Handling the Handgun: The Basics for the Beginner

The Constitution Protects Our Right to Purchase and Own Guns but the Beginner Needs to Grasp the Basics.

It is an established pattern. Every year, a new group of shooters comes along with an interest in firearms. Sometimes, the interest may be a function of the many shooting sports that have grown up in recent years. For other folks, the interest stems from being just plain worried about their safety and their families.

Americans have also always had an interest in owning and using guns, and that goes back to the days when the The Founding Fathers solidified the right do so into the Constitution. This is a unique situation in the modern world and it only happend in America. Simply stated, there is an unending supply of beginners. We believe that many new shooters get a less-than-ideal start in the shooting sports, and we would like to offer some thoughts as to possible solutions.

The marketplace for firearms, plus their ammunition and accessories, is huge. At no other time in the ongoing history of personal firearms have we had the great assortment of makes, models, styles and calibers so readily available. From a semi-automatic pistol that’s small enough to fit in a pocket to a massive revolver capable of knocking down a big bear, it’s there for the asking. But we assume we can just pick out any gun and we assume it will fill our needs. Whether you’re protecting yourself, your home or using this tool to hunt, understanding the volatility of a gun is in the proper use and handling.

The accessories market is also very broad—with cases, holsters, cleaning gear, sighting equipment and a great variety of stuff that is at least handy and sometimes essential. Most of all, there is ammunition and everything having to do with ammo.

You might be able to get by without the time and expense of hand loading, but if you are a shooter, you must have ammunition. If you can accept the major premise of our argument, you may need far more ammo than you realize. We believe ammunition is getting more attention than the skillful use of that equipment.

It is possible that a gun owner might get so intrigued by the quality and quantity of neat shooting gear that he or she could lose sight of the goal. The goal is hitting the target—be it steel plate, bowling pin or paper bulls eye. As with knitting needle, tennis racket or banjo, marksmanship doesn’t automatically come with better gear. You cannot buy skill, but you can develop it on your own.

At the beginning of your interest in the sport, you need help from a qualified instructor. In the case of the handgun, put yourself in the hands of a qualified NRA instructor and learn safety, then the basics of grip, stance, breathing, sight alignment, trigger control and follow through.

Let’s say that you follow our advice and start with a typical .22-cal. handgun, revolver or semi-automatic. After your initial training, limit every practice session to no more than 50 rounds and record your scores—good or bad. Don’t change anything until your scores level out—no more improvement. At this point, change your equipment in some small way. Maybe a change to a plain black front sight is in order.

Keep up the recording of scores, so when the scores improve, you may conclude the new sights are probably involved. In similar fashion, try other improvements one at a time. Also, we’ll repeat a principle from the early writings of instructors at the Gunsite Academy to shoot no more than 1,000 rounds in a 5.5-day course. They insist that every round be fired carefully. It can be done, and it does work.

In the process of working your way conscientiously through this routine, you will be developing a gradually increasing level of skill. Experience grows slowly, and as it does, you will also be developing a fund of knowledge as to what works and what doesn’t. The major point that I want to make is to avoid this business of trying to buy your way to mastery of the handgun. Accept that patience and steady work on simple principles will prevail.

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