By ERIN C. HEALY
Your first visit
Walking into a gun shop can be intimidating. Even shooting enthusiasts feel a twinge of unease stepping inside a gun store they’ve never been in before. In a way, that’s a good thing. Buying a gun is serious business, but that doesn’t mean your first visit has to be awkward or humiliating.
Gun sellers should want to sell you a gun, and the good ones, the ones with integrity, want to sell you the exact right gun for you. They know you may be nervous; they understand you might not know exactly what you want. Undoubtedly, they stock the perfect gun for you, but they’ll need to ask you some questions first. Beat them to the punch.
If the clerk hasn’t already greeted you—an uncommon occurrence Cape Gun Works in Hyannis, Mass.—say hello and ask if they offer a basic pistol class. If they do and there’s one coming up, be grateful that you don’t have to wait months or travel half a state away. Sign up and pay. Then tell the clerk you’re just going to look around.
If you’re like the majority of first-time gun purchasers, you’ll be buying a firearm to carry for self-defense. One day soon you’ll be walking up to those glassed-in cases where the handguns are on display and the hawkeyed clerks loom. Don’t worry, when that day comes, you’ll be prepared to tell the difference between all those flat-black and shiny silver objects.
You might want to browse the holsters, and the eye and ear protection section. Scout out the paper targets and the ammo so you’ll have something to practice on at the range when you make your new purchase. Then leave. Simple as that.
When you complete your course, you’ll be given a certificate that you’ll need to bring with you when you apply for your license to carry. If you live in Massachusetts, you’ll need to go to your local police station to fill out the form and pay the $100 fee (the fee may vary from state to state). The officer will also take your picture and your fingerprints. Provided all goes well with the background check, you’ll need to return to the station to pick up your license. You’ll also receive a PIN number in the mail. Hold onto that. You’re going to need it to make gun related purchases.
Next step, read Toby Leary’s post, “Good choice, Everyday carry gun options for Bay Staters” and make a note of the some of the guns you’d like to try.
Your second visit
So now you have your license to carry, you’ve learned some things at school, and you’ve read Toby Leary’s post, “Good choice, Everyday carry gun options for Bay Staters.” It’s time for your second visit to the gun shop. Don’t forget to bring your LTC. You’ll need to show it to the clerk before you will be allowed to handle any guns.
Although the revolver was probably the easiest gun to master in class, you realize that for concealed carry, you’d be best suited to a semi-automatic pistol, which is often shortened to semi-automatic or semi. (Fully automatic guns are reserved for military use only.)
Now things get complicated. You’ll start hearing things like, single action, traditional double action or double/single action, or double action only? Huh? You vaguely remember something about those terms, but you’re standing in front of row upon row of different guns, one of which you may soon handle and purchase. You feel a dryness in the back of your throat and realize your mouth is open.
But wait! You got this. You pull out your notes from Toby’s article. For self-defense purposes and to get your gun into the fight as soon as possible, you’ll want a “double-action only semi-auto.” or “striker-fired.” This is also called a double action because the trigger pull requires the striker, or firing pin, to be cocked and released, two actions. The advantage of this choice is that you can safely carry a cartridge in the chamber, you have a consistent trigger pull between your first and subsequent shots. Striker-fired guns have a relatively light trigger pull allowing for a quick and consistent string of fire. In a self-defense situation, this could mean the difference between life and death. In Massachusetts you’re choices are limited, so you may only have a few to look at. This is good; you can’t get overwhelmed.
“Single stack or double stack?”
Great, this is starting to sound like a list of specs on a power tool. That probably wasn’t covered in class, but you read about it in Toby’s article. You may be limited to a single column of bullets in the magazine because of the size of your hands. If you have large hands, you might be better off with a double stack since it allows for a higher capacity, but only if the frame easily fits your hand.
“I’d like to see how a double-action semi-automatic, single stack feels.”
“Any particular make?”
Just say no unless you have a fondness for a certain manufacturer, and if you do, you can stop reading this and move on to more in-depth topics.
- Magazine (not clip)
- Ammunition (ammo, not bullets, unless you mean the projectile at the end of the cartridge)
- Gun (Not weapon. Ex-military: Please, no demonstrations on what you think your gun is. Believe me, I understand. I still hesitate, waiting to be dropped.)
So the clerk offers a gun for you to try. He or she, out of courtesy assumes you are not an expert on that particular model and opens the gun for you so you can see that there are no rounds in it. This is called checking or clearing the gun. Look in the chamber. If it’s empty, say OK or thanks. If you see brass, say something immediately. It should never happen, but it could.
The clerk will also remove the magazine, then he or she will hand you the gun or lay it on the counter for you. Cue the “Jaws” music. The moment of truth. You got this. Pick it up confidently with your right hand, keeping your index finger away from the trigger—lay it along the gap underneath the ejection port. Don’t worry about your grip. Transfer the gun to your left hand so that you’re holding it around the barrel from underneath.
Now secure your grip. With your right hand, shake hands with the gun so your thumb webbing is high under the grip safety. Your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky should be wrapped firmly around the grip, but you don’t need to squeeze so hard that your knuckles turn white, but no weak handshakes. Align your trigger finger in that gap underneath the ejection port. Or as one instructor told me, “Point toward God.”
I initially learned to place my finger on the outside of the trigger guard, but in feeling around for the trigger guard, I could accidentally land on the trigger. It also forced my smaller hand to twist out of my grip position because I had to stretch to reach the trigger guard. And when you’re on the firing range, it helps the range safety officer to not to see a finger across the trigger guard. It’s hard to tell if it’s on the trigger or not. If your finger is out of sight in the gap under the ejection port, he’ll know you’re not firing.
And finally, place the meat of your left hand in the gap between the heel of your right hand and fingers. Wrap the four fingers of your left hand around your grip fingers, and layer your thumbs close together, without any gap along the length of the thumbs or the meaty part of the palms.
As you learned in class, you want to cultivate the proper mentality about shooting under all circumstances. Think about what could be behind your target, even if you’re practicing with an unloaded weapon. That means, don’t aim at the clerk! Practically anywhere you aim in a store, is likely to be unacceptable with people walking into your line of fire. I like to aim high or low, like toward the seam of the wall and the ceiling or floor respectively. It gives me something specific to line up on, and it’s unlikely that should it be a live-fire scenario that anyone would be shot.
If you remember from class, what you’re doing is lining up the front sight, which is the one at the front of the gun, not the one closest to you, with the rear sight, which is closest to you. It’s like a castle. You want all three turrets to aligned on top and be equi-distant apart. You are focused on that; it is sharp and clear in the foreground. They call that sight alignment.
In the background will be the seam where the ceiling or floor meets the wall, or at a range: the bullseye. That’s called the sight picture; it should be slightly out of focus but clear enough for you to line up your sights on. Think of it like a portrait photograph; the subject is crystal clear and the background is “soft” but still discernable. Now you see how the sights are shaped and align.
But what you’re really checking for is how the gun feels in your hand. Is it too big? Too small? Ask the clerk if you can “dry fire” the gun. Modern striker-fired guns will not be damaged by dry firing. If it’s an older gun, you may need to use a rubber round like a Snap Cap to protect the gun, but do ask. If you’re hesitant to touch buttons on your own, ask the clerk to show you how to turn on and off the safety (if it has one) and release the magazine. You should have a general idea how to retract the slide and release it: Cup your left hand over the slide, punch out with your right while you simultaneously pulling back with your left. You want to feel what the trigger pull is like. The “pull” is the amount of exertion, in pounds, it takes for you to pull the trigger back far enough to activate the hammer.
If you’re comfortable with how it feels, you’re done with that portion of the purchase. If not, keep trying until you find one that fits just right and is easy for you to operate. Like it? Congratulations! You just picked out your first gun. You’re part of the long-standing American tradition of gun ownership. Some of us hunt, some target-practice, some collect and never shoot at all, but all of us know that without what’s called our first freedom, we cannot defend our other freedoms. Owning a weapon is the No. 1 thing you can do to stem the inevitable rise of tyranny, which is why tyrants work so hard to take that freedom away. Our 2nd Amendment makes us citizens; without it we are merely subjects.
Before you finalize your purchase, you’re going to need a holster and a security system at the bare minimum. If you plan to target practice, you’ll need eye and ear protection, paper targets, and maybe an extra magazine or three. If you plan on practicing at home, you may want to buy that packet of Snap Caps the clerk opened for you.
You may find that you’re perfectly content with your purchase and you only return to the gun shop for targets, ammo, and the occasional upgraded accessory. Or you may find that now you need to know how to build an AR-15 to keep the zombies at bay. Either way, welcome to the community, and stop by the gun shop anytime.
About the author: ERIN C. HEALY
Since grade school Erin knew writing was the gift God wanted her to use in life. She has been a magazine editor with the Cape Cod Times since 2002. Before that she was assistant editor at On The Water, a New England recreational fishing magazine, an administrative assistant, and she served for a short time in the U.S. Army., 1990-’91. In addition to her contributions to Cape Gun Works, Erin maintains StormTheCulture.com, a blog about books and movies through the lens of God and country. She lives on a working cranberry bog in Cataumet, Mass. with her two Jack Russell terriers.
Favorite gun: Her new H&K VP9.