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Firearms for Beginners:
The First Step

By Dan S Defense

This series of articles is designed to introduce new shooters to firearms. Whether you are a person who lives in the country and needs to be able to defend yourself, your land or your animals; or if you are a person interested in self defense, to keep yourself and loved ones safe, but not sure how to start, or maybe someone interested in the shooting sports--to any of you, if you are interested in firearms, and want to understand them better, this series is for you!

We will start with the basics and work our way toward practical advice for becoming proficient with firearms, buying a firearm and storing it safely in your home, farm or business.

Before we start we need to look at what firearms are. To me, firearms are tools and as such are neither good nor bad. Firearms are inanimate objects that will serve no purpose, nor take any action without human intervention. The first thing you need to realize is that these tools are dangerous and must be treated with respect and care. Since firearms are simply tools, you are responsible for them and must take the time to understand how these tools function, what they are capable of doing and how to handle them.

In this article, the first in a series, we will help you understand what firearms are, the basics of how they function, how you can get to know them better and finally, how you can get used to living with firearms in your household. By the time that you finish reading this article, all these points ought to make sense to you and you'll be ready for the second article.

Let's start by defining what a firearm is, since that's the topic of discussion, and the word needs to be clear to all of us. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a firearm as: "a weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder -usually used of small arms" and it defines small arms as: "a handheld firearm (as a handgun or shoulder arm)", which simply means a handgun or rifle.

Modern firearms can fire one or several bullets every time the trigger is pulled. They work by igniting some amount of powder which is encased in a cartridge. Basically, the firearm has some sort of firing pin or a striker, which as its name implies, strikes the primer in a cartridge. When the primer it hit, it ignites the powder which in-turn generates high pressure which instantly builds up and propels a bullet into the firearms barrel and out toward the intended target. Therefore a firearm without cartridges can't perform its basic function and is both harmless and useless, unless used as a club.

So, the first thing to know about firearms is that they are inanimate objects. Firearm work by controlling small explosions of powder to shoot out projectiles. You shouldn't load a firearm unless you intend to use it (e.g. shooting at the range or outdoors or keeping one loaded for self defense). Generally, it is best to keep firearms unloaded until you intend to use them.

You should also now know that an empty, unloaded firearm is a static piece of metal and other materials, which is harmless, unless used as a club. Despite the Hoplophobes who fear firearms and anti-gun activists, firearms won't initiate any action without human intervention nor will they turn a good person into a homicidal maniac. A firearm is simply a tool which needs to be used with care and attention.

Firearms can be divided into two main groups: rifles and handguns. Let's look at these two groups in the context of someone new to firearms. First we'll see what they are and in what scenarios they come into use.

Rifles, also refereed to as long guns are typically fired from the shoulder and designed for targets that are further away (think of distances greater than 100 meters or ~110 yards), or for targets that require significant stopping power, such as hunting big game, or stopping threats that take cover behind a barrier or wear light body armor. Rifles are typically more powerful than handguns and are also more accurate and easier to use. The greater distance between the front sight and the rear sight makes it easier to shoot accurately (more on that in later articles) and their size helps tame recoil.

Given these traits, I typically used a small caliber rifle, shooting small and less than potent ammunition, to introduce new shooters to the sport of shooting. A 22 caliber rifle is easy to shoot, very affordable, uses very cheap and plentiful ammunition and therefore it is ideal starter firearm.

Handguns are smaller than rifles and are typically held with one or to hands. Handguns are typically used in distances of less than 100 meters and are mostly used for self defense and range work. Handguns are popular for self defense scenarios because they are easier to conceal. In a society where firearms are too often demonized, a concealed handgun is more acceptable to others, simply because they aren't aware of its existence, in their presence (I assume Hoplophobes believe firearms are evil entities that can damage your soul and make you do "bad things"). Handguns typically require more skill to operate and come in various types, sizes and calibers. We will talk more about handgun selection if future articles.

So, the second thing to know about firearms is that they are divided into rifles and handguns. Rifles are typically bigger, more powerful and easier to use by beginners. Handguns are easier to conceal and carry since they are smaller. In our society a concealed handgun is more acceptable than a visible firearm. Both rifles and handguns come in different shapes and sizes and some are built to accomplish specialized tasks (e.g. sniper rifle).

By now you ought to be aware of two facts. First, that firearms are dangerous since they are designed to shoot projectiles than can injure or kill and second, that firearms are inanimate objects and simple tools that will do absolutely nothing, until you make them do it and are therefore safe to own and keep as long as you respect their abilities and treat them with care and focus. There's a saying that says that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" which is the same concept as "Cars don't kill people, drunk drivers kill people" and so on. There's even a funny one about spoons not making people fat but you get the point.

So where do you start as someone who's interested and new to firearms? The best way to learn safely is by leveraging the experience and knowledge of an experienced shooter and firearm owner. The next best thing is an introductory class to firearms. The NRA offers free classes that introduce new shooters to firearm safety and firearm basics.

For example an excellent class to start with is called "NRA Home Firearm Safety Course". There is also a series called "First Steps" for example the "NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation". There are many other classes, some of which are free and some cost a nominal fee that is well worth your time. You can search for these by name or ask your local range if they have any members that are certified by the NRA to deliver any of these courses.

If you have the resources, you can travel to a shooting school and learn from the very best instructors. My favorite school is run by Clint and Heidi Smith and is called "Thunder Ranch". I sent a good friend their and he came back well trained and with nothing but praise. Another well known and respected school is "Gunsite" which will turn a novice into someone who can safely use and firearms, in self defense scenarios, and who's confident and able to apply self defense principles.

But, what if you live in a rural area? what if someone who has no access to experienced shooters? What if you don't have the funds to travel to a shooting school? What if there is no one to help you out? I'd say don't despair! There are others ways of learning the basics in the comfort and safety of your home. There are excellent training videos that will teach you about firearm safety, firearms and even self defense. My first choice here, and I have seen these myself, are the DVDs from Thunder Ranch. There are several options, which I will review separately, and they are all good--no false bravado and "tactical this and that"--just good common sense and wisdom.

There are other questions that you need to ask yourself before choosing to own a firearm and I will supply links to articles and even an audio recording (done as a favor by a good friend) that will help you think this through. Each of these is hyper-linked directly to the article, so finish reading the article and then come back and click on the ones you find most interesting: I would start with "Should you buy a self defense gun?" or if you want it in an audio version, it is available here, and is identical to the written text. Then proceed to the more in-depth article "Things to consider before you decide to carry a handgun for self defense" and its audio version.

There's a nice article for young ladies which is called "Handgun recommendations and advice for young woman" I'll close with the most important article--please read it before ever handling any firearm--read and internalize firearm safety and remember that every rule listed in that article was written in blood and it is your safe passage card into the world of firearms.

In summary, firearms are tools and as such are neither good nor bad. They will help you protect yourself or loved ones; they will keep your farm safe from predators that endanger your animals, your land safe from intruders, or save your family in a terrible home invasion scenario.

Firearms are tools and they will take any action without human intervention, so it is up to you to start on this journey and learn all that you can about them. In return for your investment of time in effort, you will gain new skills, discover a fascinating new sport and open the door to safer living and self reliance. I know this seems a bit scary but if you take this one step at a time and leverage the resources that I covered here, you'll discover that it is much easier that you currently imagine.

I value your feedback and would be happy to act on it in future articles. I hope this first article was interesting and educating,

Until next time, stay safe by being alert!

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