As this is a firearms centric blog, it’s only appropriate that we should discuss firearms safety. Indeed, anyone who has spent any time around firearms has probably either witnessed or read about a negligent discharge. Don’t let it happen to you! In this post, I will attempt to synthesize firearms safety concepts from a variety of sources into a concise yet comprehensive approach to safe gun handling.
No discussion of firearms safety would be complete without mention of Jeff Cooper’s four fundamental rules:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Always be sure of your target.
The rules are simple, and in of themselves, they are an excellent and not unwieldy approach to safe gun handling. However, the limitation of the rules is that they don’t necessarily always address real situations at all times.
For instance, if you deliberately unload your weapon for dry fire practice, then the gun is obviously not loaded! Rule one therefore really serves as a reminder to always handle a gun appropriately no matter the circumstances and to always be sure of its condition. Many people will thus modify it to say, “Assume every firearm is loaded.” Or, “Know the condition of your firearm at all times.”
Rule two is concise and comprehensive. However, reality dictates that there are times that the muzzle of your gun may indeed be pointed at something you don’t want to destroy. A more nuanced approach might be to rigorously maintain muzzle discipline and, “Point the gun in a safe direction.” Realize that there might be environments where no safe direction exists… choose whatever constitutes the safest direction.
For rule three, if you have to fire your weapon at an assailant that is too close for you to fully extend your gun, then you are relying on body index alone for verification that your sights are on target. In such a scenario, seeing your sights on target before placing your finger on the trigger is simply not possible. Rule three has therefore often been modified to conform to this reality in the form of, “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.”
As consideration of what’s surrounding your target is not necessarily implicit in rule four, it is frequently amended to, “Always be sure of your target and what lies beyond.”
Many groups and organizations have developed their own philosophy of gun safety, some more unnecessarily complicated than others… I personally like the approach to firearms safety that I learned at a recent class at the Sig Sauer Academy. Rules two and three are paramount. By constantly being aware of your muzzle and what it is covering, any potential injury or damage from a negligent discharge is mitigated. Trigger finger discipline is rigorously enforced to minimize the chances of a negligent discharge. Those two actions taken together ensure a safe range environment and easily carry over into other settings. Constantly being aware of what your muzzle is covering includes not only targets, but also the foreground and the background. On a range, this can be as simple as keeping your firearm pointed downrange. In everyday life, this can be a bit more complicated.
When I trained with Mike Pannone (as a guest instructor at the Sig Sauer Academy), he discussed with us the importance of constantly evaluating shot placement against a dynamic foreground and background to minimize the potential for collateral damage to innocents or uninvolved parties. I think this is an excellent approach that anyone who carries a weapon needs to practice. One common example of this that I first heard from Tom Givens is the simple technique of dropping to a knee in a crowded environment to elevate the trajectory of your shots above the heads of innocents in the background.
I also want to relate how Pannone teaches to properly unload a weapon. His method is safe, simple, and efficient. First, remove the magazine. Eject the round in the chamber and lock the action open. Verify that the magazine well and chamber are empty, and visually examine the ejector and extractor. These two components are critical to proper function and warrant routine inspection. Finally, close the action on a weapon that you now know is unloaded. Racking the slide repeatedly to verify that a weapon is empty is both unnecessary and potentially ineffective!
Ultimately, I feel that a more nuanced view of the firearms safety rules integrating thorough comprehension and practical application of safe gun handling is more appropriate than blind adherence to an inflexible set of rules.
You should also purchase a quality gun safe or other secure storage option for firearms that you leave unattended in your home or car. This modest investment is a good idea not only to prevent theft, but also for the safety of children or guests in your home.
When you dry fire, it is always a good idea to physically remove ammunition and loaded magazines from the immediate area, continue to practice muzzle discipline, and by extension, utilize a safe backstop. When you use blue guns or other training aids such as airsoft that present minimal risk of injury in training scenarios, it is still wise to practice appropriate gun handling if for no other reason than to form good habits. Obviously, with airsoft, wear appropriate protective gear!
One additional point concerns the Glock pistol. There are those who are uncomfortable with the fact that you must pull the trigger on a Glock to disassemble it. I am of the opinion that if you can successfully unload your pistol for dry fire practice, then you can also unload it to disassemble it! The procedure is not difficult for trained individuals!
To summarize all of the above in one sentence, always exercise deliberate action and vigilance when handling firearms to avoid unintended consequences! The consequences of being lax with firearms safety can range from merely embarrassing to tragically fatal!
Finally, for readers that are parents, I encourage you to include your children when dealing with firearms. Children are naturally curious. Satisfy their curiosity by instilling safe gun handling habits and knowledge of firearm safety at an early age. Removing the mystery and intrigue of firearms fosters safe kids and a safe environment for them.