Sunday, June 5, 2022

Three Things You Must Know Before Carrying a Firearm for Self-Defense

Many Americans have recently bought a gun for “self-defense.” This is laudable, as it demonstrates people understand that they are responsible for their own security as much as they are for acquiring food and shelter.

Like food and shelter, a gun requires some thought before use. Perhaps you avoid super spicy food right before bedtime or prefer a single-story house – in every case, you weigh options based on budget, needs, desires, intended use, possible long-term effects, and more. We spend years perfecting our tastes, identifying favorite recipes, avoiding certain foods, or refreshing or remodeling our houses. These are lifelong pursuits, and as conditions change, our requirements change.

So it is with self-defense: it’s not simply the purchase of a gun. It’s a continuous journey of learning, adapting, acquiring, and casting off to suit the situation and conditions.

However, there are three subject areas every firearm owner needs to know: Operation, Use, and Legal implications.


The features and functions of the firearm must be well understood so that you are able to fire it effectively when you want to (no matter your emotional state), and you will be able to maintain it in a ready condition. Every gun has a series of actions required to load, charge, discharge, clear, secure, and address malfunctions. Most beginner gun classes focus on this part of gun ownership, but, like any skill, you have to refresh your skills frequently enough that they become “automatic,” in the same way accelerating and slowing a car become automatic base do traffic conditions.


You must be able to retrieve, present, and operate the gun while simultaneously protecting yourself from harm. This is described as “tactics” or “movement,” but just means you continuously and automatically seek cover (“Cover” is a barrier to incoming fire, while “concealment” limits how much of you is visible to an assailant). This also requires regular practice, as it is not “automatic” unless you train yourself (in the same way a new driver must think about which pedal means go and which means stop). While some beginner classes may mention tactics, few go beyond superficial suggestions. Given that every situation is unique, it requires learning principles and then adapting actions to the conditions. Continuing the car analogy, use of the gas and brake pedals when parallel parking is different from merging onto a busy highway. The pedals are the same – how they are employed is vastly different. Once principles are learned, they must be continually “practiced” in real-life situations. The good news is this practice does not require running around with a firearm in public – you can mentally rehearse actions in your mind. There are some training courses that focus on use, but there is a significant difference between defensive and offensive tactics, and good trainers will emphasize the difference.

Legal Implications

We live in a society constrained by laws interpreted by judges and juries, prosecuted and defended by attorneys of varying levels of knowledge, dedication, and skill, leveraging partial evidence with flawed (and sometimes fabricated) “eyewitness” testimony. In other words, while you may have been 100% “right” in your choice to use a firearm in a defensive situation until you clear all legal hurdles, your troubles are not over. Therefore, it is incumbent on everyone committed to employing a firearm in self-defense to know the legal principles that justify that use, the conditions under which the law supports (or at least will not prosecute) such use, and the jurisdiction in which the law will be applied and interpreted. This requires research and study and continual refreshing as laws and conditions change. There are books on this topic, and it’s best to seek out and read authors who have expertise in law and self-defense in particular. While there are half-day seminars on “Legal right to self-defense,” these merely scratch the surface. It’s best to read books such as The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen by Andrew F. Branca or Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense by Massad Ayoob.

Self-defense is not just for mass shooter events (which are exceedingly rare). It’s not even about guns. Rather, “self-defense” is an extensive toolkit we can employ to avoid, prevent, or resist trouble.

Subsequent posts will provide recommendations for books and training that address one or more of these areas.

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