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If you’re like me, few things make you happier than walking out of the gun store with your new firearm and several boxes of ammo. Of course, that happiness may fade when you get home and have to explain your new purchase to your spouse, but trust me, after the tenth or eleventh time it becomes routine and easy.

However, before you set off to your local gun shop to pick up your firearm, there are several critical items you need to be aware of. In fact, if you haven’t thought about the things I’m going to share with you, then you should seriously reconsider your choice to carry concealed in the first place.

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If you are armed and find yourself in a dangerous situation, you should be prepared to use deadly force.

Pre-Carry Considerations

For instance, one of the first decisions you need to make before you carry is that you’ll be able to shoot someone if your life is ever in jeopardy. In other words, do you know without a doubt that you’ll be able to use deadly force without hesitation? I know I’ll be able to. I knew I was ready to pull the trigger during the few instances in my life when I had to draw my gun. Thank goodness, I never had to, but long ago I promised myself that if someone was trying to kill or seriously injure me I’d be willing to use deadly force. If you haven’t made a similar promise to yourself, then please make it today.

Next, you need to have a thorough understanding of deadly force laws. For example, a few weeks ago I got a frantic email from a fellow who wanted me to be an expert witness in his firearms case, so I talked to his attorney to find out what happened. The attorney proceeded to tell me that his client lives in an apartment complex with assigned parking spaces. For some reason, the client parked in someone else’s spot one day. When the client came out to his car the next morning there was a note on the windshield that read “Don’t you never park in my spot again you (expletive).” Well, apparently, the client didn’t appreciate the note so the next evening he left a note on the owner’s windshield saying, “I’ll park here whenever I want and don’t you ever threaten me again.” These two very mature adults continued to trade notes back and forth for several days. One evening, the client was driving into his spot and saw someone leaving a note in his space. According to the attorney, the client jumped out of his car, rushed passed the guy and began to read the note. However, as he was reading the note the client said he thought he might have seen a fist behind him and thought the other guy might try to punch him. So, the client spun around and drew his gun he’d been carrying concealed. The other guy backed off, called the police and the client was arrested.

My question to you is, was the client within his rights to draw his gun? I’d say no. I told the attorney that I’d be happy to take his client’s money, but he wouldn’t like what I’d have to say in court. You see, had the client said he saw a knife or a gun, then he would have certainly been justified in drawing his gun, however, the client wasn’t even sure he saw a fist. Remember, the only time you draw your gun is when you are in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or serious bodily injury. This means you don’t draw a gun merely to threaten or scare someone off, only when you’re prepared to use it. You also don’t draw your gun to protect property, only life.

When To Draw

Here are the three elements that must be present before your gun comes out of your holster—ability, opportunity, and jeopardy. For instance, if you’re in the Wal-Mart parking lot at midnight and some crazy homeless guy starts waving a sword at you from 50 yards away saying he’s going to kill you, can you shoot him? Obviously not. Yes, he has the ability (he can wave the sword and use it), yes he is threatening you and manifesting intent to hurt you (jeopardy), however, he does not have the opportunity because he’s 50 yards away and only has a sword. In that instance, you should retreat to a safe area and call the police.

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If an attacker is coming at you with a knife you are justified in using deadly force to defend yourself

What about if I came over to your house one day and pulled out my new pocketknife to show you? If I was standing 2 feet away from you I’d certainly have the ability and opportunity to stab you, but I’m not threatening you and you’re not in jeopardy.

Legal Assistance

Of course, deadly force law is such an important topic that, in addition to reading articles like this, you should also talk to an attorney before you decide to carry concealed. I realize talking to an attorney is probably the last thing you want to do and I don’t blame you. But, if the day ever comes when you have to use your gun to defend yourself, you don’t want to be flipping through the yellow pages in the county jail as Bubba breathes down your neck waiting for his turn on the phone. The time to get an attorney is now, so you know exactly who to call if you ever have to use your gun in a deadly force situation.

So how do you find a quality attorney? Well, that’s like asking how you find a friendly IRS agent, but the following is what I recommend: First, ask all of the firearms instructors in your area who they personally use. Next, visit your local gun shops and do the same. Lastly, give the NRA a call and see who’s on their list of attorneys for your area. Once you’ve got a list of names, start calling them. Explain to them that you carry concealed and want to know how many self-defense cases they’ve handled. After you’ve talked with a few attorneys, call back the one you liked best and tell him you’d like to spend an hour with him and find out how much he charges. To give you a frame of reference, my attorney is one of the NRA’s former lawyers and he charges $300 an hour. Expensive for certain, but I believe my life and freedom is certainly worth the money.

When you meet with the attorney, get his business card and put it in your wallet. Also, one of the most valuable things I got from meeting with my attorney was having him explain what happens in the aftermath of a shooting—basically, how best to protect yourself when it comes time to fielding questions from the police.

Choosing Your Sidearm

Once you’ve met with an attorney and fully understand deadly force laws, then it’s time to choose a gun. How do you decide which one? That’s the million-dollar question, and there are many schools of thought. For sure, the following pages in this magazine should help you make some solid, well-rounded decisions. But in my personal opinion, revolvers are simple to shoot and maintain for most newcomers to concealed carry firearms.

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Both the Glock 19 and Smith & Wesson 642 are excellent concealed carry guns. But remember, you’ll need to practice hard with whatever you choose.

But, if you want a semi-auto, I’d recommend a Glock 19. It’s the gun I personally. It’s not flashy in any way, shape or form, but all I care about is that it’s reliable. I’m willing to bet my life on the gun. But here’s the thing: Although I love Glock autopistols, that doesn’t automatically make them right for every shooter. In fact, don’t let anyone talk you into buying a gun that you don’t feel comfortable carrying and shooting. I don’t care if your brother-in-laws-sisters-cousin is Rambo and says you need to have gun X, Y or Z. Get the gun that is right for you even if it means spending several weekends at the shooting range renting gun after gun after gun.

Once you get your gun, the job’s not over. Start spending time at the range familiarizing yourself with its function, accuracy and the like. Become as proficient a shooter as you possibly can be. Think hard about taking some handgun self-defense instruction. And if you’ve followed the other steps mentioned above, it is at that time that you’ll be fully prepared for the responsibilities that come with carrying a concealed firearm.

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