Buying your first gun is exciting, whether you have decided to learn a new skill, find a new hobby, or address a self-defense need. However, you must also ensure you can use it safely and responsibly.
The safe and responsible usage of firearms covers many aspects: legality, safety equipment, accessories and ammunition, secure storage, maintenance, practice recommendations, and more. Follow these tips and guidelines to get the most out of your first firearm and become a responsible gun owner.
Research Your Local Laws
Firearm ownership is a serious responsibility. Various federal, state, and local laws regulate the possession and carrying of firearms. You must ensure the law does not bar you from possessing guns or using them for your intended application, such as concealed carry.
While federal laws don’t regulate the right to carry, specific categories of individuals may not possess guns under any circumstances. The law refers to such people as Prohibited Persons. Examples include the following:
- People who were convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year of prison or misdemeanor domestic violence
- Fugitives from justice
- Unlawful users of controlled substances as defined by the DEA. This includes marijuana, even if legalized by your state.
- Determined by a court of law as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution
- Aliens that entered the United States illegally or unlawfully
- Aliens that entered the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (e.g., B-2 visa tourists)
- Individuals dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
- Individuals subjected to a restraining order from an intimate partner
State and Local Laws
In addition to federal laws, state and local laws may impose most gun regulations you will likely interact with. Depending on your jurisdiction, your local and state governments may regulate gun ownership, carry rights, legal types of firearms, and more.
For example, it is legal to conceal-carry a handgun in Michigan if you have a Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL). If you don’t have a CPL, you must request a Handgun Purchase Permit from your county sheriff before buying a handgun (MCL 28.422). Michigan’s legislature also features a state preemption statute, meaning local governments may not impose gun ordinances or regulations on top of state-level gun laws. (MCL 123.1102)
Determine Your Firearm Needs
Firearms are suitable for a wide range of lawful applications, and specific guns may be better suited for your needs than others. For this reason, you must first determine what you want a firearm for, then decide which gun to purchase based on that determination.
If you primarily want a firearm for self-defense, consider whether you need it for home defense, concealed carry, or both. While home defense-only guns can include rifles and shotguns, a handgun is the only practical option if you also intend to carry concealed.
Choose firearms chambered in cartridges designed for defensive applications, and use the highest-quality self-defense ammunition available. Common defensive cartridges include the following:
- Pistols: 9x19mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .380 ACP, 10x25mm Auto
- Revolvers: .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .44 Magnum
- Shotguns: 12 gauge, 20 gauge, .410
- Rifles: 5.56x45mm, 7.62x39mm
Note that some rifles, such as pistol-caliber carbines (PCCs) and some lever-action rifle models, are chambered in pistol and revolver cartridges.
If you need a gun for hunting, adapt your choice to the species you intend to shoot. A firearm designed for deer hunting should be chambered in a sufficiently powerful cartridge to bring the animal down humanely. However, the same rifle would be overpowered and impractical against smaller animals, such as waterfowl or small varmint species.
Numerous sport shooting disciplines exist, ranging from traditional target shooting to highly dynamic practical shooting divisions such as IPSC and IDPA. Each shooting sport requires different firearms, providing many possibilities to hone your skills, learn to use your new gun competently, and have plenty of fun.
While the highest-profile sport shooting disciplines may evoke images of expensive, highly customized firearms, you don’t need to spend much to get started. Many ranges and divisions let you use the guns you already possess.
Research what types of shooting sports and competitions you’re interested in and review their rules and firearm requirements.
Experienced gun owners typically recommend treating each firearm as a tool suited for various applications. While it is usually wise to determine your needs first and choose a suitable gun accordingly, many firearms can be adapted for multiple uses.
For instance, if you own a personal protection handgun made by a reputable manufacturer, you can use it in various forms of competition shooting. Shotguns are so versatile that you can hunt birds, waterfowl, and large game or use it as a home defense weapon by changing the type of ammunition loaded. Of course, you can also enjoy any firearm for collecting and plinking with them.
Apply the Basic Rules of Gun Safety
While the four basic rules of gun safety are prominently displayed at nearly every gun shop and firearm training class, it is crucial to remember and apply them when around guns. Here’s a breakdown of what each rule means.
- Treat all firearms as if they were loaded. Whenever you manipulate a firearm, even briefly, never assume it is unloaded until you have visually confirmed it. A wrong assumption can result in an accidental discharge.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. This rule explains the concept of trigger discipline. If you leave your finger on the trigger when you aren’t ready to shoot, you risk causing an accidental discharge. If you’re not ready to shoot, rest your trigger finger on the side of the frame or receiver.
- Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. This rule covers the concept of muzzle discipline. If you accidentally fire a gun while it is pointed at someone else, you risk seriously injuring or killing them. For this reason, you should never point a firearm at anything you don’t intend to destroy. Remain mindful of where your muzzle is pointing at all times.
- Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it. Bullets can travel far and remain lethal at extended distances. They can also penetrate many common household obstacles, including walls and furniture. As the adage goes: “There’s a lawyer attached to every bullet.” It means you are responsible for what happens to each bullet that leaves your barrel.
Learn to Maintain Your Firearm
Firearm maintenance is an essential skill every responsible gun owner should learn. Knowing how to disassemble (or “strip”) a firearm for cleaning and lubrication helps ensure your gun is in proper working order and remains reliable and safe to use. A well-maintained, properly stored gun can last indefinitely.
Each firearm has its own design and field-stripping process. Refer to the owner’s manual and follow the steps recommended by the manufacturer. If your firearm didn’t come with an owner’s manual or is an older design, don’t hesitate to research field-stripping tutorial videos or ask a knowledgeable gun owner for more information.
If you frequently shoot your gun, clean and lubricate it after every shooting session. If you only use it occasionally, inspect it once a month and clean or lubricate it as needed. A rarely used firearm should receive cleaning and lubrication at least once a year.
Purchase Essential Gear and Accessories
Besides your firearm, you should have access to these essential pieces of equipment. They will help you shoot more often and keep yourself and others safe more efficiently.
- Hearing protection: Firearms are loud and can permanently damage your hearing. For this reason, you should always have your hearing protection whenever you plan to go shooting.
While most public shooting ranges will loan you a pair of hearing protectors, having your lets you keep your ears safe no matter where you go.
- Eye protection: Shooting glasses are another essential safety equipment you should always wear when shooting. They protect your eyes from shell casings, residue, and debris. The lenses on a pair of shooting glasses also offer some UV protection and contrast, protecting your eyes from harmful exposure to the sun and letting you see targets better.
- Extra magazines: Most modern firearms are magazine-fed, meaning they use detachable, easily removable boxes holding rounds of ammunition. Consider buying as many spare magazines for your guns as possible. Besides helping you shoot longer at the range, they help ensure you have access to working mags in case one of them malfunctions. While you should take care of your working magazines, treat them as consumables. If one of them no longer works correctly, throw it out and buy a replacement.
- Holsters and slings: When your gun is not in your hands or transported in your bag, you should carry it safely on your body using a holster or a sling. These accessories help you maintain control of your guns without setting them down or keeping them in your hands.
Ensure you pair each of your handguns with a dedicated holster designed for its make and model. Similarly, fit your long guns (rifles, shotguns, carbines) with a suitable sling, allowing you to carry it on your back or over your shoulder.
Consider Buying a Gun Safe
A gun safe is a locking box or vault designed to secure your firearms. Its purpose is to prevent unauthorized access to your guns and protect them from damage, wear, and tear. It is also a convenient solution for keeping your guns, accessories, and ammunition organized in a single place.
Some jurisdictions may require you to own a gun safe to comply with local safety laws and mandates. For instance, if you live in Michigan, Senate Bill 79 was passed in April 2023 and will go into effect starting in 2024.
This law will require Michigan gun owners to keep their firearms in a safe, a locked box, or unloaded and fitted with gun locks in the following situations: If children live on the premises or are reasonably expected to visit them.
Comprehensive Firearms Training For Shooters of All Levels at IFA Tactical
The IFA Tactical Training Center welcomes all Michigan residents willing to learn more about firearms and shooting.
Whether you’ve grown up around guns or are new to the world of firearms, our team can help you become safe, responsible, and proficient with your first gun. Our firearm safety and training classes are designed to teach you everything you need to become a safe and responsible gun owner. Each class is supervised by friendly and experienced supervisors, ensuring maximum safety and the highest training quality. Contact us today to learn more.