Below is a breakdown of the 20 topics you’ll learn when you attend a USCCA Introduction to Handgun Safety class. The class is 4 hours long, and consists of about 2/3 classroom time and 1/3 range time. You’ll shoot 25-50 rounds, under direct supervision and teaching. The class is aimed at brand new shooters, so the instructor teaches very basic firearm safety information. When you attend this class, you’ll leave with a great foundation of information as you join the millions of Americans who choose to take control of their own self-defense and protection.
The Four Rules of Firearm Safety
We start every class by having the students memorize these rules. Many people who are new to firearm operation or ownership have never been exposed to these rules. We make sure to bake these rules in to every class, especially this foundational class.
- Treat every gun like it’s loaded
- Don’t point a gun at anything you don’t want to destroy
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire
- Positively identify your target and what’s behind your target
The Basic Parts of a Semi-Automatic Pistol
We spend 3+ hours talking about guns, so we want to make sure everyone is on the same page, speaking the same language. When we talk about “muzzle control”, if someone doesn’t know what we mean by the “muzzle” of the gun, then we’re going to talk in circles. In addition, some of today’s modern semi-automatic pistols can be very intimidating to the first time gun owner. Once you point out all the buttons and levers and exactly what they do and are called, even the newest students start to feel at ease.
How to Load a Magazine
The container into which you load ammunition is a “magazine”, not a “clip.” Then we offer a simple way of remembering which direction you load each round. The round end of the ammunition lines up with the round side of the magazine.
Also, just like with racking the slide (later), technique is important in saving your thumbs while you learn how to properly load ammunition into a magazine.
How to Clear Your Weapon
When you’re done shooting or when you’re doing literally anything other than shooting your weapon, you should always clear (unload) your gun. There are 4 steps in making sure your semi-automatic handgun is clear.
- Release the magazine
- Rack the slide 3 times to make sure there’s no round in the chamber
- Lock the slide to the rear
- Visually inspect the chamber to make sure there’s no round in the chamber
One of the biggest complaints or roadblocks for a lot of people as they try to get comfortable and confident with a new pistol is their inability to rack the slide and load a round into the chamber. Again, technique is everything. Our arms push much stronger than they pull. We can pull, but pulling is far less effective. The technique you’ll learn in this class will enable even the smallest of hands to easily rack any slide.
Semi Automatic Pistol Functionality
Understanding how your firearm functions is a key point in addressing malfunctions, and otherwise just getting to know your gun. Every gun will malfunction at some point. If you understand the basic functionality of a modern semi-automatic pistol, you can easily address some of the most common causes of firearm malfunction.
We also address hammer fired vs. striker fired, single action vs. double action, and revolver vs. semi-automatic.
Choosing Your Firearm
The first question you have to be able to answer when you are choosing a firearm is how are you going to use it? Are you going to have it safely stored at home for home defense? Will you carry it on your person for self defense? Are you going to lock it in your car? It’s likely one or more of these, but you need to know the answer before you can choose which gun is right for the job. A gun is a tool. In the same way you use a cross cut saw to cut 2x4s to make walls, you choose the right gun for the job.
All About the Ammo
In addition to making sure we refer to a magazine and not a clip, we also learn that the “bullet” is just the projectile that is fired out of the end of the gun when the trigger is pressed. The shell casing is the brass outer portion. The primer is the tiny little “button” looking thing on the bottom (the flat end), and the powder is what’s inside between the bullet and the primer.
All of that together is known as a round or cartridge. Each round is of a different caliber (the diameter of the projectile) and weight. A bullet’s weight is measured in grains, so 124gr is lighter than 155gr, for example.
There are two most common firearm malfunctions: misfires and squibs. Both types of malfunctions are a function of ammunition and can be dangerous if handled improperly. A misfire is when the primer in a cartridge does not ignite the powder, and therefore the projectile is not expelled from the barrel of the gun. When you experience a misfire, you’ll know because you pulled the trigger of a loaded gun and nothing went “bang!” Misfires typically (not always) occur due to bad ammo.
A squib is when the primer does ignite the powder in the cartridge, but there’s not enough powder to expel the bullet from the barrel of the gun. The result of a squib is a hunk of lead stuck in your barrel. That’s bad. Firing your gun again would make it very bad. A squib should always be handled by a gunsmith.
There are other kinds of malfunctions, but misfires and squibs are the most common. The general prevention of both kinds of malfunctions is high quality ammo. Yes, ammo is expensive, but blowing up your gun is more expensive.
Non Lethal Alternatives
If you’re going to carry a firearm, you should also make sure that you commit to using your firearm as a last resort, after exercising deescalation and non-lethal alternatives. We recommend pepper spray and/or a taser to fulfill the non-lethal role.
Defensive Shooting vs. Marksmanship
The USCCA Intro to Handgun Safety is focused on defensive shooting. Practicing marksmanship can certainly aid in your ability to defend yourself; however, there are some subtle differences between how you shoot for marksmanship and how you shoot to defend yourself.
The first should be the most obvious. When you’re defending yourself, your focus – your aim – is going to be on the mass of the attacker in front of you. When you’re aiming to score well in a marksmanship competition, your aim – your focus – is going to be on the single bead of the front site (assuming you’re using iron sites and not a red dot) of your firearm.
Also, when you’re aiming for a target 20 feet or more away from you, you’re most likely going to be aiming using only your dominant eye. In a defensive situation, you need to have both eyes open.
The default grip for most new firearm owners is white knuckle. That’s a no go. We don’t need to strangle the gun. Instead, we should grip it firmly, but loosely, using our hands to manage the recoil, not prevent the recoil.
We don’t “cup & saucer”, meaning we don’t put one palm below the butt of the gun. Instead, we put our hands high on the grip, and put your right thumb over your left (vise versa if you’re a lefty), with your elbows bent and relaxed. You are not going to stop the gun from recoiling. Instead, allow your hands and arms to cushion the recoil, while you focus on getting your aim back on the target.
We used to stand with one foot clearly in front of the other, and one arm bent. But then we learned that this stance, referred to as the “Weaver Stance”, was based on one man’s disability. Mr. Weaver was a highly respected and accomplished shooter, but his stance originated from the lack of movement in his left arm.
Instead, we form an “isosceles triangle” with our arms and body, with feet planted firmly shoulder width apart and your dominant foot back just a bit for balance.
Every trigger has what we call a “break point”. I compare this functionality to the clutch on a manual shift car. When you let the clutch out, you can feel when the gear starts to grab. Same thing for a trigger. When you dry fire thousands of times, you know exactly where your trigger breaks. That’s part of getting to know your gun.
Down and Left
Before I learned the simple exercise I’m about to describe, ALL my shots were down and to the left of my aim point. All of them. Who would have thunk that a rubber band could help fix that issue? When we’re learning dry fire and trigger manipulation, we learn that our bodies function in very specific ways. For example, when you close your hand and pretend to pull a trigger with your index finger, you can see the muscles in your wrist move. That movement affects your trigger pull because it moves the gun. We’re not even aware that we’re doing it.
To fix the down and left (or maybe you’re high right), you pull a rubber band with the “digital phalange” of your index finger, while keeping the PIP joint at a 90 degree angle and the DIP joint at 180 degrees (flat).
Yeah now you’re googling all this stuff we learned in 10th grade biology, right?? Don’t worry about all that. Here’s the illustration you’re looking for.
Weird, right? Simple and effective. Give it a try!
First, try to make this motion without the rubber band. This action does not come naturally, but using this rubber band method, you can build that muscle memory into your hands. Also, note the placement of the rubber band in the middle of the digital phalange (your fingertip). That placement is very important.
Once you get your gun, there are a few other pieces of equipment you are going to need. To me, this sounds a LOT like golf. You can’t just buy a set of clubs. You have to get golf shoes, a golf glove, golf balls, club head covers, a divot tool…the list goes on and on. But it’s not so bad for firearms.
- A holster – you have to have something in which to secure your gun
- A belt – if you’re going to conceal carry, your old dependable belt probably won’t hold up
- A light – get a flashlight. A good one. Bad stuff happens at night. A good flashlight can blind your attacker or help you see them first.
- A gun safe – no, not the 450lb safe, but a single gun safe with biometric (fingerprint) and/or combination lock
- PPE – personal protection equipment, or “eyes & ears” as we refer to them here. If you’re going to own a gun, you need to practice using that gun, and that requires using eye protection and ear protection always.
On the Range
Everything you’ve just read was the classroom portion of the course. Yes, it’s a ton of info, so be prepared to take good notes. In fact, our lead instructor, Maddy, will walk you through creating a very handy cheat sheet of the most important concepts to remember or be able to reference at any time.
Then you’ll head out to the range. First, you’ll practice using dry fire. No, it’s not bad for your gun. Your gun was made to function just like this. Dry fire helps you get to know your gun and create muscle memory without the possibility of an accidental discharge. You’ll load your magazine, drop your magazine, rack your slide, open your slide, visually check your chamber, then repeat several times. With this exercise, we’re building the muscle memory of handgun safety.
Repetition, repetition, repetition!
Next, you’ll load your magazine with ONE round of ammunition. Do you remember which way the cartridge goes into the magazine? Don’t be surprised if you get it backwards. It’s ok. Try again. Then – on the instructor’s command – you’ll fire that one round. Now walk through the 4 steps to clearing your gun. Then repeat. Repeat again.
Finally, you’ll load 3-5 rounds in your magazine, and prepare to fire. Then clear. Repeat. Repeat again.
Handgun Safety For the New Shooter
The USCCA Introduction to Handgun Safety is a great way to spend an afternoon, and a fantastic class for new(er) shooters and first time gun owners. The purpose of the class is to establish a very solid, safe foundation of handgun safety and knowledge.