Friday, May 1, 2015

Helping Someone Choose A Gun

I was at the range the other day (when am I NOT at the range?) when I heard a comment from the guy a few bays over. I’d heard it before… “You’re shooting that!?” I had just cranked off a magazine full so his perception was uncanny. Sorry for being sarcastic but I thought it was obvious what I was shooting. I won’t go into what gun it was. Suffice it to say it was a low end Smith and Wesson. Come to your own conclusions. Anyway, I’ve shot this gun for a good many years. It is very reliable. I know this because I’ve shot several thousand rounds through it and have had no problems at all. So when someone rags on this weapon I just smile. I actually own two of the same gun. They both are flawless. So when this guy was incredulous of my weapon choice I just let it happen. I’ve long since stopped trying to explain my choice and my experience with my guns. There are many who have asked for my advice on what weapon to buy. I have a shpeal all worked out to tell them. Because of the latest riots in Maryland I’ve had a few ask for my recommendation of a weapon. Sometimes this causes a problem for me. My weapons systems and gear have been acquired after years of experience and testing and training. They are right for me. They may not be right for you. So how do those experienced in weapons and self-defense offer intelligent advice to someone without unconsciously but inappropriately projecting our situation onto theirs?

Be Realistic
I would love to see every person who comes to me for advice about owning a gun be willing to put in as much time and effort into understanding the question of self-defense and firearms ownership as I have. I know that few, if any, ever will. I generally have some level of knowledge about the person asking the question and I can use a few simple exercises to figure out where they are in terms of commitment to help guide the answers that I give them. It's critical to be realistic about what you believe this person is willing and able to do if you want to be helpful. Don't project what you hope is true about them...assess what's really true about them and work from there.

Be Reasonable
While you want to give useful guidance, it's impossible to do that if you aren't willing to engage within at least some of the limits the person is dealing with. Just as an example, I personally don't care for the .380 ACP as a primary carry cartridge...but I recognize that there are people who have physical limitations that make shooting a weapon with better terminal ballistics painful or outright impossible. If I'm dealing with such a person I am not going to tell them that if they aren't packing a high-cap 9mm loaded with at least 16 hollow-points and a reload that they might as well give up. You're not shooting for ideal here, you're shooting for likely good enough. It's true that in many circumstances "good enough" is an excuse for low standards, but in many others good enough really is good in the best you can do under the constraints you are working with. A person who has no gun right now but who acquires and regularly carries a Beretta 21 next week has improved their situation considerably. No, it isn't ideal. It's better though, and that opens the door to further improvements down the road. Being dogmatic in the early stages, even if you believe you are doing the Lord's work at the time, often shuts the process down completely and alienates the person to boot.

Present options, not necessarily opinions
One of my favorite approaches to these sorts of questions is to bring the person asking to a gun store or the range and present them a number of different firearms that they can interact with. I like to present the firearm in a pretty agnostic way allowing them to lead the discussion with questions while I respond as factually as possible. At a recent range outing with a young couple looking for their first gun I pulled out several different handguns and let them experience all of them after a safety brief on each. As they were looking at a Glock 34 and the S&W M&P the male half asked "So from your description, these two seem very similar...what's the difference between them?" That's the kind of interaction I'm looking for. When I demonstrated take-down of both weapons mentioning that the Glock requires a trigger pull to disassemble, the male half asked "Wait, couldn't that be a problem?" Yes. It could be. That's exactly the sort of critical thinking I'm hoping for. When they understand that every weapon has its good points and bad points, and that their task is to choose the set of compromises that best suits their particular situation, they will achieve a happy result for themselves. That won't happen if I spend the whole time lecturing on why I’m anti-Glock (which I’m not). I may guide the conversation here or there and I will certainly clear up any outright factual errors encountered along the way, but I want their brain to be engaged. They, after all, have to live with their decision. What I like may not be what they need, and I have to be intelligent enough to get out of the way and let their needs drive the process.

Keep it fun
The subject matter is very serious, but that doesn't mean we have to wear sack cloth and ashes the whole time. You can have fun with guns, too. It's possible to make the process fun and interesting without compromising on the important parts like safe handling habits, proper marksmanship fundamentals, etc. Citing the young couple again, after familiarizing them with a number of different pistols I set up a little competition between them where they could use whatever pistols we had worked with up to that point to go against the other. This, from their perspective, was fun. It was also an introduction to using a gun under some level of stress with something on the line to loose. They enjoyed the experience AND learned a little bit about using a pistol under some level of stress at the same time. Win/win.

If I had my way I’d tell everyone to do what I do, buy what I buy, shoot like I shoot, but then they are not me. The best thing you can do if you want to teach independence is to present options and go over the pros and cons. Choice and personal taste is what makes the world go around. Long ago we fought for our own agency and won. Now we can choose. But to make a good choice we must have information. The best thing you can do is provide good, factual information. Not really opinion.

Thanks to Gun Nuts Media ( for the points for this article. I’d never really thought about putting it down this way.

There may be more that you would add to this list. But the gist of it is, when helping others with weapons or gear choices, give them some information to make their own decision. One of my sons owns a Bushmaster AR. Another son owns a Colt AR. Both choices were made with money influences. If money is no object all of us may make different choices. Sometimes we may buy a more expensive gun because we know how it performs. I love Rugers. I don’t think I’ve ever shot a Ruger I didn’t like. Because of this, my oldest son loves Rugers too. He had many years and many Rugers to shoot to come to that conclusion. Then he bought a Ruger LC9. He finally sold it because he had such a difficulty with the size. I don’t think it being a Ruger made a bit of difference; he just couldn’t handle the size with his big hands. In this case my influence over the years and his positive experience with a Ruger moved him to buy a sub-compact Ruger. He didn’t realize how shooting a sub-compact would be. Any sub-compact. So be careful what kind of advice you give.

Semper Paratus
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