According to a National Shooting Sports Foundation study, 60.3 percent of first-time buyers use their guns once per month or more. Good start.
It was interesting to look at a report on first-time gun buyers, consumers that purchased their first sidearm, shotgun or rifle last year. The top-ranking motivators were home defense (87.3 percent), self-defense (76.5 percent) and a desire to share shooting activities with family and friends (73.2 percent).
In the last year, a lot of people told me they bought their first handgun, and I congratulated them. If you were in that group of first-time buyers of a handgun, shotgun or rifle for self-defense, allow me to give you the answer I wanted to give in the study.
I salute you in the exercise of your rights but I confess I am a bit uncomfortable with what has been left unsaid. By both of us.
What I want to hear you say is you also bought your first security light that you plan to store with your handgun, and you are going to reach for your light when you reach for your gun. I want to hear you say you bought a handgun safe, and you shared the combination with other responsible members of your household.
I want to hear you say you bought 300 rounds of ammunition. I want to hear that you have signed up for training.
With this right comes the responsibility to learn how to use it. We are prone to focus on the equipment — a handgun, a flashlight, a holster, a knife, a handgun safe. This is the necessary hardware of an individual’s self-defense strategy, but I think the training may be more important than the gear.
Over the years, I have relied on single-action revolvers and compact autos. Now my gun of choice is a Glock 19 9mm equipped with a Crimson Trace laser. The light is a Coast model with an output of 615 blinding lumens. The safe is a GunVault with a biometric lock that reads my fingerprint before the door opens.
The training? It has been with law-enforcement guys, with ex-military, with hunters and shooters. It has been in the classroom and targets tacked up at the range. Yes, I learned fundamentals, but could I learn more? I wanted to know.
In stressful situations, our focus narrows, our ability to see the big picture diminishes; we revert to automatic responses forced out of muscle memory and training. For this reason, my friend Bill Valentine and I signed up for personal handgun defense level one instruction from REACT Training Systems at their facility 25 minutes east of Bend.
We started with a tour of the facility, which includes a “town” called Bohica, a street with false-fronted stores, a classroom and two pistol/carbine bays. REACT prides itself on being lead-free, using only nontoxic ammunition.
Instructor Shawn Jewell began to dismantle our preconceived notions and much of our prior training. We put our own guns away and picked up blue safety guns. With these, we went through the mechanics of the four-point draw.
Once we had the draw and re-holster mastered, we graduated to real guns. Because most situations where a gun must be put into action are in close quarters, we shot targets at seven to 10 feet. Jewell’s focus helped me tighten my group, but what he did for Valentine’s shooting in just one session was nothing short of remarkable. Valentine shrunk his five-shot pattern from the size of a basketball to a silver dollar.
Jewell then introduced new elements: vocalizations, movement, awareness of surroundings, a commitment to minimize danger to others.
Headed home that afternoon, we agreed we would do this again.
“I think in some ways the hurdle is a little low,” Valentine said. “I don’t think it is the government’s place to require us to be trained, but it is our responsibility to seek it out.”
For me, handgun training is perhaps more important than the handgun itself. And the necessity to reinforce our training habits, our muscle memory, is just as important for the more experienced as it is for the first-timer.
What that means is we should spend more time at the range, spend a day or a week at a training center, join a club, compete; spend time and money to be taught by the people who train our police, security agents and military teams.
“To have to use this knowledge would be the worst thing that would happen to you in your life,” Valentine said. “I view this skill as an unfortunate training to have. The physical movements are secondary. The primary (goal) is getting your mind in the right place and envisioning in advance how an unfortunate scenario might play out.”
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Adventure Journal” and author of “John Nosler — Going Ballistic,” “Black Bear Hunting,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at GaryLewisOutdoors.com.