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This discussion starts with the assumption that you know nothing about handguns and that you have never had formal instruction in any type of firearm.  If you already have experience you may be able to eliminate some of the earlier courses. From Scratch:

1. Take a basic course.  NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Phase I online and Phase II form an NRA certified instructor or the SMFTS Basic Pistol Course or take a basic course from another qualified pistol instructor.

2. Take your time to select the right handgun for you if you do not already have one.

3. Develop the ability to shoot well enough to at least keep all of your shots on a sheet of typing paper at 21 feet.  Note:  You should be able to shoot much better than that if your goal is to be able to successfully use your handgun for self-defense in your home:

4. Attend the SMFTS Firearms and the Law class.  Click here for more information).

5.  If you intend to use a firearm only for personal protection in the home take the NRA Personal Protection in the Home Course.  Click here.

7. Shooting skills are perishable skills.  Continue to develop your shooting skills.  

NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home Course, the NRA Defensive Pistol Course or the SMFTS Concealed Carry Basic Course