It's not unnatural to for someone who's never shot before to be afraid of using a gun.

It’s happened very often lately: I run into an old friend or acquaintance and they say, “Hey, guess what…I bought a gun!” Naturally, I’m happy and excited and ask what make and model. That’s where the conversation has often changed to a direction I should now be used to. It generally goes something like one I had recently:

“Well, I got a…Bodyguard? Yeah, I think that’s what it’s called.” There’s a note of embarrassment there.

I find out that the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard is chambered for .380. “Do you like it?” I ask.

“Well, it’s cute. I guess.”

I asked my friend what “cute” meant. Was it pink? Was it cute because it’s small? His answer was the same I’ve heard from different friends. He said it “looked good” at the gun shop, and the salesman recommended it, but he’s never shot it.

The first thing I do when I get a new gun is run to the range with it, so I make the assumption that my friend recently picked it up. “Oh. When did you get it?”

“Last March.”

This conversation took place in February—so he had the pistol for over a year and never shot it. I ask why.

“I don’t know how to. Maybe someday we can go to the range and you can show me?”

What I’ve discovered over the last few years is that sometimes good people purchase a firearm for the right reason. They know it’s their responsibility to protect themselves and their family. They know they need a firearm to do that. They know they have the right to own and carry, they go through their state process to do so.

But then they have no idea what to do. While some states require specialized classes before granting a concealed carry permit, others do not. Some states don’t even require a permit. My state requires no special course or training other than a basic safety course depending on which county you live in. In fact, some counties within my state require that you purchase a pistol prior to submitting your application for a pistol license (don’t get me started).

A Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard in .380.
A Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard in .380. mfg photo

So what do you do when you have your permit, you have your pistol, and you don’t know what to do? Lock it away in a gun safe and wait to randomly run into an old friend who can help? Because that’s what my friend above and others seem to be doing.

Absolutely, firearms can be dangerous if you don’t know how to handle them. I actually give a lot of credit to people who get to this stage but realize that you don’t just watch a YouTube video and suddenly know how to use a gun safely.

So how do you get over the fear of using a firearm, once you own a firearm? Here are some tips:

Embrace the fear

There’s nothing wrong with being a little apprehensive and nervous the first few times you’re firing your gun. There’s a ton to know, and you need to learn how to safely operate your gun so that you can respect its power, and have the confidence to operate it and eventually carry it safely. Eventually? Yes! While you might have a license to conceal carry, if you’re unsure how to operate the gun, or still afraid to, don’t carry until you’re more knowledgeable and confident.

Find a local instructor

The local gun dealer or gunshop from which you bought the gun may very well have a network of certified instructors who are ready, willing, and able to help you every step of the way.

Read and watch

Range 365 offers a variety of information about handgun basics, from how to choose a good one for you to how bullets work.

The Shoot Sweet video series with Julie Golob breaks down every step involved in choosing and using a handgun, from how it’s supposed to fit your hand to shooting it confidently and successfully.

The National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation both have excellent resources for new shooters.

Never stop learning. Anyone who tells you they know everything there is to know about guns is full of it. Both the true professional and an avid amateur never stop learning. At a bare minimum, you should be familiar with:

  • Proper grip

  • How your gun works

  • Ammunition

  • How to field strip your gun

  • How to clean your gun

  • How to reassemble your gun

  • How a proper trigger pull feels

  • How to clear a malfunction (because they do happen)

I’m always thrilled when a new gun owner trusts me to take them to the range. I know that shooter will get a good foundation based in safety. What I wish new shooters wouldn’t do without a trusted advisor is purchase their pistol. A foundation needs to start with the basics, and a new shooter who relies on the person behind the gun counter—who may or not be a good source of information—can end up with something completely inappropriate.

Gun fear isn’t unnatural, but remember that once you know how to safely operate it, you will be able to protect yourself and your family.

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