People always say: “I’ve never shot a firearm, but I am interested in learning.”

Shooting a firearm is a fun activity; a great sport and a constitutional freedom that we enjoy in the United States of America. It is a wonderful experience to do a little research, go into a sporting goods store and look around, haggle (or not) with the sales people and make a purchase after a thorough background check. Typically, one goes to the store to purchase a firearm and a box of bullets. I occasionally see folks walking into the range, straight from the store, with their shopping bag ready to go. They read through the range rules; sign their waiver; don their eye and ear protection; pay their range fee and happily fire away from their assigned lane. Most genuinely seem to enjoy themselves in most cases. Like purchasing an appliance, they toss that pesky instruction booklet aside. Often there is no thought about why they bought the firearm other than it seems like a fun thing to do. I find it fascinating that this happens scenario hundreds of times a day all over the country.

Make no mistake. I am an ardent supporter of the second amendment and the right to carry firearms. I am a member of the NRA and many other firearms advocacy organizations. The founding fathers of our country knew what they were doing when the second amendment to the constitution was written. I am not writing this article to address political gun control, quite the opposite. What I would like to say to all the new gun owners out there is, “please get some basic firearm instruction from a certified NRA instructor.” Here are some reasons for basic firearms instruction:

Safety – Just like driving a car, firearms are tools. Yes, you can read manuals and instruction booklets, blogs and articles. There are three very important fundamentals of firearm safety:

1. Always point your firearm in a safe direction
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
3. Always keep your firearm unloaded until you are ready to use it

Just like every skill you want to learn, continual improvement includes: research, reading and practice. The most effective way to learn how to do something is to learn from someone else with experience. Many people learn from family members and friends. There are some very knowledgeable shooters out there. However, just because one knows how to shoot and may be an expert does not always translate to good instruction. There are certified NRA instructors all over the country. They are in your city or town. They’re your neighbors, acquaintances and friends. Take advantage of instructional resources available to you to be proficient and safe with your firearm.

What’s it for? – People buy motor vehicles for many reasons. Farmers buy farm trucks. Some families buy minivans. Other people buy sports cars. Are you purchasing your firearm for personal protection or are you using it for shooting sports? Are you purchasing a revolver, a semi-automatic pistol or a rifle? What you are planning to do with your firearm is very important when deciding what is right the choice for you and your needs. There are different sizes of grips; different sizes of frames and different calibers of ammunition depending on the use of your firearm.

Know your firearm – Read the instruction manual and understand how your firearm operates. Just like driving a motor vehicle, there are different nuances to every make and model. There is a difference between a manual transmission and a automatic transmission in a motor vehicle. Firearms are come in many actions, brands, calibers and models. Just as you service your car, you’ll need to know how to clean, operate and service your firearm. Your firearm should be in perfect working order every time you use it and you should be proficient in all of the features of your firearm. Something as basic and simple as cleaning your firearm before you shoot it make a difference in the operation and the longevity of your firearm.

So, do yourself a favor and seek out a certified instructor for advice and instruction. You’ll be surprised how much better your experience will be. You’ll find that you’ll save yourself the aggravation of buying the wrong firearm. A carpenter told me some good advice years ago, “measure twice and cut once.” My advice will be free as is the advice from most instructors because our goal is to foster the knowledge, skills and attitude of a safe and well informed firearms enthusiasts. There will always be naysayers that will tell you that I am just trying to sell guns or lessons. Yes, that what I do. However, that’s not why I got involved in NRA certified instruction. To be frank, I want the person in the lane next to me on the range to be as safe and conscientious as I continually strive to be.

Stan Mefford is the owner of of Plano, Texas; a certified NRA firearms and Texas licensed to carry handgun instructor.