Considerations Before You Buy A Gun

Audio Blog, 14:01

Recently, I talked with a variety of people who requested my opinion on whether they should “get a gun to protect the family”.  I believe it is a reflection of the many Americans who feel a sense of fear and defensiveness, primarily because of the recent social unrest, terrorist attacks and the perceived spike in domestic crime.

The people who asked about it are from various walks of life, and know that I am a responsible gun owner who is willing to discuss my views.  Moreover, the reason that I write this free blog is to share perspectives on real life issues, and this controversial topic is certainly appropriate to address at this time.

To be clear, this post will not:

  • Justify, qualify or discount a person’s feeling of fear or defensiveness,
  • Debate appropriate gun legislation,
  • Discuss the merits of the second amendment constitutional right to bear arms,
  • Settle arguments on the moral justification of using deadly self-defense force,
  • Weigh-in on whether guns are “good or bad”, or
  • Make a recommendation whether you should purchase a firearm within the existing law.

This decision is very personal, and requires thoughtful self-reflection and direct consultation with adult family members living under the same roof.

Instead, this post will focus on identifying some important questions that a responsible adult should answer before moving forward with the purchase of a firearm.

Why am I getting a gun?

Is it for self-defense, hunting, target shooting, recreation/sport, antique family heirloom, animal/pest control, or other reasons? All may be valid reasons, but it is critical to understand “why”.

When people consider getting a gun to protect their family, they logically fall into the self-defense category, which in a Gallup poll accounted for more than 60% of the responses. Often times, the decision is driven by the understanding that self-defense tools and assistance may be necessary for effective home/family defense.

Unfortunately, most people that fall exclusively into the “self-defense” category are new gun owners with minimal experience and knowledge, and little desire to take the steps necessary to develop competency with the gun.

The other categories of gun purchasers, like hunting, recreation and target shooting, are often already experienced owners, and would likely not be asking me the question.

So, if you are in the “self-defense” group of first time gun purchasers, then you must begin by answering a simple, but profound question.

“If I feared for my life (or my loved ones) from a person threatening deadly force, am I capable of actually taking another person’s life?

If the answer is “no”, you must recognize a sobering truth.  If your life is threatened, and you pull out a firearm, but are morally or technically unable to use it, the perpetrator may take it from you, and use it on you.  

So if you feel a legitimate need for home defense, but just can’t get there with a firearm, then getting a dog (photo: my dog Moose) may be a better option for you. A protective and well-trained dog is more than capable of recognizing and deterring most threats that may enter your home. A dog will work round-the-clock to protect your family (the pack), and will sense intruders approaching your house, even before your fancy alarm is activated. Of course, a dog will also provide wonderful companionship and unconditional loyalty, for as long as you care for it.

If a big, loud and stinky dog is not going to happen, then other non-lethal self-defense protection tools should be considered. This would include tasers, pepper spray, martial arts training or a simple baseball bat, for example. Obviously these options do not have the stopping power as a gun, or the awareness of a dog, but they may be better personal options for you.

Do I have the mental and emotional soundness to responsibly own a firearm?

I believe it is appropriate to invest a significant amount of time considering your past, and to honestly determine whether you are emotional and mentally suited to introduce a firearm into your life. This is a complex issue that often requires deep self-awareness and honesty, and maybe a professional counselor’s opinion, specifically if you have a history of mental illness.  Bottom line:  The introduction of a firearm into an unstable environment will only make the situation more dangerous for you.

What are the applicable state laws regarding the justified use of deadly force?

State level laws can vary a great deal, so it is wise to first identify and study the appropriate legislation in your state. Regarding self-defense, it is important to truly understand legal concepts like “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground”, and to analyze multiple scenarios when the use of deadly force for self-defense is justified.

What if the perpetrator is fleeing your home after harming a family member, or threatening to use deadly force? Does the law allow you to stop them from departing with a firearm? That answer depends on the state…

What if a family member urgently calls you from a social event, in distress, after being assaulted? Should you take the gun, and if you do, under what scenario upon arrival would you deploy it?

These are simply a few of the complex scenarios to consider. The point here is that the justified use of deadly force is often complicated and murky, so it pays to consider appropriate actions far in advance, and to develop a framework for thinking about the justified use of deadly force in self-defense.

What type and frequency of training will I need?

The acquisition and legal registration of a firearm are the easy steps. More importantly, how will you train yourself to develop the skills that are necessary to effectively handle a firearm under pressure if you are threatened by deadly force?

Are you willing to put in the significant work required to develop the competency?

If not, do you really expect to just purchase a gun, put it away, and then retrieve it in an emergency in order to defend your family in the moment of need? That seems like a very naive assumption.  Why?  Just consider the level and frequency of training that a law enforcement officer or soldier undergoes in order to develop the skills necessary to operate competently under pressure.

However, if you are willing to practice, there are many excellent local gun clubs and shooting ranges that offer introductory programs all the way up to advanced training. Introductory course are very important for inexperienced owners because mastering the basics are essential to building the advanced skills.

It may be best to also complete a Concealed Carry training course, even if you won’t actually carry a gun outside of your home. These programs are very comprehensive and focus on many important development skills, such as gun safety, legal issues, basic gun marksmanship, self-defense awareness, and mechanical training on the use and maintenance of a firearm. I would also recommend continuation training with a constructive and knowledgeable instructor at a club or shooting range.

Am I legally eligible, under Federal and State laws, to purchase a firearm?

The list is much too long to cover, but suffice it to say that your background is important. The federal and state authorities conduct an extensive check for firearm sales, which vary by state, but will include areas such as:

  • Criminal record,
  • Substance abuse history,
  • Alien status,
  • Nature of military discharge,
  • Mental health record.

How will I safely store the gun?

It is the law to keep firearms safely stored in a condition that the firearm cannot be discharged. This means at a minimum, you will need to purchase an appropriate gun safe, and restrict access.

If the gun discharges, and a minor is involved, the law will hold the owner responsible and likely proceed with charges. This of course, is in addition to the emotional guilt and responsibility that the owner would bear for irresponsibly allowing a child access to a dangerous firearm.

Moreover, some states now have a “Child Access Prevention” law, that holds the parent or guardian liable if a child commits a crime with an improperly secured firearm.

My experience with kids who grow up around firearms, primarily in rural areas or on military bases, is that they are less curious and more responsible around firearms. This stems from being taught about gun safety and proficiency at early ages.

These kids learn to respect and manage the danger, as well as the stringent safety rules that carry over into all other aspects of disciplined behavior. Often, they recognize the trust parents place in them to follow the demanding rules, and that yields confidence and accountability that they carry throughout their lives.

How will I clean and maintain the gun?

Guns have moving parts, and require you to learn how to perform a normal cleaning. The best place to learn the basics is with a qualified instructor, easily found at gun clubs or shooting ranges. I have found gun club members to be very responsive and courteous to new owners.  You simply have to ask nicely.

Additionally, any decent introductory training program will have a section that teaches new owners how to safely clean the gun.

Of course, the gun store owner is also eager to teach you the basics of a particular firearm, if he/she believe you are a serious potential buyer.  Remember, if the gun is not properly cleaned, it may become unreliable at the time you need it the most.

For maintenance beyond a normal cleaning, or for any malfunctions, I recommend taking the firearm directly to the certified gunsmith at the club/range/store.  They will ensure that the firearm is working properly.

Where can I fire it to practice?

Local gun clubs usually have wonderful facilities with safe buffer zones and strict protocol.  This is because they require new members to undergo supervised training (12 hours) and sign-offs before being authorized to shoot on the range (unsupervised).  Local clubs are also attractive because the require members to pay initiation fees and annual dues, as well as pass screening checks.

I am a member of a club that charged a $500 initiation fee, and $200 annual dues.  I joined because the fee alone would deter non-serious owners from joining, thereby improving the responsibility quotient for the member community.  It is well worth the investment.

Shooting ranges are easily accessible, but open to the general public.  They are often very modern and clean facilities run as a profit business, so they include sales, training and extensive hours of operation.  The drawback, in my opinion, is that the ranges accept anyone who walks in off the street.

Invest in some land (see Digital Currency: Do You Rely On It Too Much?), or ask landowners owners who are friends/co-workers.  One of the reasons that my family purchased land was to have the freedom to enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, including target shooting.

The most important thing is to understand the laws of the county and city jurisdiction, regarding the discharge of a firearm.  Some allow it, and some do not.  Generally speaking, the more rural you get, the more freedom you have to shoot on your property.

Of course, you are always responsible for any rounds (bullets) originating from your property, so it is critical to study topography, foilage and shot trajectory before you set up your makeshift firing range.

Deciding to move forward with purchasing a gun is a very complex decision that should be given quite a bit of thought. It is best to think carefully about it prior to the purchase, and if you decide to proceed, study the law, get good professional training, join a community of experienced shooters, and practice a lot!

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