I use a pistol and I train for gunfighting. I am very new to this training. I came to it without having anything untoward suddenly motivate me, I simply started asking questions about guns and my rights as an individual. I did so for about a year before I purchased my first gun. So there has been a revolution in my thinking.
The most important thing about having a gun you would expect to carry in society (as opposed to hunting or target practice) is what power you do and do not have, and the wide variety of situations which now require thought. This is situational awareness and force escalation. It could all be called 'street smarts', and its something you must develop over time by studying what the professionals know. I've always had street smarts, I was raised in a rough neighborhood on the periphery of gang territory and I was the oldest of four boys. So I learned to size up other boys and navigate various levels of hostility and aggression. I can tell when an evil stare will lead to harsh words, will lead to face offs, will lead to pushing and beyond. People talk a lot about fight or flight and adrenalin, that's halfway true. There's a lot of grey analog between war and peace.
When I train with my gun I do so on an outdoor range with targets and objects that resemble urban situations. Our motto is train how your fight, fight how you train. It is to overcome irrational behavior and generate good habits. My instructors are men who have gone to Gunsite, which is one of the top training facilities available to civilians. There is an escalating path of classes there that are expensive and demanding. I expect to take several of them. The point is that I am the sort of person who feels capable of learning what police, swat and special forces operators learn. And we live in a country where such knowledge is available, so I take advantage of my rights and I learn my responsibilities. I get the knowledge of practitioners and I completely eliminate wishful thinking.
Eliminating wishful thinking is the point. That is the difference that allows police and fire professionals to run *towards* the danger instead of away. Self-defense is just part of the equation.
I want to say that one of the first things I noticed as I began my journey was the attitude and demeanor of armed security guards. They are everywhere and 99% of us never really pay attention to them, or speak to them or observe what they are observing. Having armed guards around us is not unusual or controversial. Think about how you would apply your love and concern for your fellow man if you were the armed guard outside your local 7-11 at night. That's how you should start to think about it.