Basic Training

The art of basic gunhandling has been a topic of great debate since even before firearms were introduced to Henry VII's Royal Guard in the 1400s. One thing for sure, just about everyone has a very strong opinion about the subject.

In my current law enforcement assignment, I'm often troubled about the number of new recruits sent into the field with mediocre handgun skills, even after months of training in the academy.

I suppose it would be a mistake to make any comparison when it comes to my own upbringing and the use of firearms; I believe I was a special case in such study. I don't precisely remember at what age I was first allowed to actually handle a handgun, but it was likely while I was still in diapers--and no, I didn't wear them much beyond the average age. My dad, as a lot of readers know, was a true handgun fancier, to be mild about it. Our house was full of guns of all sorts. They were laying around nooks, crannies, tabletops, and just about anywhere else you can think of. I was highly educated when it came to the word "no."

When I reached the right age, which I don't now recall, he allowed me to handle a handgun under his intense surveillance. Of course, the first thing I learned was to check any firearm to see if it was loaded and to keep it pointed in the right direction at all times. My being allowed to handle a gun depended entirely on my ability to be able to accomplish these tasks.

While I recognize that things were different during my upbringing, in my mind no other gun owner with small children should do anything different than my dad did. He also understood, as did I, that not everyone raised their kids with the same philosophies regarding guns. If I were allowed to have a friend over, my dad first removed loaded guns from sight. His next step was to look over the new kid, then give him a stern talking to about the rules regarding guns in his house, which was "stay the hell away from them unless you ask." Most of the kids were scared to death to inquire further, but not all. The ones who did were rewarded with a quick lesson in firearms handling from Skeeter.

Like almost all kids, my first pistol shooting was done with a .22, and I still enjoy shooting .22 pistols and revolvers today. It's the best way for anyone to really learn to shoot a handgun well.

And that brings me back to the many fine men and women who choose the path of law enforcement or the military for their careers, so many of whom have never fired a gun prior to arriving in the law enforcement academy or boot camp. It appears that most of these institutions insist on starting them out firing the sidearm they'll carry everyday, which in my estimation is an oversight. What's wrong with starting them out shooting a .22 pistol?

This applies as well to any novice handgunner, and in particular those wishing to obtain a concealed carry permit. It's a matter of studying the basics of pistol shooting: proper grip, trigger squeeze, sight picture, and breathing techniques--things that never change. I believe even for a seasoned pistol shot, practice with a .22 handgun is always beneficial as it gives the shooter the opportunity to go back and practice the basics.

When I was accepted into the New Mexico State Police academy 26 years ago, I'd been shooting a long time. In an attempt to prepare myself for the academy, I upped my exercise routine and started practicing my pistol shooting. My dad suggested that instead of shooting a .357 Magnum revolver every day, a .22 revolver would be a better choice, at least to practice the basics on something similar to a police qualification course. I fired his old Smith & Wesson K-22 .22 revolver for a couple of weeks every afternoon before switching over to a .357. The K-22 practice helped tremendously.

Even if you're a seasoned pistol shooter, you might find it uncomfortable to shoot with your off hand, as is signing your name with your left hand if you're right-handed--it's just awkward without a great deal of practice. I imagine this is how someone who has never handled a handgun must feel the first time he or she picks up a pistol. It takes a great deal of time, patience, and instruction to get a new shooter accustomed to handling and accurately shooting any handgun.

The best way to begin is with the .22 caliber. The lack of recoil and mild report allow the shooter to become comfortable in a very short period of time. After learning the basics, one can gradually begin moving up in caliber. If a department issues a .40-caliber pistol as a standard sidearm, I can understand how it could be a bit intimidating to immediately start training with one.

Some gun companies have addressed the issue somewhat and offer .22 conversion kits for auto pistols. The Ruger 22/45 RP, for instance, features 1911-style grip panels and a grip angle very close to the 1911. SIG Sauer offers a .22 conversion barrel for many of its LE-style pistols.

While I'd like to see all new law enforcement and military recruits, or anyone seeking a concealed carry permit, have some shooting experience prior to arriving at a training facility, that's wishful thinking. What isn't wishful thinking is making their firearms instruction an enjoyable and less daunting experience, which might positively influence them and perhaps encourage even more interest in firearms and the sport of shooting.

Take a kid out and teach him or her to shoot a .22. Heck, take anyone out and just do some shooting with a .22. You just might improve your own gunhandling skills somewhat.

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