No matter what prompted you to consider buying a gun, bringing a firearm into your home represents a big change with significant responsibility. Guns are inherently dangerous, especially if you’re a new gun owner who’s never or rarely handled a gun before.

Buying, using, storing, and maintaining a gun all require a lot of education, forethought and discipline.

Since there’s much to learn, here’s a short guide to walk you through the steps of becoming a responsible gun owner, including how to keep your home safe.

Table of Contents

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Signup for a Firearms Training Course

If you find owning a gun for the first time to be an intimidating proposition, you are not alone. Fortunately, there are many reputable options throughout the country to learn how to become a confident, competent and responsible gun owner from highly experienced instructors, in safe facilities. Many reputable training offerings are available online, as well.

Firearm safety instruction, instructor and student holding revolver

The primary reasons to take a firearms training course is to develop and improve:

  1. Safety
  2. Confidence
  3. Knowledge
  4. Firearm Skills
  5. Physical Strength
  6. Mental Strength
  7. Accuracy

Courses of this kind are not just solely focused on learning how to handle and fire firearms, but also how to responsibly own, store and maintain firearms, in addition to knowing local gun laws.

Handling and firing a range of guns is vital to choosing a weapon that is best suited for your circumstances and preferences, so be patient before making a purchase. Most reputable firing ranges offer a range of rental guns to help you get familiar with different types and brands.

Indoor  target shooting range with gun accessories

As part of your budding firearms education adhere to these widely-held gun safety rules:

  1. Always treat any firearm as if it were loaded
  2. Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, away from anything that could cause injury
  3. Keep your finger off of the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot
  4. Be sure of what is in front, around and behind your target before shooting
  5. Know how to properly operate your gun
  6. Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use

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Know What You Need Before You Buy

Not all guns have the same purpose – you wouldn’t want to go skeet shooting with a carbine rifle, just how you wouldn’t want to go deer hunting with a double-barrel shotgun.

Your gun’s purpose, be it home defense, protection against wildlife predators, sport shooting, hunting, target practice, or even starting a gun collection, is going to define what type of gun you will need and choose.

Be sure to talk to firearm instructors, friends and colleagues who have experience with guns, do thorough online research, and talk to gun store personnel before you decide what to buy. Most importantly be sure to try out a range of firearms at a local firing range, after having completed a firearms training course.

Woman target shooting, comparing two different handguns

Speaking with other recent first-time gun owners can also be quite valuable to learn from their relevant experiences of researching, choosing and purchasing.

Closeup view of loading a revolver


Purchase Your Gun Legally From a Reputable Store

Guns are available illegally and they can easily be purchased – there’s no getting around this reality. People sometimes do this to avoid background checks and because they want a gun fast.

Never be tempted to go this route. It’s important for first-time gun owners to understand the reasons these rules are in place. You don’t want to get caught doing this and be forbidden from ever buying a gun in the future.

Get your safety certificate, proving that you know how firearms work and that you can handle a firearm, and let the shop run all the background checks they need to.

People that typically trigger red flags are fugitives, dishonorable military discharges, people with previous convictions, people with restraining orders, etc.

Generally, if you’re not a violent criminal, or a person with history of abusive drug/alcohol use or mental illness, you’ll be fine. Additionally most states have waiting period laws – ranging between three and 14 days – that require gun buyers to wait a specified period before taking possession of a purchased firearm.

When it comes to choosing a store, you always want to opt for a reputable store. Be sure to look for stores run by gun owners themselves who are experienced and know what they’re talking about. They’ll be able to advise you for your specific circumstances and often let you try before you buy (although that depends on the store).

Royal Range Pro Shop, Nashville, Tennessee

Image courtesy of Royal Range USA

A really important thing to keep an eye out for is a grace period. Some stores have a grace period that applies to all guns, while others only offer this for certain manufacturers and models. If something’s wrong with your gun or if you just changed your mind after buying – you should either be reimbursed or request a replacement or exchange.


Buy a Gun Case to Keep Both Your Family and Gun Safe

Do yourself a favor and buy a firearm case as soon as you buy your first firearm. This isn’t only important for keeping your household safe, but also ensuring that your gun remains clean and well-functioning.

Many gun owners debate this expenditure, however, since there are no laws requiring gun cases. While there are no federal laws forcing you to keep a gun in a case, there are state laws that require a safe, inaccessible locker as a prerequisite for gun ownership.

Bulldog cases Magnum Biometric Top Load Pistol Vault BD4055B

Image courtesy of Bulldog Cases & Vaults

Having a gun locked away, with only adults with weapons training having access to the keys, keeps the weapons safely away from kids.

Children should never have access to weapons without an adult present, and keeping your guns in a case is the first step towards avoiding a tragedy.

It also keeps the guns away from any curious adults in your home who don’t take firearms seriously, who might hurt themselves or someone else by handling the gun inappropriately.

The second reason you should keep your gun in a case is keeping your gun clean and functional. A good case prevents the gun from coming in contact with dust and moisture, or just getting banged up. This is especially important when traveling.

If you’re buying an old gun just to start a gun collection and have no intention of firing it, you should still keep it in a locked glass case. Generally, you should always treat a gun as if it were loaded.


Clean Your Gun Regularly

There’s a saying in the army – take care of your gun today, it will take care of you tomorrow. You’d think that this would go without saying, but there are so many people who only clean their gun twice a year and think there’s nothing wrong with that approach.

Cleaning the barrel of a pistol

As you fire your gun, particles of gunpowder and metal residue (usually from the round and the casing) will start to build up. This results in inaccurate shooting, but if you never clean your gun, it will eventually clog.

Clogging isn’t even the worst thing that can happen, as the residue can cause rusting of the barrel (which pretty much marks the end of the line for the barrel).

In extreme cases, dirt buildup can lead to an explosion, or even worse – slamfire. Slamfire is an extremely rare malfunction, only possible with semi-automatic weapons, causing them to go fully automatic and empty the magazine in a burst.

Obviously, if you only keep your gun in your house in the case of a home invasion (in which case, we hope you never have to use it) and never shoot it, you won’t have to clean your gun as often. This doesn’t mean you never have to clean it, though.

All weapons come with a booklet from the manufacturer, instructing you on how to properly disassemble, clean (with which chemicals), and reassemble your weapon, and telling you how often you should do it.

To ensure that the gun works the day you need it to and to ensure your own safety, please follow the manufacturer’s instructions and clean your gun regularly!


Go to a Shooting Range Regularly

As a program to increase your knowledge, competency and confidence with your newly purchased firearm, you should plan to visit a local shooting regularly. Finding a shooting partner or group will help to make the experience more enjoyable and encouraging. Most shooting ranges offer memberships which can make frequent trips more affordable.

A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League (AG & AG) local chapter at an indoor shooting range.

Image courtesy of Tatiana Whitlock and AG & AG  (A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League)

Here’s an excellent video from NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) on what newcomers can expect when visiting an indoor shooting range for the first time.

Visiting an Indoor Shooting Range for the First Time NSSF Video

Also plan to take additional training courses depending on what you wish to learn next. The best firearm instructors set great examples by consistently taking new courses over time. As you become more experienced, keep in mind that training is not just about learning new things but also refreshing important lessons previously learned.

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Gun Safety Resources


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