What I Learned From Several Californians Who Just Bought Their First Guns

posted on September 26, 2020

This year of uncertainty has left innocent citizens to face a question that is all too real: What happens when the police literally aren’t there? That was the question that forced San Francisco Bay area residents John and Sarah (not their real names) to re-think their position on guns.

“I didn’t believe in guns,” said John. “I wouldn’t even let the kids have Nerf guns around the house.”

Like many, starting last March, John began to realize he had to be prepared for the worst. John re-thought his anti-gun worldview. “That’s the whole reason we’re here learning to use guns,” said John.

John and Sarah were speaking to me from Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, one of dozens of shooting ranges in the Nevada desert. Front Sight covers a big chunk of real estate in the desert southwest of Pahrump, Nev. This firearms oasis draws people from nearly every state to participate in courses. I was there with my brother to take a four-day defensive handgun class.

There are also rifle and shotgun classes, armorer classes, ropes courses and driving classes. Front Sight trains approximately 3,500 students every month (nearly one million since 1996) in order to fulfill its goal “to positively change the image of gun ownership by safely training citizens to levels of skill at arms that far exceed law enforcement and military standards,” according to Founder and Director, Dr. Ignatius Piazza.

I was at Front Sight because of my brother. He has recently become more involved with firearms, and when a co-worker suggested a trip to Front Sight, he jumped at the chance, and invited me to join them. Like many, I’ve seen Front Sight’s promotions and, frankly, I was skeptical. All the offers, all the promises ... it all seemed way too good to be true. But, the idea of a four-day handgun course for free was too tempting to pass up. So, after a few online clicks and a seven-hour drive, we were joining 900 other students and firearms enthusiasts in the 110-degree Nevada desert heat.

We arrived during the first week that Front Sight had been open since March this year. Front Sight voluntarily closed in order to support the COVID-19 control efforts of the state of Nevada. Though classified as an “essential industry” and allowed to remain open, Front Sight wanted to be a team player. This first week of September was the first week of its re-opening efforts. As such, they were not at full staff.

After a brief introduction to the facility, we met our range-mates and instructors and began our quest to be better gun handlers.

Angela, a young student from Central California, had feelings similar to John and Sarah about guns. “I had never been exposed to guns until I saw one of my uncle’s. He showed it to us and I was really scared—I didn’t even want to touch it. Just seeing it was fearful.” Until her first morning at Front Sight, Angela had never fired a gun.

My brother had purchased a handgun about a year ago, and then got his concealed-carry permit. He explained his reasons for being at Front Sight: “I wanted to increase my understanding and build my skills in order to handle a gun safely and competently.”

Standing next to me on the firing line with his SIG was Chris. He and his wife, Adriana, are no strangers to firearms. Having owned guns and shot for many years, they were at Front Sight because they wanted to improve. “It’s a little humbling at first,” said Chris. “Because you come in and you’re like, I’ve shot. I can hit targets. But then they tell you, ‘try our way.’”

When Sarah got to the firing line for the first time, her response was unexpected. “I was emotional. I was scared. I was surprised I did it.” John described that first experience firing a gun this way: “It was weird. The first time I touched it, I couldn’t rack it; I felt uncomfortable with it; it was almost a little scary.”

Again, I was skeptical. I felt like I already had a pretty good handle on the basics. But in that first morning, our Front Sight instructors made me a believer. For example, the explanation and training we received in the Weaver stance and the confirmation I was given about handling my cross-eye dominance made the whole trip worthwhile. Every day was a continual process of learning and practice. Presentation, trigger press, reset, malfunctions … everything a new gun owner needs to know about safely using a firearm. And it was all presented in a slow, steady pace that logically built from one principal to the next—and was always reinforced with practice, practice, practice.

“I’m amazed. I really am,” said Adriana. After her training experience, she described what it was like to draw from concealment and put two shots on target in less than two seconds: “[It feels] awesome! As I improved and I actually hit where I was supposed to hit on purpose, that was like winning first place!” Chris was also enthusiastic about his experience. “When you stick to it, like today, I got the results I wanted on paper. If you’ve got a gun, you need to come. Come and take the class. Come learn. Come do it.”  

“Like I said, I was scared of even touching a weapon,” said Angela. “Now I feel fully confident. I definitely feel confident I can protect myself and my family.”

Reflecting on his four days in the desert, my brother said, “I appreciated the emphasis on safety and situational awareness before, during and after any encounter. It was a huge boost to my confidence.”

In looking back on her training experience, Sarah said, “I’m getting more confident each day. And I’m realizing it’s not just pick it up, point and shoot. There’s more to having a gun than that.”

Last year’s John is “night-and-day” different from this year’s John. Last year’s John said, “Don’t need a gun, don’t want a gun; not in my house.” This year’s John says, “We need a gun and we need to know how to use it. I want to be someone who owns a gun and is trained on it. And I feel much more confident about how to handle a gun.” “Absolutely,” said Sarah.

As we finished day four and said goodbye to our new friends, it was difficult to leave. We had all learned so much and had all gained a greater measure of confidence—we all wanted it to continue. Now, did I become an absolute deadeye? Maybe not, but I definitely improved and, most importantly, I learned what I was doing wrong and how I can correct those issues—I know exactly what to work on between now and the next course I take at Front Sight. It was worth every sweltering minute in the burning sun.


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