Advice for New (or Soon To Be) Armed Self Defenders
The other day I got tagged on a Twitter thread that started with a request for general advice for somebody who is learning how to shoot. I was also recently a guest on a podcast discussion new gun ownership. These interactions got me curious about the advice I’ve offered folks in past posts on this blog. Truth be told, I’ve posted several guides targeting new gun owners and novice shooters over time. As I reviewed some of the posts, I realized that in many cases I present a lot of data to assist those readers make an informed decision for themselves. That’s been my preferred approach and style because that’s how I approach decisions. Over the past few years, I’ve also ran across folks who don’t want all the data – they just want an actionable recommendation. As such, I’m going to take that approach in this post.
Step 1 – The Guns
Yes, I said guns. Not a gun. It’s intentionally plural. I’m going to suggest a duty size double stacked 9mm duty pistol and a 16″ AR-15 chambered for 5.56 NATO. I’ll cover each in a bit more detail in a second.
I understand not everyone can purchase both at the same time. Choosing one of those to start with depends on the primary defense concern. Home defense or carry for defense outside the home. If defense outside the home is of no concern, then I suggest going with the AR first. Otherwise, start with the pistol. If one really doesn’t have an idea and wants to know what I suggest, then I’m going to suggest the pistol because it can be used for both in the home and out of the home scenarios. It’s also where I started and I suspect some folks new to guns might have some reservations about the AR for some reason or another.
Step 1A – The Pistol
As I mentioned, I suggest a duty size double stack striker fired polymer pistol chambered for 9mm. Why 9mm? That is a whole other post. In short, it’s the sweet spot in terms of effectiveness, learning curve, and market support.
There are several choices in the market that fit this bill such as the Glock 19, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0, the Sig Sauer P320, or my personal favorite the H&K VP9. There are some other makes and models that work here too, but I’m limiting the list to the guns that I know are well supported by the self defense market and I commonly see at training classes.
Some folks might be thinking that this size gun will be too bulky to carry regularly and that’s a valid concern. Especially valid considering pistols aren’t exactly inexpensive tools. However, I will caution against getting the smallest pistol one can find as they tend to be harder to operate and not a lot of fun to shoot which typically results in less skill development (which I’ll talk about in a bit). For those of you who would still prefer something different, I suggest checking out this concealed carry selection guide for a deeper discussion.
Aside from the pistol, get some extra magazines for it. They are consumables and will wear out over time. I suggest a minimum of seven. Three to train and practice with, three for carry, and a spare. If seven is tall order, then start with three as that is the minimum typically required for training courses (I’ll get to that in a minute too).
Next up is a good all kydex holster. What makes a good holster is a long discussion that I’ll have to cover in a future post. I suggest starting with an inside the waistband holster mostly because that’s what I use, but also because it caters to concealing the carried firearm. Granted concealment comes with a comfort trade off. Like the firearms list, I’m going to limit the list to the two full kydex holsters I’ve personally used: the Incog Eclipse from G-Code or the Halcyon from KSG Armory.
Optionally, one can get an outside the waistband holster. I suggest one with active retention – meaning a holster that has at least one mechanism to lock the firearm in the holster instead of just friction. I suggest taking a look at SafariLand holsters that include the ALS retention system.
A couple of magazine pouches will be necessary. I most often use Venom Magazine Carriers from Concealment Solutions. Get at least two of them as that will be a requirement for many training courses. I also use the Kywi pistol magazine pouches from Esstac from time to time.
One is going to need ammo. Some for practice (inexpensive ammo with full metal jacket or FMJ projectiles) and some for carry (expensive quality ammo with defensive projectiles such as hollow points or HP). How much ammo? As much as one can afford. Want a better idea? Check out this post that explores ammo quantities in detail. For a deeper discussion on types of ammo, check out this guide on projectile selection.
Step 1B – The AR
Why an AR? Short answer is they are effective, have a low learning curve, and don’t have a lot of variables to deal with when it comes to ammunition choices.
The choices are endless when it comes to AR-15. They are made by a wide variety of manufacturers and come in almost endless configurations. As a result, the price can vary quite a bit. I personally have experience with AR-15s from Daniel Defense, Sig Sauer, and Palmetto State Armory (listed from most expensive to least). As I mentioned, I suggest getting an AR-15 with 16″ barrel chambered for 5.56 NATO. I will also suggest picking one with an M-LOK rail to attach future accessories to.
For the most part, AR-15 with an M-LOK rail won’t include iron sights. Even if it did come with iron sights, I still suggest putting a red dot sight on it. The only one I can recommend is the AimPoint Micro T2 because it’s rugged, reliable, and frankly the only one that I have experience with that I would depend on in a defensive encounter.
Like the pistol. I also suggest getting extra magazines. Unless you happen to be in a jurisdiction that limits magazine capacity, get the 30 rounders. I suggest a minimum of seven. But again, if that’s too tall of an order, then start with three.
Next is a sling. A sling is to a rifle as a holster is to a pistol. It offers retention and ability to go hands free if needed. I suggest a two point sling. I’ve only used Magpul slings on the AR so I can’t in good faith suggest others.
A magazine pouch is a good idea and may be required gear for some training courses. The only AR mag pouches I’ve used are the Kywi pouches from Esstac.
Step 2 – Protective Equipment
Get a good set of electronic hearing protection. Not only will this protect hearing, but also allows us to clearly hear range commands which is important for safety when practicing and training. I suggest the Howard Leight Impart Sport over the ear muffs. I hesitate to suggest “in the ear” protection other than foams, because I have limited experience with them. However, I have talked about hearing protection in depth before and will refer readers there for a deeper conversation.
Eye protection is also essential. I suggest getting some even if one happens to wear corrective glasses, unless the glasses use impact and shatter resistant lenses.
Step 3 – Secure Storage
I suggest getting the largest full size safe one can afford because most gun owners I happen to know tend to acquire more guns over time and running out of room is frustrating. That said, my experience is anecdotal as the gun owners I know tend to hunt, compete, and train. Regardless, that’s my direct suggestion. For those readers looking to explore more options, go take a look at this post that discusses gun storage options.
Step 4 – Level Up
Some folks never level up beyond learning how to safely operate their firearms and learning to punch holes in paper at the local range. This is usually a result of confident ignorance or ignorant confidence described as the Peak of “Mount Stupid” in the context of the Dunning-Kruger effect. It happens because folks simply don’t know what they don’t know. The way one learns what they don’t know usually happens in one of two ways: life experience teaches one a hard lesson or one consults an expert. When it comes to self defense, I’m a firm believer that the later option is preferable.
While books and the internet offer a wealth of good information on the topics of shooting mechanics and self defense tactics, there is no shortage of terrible advice contained in those mediums. Telling the difference between gold and trash takes a certain level of competence. For that reason, I don’t recommend that novices read and watch everything that comes from internet searches. Rather I suggest, leaning on recommendations from folks who already have developed a high level of competence for reading and watching materials. But there is a catch there, how can one tell the difference between a competent source and an incompetent one? This might seem like a bit of a conundrum if you happen to be reading this because you found in the results of an internet search. As much as I’d like to answer that right now, this post is already getting long winded so I’m going to leave that topic for a future post.
Building academic knowledge is all well and good, but developing a high level of skill is what it’s important. For this I highly recommend and strongly suggest finding a good training school or instructor and taking some classes. Start with a basic gun handling course to develop strong safety practices and establish sound shooting fundamentals. After that start looking for classes that teach you how to fight with a pistol or carbine. Then look for force on force training and advanced shooting classes. Out of the folks I’ve been trained by I can recommend Carry the Day, KR Training, Rangemaster, and Gabe White Training.
Step 5 – Skill Maintenance
Dry practice, dry practice, dry practice. As one trains, one will pick up different dry fire drills that can be used to continue developing and maintaining skills at home. I also suggest picking up a copy of DryFire Reloaded by Ben Stoeger or checking this blog from time to time for dry fire drills that I share.
When it comes to practice and maintain skills, recency is key since shooting is a perishable skill. This holds true for dry practice as well as live fire practice. This means that shorter higher frequency practice sessions will yield better results than less frequent longer sessions. For example, five minutes of dry fire per day will yield better results than thirty-five minutes of dry practice once a week.
Consider finding a local gun club that hosts local competitive matches. In my opinion, local matches provide a fun and inexpensive way to test and practice self defense shooting skills under a bit of pressure. The stages at local competitions are much more dynamic than what one will typically be able to find a local range.
Last bit of advice, it’s easy to get stuck spending resources on gear. That is looking for a better gun, upgrading gun components, or getting the latest and greatest accessories. That’s all well and good. I’d be lying if I said I personally didn’t spend any money on gear. Once basic and stock gear is acquired prioritize resources to getting good and staying good, then and only then will gear upgrade investments pay off.