10 other things to do when you buy your first gun

Americans love guns. Depending on what survey you look at, anywhere from 20% to 50% of U.S. residents have at least one gun in their home.

But Americans are also more in love with the hardware than in training, laws, or safety. Too many people buying a gun for self defense, make the purchase, take the gun home, put it in a drawer, and never touch it again until their life is on the line.

Not only is this a bad idea from a self defense point of view, it also increases the odds that in a moment of high stress, you'll make a mistake and put yourself in legal peril.

When you're buying a gun for the fist time, there are a number of things you should consider doing at the same time. Here are 10 of the most important.

Take a basic gun safety class. It doesn't matter how much you think you know about guns, take the class. You can never know too much or have too many reminders about basic gun handling and safety. Nearly every accidental shooting is the result of a lazy or arrogant attitude about safety. All it takes is one negligent discharge to trigger a crushing law suit.

Buy plenty of ammo. You'll need two kinds: high quality self defense ammo and cheap practice ammo. Good defensive ammo is expensive. Generally this means factory ammunition specifically designed to expand upon impact from Federal, Hornady, Speer, Winchester, Remington, and other well-known brands. Non-expanding practice ammo, sometimes called "ball" ammo, isn't well suited for defense because it can shoot through walls and people, and damage things or people that are not your target. You need lots of it, though, for practice at the range. Which brings us to ...

Start visiting a local range. Go as often as you can. The very dedicated might go several times a week. But for ordinary folks, try to go once a month or so. It's not about how much shooting you do, but about making quality practice time part of your life. Shooting skills can degrade over time, so while you don't have to be a champion marksman, you need to be able to hit center mass on a paper target at 21 feet to assure you're up to the task of stopping a violent attack.

Get your concealed carry license. Even if you only want to have a gun in your home, getting your license is still a good idea. First, it gives you extra training that is geared for self defense. Second, it gives you the option to carry your firearm if you choose to. And once you buy into the idea of protecting yourself at home, you'll probably start to think about other places you might have to protect yourself.

Buy a quality holster. This is where a lot of gun owner become cheapskates. They'll spend $500 or more on a quality gun, then shrug their shoulders and buy a flimsy, generic $30 holster. If you want to carry a gun, you need to carry it securely. That means getting a good leather or kydex-type holster that is specifically made for the gun you own, attaches firmly to a belt, and is designed for proper retention, meaning not letting the gun fall out even if you find yourself wrestling with an attacker on the ground. There are other carry options, such as pocket carry, but you need a good holster for this too.

Learn the laws of your state. As they say, ignorance of the law is not a defense. A lot of gun owners have the attitude that many of the laws are not fair or just, so they choose to ignore them. While it's true that many laws are ridiculous and infringe on your rights, it's up to you to know them and follow them if you want to stay out of trouble. Hangunlaw.us is a good source for learning about your state's gun laws. And here's an article we published with lots of additional sources for gun law info.

Educate yourself about self defense. Take advanced firearm classes. You can find instructors near you at the NRA Training Portal. Read books available from Paladin Press, the NRA Store, Amazon.com, or your local library. Watch videos available from GunVideo.com, Personal Defense Network, or Armed Response Training.

Determine the proper way to store your gun. If you have kids or visitors in your house frequently, you probably want to buy a safe. Small handgun safes are not expensive and can fit in a drawer, in a closet, or under the bed. Larger safes can hold more guns and can be bolted to the floor to deter thieves. 

Talk to your family about the gun. It shouldn't be a secret. Discuss why you have the gun, what it's for and what it's not for, where you store it, and what the rules are for access. The whole family needs to be on the same page about this because family defense is a team effort.

Join the NRA. The very fact that you can own a gun is due in large part to the NRA and other national and state organizations who fight every day to prevent gun control advocates from taking away your rights. You can join for as little as $25 a year and your membership includes a monthly magazine and lots of benefits including free insurance for your gun.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn't also suggest that you consider joining Second Call Defense, which provides several layers of protection should you ever have to use your gun in self defense, including insurance backed by the NRA Endorsed Insurance Program, administered by Lockton Affinity, LLC.