Many years ago I was asked to speak to new female shooters at a shooting club. The host told me that many of her members attended regularly, had their permits to carry, and trained regularly but still did not feel ready to carry a gun on their person. She asked if I could speak on the “I’m not ready” hurtle and how one might overcome it. As we talked my mind wandered back nearly a decade to a conversation I’d had with Kathy Jackson, a mentor of mine. I remember her asking me, “How did you know you were ready to carry a gun?” We spent the next several hours talking about how people approached the concept of readiness differently and how instructors might attempt to address those concerns in classes.
“I’ll do it!” I said.
Then I got off the phone and realized what I’d done. I just committed to giving a presentation on being “ready” to carry a lethal weapon with the intent to use lethal force to prevent death or great bodily harm. That’s not an easy topic to cover, nor a light one. It’s also not up to me or anyone else to decide. My job is to give instruction and guidance, not to make decisions for others on what they should or should not do.
The decision to carry a firearm is to take responsibility for life and death. It is not only understandable, but respectable that one should pause when considering the full weight of such an enormous responsibility. If one is in good legal standing, well trained and educated, of sound mind, and has still determined they are not prepared to carry a firearm we should appreciate that they know themselves better than anyone else and respect that decision.
There are times, however, that the hesitation comes, not from any internal struggle, but from a lack of understanding what is required in order to feel sufficiently prepared for the task of carrying and defending one’s self with a firearm.
When it’s not known what is necessary in order to take on a task, how does one know the level of preparation needed?
That foundation is what we will attempt to address in this “Ready to Carry” series. We will talk about the three areas of assessment for one’s readiness for carrying a gun:
- The act of owning and carrying a gun
- The mechanics of using a gun
- The use of a gun in self defense
The Act of Owning a Gun
Statistically speaking, in the US a gun kept in the home is more likely to harm the owner or a loved one than it is to be used in self defense.
No one in the gun industry likes to talk about it, but there it is.
These grim statistics exists due to the fact that they are a collection of data across the entire spectrum of gun owners–an unfortunate number of whom do not take firearms ownership seriously.
When you decide to bring a firearm into your home (even for hunting or sport), you are choosing to live with a lethal weapon. You have a tool in your home that if handled carelessly could mean death or great bodily harm for yourself or someone you love. To me, there is nothing more tragic than a tool purchased as a means of protection being the instrument of harm to the very people it was meant to defend.
Whether you choose to carry a firearm or not, if you have one in your home, you need to have a thorough understanding of the theory of the rules of safe handling, storage, and maintenance, and a careful practice that embodies those principles.
Theory vs Practice
A theory is a set of principles or ideals meant to explain or support an action or an end state. What we want to be able to do is keep and carry firearms without harming ourselves or someone else unnecessarily. In attempts to accomplish this, safe firearms principles and rules have been written by many different sources over the years as the theory in support of the practice.
The most popular set of rules are those handed down to us by Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite Academy though there have been many variations on these rules over the years.
Even here at CDR, we have our own version of the rules:
- Know the condition of your firearms and treat it accordingly.
- Point your firearm in the safest direction, being mindful of the path your muzzle has to take to get there.
- Keep your finger in a high, positive register as far away from the trigger as possible until your sights are on target and you’ve made the decision to shoot.
- Identify your target and what is around it, being mindful of what in your environment might change that may make your target unavailable.
- Keep your firearms inaccessible to unauthorized individuals.
The rules of firearms safety–whether there are four, five, three, or ten of them–are meant, as a whole, to impress upon those who might handle a firearm one single, basic truth: Firearms are dangerous. They are deadly. They can, do, and will cause significant harm or death if they are not appropriately handled. And if we are to live with them, we must mindfully engage with good rules and theory before, during, and after handling any firearm.
But to quote Yuval Noah Harari, “Knowledge that does not change behavior is useless.”
It is not enough to merely know the rules. That mindful engagement must be translated into actionable practices that will be unique to you and every moment you find yourself engaging with a firearm.
- “From the moment I touch this firearm, where will it be pointed? Where is the safest direction I can point that will cause the least amount of harm or damage should there be a discharge? How do I move it from where it is now to where I want it while minimizing risk to myself and others?”
- “My child just walked into the room. He doesn’t have an understanding of the concept of firearms safety and could prove a distraction to myself while I clean my gun. The safest course of action is to remove my child from this room before I touch the gun.”
- “I am not legally permitted to carry a firearm into this federal building, but I am responsible for keeping my firearm out of the hands of anyone who is not authorized to have one? What storage method would prevent my firearm from being taken should someone break into my car while I’m otherwise occupied?”
The more fully engaged you are with the theory and principles of safe handling and the more you apply them to your actions, the better practiced you will become in preparing for certain activities such storing your firearm on vacation or going to the gym. You will be able to identify areas of greatest weakness and be able to make better decisions in the moment. You will be more open to feedback in not only your safety practices, but also in your skill development. You will begin to develop your own theories and practices to mitigate the risks of injury or death to any unnecessary individual.
This regular, active practice and application of theory moves you farther away from those statically likely to be injured by their own firearms and into the realms of the outlying variable that is more unlikely to be injured.
The Act of Carrying a Gun
So, you’re feeling pretty confident that you are mindfully engaged with the principles of safe handling and storage, and you want to carry a gun. What do we need to know in order to take the theory of safe handling and expand it to carrying the gun with us.
Unsurprisingly, many people report that a significant hurdle to carrying a gun on a regular basis is confusion and frustration in finding an adequate and secure, yet comfortable and concealable means to actually carry the gun.
If you carry a gun, your holster is your single most important piece of gear. Period.
It is the thing responsible for protecting you and those around you from the lethality of your gun when it is not necessary. It is responsible for protecting your gun from the elements and wear that might happen in the course of the activities of life. It’s responsible for holding your firearm in a secure and consistent manner where it cannot easily be taken from you or fall out while moving, sitting, walking, running, jumping, or playing, but it must also quickly and easily give up your firearm when it is needed without inhibiting or compromising a secure firing grip. It must do all of this while remaining comfortable, and (in most states) undetectable.
That’s a big, important job. The amount of consideration that is put into what you carry a gun in should match (if not exceed) the consideration put into the gun itself.
A holster should, at minimum:
- Covers the entire trigger guard area of the firearm on all sides with a rigid, inflexible material.
- Retains the firearm securely and consistently during daily and rigorous activity.
- Have a means to positively secure to a mounting system such as a belt, a purse, a vest, etc..
- Active retention devices (if there are any) should not work against the natural draw stroke or inhibit a full firing grip on the gun.
Additionally, any holster that starts to show wear such as cracking or any softening of materials (such as sweat shields) that could get into the trigger guard area of the firearm should be immediately discarded and replaced.
Like the rules of safe handling, these rules of carrying are the theory that is meant to guide your practices. These rules are meant primarily, not as a guide to simply allow you to have a gun on your person, but as a means to transport a deadly weapon safely while maintaining accessibility to it. The lethality of your firearm should be your primary concern when considering any means of carry, followed closely by its security, then finally its accessibility.
Are you ready?
If you are not engaged with making safe handling and storage principles an active practice in your home and life, then I would suggest you are not yet ready to carry a gun. Likewise, if you put more care and concern into the cases and covers for your phone or tablet than you do for a firearm you intend to carry, then you might want to reconsider the seriousness of the activity you mean to undertake.
The good news is, we’re here to help! If you still have questions about safe handling, storage, holsters, or training, we’ll gladly continue to help you on that journey.
And if you’ve good handling, storage, and carrying practices and want to consider whether you’re a good enough shooter, stick around for part two.