A Beginner’s Guide to Using a Gun

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By Daisy Luther

You’ve chosen a new gun but are you ready to use it?

We have talked about the things you need to consider when buying a firearm and choosing the gun that will be right for you, but there are other decisions once you’ve made your purchase.

If this is your first firearm, chances are, you’re NOT ready yet. There is a lot more to protecting yourself with a gun than simply getting one and figuring out how to load it. Today, Steve Candidus and I will talk about getting ready to use your gun.

There are several things to think about – everything from storing it safely to having it with you when you need it to training and practice.

Storing Your Firearm Safely – Daisy

The way you choose to store your gun depends a lot on your personal situation.

For example, if you live alone and never have children visiting, you may want to tuck the firearm in a nightstand drawer. Be careful though – you want it to be stored in a way that you can easily get to it without potentially discharging it accidentally.

If you have children in the house, you will want to be more careful about how you store your gun. There are all sorts of safes that you can access fairly quickly if necessary. One parent I know locks her gun up during the day and pulls it out each night to keep it at her bedside.

Some people really like biometric safes that use your fingerprint to allow you to access the contents. Others point out significant downsides to the reliability of a biometric safe. The more high-end you go with a biometric safe, the less likely you are to have issues. I have a safe like this and it totally lost its programming after a year. Fortunately, I only had ammo in it at the time, but I was no longer able to open it with the touch of a finger, something that would be disastrous in an emergency.

Keeping your gun on your person during the day is probably the very safest way to store a firearm. Someone else accidentally getting their hands on it is nearly impossible this way. (We’ll discuss holsters in a moment.) Only you can figure out the method of storing your gun that is safest for your family. Here are 6 tips from NRA Family for safely storing your gun.

Having your gun with you when you need it

Your gun won’t do you any good if you don’t have it with you when you need it. Following are some tips for concealed carry.

What kind of holster should you get? – Steve

Side holsters are available in both an outside of the pants and an inside the pants configuration. They are secured to your belt either by loops that your belt goes through or by clamps that can be quickly attached to your belt.

One consideration is whether or not you want what’s called a back tab on them. The tab is an extension of the holster that keeps the gun from digging into you. The drawback is that it makes the holster and gun a little bulkier. It’s up to each person what you prefer.

Side holsters come in a high configuration and low. High is easier to conceal, but might dig into your sides a bit more and be a little more awkward to draw from the holster. The high holster is also more comfortable when sitting. Inside-the-pants holsters are the easiest to conceal but can be uncomfortable for some.

You might also see a reference to a side holsters rake. That’s the angle that the gun takes in the holster. A lower rake is more horizontal and makes for a faster draw. Again, the drawback is that it is less secure.

Small Of Back (SOB) holsters are another outside of the pants option. As its name suggests these holsters are attached to your belt and rest in the natural hollow that nature has provided us in the small of our backs.

Criticisms of SOB holsters are usually that weapon access is difficult. That is a very overblown criticism in my opinion. The gun is only slightly further back than the side holster and the typically lower rake makes the difference in draw insignificant.

It does make it more difficult for an adversary to take your gun away from you before you can even draw it though because it’s behind you.

The SOB is a very poor choice if you intend to be seated a lot while wearing it. It’s not only uncomfortable, it makes access difficult – especially seated in a car.

SOB holsters are very popular with females because nature has blessed us with thin waists and flaring hips so side holsters sometimes dig into our sides while the barrel gets pushed outwards. Use an SOB only when and where appropriate.

Shoulder holsters are another option. They are very comfortable and can usually accommodate even the largest guns. They are also the most difficult to conceal and would necessitate some sort of cover like a jacket.

With a shoulder holster, the gun is under the opposite side that you hold the gun with. Most often extra magazines (autos) or speed loaders (revolvers) are carried on the opposite side of the gun.

Some holsters have what are called “tie-downs.” Those are extra straps that can be attached to the belt. They are most useful for the magazine side, but not necessary on the gun side. When drawing the gun you simply hold the holster close to your body with your arm.

I have a friend that uses a shoulder holster most of the time because he suffers from arthritis in his right hip and he tries to minimize the weight that he puts on that side. They take more getting used to than hip holsters or SOB’s, but they work for some.

Note from Daisy: Holsters for women can be very tricky. I strongly recommend you stay away from the “cute” lacy thigh holsters, bra holsters, and the like unless you are able to try before you buy with a LOADED gun. The weight of the gun will make many of those holsters marketed to women very uncomfortable or render them useless. A female firearms instructor may have better suggestions for carrying the gun on your person. 

Purse Carry – Daisy

Some women prefer not to carry their firearm on their person. but instead, put it in a handbag. For me, it depends what I’m wearing how I carry. Many people strongly object to purse carry and with very good reason.

  • It’s much easier for someone to steal your gun if it’s in your purse
  • It takes longer to access your weapon in an emergency
  • You will have to take your purse with you everywhere if you have a gun in it – no leaving it on the back of the chair or in your cart at the store.
  • Your purse will weigh a ton
  • In one heartbreaking recent story, a 4-year old girl got into her grandmother’s purse and shot herself with the gun within.

If you decide that purse carry is the best option for you, choose wisely and secure your firearm well. You don’t just want to pitch it in there loose. Look for a purse specifically designed for concealed carry. I prefer cross-body bags and there is a company called Warrior Creek that makes the most gorgeous and practical bags I have ever seen. They can either be worn around your hips or cross body, and there’s an optional band that goes around your thigh for more security.

The Importance of Training – Steve

Training is very important. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you will be able to figure out how to use the gun when the need arises. If such a situation, you will need to be able to react quickly and instinctively. Plan to spend some time at a gun range to familiarize yourself with your weapon.

One method introduced to me recently for someone that is completely new or even a bit timid about shooting a handgun the first thing to do is to sit down with the gun that you are going to shoot and break the gun down to its major components and clean it – even if it’s already clean.

Surprisingly, you will likely go from trembling hands (oh my gosh, it’s a gun), to comfortable with it, to almost disgusted with it. The gun transforms from something dreaded and feared to (dare I say it?) ‘Just another damned thing that you have to clean!’

When you get right down to it, that’s all it really is – just a collection of parts that when assembled can enable someone of lesser strength to be equal to someone of greater strength.

Try this method. You will be surprised how well it works.

One very often-overlooked consideration is that it is important to train yourself to be able to shoot with either hand. If you hurt your strong hand, you need to be able to at least be familiar with shooting from the other hand.

Imagine that you are right-handed and you get boxed in by carjackers. They approach you on the driver’s side of your car. It is very difficult to be able to defend yourself crossing over your own body. By being at least familiar shooting with your left hand it is much easier to defend yourself in such a situation.

Choosing a Firearms Instructor – Daisy

One of the most important parts of training is finding the right instructor. As with anything, there is a lot of good advice as well as bad advice out there. A few tips for finding the right instructor:

  • Find an instructor with a good attitude. If someone has a negative attitude, is condescending, or reckless, this isn’t a person from whom you will learn well. An instructor should be positive, encouraging, and professional.
  • Word of mouth is the best advertising. Ask other firearms owners that you know who their favorite instructor is. You’ll start to see patterns, good and bad. Your local gun clubs, shooting ranges, and gun stores may also have some instructors they recommend.
  • Check their qualifications. I prefer instructors with NRA certification because of the NRA’s focus on safety first.
  • Look for an instructor with real-world experience. Like anything else, a person who has been-there-done-that will bring something to the table that a person who has only studied the subject theoretically may not. People with military or police experience may provide some additional insight for you. This should NOT rule out teachers without this type of background completely. The best instructor I ever worked with was amazing because she spent years traveling to learn from some of the most elite instructors in the nation. The hours she spent learning at the hands of these experts gave her the perspective of both a student AND a teacher.
  • Most importantly, find an instructor with whom you feel comfortable. You’re going to need more than one lesson to get good at shooting. Group classes are a good way to go over laws and techniques but when it comes to actually shooting, one-on-one training can’t be topped. If someone makes you cringe, the time spent with them is going to be sullied by that.

Although I shoot regularly, I still try to take several classes per year to improve my skills and to make sure I’m not slipping into bad habits.

Spending Time at the Range – Daisy

Finally, practice, practice, PRACTICE.

Shooting is a perishable skill for most of us. Of course, if you spent decades in the military shooting frequently, you’ll have the muscle memory necessary to pick up a gun and shoot accurately at a moment’s notice. But for most of us, this is something we need to practice on a regular basis, no less than monthly. I have a membership at a local range and blow through a box of ammo weekly to keep my skills sharp.

The more often you shoot, the more comfortable you will become holding and using your gun. If you are ever faced with an attacker, I assure you they will be able to see your level of confidence – or lack thereof – and that can be a deciding factor in whether they are deterred or whether they decide that you aren’t a threat. You will develop muscle memory that allows you to shoot accurately under pressure (and in a panic situation you will DEFINITELY be under pressure.)

If it’s available in your area, consider a virtual range for additional practice time. While it sounds like a silly video game, it can really help you learn to make judgment calls in a crisis. (Here’s an article I wrote previously about the benefits of virtual training scenarios.)

Questions? Other advice for new gun owners?

Do you have any questions that we haven’t addressed in this series? Please ask in the comments below. And if you have advice for people who are new to using handguns, please share it here.


Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • I keep a small 38 in my nightstand. It’s been in there a few years and I wonder if the ammo is
    still “fresh” and do I need to clean it if it’s never been used?

    • Hi Ej, .38 special is a versatile caliber and a great choice. As Steve suggests cleaning your gun is a good idea and a way to familiarize yourself with it. After making sure it is unloaded, revolvers can be relatively well cleaned without disassembly. As for your ammo, it should still be good. However may I suggest buying some new stuff and shooting up the old for some practice, especially if it has never been used!

      Stay safe,


    • Actually, the first thing you should do when acquiring a new gun – handgun or rifle – is clean it.

      It not only gives you a basic familiarization with it, but it can also really save your bacon.

      I once purchased a 45 semi-automatic brand new and when I brought it home and took it apart to clean it, I found a wad of cloth stuffed inside the barrel. It was probably there to keep out contaminants, but if I had fired that gun without knowing it was in there the result could have been very bad.

      This is especially true for guns that are manufactured overseas as they are sometimes treated with a protective coating (including inside the barrel) to protect the internal parts from corrosion in shipping.

      Always clean first. Then shoot.

      And practice-practice-practice…

      Steve C.
      Spring, Texas

  • Thanks Daisy and Steve for the great series on firearms! I greatly appreciate the emphasis on practice. Having a handgun that is easy and enjoyable to shoot makes practice really fun. I am a member of the local gun club/range and my son and I can’t seem to get there often enough. My wife enjoys shooting as well and joins us whenever she can.

    Thanks again and God bless


    • Thanks for the kind words Mac. This was definitely a collaborative effort of Daisy and myself.

      I hope that you found these articles useful and will refer others that you think they will help here to Daisy’s wonderful website.

      She is a marvel…

      Steve C.
      Spring, Texas

  • A couple of comments about holsters: I carry my S&W 60 snubie in A pocket holster. It is not super fast draw but well conceled and very secure. Works for my jeans and cords. If you might need fast access in a vehicle you probably should go for a crossdraw holster.

  • Very informative and useful. I know this will most likely be covered in a later article, but there are some accessories you should buy. If you have a gun purely for self-defence in the home, you should equip it with a flashlight, and consider using a suppressor (also known as a silencer) or sub-sonic ammo (ammunition that is designed to exit the gun at slower than the speed of sound). The flashlight will let you see what you’re aiming at, while the suppressor/sub-sonic ammo will make sure that your ears are not left ringing by the blast of the gun.

    Make sure to check your local laws though. Where I live, suppressors are illegal and possessing one can lead to jail time. But it is worth considering purchasing either of these items, as they can really save your ears in an emergency (imagine shooting a warning shot at a home invader and then being deaf to the fact that they have a partner sneaking up on you).

    Thanks again for the great article ????

  • @ Daisy and Steve,
    Once again, a very good article.

    A few accolades and suggestions.

    A firearm is a tool. Nothing to be scared of. Master it as you would any kind of power tools, heavy machinery, or even animals like a horse.
    In USMC boot camp, once we were issued our M16A2 service rifles, many of the recruits whom have never touched a rifle (my first experience was with a M16A1 service rifle in Army ROTC. I even qualified Expert with it.), would paw their rifles, pulling the bolt to the rear, just to show off.
    Then our drill instructors proceeded to introduce us to the “Grab your rifle by the barrel! Hold it!” This was taking the rifle by the barrel and holding it, one hand, out in front of you, arm straight . . . for a few to several minutes. By that time, your arms and shoulder are screaming in pain.
    But you held it.
    Point is, it is a piece of X many oz or pounds of metal and composite. There is nothing to fear of it. It is an inanimate object. It will only do what it was designed to do when you determine it and squeeze the trigger.

    I agree 100% about the find a good instructor.
    Granted in boot camp we did not really get much of a choice when it comes to the instructors attitude.
    However, the 2 CCW classes I have taken, the first spent nearly 8 hours talking about how cool he was.
    It was a waste of time. But I suffered through it and got my CCW for that state.
    The second, he was a former SOF, and security specialists in the Green Zone. He was great. He even ran me though more advanced scenarios during our live fire qualification.
    While he preferred the 9mm HP, he fully respected my .45HK USP, and my handloads.
    A quality instructor is a great asset. You are paying him or her. Use them to your needs.

    I find dry firing is a great way to ‘feel’ the trigger. It is a good way to get the feel for your firearm, and even practice malfunction drills.
    Safety note: IF practicing dry-firing at home, keep any and all LIVE ammunition stored away in another room.
    Another useful training tool is, believe it or not, a quality pellet pistol. I have a IZH 46M entry level match pellet pistol and have found shooting it has helped my sight alignment and trigger control, not only with pistols, but rifles as well.
    The same could be said for the .22LR training pistol as well.
    All the fundamentals are exercised, at a lower cost per round. Either will pay for itself in ammunition when compared to your full size ammunition.
    In short, you get more trigger time for the same cost as full size ammunition.
    Something to consider.

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