Right now the winds of change are upon us and as I sit to pen this column thousands of Americans are heading to sporting goods and gun stores nationwide to purchase a handgun for the first time in their lives. The reasons for this are varied but the fact remains that the close of 2008 and the beginning of year 2009 are set to be record years as far as handgun sales are concerned.

sig-sauer.gifEvery law-abiding, able-bodied United States citizen has the right and responsibility to defend themselves and their loved ones from a violent attack. There is little argument that the primary tool for this task is the firearm and the most popular of these tools is the handgun. Purchasing a firearm, specifically a handgun for self-protection is the first step. Far too many people purchase a handgun and feel like they have now covered all the self-defense bases. That kind of thinking is both delusional and irresponsible.

Consider this, does purchasing a car impart upon you the ability to drive? Owning a car no more makes you a good driver than owning a pistol makes you a competent shooter. Driving a car requires education and practice. Safely and effectively operating a firearm has these same requirements.

Forget Movies & TV
First and foremost you need to forget 95-percent of what you have seen on television and in the movies. Firearms operate and function based upon simple scientific and mechanical principles, not mythology and magic. Despite what you might have seen on the silver screen, there are not mystical bullets that will pick up a felon and throw them across the room. You cannot miss fast enough to catch up on a gunfight and yes, it is possible, if not likely, that you can and will miss from even close distances. 

In short, any preconceived notions you have about firearms garnered from the movies can be thrown out. No, this is not an absolute; the History Channel and Discovery Channel have had several good programs on firearms-related topics. Of course the Outdoor Channel and “Versus” are good sources of information as well. 

Right Caliber
For inexperienced shooters a large caliber centerfire handgun can really be a daunting item. The recoil impulse and noise can be quite shocking to a newcomer. Too often new shooters will focus so intently on the anticipated recoil and noise that they forget all about basic marksmanship skills. 

For decades new shooters have been introduced to firearms with guns chambered in .22LR. Today is no different. For a first time gun buyer, particularly for an inexperienced shooter looking to purchase a handgun, a quality .22LR pistol or revolver is an excellent training tool and a good one to start with. 

There are several pistols out there and one of the top few is the Mosquito from SIG SAUER. The Mosquito is a semi-automatic, recoil operated .22LR pistol. What makes this particular pistol so valuable for training is the fact that it closely mimics the larger centerfire SIG SAUER pistols such as the P220 and P226. 

The controls on the Mosquito function just as they do on the larger versions. The trigger is a traditional double-action semi-auto. Your first shot is DA and all consecutive shots are single-action. On the left side of the frame you will find a decocking lever that safely lowers the cocked hammer. 

Essentially, the Mosquito is a scaled-down version of a full-sized SIG SAUER P226. The biggest difference you will notice is the addition of the manual safety lever on the rear of the slide. This safety lever can be also engaged when the Mosquito is in cocked hammer mode. 

As we touched on earlier, many new inexperienced shooters are put off or focus too heavily on recoil and noise, and not enough on shooting. The felt recoil of the .22LR is very light and the noise is minimal, though you still need to wear hearing protection. 

Another benefit of using a .22LR-chambered pistol is ammunition cost. Even high quality ammunition such as the CCI Mini-Mag load is cheap compared to 9mm, .40 or .45ACP. For a few dollars you can shoot a hundred rounds or so and ammunition is readily available at most any sporting goods or hardware store.

Master Basics
Regardless of a handgun’s caliber or design, marksmanship fundamentals remain the same. In order to put rounds accurately on target you need to hold the front sight steady and deliberately press the trigger until the gun fires. It doesn’t matter the make, model, or caliber, those two requirements will always remain the same.

As for stance and body position, you don’t need to get fancy. Again, we don’t shoot with our feet. We shoot with our hands and eyes. Line up facing your target with both feet pointing in the down range direction. Flex your knees a bit and lean slightly forward. Wrap your dominant shooting hand around the pistol and then your non-dominant or support hand around the first one. Press the gun straight out toward the target and you are ready to shoot. 

New shooters need not worry about speed or dynamic techniques. Develop proficiency first and speed will come. Regarding speed shooting, if you cannot line up your sights and press the trigger without disturbing them, all else is just noise and wasted ammunition. 

Begin your training by placing slow-fire shots into the center of the target. Place the front sight evenly in the rear sight and focus on it (front sight) as you press the trigger deliberately rearward. Resist the desire to anticipate recoil, instead focus your attention on a clear front sight.

Make each and every shot count. How far away should your target be? It should be close enough that you can reliably hit it. If it’s too far you will only end up frustrating yourself. When it’s time to move the target out you’ll know. 

As for targets, you can purchase preprinted sheets from the store or simply shoot at paper plates. If you do use the paper plate I like to put a piece of tape in the center as a reference point. You also can simply use a black marker. 

Set goals for yourself. Determine that you will do a little bit better each time. If you like, keep track of your shots or scores and use them as a baseline for improvement. 

Hand Strength
It’s just a sign of the times that most folks spend more time typing on their keyboards that they do at true manual labor. This isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just a fact. It is also a fact that firearms, particularly slide action pistols, have stiff springs and controls that require some hand strength and dexterity. I deal with dozens of new shooters each month and many of them have hand strength issues.

There are a number of exercises and tools one can use to increase their hand strength. Prohands has several hand-strength trainers in their catalog that should be of interest to shooters. They have light (5-pound), medium (7-pound) and heavy-duty (9-pound) GRIPMASTER hand exercisers. 

A couple of months ago I was working with a shooter whose frame was so slight that she simply could not work the trigger of the M9 service pistol. I gave her a grip trainer and had her practice over a long weekend. On the following Monday I noticed some improvement. If you are a new or experienced shooter with grip strength issues you might want to consider picking up a GRIPMASTER and keeping it right next to your keyboard. 

Final Notes
Should you or someone you know be one of the thousands of first-time gun buyers, do yourself or them a favor and get some serious practice time in with a .22 pistol. The time will be well spent and your overall shooting will improve. Until next time, keep shooting straight and keep shooting safe.

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