Believe it or not, I did not grow up in a gun-owning household. I actually bought my first gun about a year before my dad did. Being a stereotypical white kid from the suburbs, I never really questioned why there wasn’t a firearm in our house, and I didn’t start having the desire to own one until my junior year of college. Once I graduated and bought a place of my own inside the city, I decided it was time to buy a firearm. When I bought my first gun, a .45 caliber handgun, it was a real learning experience for me. As a firm believer in Second Amendment rights, I feel the right thing to do is to help any law-abiding citizen who wants to own a gun know what due diligence to do before becoming a responsible gun owner.
Know The Law
The problem with most gun laws is that they can get a totally innocent person in big trouble without a real crime ever actually happening, and ignorance is not going to be an acceptable excuse. In fact, some laws affect you before you even leave your home. It’s important to know the general federal gun laws, but the gun laws that will have the most direct effect on you are your local gun laws (local being state, county, and city). They usually mirror the federal laws, but they also dictate any other laws you must follow to own and carry a firearm where you live and travel. You must know these laws before buying a gun.
I’m lucky enough to live in what is now the most gun-friendly state in America: the great state of Georgia. House Bill 60 took effect July 1, 2014, expanding where a carry license holder can carry to any private property whose owner permits it, any parish that allows it, state and local government buildings, and even the airport up to the security checkpoints. There is still no carry allowed in federal government buildings or college campuses. This law is an example of the kinds of things you need to know. Luckily for the more gun-friendly states, these laws are usually pretty simple, but I understand that gun laws in certain states such as, say, New Jersey, are horribly complicated and confusing. Just ask Brian Aitken. That being said, the following are the most important things you need to know from a legal standpoint before purchasing a firearm.
- Do I need a permit to own it?
- Do I need to register it with my state?
- Is there a waiting period between purchase and pickup?
- Do I need a permit to carry it on my person?
- How do I obtain a firearm permit (if needed)?
- What do I need to do in order to conceal carry or open carry? (Many states have separate laws for each.)
- What other states accept my state’s carry license?
- Where can I possess my firearm with and without a permit?
- Can I keep it loaded?
- What are my state’s self defense laws?
As you can see, a lot of trouble can come from simply where your firearm is located: your home, your car, on your person, or elsewhere. This brings up dealing with cops. My rule of thumb is that if an officer NEEDS your permission to do something, say no. Their job is to find lawbreakers, not law-abiding citizens. If they felt they had legal recourse to search you, check your weapons’ serial numbers, or anything else, they wouldn’t ask permission. I over-cooperated once when I was a naïve, new gun owner and allowed an officer to check the serial number of my handgun, even though he had no reason to suspect me of any wrongdoing. It turned a five-minute traffic stop into a 25-minute traffic stop. Be cooperative with police, but also know your rights within your state.
Know Gun Safety
The number one rule when handling any gun: always treat the gun as if it was loaded, even if it’s empty. If it has a thumb safety, keep the safety on until you need to fire the weapon. Do not touch the trigger unless you are going to fire the weapon. Point the firearm downward toward the ground at all times unless you plan to fire on a target. Never look down the barrel unless the firearm is completely disassembled. Make all this a habit. I’ve heard people say that “sometimes guns just go off.” That’s not likely. Most accidents happen due to carelessness and operator error.
Before carrying and firing your gun, I recommend either taking professional classes or being trained by someone who has been trained professionally. Learn how to properly hold the gun, stand, aim, and so on. There’s no point in owning a gun if you have no idea how to use it.
Be Aware Of People Around You
In other words, don’t be a complete asshat. Understand that even if you are following every law in the book, the people around you may be uncomfortable knowing you are carrying a firearm. I prefer conceal carry to open carry for this reason. You’ll still have your firearm available without scaring anyone. If you must open carry, look professional, have a nice holster, and don’t fidget with your firearm.
Pick The Right Gun
Finally, pick the right firearm for yourself. If you’re on a relatively tight budget, research what firearms are most reliable and best suited to you. In my experience, Glocks and Springfield XD handguns are extremely reliable while still being cost effective, but there may be another firearm more suited for you. I prefer the XD because it doesn’t jam and it also has a grip safety, a trigger safety, and a drop safety (to prevent discharge if you ever drop it). Also, make sure you pick the right caliber. I love .45 because of the stopping power, but if you are a 110-pound girl, the recoil of a .45 may be too much for you.
Now that you’re out of college and living on your own, take the time to consider a firearm to defend your home. Just do your research and be a responsible, law-abiding gun owner, because there are a lot of people just waiting for you to fuck it up.