September 24, 2010
There is more to owning a firearm than simply loading and firing it.
There is a running gag on our forums regarding what is called a "man card." Any post by a male that goes against the admittedly chauvinistic idea of what constitutes manly behavior results in points being deducted from the member's man card. There is no real card, of course; it is an inside joke. But if a member posts, for example, a photo of a pearl-handled revolver and states that he wants one, someone is sure to reply stating points have been deducted from that member's man card.
There is more to owning a firearm than simply loading and firing it. The author opines that any man who owns a firearm should take advantage of the wealth of information available and educate himself on at least the basics of maintenance and troubleshooting.
In our current society, opinions vary greatly as to which basic skills every man should possess. I am not about to get into the subject of manly behavior, but I do have some opinions regarding basic skills I believe every man who owns a handgun should possess.
I give the fairer sex a pass because many women, although adept at handling firearms, do choose to leave the maintenance of the family firearms to their husbands. I personally know some couples for whom this is probably not the best arrangement, but it does seem to be the status quo.
It is obvious that anyone who owns a handgun should be able to operate and fire it safely. Unfortunately, it seems that many handgun owners' skills stop there. At my local gun club recently a man a couple of stations down from me was firing a .38-caliber double-action revolver. He was pretty good with it and kept most of his shots on target. He had gone through a couple of boxes of cheap ammo when he started cursing. I looked over to see him struggling to close the cylinder.
"I just bought this thing last week," he said. "I have rotten luck with guns. Now I'll have to send this one back to the factory."
I walked over to offer help and asked if I could take a look at the gun. He ejected the loaded rounds before handing it to me. (Add a couple of points to his man card.) The stainless revolver was blackened with powder residue, but what concerned me most was the presence of a lot of sizeable unburned flakes of powder. I depressed the ejector rod and looked under the extractor. It was a gunked-up mess likely caused by a lot of oil and powder residue and a lack of proper cleaning. The extractor could not seat properly, and that is why the cylinder would not close.
I retrieved a rag, a cleaning brush and a bottle of solvent from my range bag and had the gun working in short order. In the process I gave him a crash course in proper cleaning and maintenance. I had also noticed earlier that he tended to hold the muzzle downward when ejecting spent brass. I informed him that doing so was dumping powder residue from the case under the extractor and that if he held the barrel up when ejecting empties it would alleviate this problem.
If you think this guy's lack of basic skills regarding firearm maintenance was a rare occurrence, think again. Industry surveys indicate that as many as 70 to 80 percent of handguns returned to the factory for repairs are due to user error rather than any defect or broken parts. I use the term "user error" broadly to include problems ranging from improper or poor-quality ammo to failing to recognize minor problems.
In my opinion, a man who chooses to own a handgun should, at minimum, possess the following skills and knowledge.
He should understand basic internal and external ballistics and know how to evaluate a spent cartridge case and recognize problems such as high pressure, bulged cases and dented case mouths. He should understand at least the basics of how his handgun functions and be able to fieldstrip it, where applicable; clean it correctly; and be able to spot any parts that are loose, worn or damaged. If he owns an autoloader, he should be able to diagnose common types of malfunctions and determine the cause.
He should also know the correct nomenclature for the various parts and what each part does. Even if he chooses not to attempt repairs or tuning himself, he should be able to discuss these procedures intelligently with a gunsmith or factory representative. The surest way to frustrate a service rep or entice a dishonest gunsmith is to call a part a "thingamajig."
How does one gain these skills? The ideal way is through a knowledgeable mentor who can offer hands-on instruction. Not everyone has a gun-savvy friend, however. Small local gunsmiths will often provide advice along with their services. If a gunsmith services a firearm, he should, at the very least, be willing to take a minute to explain what was done and why. Small gun shops are also sometimes staffed with knowledgeable people, and if asked they may demonstrate how to fieldstrip a firearm purchased from them and perhaps offer other useful advice. The problem is that many men are too proud to ask.
And don't forget the gun club. Most knowledgeable shooters are usually happy to share their expertise. One has to be careful, though, as some who know little are just as happy to offer bad advice.
If free advice is scarce, one can always pay for it. The NRA has 50,000 certified instructors located throughout the country. A Basic Pistol course costs from $75 to $150 on average, though some charge more. The First Steps courses cost less and provide a minimum of three hours of instruction on one specific model of firearm. Information on courses available and a search engine for locating instructors is available on the NRA website, www.mynra.com.
I doubt there is a firearms expert in the country who did not gain a sizeable part of his knowledge and skills by reading. A lot of information can be gleaned from gun magazines, and there are myriad books available on all facets of handguns. Internet gun forums are another good source of information, and the members of our forums are great about helping the beginner.
The moral of this article is a simple one. A handgun is a potentially dangerous tool. The more a person knows about any tool, the more enjoyment he derives from using it and the less likely he is to be injured by it. If you are a novice, educate yourself. If you are a pro, share your knowledge generously with others.
I close with a disclaimer, lest my words be misinterpreted. The title and some comments in this article are decidedly tongue-in-cheek, and I intend no slight to women. It has been my experience that women who genuinely have an interest in firearms and apply themselve
s often put many men to shame with their skills. A major advantage women have is that they are not burdened by a male ego. It is the male ego that often hampers the learning process for men.