There is a thick cloud of foreboding looming over all of us right now. It is so palatable you can almost see it in the air. I’m grateful to be in my position to help guide many folks through these times of uncertainty. I consider this a huge highlight of my career. It is one thing to work with some of the world’s elite units, it is another to work with the citizens of our great nation as it relates to firearms and self-defense. The decisions being made are helping shift the balance more in our favor. To do this we have to be willing to step out of our own comfort zone—to be leaders, mentors and understanding of their needs.
Negotiating the process of buying one’s first firearm may also be an eye-opening experience, especially in areas with restrictive laws.
So, what is happening to shift in our favor? In March and April we saw record background checks implying there were massive amounts of firearms being purchased. As the questionable stay-at-home orders started to trickle out at local levels, it became clear people were worried. There is very few things that can create this type of surge in firearm purchases, but having to deal with a global pandemic is high on the list. As people hunkered down for the long haul it started to become clearer they were on their own.
Add to the problem services and commodities being limited or in some cases exhausted, and panic started to ripple across the country. The idea that you may have to protect your family or in some cases your supplies struck a deep chord. While there was certainly reason to be concerned in some locations, other locations were more stable. The net result was seeing a record number of first-time gun buyers and owners across the country.
At one point the firearm industry was up against the ropes as many states worked to enact questionable orders restricting American citizens access to their Second Amendment. It was a great opportunity to lay claim to the overreach we see from our government and the anti-gun crowd. It is a great time to hold those who would restrict your constitutional rights accountable. It is hard to reflect on this time period without including politics.
Safety is of utmost importance for all firearm owners, but especially for those new to guns.
Whether it was the fear of a pandemic, protecting one’s family or government overreach it was clear people were willing to purchase a firearm(s) who in the past might not have seen the need. Some within our industry questioned whether all these new firearms purchases were a good thing. Their thinking was just because they purchased a firearm doesn’t mean they are our friends. They questioned whether these new gun owners were allies. For someone to be an ally you have to be willing to work with them. Being an ally means you enter into an alliance together.
The best way to alienate someone is to make them feel like they don’t belong. The worst thing we can do is alienate the new gun owners we have recently seen. A better solution is to acknowledge we are all in this together. We need to cooperate in some cases, but mainly support one another. Supporting this new demographic is the key to encouraging them to get more involved. If they feel welcome they are more inclined to explore.
What we don’t want to see is in a few months new gun owners start to question their firearm purchase, maybe even looking to get rid of their firearm when things start to return to normal. It is true there will be many who fall into this category, but there are many who with the right environment will have a more permanent change of heart. They become more invested in protecting themselves, their families and their future. With a different view point comes making different decisions and this is how we move the needle more in our favor.
The best way we can make them feel welcome is to lead by example. We all have to set the example of a responsible firearm owner. It starts with safety. A major concern with many new firearm owners is firearm safety, in particular their safety and their family’s safety around firearms or where firearms are present. No matter the subject, when we take on a new skill we generally start from zero. From an empty cup. It is hard to hold someone accountable to what may seem common knowledge when they are new to the subject. Instead we lead. We lead through proper firearms handling, adherence to firearm safety rules and how to properly secure firearms to prevent unauthorized access.
Once safety has been addressed, the next step is to mentor those who are willing to learn. A large majority want to learn, they are concerned for their safety and smart enough to know the new firearm will take some practice to learn well enough to use for self-defense. Once they become interested in learning how to better use their firearm the mentorship process begins.
There is much good that happens at the local level, where we are peers, neighbors and even friends. It is better to be approached than to approach others. When you give the impression you are open to helping it makes it easier. No matter the skill, the person has to be ready to learn. You cannot force it on them or pressure them to get started, they have to do so of their own free will for it to be valuable.
For a new shooter, that first time on the range can be quite intimidating. It’s not the time for proselytizing or criticizing political leanings.
The hardest part will be in supporting their needs, as the needs of each individual is an individual need. My needs are different from the person sitting next to me and vice versa. Forcing someone to engage in something they are still uncomfortable with does not make for a comfortable setting. Patience and encouragement are the tools that will help create an approachable demeanor.
If I were in their shoes and someone came across as a know-it-all or was condescending to me just because I was new I’m not going to find it valuable. I’m not going to be in the best place to learn. I may even question why I wanted to learn this new subject in the first place. The old adage: “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar,” is a real strategy here.
Once an appetite for learning has been created and the environment to support their learning established we may see many of these new shooters engage in other shooting activities. There is everything from collecting, hunting, competing and plinking to name a few. While the vast majority will probably be quite content with their original purchase, many of our new firearm owners may show interest in purchasing something different from their original firearm. This may happen because they learned what they needed and liked after spending a little time getting more familiar with their original purchase. In some cases hunting activities have become more popular as a backup plan to being able to feed oneself or family.
My view might be limited to my region, but I have to assume this phenomenon is happening nationwide. I make an effort to understand the why from this new group. What I can tell you is what they are not. They are not interested in investing huge amounts of their time, talent and treasure. Many are only interested in the very basics; what we might consider to be the absolute minimum of time, effort and money. There is also another aspect of the self-defense world to consider and that would be statistics.
Granted the vast majority of self defense incidents involve a victim versus a violent criminal actor where the victim has little-to-no training. I understand this is all about playing the odds, betting you won’t become a victim or at least an unarmed victim without the means to resist. It does not discredit the idea of wanting to create a culture of smarter, better prepared and better trained firearms owners.
We have the opportunity to engage at a grassroots level with what could be a great new surge of new firearm owners, if we all take a moment to reflect on our own habits and ask ourselves if we are setting the best example. Then, what have we done to mentor these new firearm owners? Have we created a welcoming environment or are we talking down to the group. Engage in conversations to learn about their why—why are they interested in firearms. How can we relate to their why from our own experience? These simple approaches can have a massive impact in expanding our population of smart firearm owners as well as safeguarding our constitutional rights.