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Getting Started with Firearms (For the Ladies)

Today I’m featuring a guest post mostly for the ladies, but I suspect some gentlemen may find this useful as well. To those who have considered getting a gun for self-defense, this is for you. Today we cover selecting a firearm, some common gun related terms, and why you need proper training.

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Why should I learn how to shoot? I’ve never been a victim. I’ve never been robbed.

The best way to survive a criminal attack is to have a safety strategy BEFORE you need it, not after. That is why I strongly support the Second Amendment and the right for law abiding citizens to own guns for sport and self defense.

Man, his other traits notwithstanding, biologically considered, is simply the most formidable of all the beasts of prey, and, indeed, the only one that preys systematically on its own species.

A thug or a professional criminal has disassociated himself from humanity and views us simply as a hawk views a sparrow. Face it ladies, we are prey.

My late Mom and I both went into Law Enforcement, I have her badge in a desk drawer next to mine, even if I’m a scientist by trade.

It’s hard work, it’s meaningful work, (though if we dressed like they do on TV no one would take us seriously).

But that is not why we both learned to shoot.  It’s about being a victim, something both Mom and I have seen.

It’s about not living in fear on the street or in my own home alone. A woman, with her smaller size and perceived timidity, is considered easy prey.

Birds can see from the side to help protect themselves, women can not. There must be a way to level the playing field and for me that is concealed carry.

The hawk does not know I have a 38 special in my holster, but he does sense the confidence in my stride, the firmness of my hand. I do not walk timidly, I walk with strength, even if it is of the hollowpoint variety.

I know women who say “I’ve had a self defense course (non weapon)” or “I know karate“.

I’ve had training in both and I can tell you, that in a case of I’m smart enough to know that in case of extreme danger against a person with their own weapon, that is  involving a person with a weapon, that is no guarantee I can protect myself.

The young woman who was kidnapped from a Eastern National Park a few years back by a kindly looking older fellow and later found murdered in the woods? Black Belt.

Look, even with my training, most guys could mop the floor with me simply due to the disparity in size and upper body strength. Even size and strength may not help you if you are up against someone armed with a knife.

But though women are often targets, they are not the only ones. Predators, when wounded, stoned or hungry will try and take anything. In numbers, or singularly, using whatever advantage they have, be it blindsiding or extreme aggression.

Ladies, operating a gun doesn’t require upper body strength or special fighting agility, and you can learn to safely use one in a relatively short period of time.

I recommend getting an instructor if you are brand new to shooting Many ranges have certified instructors available at a very reasonable cost, for one on one or group lessons and that might be more comfortable for you than having a family member or spouse teach you.

Though a couple of very competent shooters I know had their husbands teach them and it was what worked best for them both. Your choice here again. Training is key though, and not just learning how to shoot.

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Getting the right introduction to shooting ensures a safe and quality first-time experience and the start to a lifetime of enjoyment of shooting sports or simply the appreciation of self defense.

Too many woman have been put off to it by a guy that takes them to a range, hands them something that’s got a lot of kick  and watches the woman get totally turned off to shooting simply for the sake of his ego (and it’s not always size – some small guns will bite your hand and my big Sig is a total pussycat).

If that’s the way someone introduces you to a firearm,  find yourself someone else to shoot with.

Begin with the Basics

The National Rifle Association (NRA) provides  a number firearm training courses , both with individual and group instruction that will help you develop the knowledge, skills and attitude to pursue your interest while honing in the safety principles that you will carry with you the rest of your life.

The NRA provides an online state-by-state locator to help you find a local firearm safety course.

A professional shooting facility is another resource for you to contact about introductory courses and quality instruction. Wheretoshoot.org will help you find a range near you or simply look in the yellow pages. When I first decided I wanted to learn to shoot pistols, I simply contacted a local indoor range, and arranged for a time to visit. Let them know you are a newcomer, trust me, they will welcome your presence and your business.

When I arrived, I was probably the only lady in there but I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome. I got a tour, and the phone number of two of the instructors.

Make contact and arrange a time to visit. Try and visit during the week or in the early morning when it’s less likely to be busy and you’ll feel less like that “fish out of water”.

If you can’t find a range, locate a shooting sports retailer near you. Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, etc. Ask for the firearms department and tell them what you are looking for. They will help get you pointed in the right direction to find firearm safety courses and shooting instruction. Many of the stores sponsor concealed carry courses and gun safety courses for beginners.

Set up a session with a certified firearms instructor.We fight with our minds first, and you need to be proficient on not just how to fight, but when. When you look for a trainer, find out as much as you can about where he/she got their training and if their area of expertise is compatible with what you want to learn. There are a number of courses and avenues for getting basic firearm safety, the principals of which I can’t stress enough.

What do I wear? – Dress the part the first time you go. I’m not talking about some Rambette outfit of cammo or khaki and knife strapped to your thigh like Lara Croft. Wear comfortable clothes that you can move in, that are easily washed. Avoid anything low cut or open toed shoes. Brass is HOT, and one down the front of your shirt is going to get your attention, but the sort that will be that embarrassing story your grand kids will tell about you some day.

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Don’t Forget Protection:  I’m talking eyes and ears. Before you make that first visit to the gun range, pick up some protection shooting glasses (about $20 and up). I’d recommend them even if you wear glasses as they offer more protection to the eye than most smaller fashion frames and most will fit OVER your regular glasses. Get some ear muffs (if they are furry you are in the wrong department at the sporting goods store). The plastic ear muffs run about $30 and up. Look for a Noise Reduction Rating (NR Rating on the label) of around 30 (you’ll see some as low as 22, adequate but you can do better).

Walk in with your head up knowing you don’t know a darn thing about the mechanics of the firearm.  You didn’t crawl into your parents car and drive 70 mph down the freeway the first time did you? Everyone is new at one point. As long as you repeat the mantra “never point the muzzle at anything you don’t wish to destroy“, “treat every gun as if it is loaded” and “keep your finger away from the trigger until your target is identified and you are ready to fire”you will NEVER look stupid. The only dumb people at a range that do are those that don’t follow those rules

You may not know number of rounds or even what a round is. You may not know how to load or insert a magazine. A good instructor will  show you all of this before you ever pull the trigger. A professional instructor will show you how the guns works and explains exactly what is happening when you pull the trigger. They will demonstrate everything you should be doing, before you even do it. Typically women learn best when the fundamentals of shooting are broken down  into small segments and there is time to master each part before new material is presented.

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How to Find a Firearm

“No – you don’t want the P220, you need something that’s girl sized”. The last time I heard that was from the gun store employee who DIDN’T make a $850 sale.

It’s not as common as it used to be, but on occasion you will find a gun store employee who either ignores you or suggests a “girl gun”. Take your business elsewhere. You wouldn’t buy a new outfit at a store where the clerk thought you were fat when you’re not, so why buy a gun at a place where they assume you’re an idiot because you have breasts. It’s getting better all the time ladies. On a business trip to St. Louis I walked into the Gander Mountain in St. Louis, asked about 1911’s in .45 and the store clerk didn’t bat an eye though his smile went up about 2000 watt at a new customer.

If you don’t want a tiny gun, don’t let a clerk talk you into one simply because it’s a “ladies gun” for “small hands” like tiny .22 or .25 auto, that without a well aimed shot, wouldn’t stop a charging hamster.  A .22 is a GREAT gun to learn the basics and keep your skills up but if you only have the money for one gun for self defense get something with a little more stopping power.

There is a lot of good information out there on selecting a firearm to fit and learning to use it. Some of the best technical information available comes from Kathy Jackson at http://www.corneredcat.com/. Kathy has published a whole book on the subject that is a worthwhile investment, she’s also a genuinely nice lady that has been a good role model for me in many things.

But just because a gun is larger in size or grip (what you wrap your hand around) doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for a female shooter. I know delicate women who handle a 1911 like no one’s business. In my opinion, there are no girl guns or guy guns. A gun is not male or female. You can buy a pink gun but that doesn’t make it a “girl’s gun”, just an ugly one (my opinion, I just hate the color pink). There are women with smallish hands that can handle a large gun, if they choose to, and men with big huge bear paws that can handily fire a small piece. There are women with large hands and/or long fingers and men with small palms and/or short fingers. Don’t let a seller tell you a gun is a “girl gun” because of its grip or overall size.

You can rent a gun to try it out. Renting is not just for overly large TV sets anymore. Many larger indoor ranges will rent you a gun so you can try it out for an hour or two. If you have no idea which one to start with, ask your instructor, ask other female shooters. But don’t rush into purchasing anything just because you think you have to buy one to get started. Like a car or a husband you don’t want the first one that comes along even if it’s all shiny and new.

For a first self defense firearm I’d recommend a revolver.

Why get a revolver?  They’re about as simple as you can get. Point and shoot. Each trigger pull feels the same from first to last. You have no controls to fumble with and you can’t accidentally eject the magazine while you try and get your hands around it. They’re easy to tell if they are loaded and you can clean them without dynamite and your own personal engineer.

A revolver is pretty well immune to jamming, and if it misfires, you can simply pull the trigger again to fire the next chamber. Not all revolvers look like some of those hand cannons you see Clint Eastwood carrying in old Westerns. Some of them are actually easy to tote around. Look for something in a .38 special or a .357 magnum.

What’s a Round?  A round  is simply another name for a bullet or cartridge. If you want a semi auto, and it’s not going to be your primary carry for self defense piece, start with a small round like the .22. It’s not your first choice in self defense, the round doesn’t have that much stopping power unless perfectly placed but it will teach you the basics, and allow you to practice stance, aim and grip at a very affordable price. I keep a .22 for practice. even if what I carry for self defense is a MUCH bigger round. Try the .22 out, if it seems too “wimpy” for your taste,  look for something in 9 mm, .40 S & W,  or .380 working your way up to .45 ACP if your goal is self defense, not just shooting sports.

It’s more than On/Off but it’s not near  as complex as  some things you’d find in your own cupboard. But you need to be familiar and be able to use all of the gun’s controls without any motion that is uncomfortable or causes you muscle pain. If there is a thumb safety, make sure you can crisply flick it off with the thumb of your firing hand. Make sure you can reach to operate the slide release, safety/decocker and mag release (labeled in the picture here which is my Sig Sauer P220 .45 that the nice man said was too much gun for a girl).

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Learn to take care of your firearm, not just shoot it. It may take you a while, but have your instructor or a shooting friend or family member show you how to clean and protect the finish of your firearm. If you look like a million bucks and then go home and have your hubby clean your guns it doesn’t say much for your confidence. Cleaning it will make you more comfortable operating it, and besides, if you smell like a little Hoppes No. 9 your better half may offer to do some chores in exchange for a kiss.

Network with other gun owners:  There are a number of women bloggers who shoot. I’m sure they exist, but it’s a rare one of us that thinks she’s better than any of the others, jealous of others successes. We are all willing to teach, just as we are still willing to learn. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, for feedback, for encouragement. You will get it.

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Lastly – be proficient.  If faced with a danger to your life, a gun hidden in a drawer, which you have not practiced with, is going to do you more harm than good.

You can do this! Many women have a real aptitude for target shooting, and it’s the one physical activity where men and women can be truly equal. Remember, despite my saying above, “armed and safe”, a gun is not a charm that will magically keep the criminals away, and you can’t bluff your way out of a dangerous situation with a gun you are hesitant to use, either technically or morally. Criminals can sense fear and hesitation like any wild animal can. A gun will only protect you if you are honestly and demonstrably prepared to use it. That requires a mindset of confidence in it, in yourself, and regular practice. .

It’s a choice of being proficient or being prey. That’s an easy choice for me.

Brigid writes at Home on the Range – mausersandmuffins.blogspot.com

Her bio reads, “Swept wing cowgirl for Uncle Sam meets doctorate in forensic geekery. I like solving puzzles. Life is an adventure that usually involves a sidearm and a trusty black lab.”

I admire her wit and humor, and her fine selection of bacon recipes. She writes posts that will tug at your heart strings, make you laugh and make your tummy rumble. Take time to stop by for a visit, you’ll be glad you did.

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