Secret #3: Know How to Operate Your Defensive Firearm and Train With It Regularly
There's a cliché in firearms training that goes "When your life or the lives of people you care about are on the line, you’re not going to rise to the occasion. You’re going to fall to your lowest level of training."
Yes, it's a cliché, but clichés don't become clichés because they're untrue. A gun isn’t a magic talisman of self-protection: It confers no special abilities of marksmanship onto its possessor and grants no ability to protect a life beyond the will of it's owner and his/her capabilities. Owning a gun doesn't actually make you safer any more than painting racing stripes on a car makes it go faster.
Knowing how to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones isn’t a skill we’re born with, but it is one you'll need to acquire if you own a defensive firearm. You didn't acquire the skill of dealing with rush-hour traffic during your driver's license exam and you're not going to acquire the skill using your gun as a defensive weapon at your CCW class either.
Volumes and volumes have been written about what makes "good" firearms training, and making the decision with whom to train can be confusing. Heaven knows there are a lot of bad trainers out there (and I've trained with a few myself...), but in general, a instructor who is accredited with a national organization like the NRA would be the first thing I'd look for. Beyond that, I would suggest getting a small amount of training from a diverse amount of trainers before making the commitment to a week-long school or similar course.
Why? Three reasons.
Variety. I've taken classes that are rooted in the Modern Technique of the Pistol, which dates back to the mid-60's, and I've taken classes that offer the latest in cutting-edge pistol and rifle instruction, and none of what I've learned in those classes has stepped on or diminished what I've learned in other courses. "Tools in the toolbox" is another cliché, but having a wide selection of skills allows you to adapt to a wide variety of situations.
Legal. Every person who trains you is a potential witness for your defense if you have to use your firearm and wind up going to trial. Think back to the George Zimmerman trial: Mr. Zimmerman had only one person testifying as to how well he was trained with a firearm. Would you rather have one person testifying about the extent of your firearms training, or twelve?
Cost. Money doesn't grow on trees, and the cost of a week-long class in ammo, fees and time off can be intimidating. Making a week-long commitment to a class that ends up teaching you little of value is a waste of time and resources.
Beyond that, learn how to use your gun. Don't just go to a range and punch holes in a paper target, but consider all the steps needed before, during and after the shot. Does your gun have a safety? How easy is it to use? Can you easily reach the safety without looking at your gun or shifting your grip? Is your gun a double action/single action semiautomatic that has a different trigger pull for the first and second shots? How easy are the sights to acquire after each shot? Do the magazines stick in the gun when the release button is pushed?
These are just some of the details that make little differences on the range but make a big difference when your life is on the line.
In addition to this, consider going to at least one practical pistol match. Nothing will teach you how you deal with stress like a Range Officer saying "Shooter ready? Standby!" and having a timer buzzer go off in your ear. What should be easy ("Walk over there, shoot two each holes in those two targets, then walk over there, shoot two more targets") suddenly becomes a nigh-impossible task under a massive adrenaline dump. In addition to the adrenaline inoculation, shooting a practical pistol match will quickly teach you how well your gun and gear works under stressful conditions. A practical shooting match like USPSA or IDPA isn't the "real thing", but it's the closest that 90% of us who don't carry a gun for living will ever experience to the real thing. Because of that, and because they're really fun to shoot, it's an eye-opening experience for anyone who owns a gun for defensive purposes.
The bottom line is, you want to survive a violent armed encounter, and your loved ones want you to survive a violent armed encounter as well. Owning a gun is just the first step; mastering its use is the journey.