The world of guns can be overwhelming at first. It’s okay, we’ve all been there before.
There are the acronyms – EDC, CC, AIWB – the foreign-sounding drills (El Presidente is one of our favorites), the endless terminology, and the random numbers and letter combos that apparently translate into firearm names?!
Whether you’re a brand-new gun owner or just in need of a tune-up there are some basics you should be keeping in mind.
It’s always best to follow the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) rule and with that in mind we’ve put together our list…
Table of Contents
1. The Four Golden Rules of Gun Safety
This one might seem obvious to many of you but it always bears repeating: know the rules of gun safety. Don’t only know them but practice them. Follow them religiously.
The vast majority of incidents billed as “tragic accidents” can be avoided by adhering to the rules!
Quick rules breakdown. Some people in the gun world feel it is excessive to state you should treat all guns as though they’re always loaded.
The moment you get flip about gun safety and just assume a gun isn’t loaded is the moment you’re inviting trouble. Never assume a gun is not loaded.
Always double-check the condition of a firearm yourself, even when the person who handed it to you checked while you watched.
Do it again, it never hurts to double-check.
Following the rules means that when something out of your control happens – which is incredibly rare – the bullet doesn’t hit anything living.
It means when mistakes are made you’ve hopefully stuck to the rules enough to stop it from being a fatal mistake.
2. Guns are Tools
It’s true. Guns are tools.
Just like any rational person wants to have a fire extinguisher in their home before a fire starts, guns are tools you want to have available before The Bad Thing happens.
Tools do you no good if they are not immediately available to you when you need them most. That also means you must know how to use them.
Just having a fire extinguisher isn’t enough if you don’t use it when there is a fire; just sticking a gun in a safe and ignoring it isn’t going to be enough if you’re suddenly in need of it to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones.
You need to both have a gun in advance of a life-threatening attack and know how to use it!
3. Know Your Local Laws
Ignorance of the law is never an excuse.
It is your responsibility to be familiar with the firearms laws where you live and in any area you’re traveling through or to, no matter what.
That also means you must pay attention to changes in the laws (and they change a lot).
Never assume the words of wisdom spouted by some guy on Facebook or on a firearms forum online are trustworthy.
Generally speaking, good sources include NRA-ILA, Pew Pew Tactical’s Gun Laws By State, and in an odd twist the Giffords Law Center.
Keep in mind though that these sources are not always kept perfectly up to date, so make sure you do more research than just checking one source.
4. Beware Of Self-Proclaimed Experts
We’ve all seen it play out: someone posts an innocuous photo of a gun or of themselves at the range and every self-proclaimed expert shows up to dump on the post.
Maybe they’re there to lecture you on your grip or perhaps they say your bipod is backward, the eye relief on your scope is all wrong, or the manufacturer of the gun is dumb for one reason or another.
Then there’s my personal favorite: the call for eye and/or ear protection.
People like that are the reason we typically wear eye and ear pro in staged photos with empty guns.
Try not to let negativity get to you and understand some of it is well-intentioned advice.
The thing is, a large number of gun owners suffer from a severe case of the Dunning-Kruger effect (meaning they fail to realize their own significant lack of knowledge, experience, or ability and assess their own expertise as way higher than it is in reality).
Always be careful whose advice you take to heart.
The best sources are the SMEs – Subject Matter Experts – with solid reputations and a following of other SMEs, or at least avid, skilled shooters.
They should be capable of answering questions and having intelligent conversations on the topic.
Being surrounded by fanboys while doing nothing but basking in their own awesomeness tends to be a bad sign.
If you’re looking at instructors they should be able to shoot well, demonstrating those skills they talk about.
As for writers, it tends to be wisest to follow specific writers, not specific publications.
It’s true some magazines or websites will have a good collection of knowledgeable writers but when it comes right down to it there are quite a few out there who manage to get their words in print when they’re woefully underqualified.
Vet your sources, take everything with a grain of salt, and read enough to be well-rounded. Avoid blind acceptance.
5. The Movies are Wrong
Hollywood… really doesn’t care about accuracy in firearms. The cold facts of a gunfight just aren’t very visually entertaining.
Just a few of the most common issues are the bottomless-capacity magazines, Glocks that apparently make sounds like a hammer cocking, the magical one-shot stopping of most threats, or a shotgun blast sending someone flying.
The list of bad information you can get about firearms from movies doesn’t end there, really the list could go on for days. But the point is — don’t trust what you see on TV.
There are exceptions, of course, every once in a while there comes a movie with at least a few really good scenes that do a great job of portraying firearms well.
Two of my favorites, Val Kilmer in Heat and Tom Cruise in Collateral.
Want more? Here’s some of our favorite Most Realistic Gun Scenes.
6. There is No One Right Handgun Grip or Stance for Everyone
There are a number of grips and stances out there, all created at different stages of the gun world’s evolution and each with different pros and cons.
Some are flat-out wrong, such as the teacup grip or gripping your wrist with your off-hand.
And some, like leaning back, are the result of bad habits.
There are two major handgun grips, “thumbs-forward” and “thumbs-down” (sometimes called “thumb-over-thumb”).
“Thumbs-up” is a grip stance that you’ll see every now and then, but it’s outdated. While it was taught for a long time and is still popular with shooters that learned it way back when — it is just not as good as modern grips.
Primary stances include Weaver, Isosceles, and Chapman (also sometimes called Modified Weaver).
Isosceles is the stance you see most on social media with the shooter’s arms both fully extended.
It doesn’t work best for everyone, though. Women especially tend to benefit from Weaver or Chapman, which can be identified in photos by the bent support arm in both and the additional slight flex in the strong-side arm for Weaver.
I’ve also found certain grips and stances work better for me with different guns.
Don’t simply go with Isosceles and thumbs forward because all the cool kids are doing it.
There is one more and it needs to be mentioned due to how popular it is in media, Center Axis Relock.
While CAR (Center Axis Relock) has benefits and merits, it’s a very specialized stance that has limited real application. But it looks wicked cool, so movies love it.
Try out the various methods and figure out what works best for you. We all have different bodies, varying hand sizes, and a broad range of skillsets.
To get you started, take a look at these articles:
- How to Shoot a Pistol Accurately [Ultimate Guide]
- Shooting Stances & Grip: Isosceles vs Weaver vs Chapman
- Center Axis Relock: Is John Wick Right or Wrong?
7. Shotguns Aren’t Necessarily Best for Home Defense
Ballistics have changed enormously over the years as have the availability and quality of various platforms.
It used to be that shotguns were seen as the end-all, be-all of home defense – an idea that lingers for many – but it isn’t accurate anymore. Today’s AR-platform rifles are stellar home defense tools.
Does that mean shotguns are bad? No, but you need to know what you’re getting into.
Shotguns used at close ranges don’t behave like shotguns fired from a greater distance. In order for the pellets in your shotshell to pattern – spread out – you need some space between yourself and the target.
Otherwise, those pellets fly out in a tight clump.
The wad might even still be in place when it impacts the target if you’re close enough. Different shotgun loads perform to varying degrees of fantastic or horrible for self-defense as do different gauges and bores.
Know the distance at which you are most likely to be taking a shot in case of a home invasion.
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Spend time patterning your shotgun so you know how your chosen ammo performs at a variety of ranges, and be willing to try more than one kind of ammunition.
Regardless of which gun you choose for home defense, it is imperative you be familiar with what it can and cannot do.
Check out our Best Gun for Home Defense: Shotguns vs Handguns vs Rifles for more.
8. AR-15s are Not Assault Rifles
While it seems like the “AR” in “AR-15” should mean “Assault Rifle”, that isn’t accurate.
The “AR” in the platform’s name stands for “Armalite Rifle.”
Armalite is the manufacturer that first began making the rifle almost three-quarters of a century ago.
At its simplest definition, an assault rifle is one with select-fire capability including either burst fire (multiple shots per trigger pull) or full-auto (repeated shots as long as the trigger is depressed).
Restrictions on full-auto firearms have been in place since the National Firearms Act of 1934.
While getting a full-auto firearm is possible in most states, you cannot just walk into a store and wander back out with a full-auto firearm of any kind.
They are also very expensive and require a rigorous background check that normally takes about a year to complete — per firearm.
A normal, civilian AR-15 is semi-auto only, meaning 1 shot per pull of the trigger. This is the AR-15 that is the most popular firearm in America.
9. No One-Size-Fits-All Handgun
People come in all sizes, finding one handgun to fit us all is impossible. What fits great in my hand, might not fit at all for yours. That’s totally normal!
The thickness of a grip is one of the most defining characteristics that will determine if it fits your hands.
For example, Glocks are fantastic handguns but the classic double-stacks are unwieldy and awkward for a lot of shooters.
Now that Glock has their Slimline pistols there are some options for those who find the double-stacks too large, but there’s no guarantee those will work, either.
Whenever possible, test out a handgun before you buy it. It might look awesome in the store, feel good in your hand, but when you take that first shot… you’ll know if it actually fits.
Training is a huge factor also. The more training you get and the more practice you put in, the better you’ll shoot and with a wider range of firearms.
Don’t be afraid to try out guns a second time also. When you’re a new shooter, some guns might feel weird. But once you get more experience, those guns you ruled out might feel a lot differently.
Here’s a couple of our favorite Beginner Handguns.
10. Gear Matters
It doesn’t matter how expensive or budget-friendly your gun was, you need good gear to go with it.
That’s something that is often not accounted for when people are looking at their budgets for a new gun, but it’s critical to think about.
You won’t carry successfully without proper gear, and I mean every component must be quality…
Even the best CCW gun in the world still needs a well-made holster and a firm belt to go with it!
If you’re getting a rifle, don’t forget to budget for a good optic also. For something like an AR used for home defense, a reliable red dot is great.
For a hunting rifle, quality glass will never disappoint you.
And you can’t forget the ammo!
Budget ammo, like steel cased, has its place. But even with that, you should make sure you’re buying reliable and safe ammo. And if you’re looking for the best accuracy you can get, you’ll have to pay for the good ammo too!
Not all ammo is best for all applications. Good training ammo is normally bad for self-defense or hunting. Match ammo for long range plinking is too expensive for most regular training sessions.
Once you know what your goal is, you can find the right ammo for the situation.
Saying “you get what you pay for” is an over-generalization, but there is a lot of truth in it also.
While you won’t become a better shooting by throwing money at the problem, you are going to need to invest some cash and time into being proficient.
As for ammo, these will get you started.
There’s a lot to learn and enjoy in the world of firearms.
Start slowly with the basics and foundation skills before you worry about diving into anything more in-depth or advanced.
You’ve already made the first steps by seeking out an article like this, but don’t stop here!
If you plan on carrying your firearms for self-defense, I strongly recommend carry insurance from a reputable company like USCCA
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Answering them is what we’re here to do, so ask away!
Now that you have some basics, what are your questions? Think there is anything we missed? Let us know in the comments! For a LOT more information, take a look at the Beginner’s Guide To Guns and also our hands-on video course…Gun Noob to Gun Slinger.
14 Leave a Reply
Why should anyone be afraid of “looking like a newbie”? I don’t currently own a weapon, but I certainly want to for self-protection. When I finally purchase one, I want to join a local range that offers classes on everything from disassembly to clearing and cleaning, and everything else in-between. I AM a “newbie”, and don’t care who knows it - I won’t handle a weapon until I’m familiar with HOW to handle it - safely and effectively.
i been shooting few years but always good brush up course
I think you left out cleaning and maintenance. Every gun owner should know how to field strip, clean, and oil every firearm they own. You spent a lot of money on a firearm. Learn how to keep it in great condition. To make cleaning far easier, I recommend a bore snake for every caliber you own.
I used to be a casual target shooter. Friend had an outdoor range on private property.
Life intervened, sold my pistols.
Would like to resume shooting. I located an indoor range and just want a reliable target pistol.
I neither want nor need a hand cannon.
A lot has changed since I fired a pistol 35 years ago.
I'm looking for an unbiased opinion on some options to consider as I renew an old hobby.
Visit a local range that RENTS handguns and rifles (provided you want to shoot a rifle). Try every gun (a gun is a tool, not a weapon) and pick the one that you like to shoot. A fancy handgun, that looks good on the shelf, but you never shoot, is not worth the money. Like the article says, "Every gun and shooter is different."
I just tried to learn shooting on a shotgun at a range and the instructor asked which is my dominant eye. Does this matter and how can you tell?
Have a look online for how to see which eye is dominant. There is a little test you do but now I can’t remember how to do it. I think it’s about accuracy and using your dominant eye will help you be more on target I think. I’m not expert though so def google it!
most people are right eye dominant and there are some that are right handed and left eye dominant as for me im left eye dominant and im left handed.
Thanks, since then I’ve been working on soft focus. I shoot a shotgun only, so I think that’s most important!
AR15-Noob here. Considering the D-K effect, I'm right there hugging the bottom of the curve. Thanks for the help in getting started. Shot plenty of paper in my time, but this article/resource is something I think will benefit a revisit yearly, if not more often. Keep upo the great work.
Great article, lots of useful info. Just one comment: back in the day, one of my first acquisitions was a Hi Point 9mm. Heavy? You bet. Clunky? To the extreme. But...accurate? Absolutely. I've gotten much nicer 9mm's since then, but "Ol' Reliable" is still chugging along. I take it to the range a couple of times a year, the rest of the time it's in one of the gun safes; but it works, and works well. Can't really say anything bad about it -- good gun.
Your articles are always both informative and entertaining. You are straight to the point when it matters, and throw in a chuckle a two when warranted. I thoroughly enjoy your newsletters and posts, both for the honest "no holds barred"/"no cool-factor bias" information given, and the humor included. Keep up the good work.
great content hopefully all the new owners will find this read and understand
Great article. And bravo on pulling out the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It’s real.