Enough?
Trying Juveniles as Adults: New Solution to Old Problem

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