If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve doubtlessly seen images of carnage and destruction coming out of Baltimore. You may have even heard the mayor of Baltimore let this little gem fly:
This quite naturally brings some level of discomfort to normal law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who do not expect the authorities to give people “space to destroy” their property and livelihood. Every time something like Baltimore hits the news, at least 3 or 4 people come out of the woodwork asking me to help them acquire a firearm for personal protection. If you’re the kind of person who reads a site like this, odds are you will encounter the same sort of thing sooner or later…and it poses a bit of a problem.
I came to the firearms and equipment that I use regularly through a long process of research, experimentation, and training based on my own perception of need/desirability informed by that long process. What I have works for me, and I can argue pretty objectively that what I’ve come to works pretty well full stop in a general consideration of self defense. A lot of that, though, isn’t applicable to the sort of people who approach me for advice or assistance in acquiring a firearm. Their equation is different and that means that the right answer for them could be different, too. So how can we offer intelligent advice to someone without unconsciously but inappropriately projecting our situation onto theirs?
1. Be Realistic
I would love to see every person who comes to me for advice about owning a gun be willing to put in as much time and effort as I have into understanding the question of self defense and firearms ownership. I know that few, if any, ever will. I generally have some level of knowledge about the person asking the question and I can use a few simple exercises to figure out where they are in terms of commitment to help guide the answers that I give them. It’s critical to be realistic about what you believe this person is willing and able to do if you want to be helpful. Don’t project what you hope is true about them…assess what’s really true about them and work from there.
2. Be Reasonable
While you want to give useful guidance, it’s impossible to do that if you aren’t willing to engage within at least some of the limits the person is dealing with. Just as an example, I personally don’t care for the .380 ACP as a primary carry cartridge…but I recognize that there are people who have physical limitations that make shooting a weapon with better terminal ballistics painful or outright impossible. If I’m dealing with such a person I am not going to tell them that if they aren’t packing a high-cap 9mm loaded with at least 16 hollowpoints and a reload that they might as well give up. You’re not shooting for ideal, here, you’re shooting for likely good enough. It’s true that in many circumstances “good enough” is an excuse for damnably low standards, but in many others good enough really is good enough…as in the best you can do under the constraints you are working with. A person who has no gun right now but who acquires and regularly carries a Beretta 21 next week has improved their situation considerably. No, it isn’t ideal. It’s better though, and that opens the door to further improvements down the road. Being dogmatic in the early stages, even if you believe you are doing the Lord’s work at the time, often shuts the process down completely and alienates the person to boot.
3. Present options, not necessarily opinions
One of my favorite approaches to these sorts of questions is to bring the person asking to a gun store or the range and present them a number of different firearms that they can interact with. I like to present the firearm in a pretty agnostic way allowing them to lead the discussion with questions while I respond as factually as possible. At a recent range outing with a young couple looking for their first gun I pulled out several different handguns and let them experience all of them after a safety brief on each. As they were looking at the Glock 34 and the S&W M&P the male half asked “So from your description, these two seem very similar…what’s the difference between them?” That’s the kind of interaction I’m looking for. When I demonstrated take-down of both weapons mentioning that the Glock requires a trigger pull to disassemble, the male half asked “Wait, couldn’t that be a problem?” YES. IT MOST CERTAINLY COULD BE. That’s precisely the sort of critical thinking I’m hoping to elicit in this process. When they understand that every weapon has its good points and bad points, and understand that their task is to choose the set of compromises that best suits their particular situation odds are that they will achieve a happy result for themselves. That won’t happen if I spend the whole time lecturing on The Gun World According To Tim. I may guide the conversation here or there and I will certainly clear up any outright factual errors encountered along the way, but I want their brain to be doing most of the work. They, after all, have to live with their decision. What I like may not be what they need, and I have to be intelligent enough to get out of the way and let their needs drive the process.
4. Keep it fun
The subject matter is very serious, but that doesn’t mean we have to wear sack cloth and ashes the whole time. You can have fun with guns, too. It’s possible to make the process fun and interesting without compromising on the important parts like safe handling habits, proper marksmanship fundamentals, etc. Citing the young couple again, after familiarizing them with a number of different pistols I set up a little competition between them where they could use whatever pistols we had worked with up to that point to go against the other. This, from their perspective, was fun. It was also an introduction to using a gun under some level of stress with something on the line to loose. They enjoyed the experience AND learned a little bit about using a pistol under some level of stress at the same time. Win/win.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but if you keep these four principles in mind and use them in your approach I’ll wager you will get the same excellent results I usually get…and you might even enjoy the process yourself.