How about you? Why do you shoot? Why do you carry, if you carry at all?
And I instantly realized that trying to distill my reasons and motivations for shooting and carrying into a comment wasn't going to work; it needed to be its own post.
It's two distinct questions requiring two separate and distinct answers. There's obviously some overlap, as a good portion of my shooting revolves (ha! a gun pun) around training with the guns that I carry; however that's not the only reason why I shoot. I also shoot for recreation and relaxation. I'll cover the two aspects separately.
The training aspect is pretty obvious. It's foolhardy to carry a firearm for personal protection if you're not intimately familiar with how that firearm performs under a myriad of circumstances. How quickly can I get the front sight back on target? How accurate can I be shooting rapid-fire? How startled am I going to be at the report? How is the recoil going to affect my shooting? How well does my firearm perform using specialized ammunition?
All of these questions need to be answered in great detail before the gun should be carried.
The very first question, though, that needs to be answered before one makes the decision to get the permit to carry, is "Am I willing to take the life of another human being in the defense of my own?" This is critical. If the answer to this question is anything other than "yes"; if there is any doubt whatsoever as to one's ability to pull the trigger at the critical moment; then re-think the decision to go armed. That pause can kill.
I've got two beautiful children to protect. There is, quite literally, no doubt in my mind that if someone threatens my kids, I will kill them where they stand. Hell, I nearly slugged the priest who baptized my son just because he made my son cry... (I'm fairly certain you go straight to hell, do not pass go, for hitting a priest...) I've also seen the elephant - I've been threatened with deadly force and made the decision to fight before, and that was unarmed.
So, this decision has been made. What to do next? Well, you train. You pick out which firearm works best for you as a carry weapon (right now I'm down to five. No, I'm not kidding) and train, train, train. You practice your draw. You dry-fire. You train with that weapon until it becomes an extension of your very hand. And you shoot it. A lot. You make sure you're proficient with it at across-the-room distances (typically between 7 - 10 yards), although it's never a bad idea to test your accuracy at longer distances from time to time (50 feet - 25 yards).
Two of my carry weapons are revolvers - a shrouded hammer S&W model 38 for pocket carry, and a Chief's Special .357 magnum S&W 360PD - these are slightly less finicky about ammo than the semi-automatics, so I spend more time shooting the pistols than the wheelguns. However, even at that, it's still a good idea to pick up a J-frame and bring it to the range every now and again... The snubbie is a very difficult handgun to master, and requires specialized attention compared to a larger revolver (I have Hogue bantam Monogrips on both J-frames for easier concealment, which means the grip is different than for the larger guns, for one example).
The other three carry weapons are semi-automatic pistols - the Kel Tec P3AT 380, the S&W SW99compact 9mm, and the Glock G30 45 ACP. All three are routinely shot with FMJ ammo as well as the JHP that I rely on for protection; all three weapons will load, feed, and fire all ammo reliably (not a single FTF on any gun yet; the SW99C has shot literally thousands of rounds). For the semi-automatics, it's important to gauge the trigger reset; to retain the proper grip so as to avoid "limp-wristing" which can lead to failures to load; and other minuscule differences over the revolvers. I try to mix up my defensive shooting drills to include at least one revolver and one semi-auto whenever possible.
Training for self-defense isn't fun, though. You're shooting at a paper target that, for all intents and purposes, represents another human being.
You're training to kill.
And that's a sobering thought. Yes, I know; we're shooting to "stop the threat", and that's all that ever need said should the fecal matter impact the oscillating air control device. But what's more stopped than dead? You are training to put your shots into an area that will cause the most damage in the quickest amount of time - center of mass - so that your attacker will be sufficiently debilitated that he cannot continue his aggression.
Like I said, not fun.
What is fun, though, is an afternoon spent shooting orange clays on the 25 yard berm with a good friend. Taking a $50 pump-action .22LR caliber rifle, loading it up with cheap .22 ammo out of a bulk box from Wal-Mart, and handing it to a new shooter to get them hooked? Pure bliss. Blasting the holy hell out of a keyboard with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot? Oh hell yeah, that's a good time right there. We won't even get into the zen-like experience of redneck trap...
There's a lot of fun to be had while shooting.
And it's not just the actual sending downrange of lead - the camaraderie at the range is second-to-none. I've had complete strangers offer me their finely-tuned, highly-expensive race guns to shoot simply because I complimented their choice of firearm. I've met some of the greatest people through my shooting experience, and any attempt to list them all would fall short. Suffice to say, the shooting community is extremely gracious, giving, and caring. Certainly not the knuckle-dragging neanderthals we're painted as in the media, but I digress...
Inasmuch as shooting is fun, for me it's also a form of relaxation. I enjoy going to the gun club for the afternoon and spending a leisurely hour or two on the rifle range sighting in a new scope, or testing out new ammo, or just seeing if I can possibly shrink my grouping a little more. I'll go to the pistol range and blast away with a .357 Magnum or .45 ACP or hot 9mm loads when the stress of the workweek has me knotted up with tension.
And every single time, I get into the truck after a session at the range feeling calm, serene, and definitively unstressed...
As I've put it: "It's impossible to be stressed out when you're shooting a Magnum caliber handgun." I've said it half-kidding, but really, it's true. You can't be tense when you're sending 158 grains of .357 Magnum goodness downrange at 1300 FPS... I've explained it to Mrs. G as "this is my therapy". It's a hobby, yes. It's a dedication that could potentially save my life, yes. But, really, in the grand scheme of things, I shoot mainly because it relaxes me and gives me an outlet for stress relief. And it's a lot of fun.
And that's what it's all about, really.
That is all.