Congratulations, you have set your criteria for selecting your handgun, studied and compared the available handguns, evaluated your top 3 options, and selected your new handgun.
It does not matter if you bought your new gun at a gun store, from a friend, or on the Internet, you should take certain actions and check mechanical functioning and key things related to the gun and its use. You must be absolutely certain that your new gun is RELIABLE before you use it or even put it in its holster.
This is especially true if you use your handgun for concealed carry personal protection. This article will serve as a refresher for a lot of folks, no matter your experience level, and as a disciplined checklist to take certain actions and perform key checks for your new gun. These checks and actions are very important and my guidelines could be life-saving reminders. So delay the instant microwave temptation to immediately carry and regularly use your new gun before testing it and take these actions beforehand.
If you bought it locally, naturally you should check most of the things listed below at the gun store before you leave. But, in any situation you should take the below actions and check/review them for your newly-purchased gun as soon as you can. Some actions are very important, like examining the trigger mechanisms before buying and shooting it the first time.
Remember though that live-fire shooting the gun in a controlled range environment emphasizing SAFETY is the ultimate test of reliability. So try to shoot at least 500 rounds through your new gun before carrying it or using it for personal protection to determine its reliability. My recent book Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials gives you several shooting drills for self defense, in addition to many tips, techniques, guidelines, and legal considerations for using handguns for self defense and concealed carry.
This article can serve as a checklist for examination and inspection of your gun and gives you my 10 Guidelines for action steps to take for your new gun.
1. Confirm the Contents and Accessories included in the Gun’s Box or Case.
Well, it certainly makes sense to look in the box or case and double check that what you were suppose to get is actually what you got. One time I was short a magazine and one time the incorrect sights were on the gun. At least for me over the years all the guns were in the containers as ordered or offered. Make certain a locking device is included and you know how to properly use it.
2. Read the Instruction/Owner’s Manual Thoroughly.
Do you know what to do if you have one of several common malfunctions? All of my gun Manuals have a section on clearing and handling a malfunction, jam, or stoppage. Some better than others. Most of my many handguns have come with an Instruction or Owner’s Manual, but a few used ones did not. Also, I must admit that I lost two manuals over the years. I have found that every manufacturer will send you a Manual or offer one for you to download for free on their website. So, there is no excuse for not having an Owner’s Manual for your gun. Another helpful thing I do is go to YouTube and download for free the Disassembly and Assembly procedure videos for each gun I own. I always look for the 2-3 minute field strip version for my guns, rather than the 15-20 minute version. These just serve as reminders for my field strips, in case I have not shot a particular gun for awhile, do not regularly use it, and am somewhat unfamiliar with it. I usually just watch a few seconds of certain videos as a reminder for my guns that are more complex than others or have some unique field strip technique to remember. These videos help because there are usually some troubleshooting tips, tricks, or hints that save me time. I have learned that the large majority of Manuals are incomplete, inconsistent, and very generalized. For example when reassembling, I recall learning to depress the ejector only far enough to provide clearance for the slide during reassembly of my Sig 938 and 238 guns. A friend depressed his ejector beyond the point required for reassembly and caused the ejector to bind the frame and the pistol had to be returned to Sig for repair of the ejector. Read the Manual to save you time and troubles… and pay special attention to the WARNINGS and CAUTIONS in the Manual.
3. Thoroughly Clean and Lubricate the Gun Before Firing It.
I always clean and lubricate every gun before I shoot it for the first time. Yes, this is a hassle and I do not enjoy it, but for the 5 minutes average per gun it now takes me to do it after improving my learning curve, it is well worth it. I have the peace of mind knowing that my guns are well maintained, clean, properly lubricated, and ready to go. I can without a doubt rely on them to get the job done. A small price to pay for reliability and accuracy help. I suggest you get a universal pistol cleaning kit that contains a brass brush sized for your gun’s caliber, cleaning patches, rod, cleaner or solvent, and gun oil. Also, get a bore-snake for your gun’s caliber and run it through the bore two or three times after using the brush. Your patches will become cleaner sooner and your barrel cleaning time should be greatly reduced. There are some recommendations for these reasonably-priced cleaning items at the bottom of my Home Page on my website. Remember, it is best to push the cleaning brush in the direction from the chamber outward to the muzzle, rather than from the muzzle inward toward the chamber. Also, recognize that you can over-oil your gun, so use just a small amount of lubrication in the correct places. Excess oil and grease is very dangerous when firing and may cause barrel rupture, malfunctions, stoppages, and serious injuries. Accumulation of oil attracts dirt and gunk, which can interfere with gun functioning and reliability. Also, never spray or apply oil to cartridges. Lightly lubricate specific places on the gun for optimal performance and safety. My recent book explains proper lubrication and shows details about lubrication points, etc.
4. Examine the Gun’s Mechanisms, Key Parts, and Controls.
First, confirm that the gun is UNLOADED and perform your safety check. Check the barrel to be sure there are no obstructions in the chamber and bore. Look the gun over for any obvious flaws, defects, damage, and see how tightly the slide fits the barrel. Safety is a main concern, so if you have any doubts about its mechanisms, parts, and fittings, do not shoot it and take it to a qualified armorer for inspection and testing. Be sure and check the magazines as well. Make certain they seat easily, properly, and drop free, if designed to do so (most are.) Here are just some basic function checks I do on my new guns:
- Insert and lock an empty magazine into the magazine well of the gun, which has the hammer down or striker in the fire position. Make certain that the magazine locking notches are aligned with the magazine release and the magazine release spring will retain the magazine in the well.
- Next, quickly rack the slide to the rear and make sure the slide stays open and locked back. This tests the magazine follower, magazine spring, and the alignment of the follower with the slide stop and other related actions. If the slide does not stay open, check to make certain the magazine and its spring are properly assembled.
- Now press the magazine release and the magazine should fall free of the magazine well. If it does not, the magazine tube may be bent or there may be other problems.
- Push the slide stop down to release the slide and let it come forward under it’s own momentum. Remember to not “RIDE The Slide” with the support hand. This tests the recoil spring’s function to drive the slide into battery and lockup.
- If your handgun has a manual safety lever, put it in “safe” mode. Press the trigger. Nothing should happen. If so, immediately take the gun to a qualified gunsmith for analysis and repair. Do NOT take any chances for failure. And if your handgun has a decock lever, decock it. Again, nothing should happen except the hammer being lowered safely to the decock notch. Determine if you need a qualified gunsmith.
- Now test the trigger and its related mechanisms. Again, make certain the gun is UNLOADED and the chamber is EMPTY. While pointing the gun’s muzzle in a safe direction, take the manual safety off (if the gun has one), and press the trigger and HOLD the trigger in its rearmost position. The hammer/striker should fall normally. Continue to HOLD the trigger to the rear and manually cycle/rack the slide. Then slowly let the trigger move forward until you feel OR hear the disconnector reset make a “click.” Now press the trigger gain and you should have a normal hammer/striker fall. You want to ensure the trigger, disconnector, sear, and the mechanisms are functioning correctly, so you do not experience the surprise dangers of the gun going “full auto.” Press the trigger to verify the gun operates in single action and/or double action, as designed.
- You can also perform function checks of the grip safety and magazine disconnect, if on your particular gun. Also, get a good idea of the grip’s comfort and the ease of reaching the controls.
5. Dry Fire the Gun Without Ammo and Check Its Performance Functions.
Now you can shoot the gun using inert Snap Caps (CAUTION: use the proper caliber snap caps for your specific gun) that do not have any gunpowder or primer. This dry firing with something in the magazine and chamber can let you see how it cycles, operates and performs without using live ammo. You can also check sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, proper grip, etc. while dry firing.
REMEMBER: Live-Fire with ammo is the best mechanical function test for reliability. SAFETY FIRST!
6. Buy the Correct Caliber and Type of Ammo for Your Specific Gun and Use.
When testing your new gun, I suggest using only high-quality, original, factory-manufactured ammo. Usually, the use of reloaded, remanufactured, or other non-standard ammo voids all warranties. Also, do not use cartridges that are dirty, wet, corroded, bent, or damaged. Do not be tempted to “take a chance” with this type of ammo just to save a few pennies. Even a small risk is NOT worth it. Certainly, only use ammo of the caliber for which your gun is chambered. Again, SAFETY FIRST!
7. Take a Handgun Safety & Fundamentals Training Course.
Being a pistol instructor, of course I strongly recommend proper training up front in the 8 fundamentals of shooting and handling a handgun, but also in other aspects of using a gun. This important training, of course, has nothing to do with our established Second Amendment right to own a firearm. Basic topics like proper grip, stance, breath control, sight alignment, sight picture, movement control, trigger control, and follow through are necessary to help protect ourselves. Also, techniques for racking a slide, safely handling malfunctions and stoppages, overcoming the many common mistakes of shooting and carrying a concealed handgun, proper drawing from concealment, and types of trigger actions are important. Safety topics like self defense and carrying cocked and locked, furtive movements, types of handgun safeties, proper equipment, and traveling with guns are important. Legal considerations are extremely important and include topics like Stand Your Ground, Castle Doctrine situations, firing a warning shot, brandishing, disparate force considerations, and when to shoot or not and using deadly force. Our classes and my book include ALL these topics and I believe they are critically important for everyone using a handgun.
8. Know the Use of Deadly Force Laws in Your State and Jurisdiction.
You are personally responsible and accountable for every bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun, no matter which state or jurisdiction you live in and no matter the deadly-force situation. Deadly Force laws vary significantly among states and jurisdictions, so it is of paramount importance that you know and understand the laws applicable to you in your area. Truly understand what is “reasonable” and how it varies significantly by situation… and the importance of AVOIDING a confrontation.
9. Consider Getting a Concealed Carry Weapons License/Permit.
No matter your level of expertise and skills with a gun, no matter your age, no matter your religious beliefs, no matter your tendency to “right all wrongs” etc., acquiring a Concealed Carry Weapons License/Permit is a very, very important decision… and is NOT… repeat NOT… for everyone. You must have the proper MINDSET and understand the complete picture of having a deadly weapon on your person and using it properly, as well as effectively. Just because we can legally carry a concealed gun does not make us police officers nor vigilantes… nor “cool.” The gun is a tool and we must use our mind to use it the right way and legally. You must learn and develop the situational awareness and skills to know when to employ your gun and when NOT to employ it. Hesitating to draw your gun because you are uncertain if it is proper to do so, can get you killed. So, you might be better off up front not even getting your CCW license or permit and relying on others for your protection. This is a very important and personal decision for each of us.
10. Live-Fire Practice… Practice… Practice.
Not just when you buy your new gun but continually practicing with your gun is probably the most important thing you can do for personal protection. If you will be carrying your gun, it must become a significant and routine part of you and your responses with it as second nature. You must know how it will perform, the recoil to expect, when the slide will lock back, how to quickly release the magazine, how to easily rack the slide, how to properly align the sights and get a sight picture, etc. Through constant PRACTICE, you must develop the “muscle memory” to instinctively make decisions under stress to automatically and properly respond and use your gun if appropriate, without spending time to get acquainted with your gun at the time of a deadly-force situation. I’m sorry but practice once every six months is not adequate for proper preparation.This is a major responsibility, a learning challenge for most folks, and is time consuming. But if you are going to do it, do it correctly.
For me, I want to practice and fire about 500 rounds through any gun I will use for personal protection and for concealed carry. I want the gun to demonstrate to me its reliability and potential accuracy. You might say 200 rounds and others might say 386 rounds are required. The point is decide for yourself for each gun what is best for YOU. I like to try my personal protection guns with various ammo weights and pressures and certainly with hollow points. It just happens that over time I have learned that at the 500-round point or so, I have the peace of mind to know that I can truly rely on the gun to defend my life. I do not want to take even a 2% chance of failure because I didn’t sufficiently test and get familiar with my gun. Also, I believe it is best to have established drills and a routine to field test your gun, rather than a haphazard random shoot rounds down range. My book has several drills to help here. Recognize that if at any point in your drills and testing practice you encounter a malfunction, you must identify the source of the problem before carrying and using the firearm for personal defense. There are any number of reasons you might have a malfunction or stoppage during the drills, but yet still have a perfectly acceptable self defense gun. Maybe it’s just bad ammo or a bad magazine, or YES it could be you and user error.
ENJOY your New Gun, Continued Success, and BE SAFE!
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2017 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].