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First-time Gun Owner’s Checklist

First-time Gun Owner’s Checklist

Note: This article is intended for new gun owners who have or will soon purchase their first firearm. If you’re looking for information on what you need to buy a gun, or dos and don’ts for new shooters, see our other articles.

Buying your first gun is exciting and can be a little scary, but don’t worry… we’re here to help. If you’re a first-time gun owner, in this article we’re going to give you a checklist of “must-have” items you need for proper, safe firearm use and secure storage, some recommended or “should have” checklist items, as well as some “nice-to-have” gear that makes life a lot easier at the range and at home.

New gun owner checklist: Absolute “must haves”

Even if you don’t plan on shooting your gun often at all, these are things you still absolutely need to have. This part of the checklist is the bare minimum, so make sure you have these items covered as soon as possible. (See the “should have” and “nice to have” checklist recommendations further down the article for more things that make gun ownership and use easier.)

Legal documentation or firearms permits (where required)

The first thing you absolutely must have is any permits or documentation needed in your jurisdiction for the legal possession and ownership of your firearm. If you purchased your gun through a local dealer, chances are very good that they did it properly and you’ll already have any necessary purchase permits or firearm licenses in place before you take possession of your gun.

united states constitution and gun rights

However, if you were given a firearm by a family member or friend (which is usually permitted in most jurisdictions, as long as you follow federal and local laws), or if you bought your gun from a legal private seller, you may still need to get your paperwork in order depending on where you live. In most states, non-prohibited persons (non-felons, in simple terms) of legal age can purchase firearms from private sellers without any paperwork, but some states still require you to notify your local authorities or apply for purchase/possession permits. In some areas, you may need a permit from law enforcement to even legally have a firearm in your home. So check your local laws carefully. A good place to ask is a local gun shop or online forum that is familiar with the laws in your state (and sometimes cities have their own particular regulations). Be sure to comply with all laws and regulations. It is YOUR responsibility to learn and follow your local laws.

Read your owner’s manual (and/or gain correct knowledge of how to operate your firearm safely)

Another must-have for any firearm owner is to obtain, read, and understand the owner’s manual for your specific firearm. If you bought a new firearm from a gun store or online dealer, it will come with the factory packaging and the owner’s manual. If you got a gun second-hand or used from a dealer, it will most likely not come with an owner’s manual. However, every reputable manufacturer will provide an owner’s manual free of charge upon request. Many have them available online as well.

It’s extremely important to familiarize yourself with all the features, controls, and functions of your specific firearm. Even if you think you know how it works, or if you used to have guns decades ago and are just getting back into it, it’s vital that you read up on your firearm model. There are new safety features, multi-function controls, and specific disassembly and reassembly procedures that may be unique to your new gun. Obtain—and actually read—your owner’s manual and learn how to operate your firearm safely.

man loading a gun

If you’ve purchased a gun and you don’t know how it works, DON’T USE IT or handle it much, and especially don’t load it, until you obtain the manual and proper instruction to learn how. A gun you don’t know how to operate is potentially more dangerous to you and your family than it is to an attacker. Especially important is to learn and practice the four rules of gun safety. We’ve all heard stories of accidental shootings where the “gun just went off” or the person “didn’t know it was loaded.” In 100% of these cases, proper knowledge of safe gun handling would have prevented these tragedies. There are many different ways to describe the four basic gun safety rules, but in general:

  1. Treat all guns as if they’re loaded unless you personally, immediately, and visually verify otherwise. Another way to put this is “all guns are always loaded.”
  2. Never allow the muzzle/barrel of any gun to point at anything you are not willing to shoot and destroy. This includes the shooter's legs, feet, hands, other people, etc.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it. Don’t shoot at a target on the crest of a hill, for example, as you have no idea where that bullet will go.

Even if you’re handling your unloaded gun in your home, practice good trigger discipline and muzzle awareness. Never point your gun at yourself, your pets, or anyone else that isn’t trying to harm you.

A method for secure firearm storage

Every gun owner needs a method for properly securing a firearm when it’s not in use. In some jurisdictions, you may be held partially responsible even if your gun is stolen from your home and used in a crime. Some locales require certain levels of secure firearm storage, such as trigger locks or cable locks, a gun safe, or a handgun vault.

Lincoln gun safe in bedroom

If at all possible, we strongly recommend you purchase a sturdy handgun vault at a minimum (if you bought a handgun, obviously), rather than using trigger locks or cable locks, which can be easily defeated. Gun cabinets can be appropriate in some cases, but a dedicated, fire-resistant, security-rated gun safe is a much better choice if you can swing it. If a cable-type firearm lock is all you can afford right now, get the best one you can, and make sure you use it properly to secure your gun when it’s not in use.


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