The First Question To Ask About Defensive Firearms Ownership


I am asked periodically by people in my neighborhood, “What kind of gun should I buy?”, usually in response to a spike in crime in our little slice of Atlanta. While firearms save thousands of innocent lives every year and this is not an unreasonable question to ask before purchasing one, I feel strongly there is a more important question that should be asked first – “Should I own a defensive firearm?” This article briefly explores some of the factors that go into answering this first, most important question about owning a firearm for personal defense.

Note: Ownership of firearms is a deeply personal decision and, for many, a divisive and emotional issue. This article is not intended to encourage firearms ownership or to take a stance on whether firearms ownership should be permitted. Rather, it is intended to encourage a reasoned and thoughtful decision process by those considering purchasing a firearm.
Note: The author is not an attorney or law enforcement officer and neither claims qualification nor seeks to render legal advice regarding any aspect of firearms ownership. It is every individual firearms owner’s obligation to understand and adhere to applicable law. Please consult an attorney or law enforcement officer with any legal questions regarding firearms ownership.

The Purpose of Defensive Firearms

Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of a defensive firearm is not to kill an attacker. Rather, the purpose of a defensive firearm is to instantly disable a threat to your life or safety, or that of your family. Unfortunately, the bodily harm caused by a defensive firearm sufficient to disable an attacker also has a very high likelihood of killing them. Shooting to hit an attacker’s hands, arms, legs or weapon is ill-advised and generally only works in the movies.

Before you even think about owning a defensive firearm, it is critical to ask yourself, “Am I ready to take someone else’s life in order to defend my own life or the lives of those I care about?” If the answer is no — even a “little bit no” — then you may be better off seeking some other means of self-defense.

The Responsibility of Defensive Firearms Ownership

The decision to own a defensive firearm comes with tremendous responsibility:

  • to secure the firearm from those who should not have access to it
  • to learn safe firearms handling
  • to develop defensive marksmanship skills
  • to understand the law as it applies to the ownership and use of defensive firearms

The ethics of responsible defensive firearms ownership require these things and many more, even if the law does not. Failing to live up to these responsibilities can have terrible consequences for you and your family – the very people you may want to have a defensive firearm to protect.

Before you consider owning a defensive firearm, it is important to ask yourself, “Am I prepared to dedicate time, money and effort to being a safe and responsible defensive firearms owner?” If the answer is no, then defensive firearms ownership may not be for you.

The Stigma of Defensive Firearms Ownership

Ownership of firearms is a divisive and emotional issue. For some, the very thought that private citizens can own firearms is repugnant. For others, a decision by someone to own a firearm makes them in some way unsafe or untrustworthy. It is impossible to guess how family members, friends or neighbors might react to a decision to own a defensive firearm.

This stigma manifests itself in unexpected ways. For example, if you have children you may be asked by parents of your child’s playmates whether you have guns in the house. An affirmative response to this question may result in those playmates no longer being allowed to visit your home. The question, “Do you own firearms?” is beginning to appear on property insurance and life insurance applications, patient intake forms at doctors’ offices and even job applications. Whether these questions are legal (or must be answered) is debateable, but they will be asked nonetheless and an affirmative answer could have consequences.

Discussing this stigma is in no way intended to discourage consideration of owning a defensive firearm, however, you should ask yourself, “Will I be embarrassed by, ashamed of or discriminated against for admitting I own a defensive firearm?” If the answer is yes, consider carefully the consequences before deciding to own one.

The Costs of Defensive Firearms Ownership

In addition to the costs of a defensive firearm itself (which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars), there are other costs of defensive firearms ownership that also should be considered:

  • Georgia Firearms License (if you intend to carry a pistol outside your home or car not unloaded and in a locked case): ~$65 in application fees
  • Holster (recommended even if you don’t plan to carry your pistol outside your home or car): $15 and up
  • Locking case (for transporting pistols or shotguns to the range): $20 and up
  • Practice ammunition (assume you will need at least 250 rounds in your first year of ownership for training and range visits): $50 and up depending on caliber
  • Defensive ammunition (higher-grade ammunition designed specifically for stopping an attacker, what you should load when not practicing): $20 and up depending on caliber
  • Cleaning kit and supplies: $15 and up
  • Training and practice: $75 or more for basic safety and marksmanship training and $250 or more for training around defensive use of firearms
  • Means of securing a defensive firearm: Another article discussed this in more detail, but assume at least $50 and potentially as much as $300.

Before deciding to own a defensive firearm, put together a quick budget using the above information and the maximum amount you are willing to spend for a defensive firearm as a guide and ask yourself, “Am I prepared to make the financial commitment necessary to own a defensive firearm?” If the answer is no, you may be better off looking at investing in other means of personal protection.

Potential Repercussions of Using a Defensive Firearm

While no responsible defensive firearms owner ever wants to have to use it, owning one creates a possibility of having to injure or kill an attacker in defense of self or family. The potential repercussions of doing so can be very significant:

  • Emotional: If you ever have to use a defensive firearm, the emotional impact may be significant and unpredictable. Family and friends may not understand, may not support your decision or may simply be unable to provide you with emotional support at a very difficult time. Police officers frequently require and receive counseling in the wake of having to shoot to protect life, as may you.
  • Legal: Even if your use of a defensive firearm is justified and legal, you may be arrested, investigated and even prosecuted depending on applicable law. Your firearm may be confiscated and may never be returned. Depending on applicable law, you may even be subject to civil suit by the attacker or the attacker’s family.
  • Financial: Costs for counseling, criminal defense, civil defense and civil settlements or judgments can be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. While some insurance is available to offset these potential costs, use of a firearm in self-defense can create significant financial liabilities.

Before purchasing a defensive firearm, it is important to consider the potential implications of its use and ask, “Am I prepared to accept the consequences of injuring or killing someone even if it was necessary to save my own life or that of my family?” If not, consider exploring other options.

The Bottom Line

The decision to own a defensive firearm is not an easy one, or one to be made lightly. Some upon reading this article may ask, “Why on earth would anyone want to own a defensive firearm given all these issues?” Defensive firearms have been the defensive tools of choice for military and law enforcement for nearly long as they have existed and save thousands of innocent lives every year. For those who own them safely and responsibly, defensive firearms have been proven again and again to be one of the (if not the) best means to defend one’s life or that of one’s family if confronted by a violent attacker intent on doing harm.


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