Purchasing a Gun
Note: This is coming from the perspective of someone living in Missouri—certain parts of the process of purchasing a firearm are different depending on where you live. Make sure you know what different rules may exist in your locality!
Purchasing a gun is not too difficult, but it takes more effort than, say, purchasing a bottle of soda at a convenience store. Rules and regulations for gun ownership and the purchasing process vary greatly from state to state, from city to city, and even from store to store. In Missouri, there are only a few requirements for gun ownership:
- The purchaser must be at least 21 years of age (same as federal law). This means you need to bring some form of identification (license is usually adequate) to the store.
- The purchaser must pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) (you have to fill out a form for this), and if the purchaser doesn't pass immediately, the purchaser may either need to wait a certain amount of time before purchasing the gun, or may appeal a declined background check.
Once you purchase a gun, you must abide by a strict set of laws regarding the carrying and storage of said gun. For example, you can store or transport your gun in your car or home, but you may not carry it with you, concealed, without a Concealed Carry Permit (CCW, as it's commonly referred to). To get such a permit, you need to attend some classes and apply for the permit through your local sheriff's office (if you live in St. Louis County, you must apply at the STLC PD Headquarters, and pay a $76 fee—more details here).
Inside your car or home, you may store your gun however you wish, but you'll want to read some of my suggestions below before deciding where and how you'll store your gun.
If you'd like to shoot your gun at a range, you can transport your gun in your car in a safe, in a bag, in a glove box, etc., but you should know that your gun is your responsibility—and you're to blame if it is discharged, purposefully or accidentally. I usually store my gun in a safe, or in a place that is inaccessible. And I usually store it without any magazines loaded, and the safety on.
Note that, if you're pulled over by a police officer, you should put your hands on the steering wheel and disclose that you have a weapon in your vehicle (and its location), to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings.
Check this Wikipedia article for more detail concerning Missouri gun laws.
For some recommendations on stores in the St. Louis metro area, check out Gun Shops and Ranges in St. Louis, MO. For some recommendations on what gun is right for you, find someone who knows guns, and ask them to join you on a trip to a range that rents different guns. Try some out and find what fits you best. There is no particular gun that is best for everyone; and some guns can be very poor matches for some people's builds, hands, or lifestyles!
Storing Your Gun
When deciding how and where you'd like to store your gun when you're not using it, you must decide if you want to be able to access the gun for defensive purposes, and, if so, how securely you need to store the gun.
Some who have CCW permits like to keep their guns on them at all times, in a secure holster on their person. At night, they may place the gun in a safe of some sort, or may have it readily accessible.
I recommend keeping a gun inside a locked safe any time you do not have it on your person—especially if you (a) want to prevent theft and (b) live with other people. There are many safes that are of manageable size and easy to access quickly if the need arises:
- GunVault Mini Vault Deluxe (has a simple keypad for quick access, and battery backup in case of power outages)
- GunVault NanoVault with Key Lock (great for your car or other tight spaces, can also be used to secure a wallet, jewelry, etc.)
The reason I advocate secure storage is that people—kids especially—are curious when it comes to guns, and curiosity is a very strong motivator (even if a child knows the Eddie Eagle gun safety rules). A weapon lying around somewhere is an open invitation to disaster. Keep it locked, keep it secure. And if you're not using a gun for defensive purposes, store the ammunition away from the gun. Do whatever you can do to prevent unauthorized or accidental access to your gun.
Using and Maintaining your Gun
Above all, memorize the four rules of gun safety. Don't even get near a gun until you know and can recite these rules (here's a deeper explanation of each rule):
- Treat every gun as if it’s loaded.
- Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until sights are on target.
- Always be sure of your target—and what’s behind it!
Once you've pounded these rules into your head, get familiar with your gun. First, figure out how to 'clear the weapon' (eject the magazine or open the cylinder, and work the slide or dump any bullets out of the cylinder). Make sure the weapon is clear any time you are working on it, cleaning it, or showing it to someone. Additionally, it's a good idea to store extra magazines and ammo away from any area where you'll be cleaning or figuring out the gun's parts. Read the manufacturer's manual for the gun, and learn how to operate all the safeties and major parts of the gun.
Then, clean your gun (before you take it to a range). Follow the manufacturer's directions. I've found the best way to clean a semi-automatic handgun is with the assistance of the following products:
- Cleaning patches (or cut up some old cotton T-shirts)
- Hoppes No. 9 cleaning solvent
- Cleaning Kit (great for occasional deep cleanings)
- A clean, flat surface that can get oil and grime on it.
Finally, after you know how your gun operates, and you've cleaned it, learn from a pro at a basic gun training class how to operate it correctly, and how to use and maintain the gun. These classes aren't expensive, and they're regularly offered at most gun ranges. I like the Missouri Department of Conservation's classes at Jay Henges shooting range—mostly because they're free, but also because the instructors are typically very good!
Usually, as part of your class, you'll be able to get some trigger time—supervised range time where you'll put a few rounds through your gun. Make sure you have good eyes and ears (eye and ear protection) to prevent your eardrums from rupturing (guns are LOUD—contrary to what you see in the movies) and to prevent blindness from shrapnel or shell casings. See Remington's 7th Commandment of Gun Safety.
Always clean your gun (at least the barrel—which has precision-machined rifling inside) after shooting. It only takes 5-10 minutes once you've done it a few times, and it will help your gun last a very long time, and operate without interruption.
I generally recommend a good gun bag for transporting your gun/supplies to and from a range. Since you'll probably want to carry an extra magazine or two, some eye and ear protection, a rag or two, some ammunition (otherwise what are you going to shoot out of your gun?), and other odds and ends, a good bag is a good idea. I like the GunMate Range Bag, since it's made of nice, thick fabric and includes enough compartments for everything. The zippers are quite durable as well.
With guns, as with anything else that can be dangerous if not handled safely, you should always think twice before doing anything. And remember the four safety rules!