Follow these hints to get the most out of your first gun class.
So you’ve bought your first gun and want to learn how to use it. Great! That’s a fantastic first step. While the Constitution does not require citizens to take classes or train as a legal requirement to own a gun, it is still a good idea to get education and training anyway as part of being a responsible gun owner.
If you’re new to guns, you’re likely nervous – a perfectly normal reaction – and apprehensive about what to expect. To make that easier, here is what you need to know about your first class and some tips to make your experience more educational and enjoyable.
One of the classes I teach is Basic Pistol, or as I tell my students, “I assume you know this is a gun but not much beyond that. You don’t know how it works or how to handle it safely, which is why you are here.” I treat it like a Freshman 101 level class, which most of my students need because they have little to no experience with firearms. For almost all of them, this is their very first firearms class.
Not all instructors are created equal. And the one you get can determine what you get out of the class.
First rule: Never, never, never take a class from your significant other. No matter how great your relationship is, it will be put to the test in a class. So please don’t do it. Just…don’t. My wife does not take classes from me. It has nothing to do with my ability to teach. She takes them from other instructors at my range.
Second rule: Find an instructor whom everyone around you recommends. Don’t just Google local instructors and hope for the best. Talk to experienced gun owners you trust. Who would they recommend? Gunowners tend to be a wealth of great information and very willing to help a newbie. They’re glad you want to learn and will likely put you in good hands. For more details on this topic, check out this previous post.
Most entry-level firearms classes are very basic. They go over the two most common types of pistols (semi-auto and revolver), what makes them go bang, how to make them go bang safely, and how to make them go bang in the right direction. You’ll learn how to load and unload them, store them safely, and general tips for good gun ownership. You’ll also learn important safety rules about handling the gun and where to and where not to point it.
Tactical skills will include gripping the gun, managing recoil – yes, even the smallest caliber guns such as a .22 kick at least a little – and lining up the sights to hit your target consistently.
Your first class will be a data dump. It will be far more information than you will be able to retain the first time through. That’s okay. Many instructors allow you to retake classes for free if there is a slot available.
You will need certain gear for the class, especially if you’ll be shooting, which is probably the case. A good intro class will include at least a little bit of range time.
If you already own a gun, bring it with you. Be sure it is completely unloaded and in a box or case, and put any ammunition you’re bringing with you in a separate container. The instructor will likely check your gun when you arrive to ensure it is unloaded. Most instructors, especially NRA-certified, insist on a hard rule of no ammunition in the classroom. This rule applies to the instructor as well. He or she will have only sterile firearms to demonstrate. There will likely be a place to keep your ammo outside the classroom until you need it later, or you can simply leave it in your vehicle.
If you don’t own a gun, call or email before the class to find out the availability of a rental gun to use during class. Most instructors have some guns students can use. However, they will likely make you buy ammo from them because they need to know what you are shooting through their guns.
Bring your protective eyewear and ear protection, called “eyes and ears.” They don’t have to be fancy electronic gizmos, although those are better. Just be sure they are rated for muffling gunfire.
For the ladies, this is something you might not think about: don’t wear a V-neck shirt. That neckline is guaranteed to catch a piece of hot brass coming out of the gun and send it right down your cleavage. While it won’t wound you like a bullet – it’s just a spent casing flying at slow speed – having hot brass land in your shirt is less than pleasant. So save yourself the embarrassment and potential safety hazard of doing the “brass dance” with a gun in your hand by wearing a shirt that won’t catch brass.
For everyone, consider wearing a hat with a bill in front to minimize the risk of hot brass landing between your eye protection and your eyebrow. It’s painful and could pose a safety hazard, just like the brass down the shirt.
If you are shooting at an outdoor range, prepare for the weather. Barring dangerous conditions such as lightning or extreme cold, your class will likely still happen even if the weather is less than ideal. If you’re at an indoor range, still bring a jacket or sweater because temperatures are often kept low to allow continuously circulating air to make breathing easier.
Your emotions play a major part in the success of your first class. For some, this first gun class is exciting. They can’t wait to get there! For others, it’s nerve-wracking. I’ve had students who were deathly afraid of guns and came to my class to overcome that fear. A good instructor will be able to work with both the excited students and the nervous ones.
Whichever you are, the best way to prepare yourself emotionally is to have a great attitude and a willingness to learn and soak it all in. There will be a lot of information presented in only a few hours. Ask questions. Take notes. Listen. Take instruction on the range. Most of all, be safe and have a great time.
Your instructor wants you to have a great experience. So do your part, and you’ll be glad you took the class.
David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. As an NRA-certified instructor, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as possible. “Real-life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”
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