Firearms Safety

Safety is an issue that should concern all firearms owners. Unfortunately there is a lot of hype about safety that totally ignores the real issues in the name of political correctness--that is, blaming something other than one's self when a screw-up occurs.


Before we start our discussion we need to get our terminology straight.

Accidental Discharge (AD) - An unexpected and undesirable discharge of a firearm caused by circumstances beyond the control of the participant(s). There are practically no firearms related "accidents" since guns don't go off by themselves nor point themselves at anything.  [2015-01-05 - I have to qualify this statement as ADs seem to be increasing due to poor quality control by manufacturers, but they are still very rare.]

Malfunction - When a part of a firearm fails to operate according to the specification. Anytime a firearm has a malfunction it will need to be fixed by an armorer or a qualified individual.

Misfire - The condition of a cartridge not firing when an attempt to fire it is made. It can be caused by either a defective cartridge or a defective firearm. The term has been frequently misused in the media to indicate a firearms "accident" as in, "His gun misfired and he shot himself."

Negligent Discharge (ND) - The unplanned discharge of a firearm caused by a failure to observe the basic safety rules. Firearms related injuries or property damage are due to negligent discharges, not accidents. This is the proper term to use.  [I still believe that most "accidental" discharges are actually negligent discharges but the shooter either won't admit their finger was on the trigger, didn't realize their finger was on the trigger, or they did something (really) stupid.]

Safety - A state of mind or action intended to reduce the risk of personal harm. It also refers to a mechanical device on a firearm intended to lock the firing mechanism to impede discharge.

Stoppage - When something interrupts the cycle of operation (hence stoppage). A stoppage can easily be fixed by the shooter and does not require an armorer or qualified individual to fix it.


The Rules of Firearms Safety.

Many shooting organizations promulgate incredibly long lists of safety rules. (I have seen posted lists of up to 30 rules!) They no doubt do this for political correctness, and to avoid litigation based on "You didn't tell me....," or to simply make them look impressive. 

Many places actually effect a deadly two tiered safety mindset, handling guns one way when believed to be unloaded and another way when  loaded. This attitude gets people hurt.  There is only ONE safety mindset -- The 4 Rules, and they apply ALL THE TIME.

Always remember, safety is a state of mind and not a device!

These four rules, if followed explicitly, will guarantee firearms safety. Memorize them and heed them. Always!  

The fifth, unwritten, but implied rule is: Take nothing for granted. Check everything by sight and touch.  EVERY TIME!

Tragedies could be avoided if everyone involved with firearms followed these rules all the time. 

One thing that really annoys me is folks who have to modify, or put their own twist on the 4 Rules.
The 4 Rules work as originally stated, but I guess some folks need to fell important so they reinvent them.  Sheese!

The biggest problem with firearms safety is complacency.  Even with the 4 Rules some folks start to get a little lax with their enforcement.  To address the complacency issue Jeff Cooper once said that every morning when he picked up his gun he said to himself, 

"Somewhere today someone is going to have an negligent discharge - but not me, not today."

Don't let complacency get you!

As an aid to memorization of the 4 Rules, especially by young people, my friend Duane Hufstedler has put the 4 Rules to verse.  They can be sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

A gun is always loaded--it's a weapon not a toy.
Cover nothing with the muzzle you're not willing to destroy.
Keep your finger off the trigger 'til the mark your sights are on.
Be sure of your target and everything beyond.

And there's the famous ditty familiar to Gunsite grads.

Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
This precept we must emphasize a well as we are able.
If you think that we are kidding or just need you to bark at,
A leg shot isn't funny on the operating table


A Brief History of the 4 Rules

The "4 Rules" was the development of Jeff Cooper.  They started out in the early '60s as simply one rule, "Guns are always loaded."  If everyone understood that and its implications that would have sufficed.  Unfortunately, that isn't the case, so "Keep your muzzle in a safe direction," and the "Be sure of your target" were added to the list.  Eventually, because of the observation that guns didn't fire by themselves, "Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire was added. Many folks think that this rule should really be #2 in the final version but historical precedence held out.

Early 60s Early 70s Late 70s 80s to current
Guns are always loaded 1) Guns are always loaded
2) Keep you muzzle in a safe direction
3) Be sure of your target
1) Guns are always loaded
2) Keep you muzzle in a safe direction
3) Keep you finger off the trigger until ready
    to shoot
4) Be sure of your target
1) All firearms are loaded
2) Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to
    destroy.
3) Keep your finger off the trigger unless your sights are on the target.
4) Be sure of your target and what is behind it (and in front of it). 

 


 

"Hot" vs. "Cold" Ranges

A "cold" range is one where a firearm can not be loaded except just before shooting and it must be unloaded immediately after shooting.  This involves excessive handling and manipulation of the firearm leading to negligent discharges and the unsafe handling of "unloaded firearms.  A "hot" range is one where all firearms are loaded at all times when on the person, and unnecessary handling is avoided as the firearm is holstered or slung when not shooting.

Consider the commentary below by firearms trainer John Farnam.

At yet another range where we conduct training sessions I see the familiar sign posting safety "rules." There is something about safe gun handling and not having alcohol on the range, but the last admonition is always the same "Keep all guns unloaded until ready to use. The people who write this stuff obviously don't carry guns and have never given a conscious thought to the serious employment of any firearm. However, you see this same posting, even on ranges where "training" is supposed to be taking place.  The concept of continuously carrying a gun in a high state of readiness has never crossed the minds of most people who administer typical ranges and who have these signs printed and posted.

We call it the "condition" approach to firearms training and handling. With this erroneous philosophy, the supposed condition of the gun is the only thing that matters. There are (1) loaded guns, which are "dangerous" and must be handled carefully (better yet, not handled at all), and there are (2) unloaded guns, which are "safe" and may be handled casually and heedlessly.  On such ranges, loaded guns are the recipient of morbid, pathological fear and are considered to be so dangerous that they really shouldn't be handled at all, much less carried in a holster. On those same ranges, despite all the hollow rhetoric to the contrary, supposedly unloaded guns are routinely handled carelessly.  Indeed, they are handled with what can only be described as casual contempt, and all the dribble about "Let's all pretend they're loaded falls on deaf ears.

So, once the "condition" of the gun is known or supposed, the handler can decide how it should be looked upon and handled.  Accidents continue to happen when this philosophy is in place, because "safe" and "loaded" guns keep getting mixed in with each other! This is the resident school of thought on "cold" ranges, and there is no way any kind of competent training will ever take place so long as it is in place, because students will either look upon guns with illogical fear or nonchalant disdain.  Neither is healthy or productive.

The correct philosophical approach to serious firearms training is the "the condition doesn't matter" method.  This was first articulated by Uncle Jeff in his four rules, but all four can all be rolled together in the universal admonition "DON'T DO STUPID THINGS WITH GUNS!"  The "hot range" concept logically flows from this philosophical conclusion. Now, we handle all guns correctly, all the time. We don't have to "pretend" they're loaded. They ARE loaded, continuously, and all students need to become accustomed to it.

The US Navy routinely practices night carrier landings of jet aircraft. There is great danger associated with the practice, and, once in a while, an eighty-million dollar aircraft is piled up in the process.  Such incidents are regrettable but are accepted as the price we must pay if we are to have competent pilots.  There is no way night landings can be "simulated. Pilots need to know they can do it, so they must actually do it. Regrettably, this correct philosophy has not filtered down to small-arms training.  Some still naively believe we can train people to carry and use pistol and rifles in a dangerous environment by never actually doing it in training.

All training involves risk. Unfortunately, on what passes for training ranges, "safety" is defacto defined as "a maniacal preoccupation with the utter eradication of all risk, to the point where everyone promptly forgets why we're even there."  If we're going to truly prepare our students for real fighting, we must accept the risks that are inherent to real training, and stop conning ourselves with "pretend" training. We're going to have accidents either way. One way, they at least serve a purpose.  The other way, they are all in vain.

A more recent comment on the subject from John Farnam, (2/11/15).

Empty guns! September of last year, in PA, a State Trooper (Firearms Instructor) accidentally shot and killed another State Trooper during a training session. The Trooper who did the shooting has subsequently been indicted by a grand jury. The pistol involved was, of course, unloaded and thus "safe!"

The tragic incident, and aftermath, has sparked sharp debate within the LEO training community. In my opinion, the problem is not with a set of "rules," nor even with specific acts of carelessness by this individual or that. The problem is with an entire, fatally flawed philosophy that currently governs much of what passes for "training," in and out of LEO and military institutions. For lack of a more polite term, we refer to this defective philosophy, and those who adhere to it, as: "The Empty-Gun Crowd."

Adherents are frightened to death of guns! They are even more frightened of legitimate Operators, who have comfortably integrated loaded guns into our daily lives. They cynically regard guns as they do Operators, as (in some respects) a necessary evil. Their ineluctable lifestyle is characterized by a maniacal preoccupation with the complete and continuous sterilization of all guns, and the universal and automatic disarming of all Operators, and others, who carry, or even occasionally touch, guns! They are profoundly uncomfortable in the presence of any species of gun, and they are positively aghast with the thought that anyone, even their own employees, might actually carry loaded guns in public on a regular basis. They will not tolerate the practice in their own surroundings, nor at any institution over which they have influence!

They post "no guns allowed" signs everywhere they can! This represents their version of the four, cardinal rules of gun-handling: 1) All guns are always unloaded 2) Unloaded guns are "safe." When around "safe" guns, you can relax! 3) When handling "safe" guns, never be concerned with the direction in which they're pointed. After all, they're not really guns anymore, are they? There is no reason to even look! 4) When handling "safe" guns, have your finger constantly on the trigger, for good control.

Those who leech onto the foregoing "rules" will cause accidental shootings on a more-or-less continuous basis! Yet, articulated or not, the foregoing governs gun-handling in many LEO venues, and virtually all military venues!  What is needed, of course, is a profound change in philosophy.  Difficult, because it will necessitate that ossified careerists admit they're wrong. Not only are they wrong, but they've always been wrong!  Of course, the four gun-handling rules adhered to by genuine Operators are:

All firearms are loaded. 
Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to destroy.
Keep your finger off the trigger unless your sights are on the target.
Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Cynical lip-service is often paid to these, but the former four "safe gun" rules are the ones actually followed by empty-gun practitioners. To see an example, go to a typical gun-retailer and watch a host of “ gun-shop-commandos” carelessly wave guns around like laser-pointers, as they provide omniscient “advice” on guns to all who will listen!  Or, go to a typical “competition,” and watch starry-eyed nimrods walk about carrying empty pistols in “fast-draw” holsters. Then count how many times they point their “safe” guns at each other and themselves!  Or, attend a typical military ceremony, and watch smartly-uniformed lads literally loaded-down with rifles and pistols, all continuously empty.  No ammunition, nor even magazines, anywhere close!

Sterile guns in the hands of sterile people! To the empty-gun crowd, “hot” ranges are unthinkable. Thus, real training never happens. None even carry a gun on a regular bases, and they piously eschew those of us who do!  Some progress is being made, but it is glacial!  The empty-gun crowd is still firmly, and arrogantly, in charge most places.  We Operators just have to work-around them, and we do, occasionally prodding them (as they kick and scream) in the direction of true enlightenment! 


Mechanical "Safeties"

Safety is a state of mind and not a mechanical device.

A short note about "hammer droppers/decockers" on DA autopistols and mechanical safeties.  I don't care what the manufacturers say.  Don't trust them.  They are not a substitute for the 4 Rules, nor should you ever feel "safe" with them.  

I have personally witnessed numerous firings when the hammer was dropped with the "dropper" and the shooter's trigger finger was straight!  (The factories say it can't possibly happen, but it does.)  The most spectacular case was a S&W M39 which went full auto with 7 rds in the magazine.  Given the rash of reported incidents it appears that there may be a subconscious placing of the finger on the trigger when using some of them as I now have a half-dozen reports of discharges when using the hammer dropper lever on several well-known brands that mechanically should not be able to fire using the hammer dropper.  Thankfully, none have resulted in a person's death or injury but several appliances bit the dust.  Be VERY careful when using a hammer dropper on a pistol, and for that matter when lowering the hammer on any handgun.

In addition, mechanical safeties can allow a firearm to fire if worn or if manufacturing tolerances are off.  I've seen several rifles and pistols fire when the safety was released (usually this happened if the trigger was pulled with the safety on and then the safety was released.)  Frequently test the function of your mechanical safeties with the firearm unloaded and keep the innards of your firearm clean, as an accumulation of gunk can interfere with the functioning of the mechanical safety.


If It Doesn't Feel Or Sound Right

If you are shooting and something doesn't sound or feel as expected, STOP SHOOTING, unload, and then check things out--with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction-- including the condition of your bore. You could save your hands or your eyes, or someone else's.

Yes, that is 8 bullets lodged in the bore!  You think the shooter would have noticed something was amiss.


Some People Just Don't Understand Until It's Too Late

Probably some of the most unsafe shooters I have ever been around are the skeet and trap fellows.  One of their favorite stunts is to put the muzzle of their shotgun on their shoe while waiting.  They even have little "pads" to help hold the muzzle in place.  Don't worry.  It's OK because it's unloaded.

"IT WAS UNLOADED."  NO FURTHER COMMENT NECESSARY!

Several years ago I was asked to leave a big name sporting goods store after I rather "harshly" disarmed a customer at the gun counter, along with giving a rather strong verbal warning about what I might do to him, after he pointed a Glock right at me, with his finger on the trigger.  I cracked the top of the counter in the process.  The manager thought I "over reacted" to an "unloaded" gun.  I have not been back there since.


Protecting What You've Got

Another aspect of firearms safety is the use of both hearing and eye protection.

Hearing Protection
Hearing protection is also important, especially on the range where you are exposed to sustained gunfire. Gunfire is not only loud (130 - 170 dBA) but it also contains very loud high frequency components that are especially damaging to your hearing. Rifles with muzzle brakes can be particularly damaging because they direct the blast to the sides and rear.

While temporary exposure to moderately loud noise may cause a loss of hearing that may be reversible after a period of quiet rest, exposure to very loud sounds like gun fire cause cumulative and non reversible loss. It should be noted that while most of such noise induced hearing loss occurs in the range of 3000 - 6000 Hz.  The range of 500 - 2000 Hz where speaking takes place is also affected significantly.

Exposure to continuous noise at 85 dBA or greater or exposure to impulse noises of greater than 140dBP is dangerous to hearing. Impulse levels of 120-140 dBP are uncomfortable, but hearing protection is still recommended for this level of noise. At levels greater than 140 dBP but less than 165, single layer protection is definitely required. Single layer is defined as plugs or muffs or attenuating helmet and generally affords about 15 dB attenuation at lower frequency ranges and about 35 dB at higher frequencies. Exposure to sounds at greater than 165 dBP requires a double layer of the mentioned protection which gives about 5 -10 dB more attenuation.. Correct fit, and proper size of the protective devices becomes very important at these level.

Good hearing protection is not cheap but the cost is well worth it in the long run, especially if you take your children shooting with you. While the ear-muff style protectors are not very practical in the field, there are several in-the-ear types available that are workable under field conditions. Be smart use hearing protection!  

Note that children's ears are more susceptible to damage than adult ears, simply because their entire structure is less mature and more delicate. Additionally, the noise reduction of hearing protectors  is based on a normal fit to an adult head and on a smaller child's head the fit may not be perfect thus diminishing the protection.  With children the use of properly fitted ear plugs and a muff type protector is highly recommended.

Something to keep in mind. The decibel scale is not linear, but logarithmic. In a linear scale, twice the value equates to twice what ever is being measured. . In logarithmic scales a sound which is only 3 db higher than another, has twice the energy. For example, if you look at the table below, the 9mm Para cartridge at 160 db has twice the sound energy of the .45 ACP cartridge which is measured at 157 db.

Another complication is that the human ear does not perceive all frequencies equally. Although loudness is subjective, most people perceive one sound to be twice as loud as another, when there is a 10-fold increase in energy, or a difference of about 10 db. So a 60 db sound sounds twice as loud as a 50 db one, although there is 10 times more energy in it. Also, it is interesting to note that most people cannot discern any difference in perceived loudness of less than 3 db. That means that the energy in the sound has to double, before someone can notice any difference.

The table below gives some comparison of various common firearms and common noise levels.

Caliber / Sound

Sound Level  
(dBA at gun-side ear)

Threshold of hearing 0
Normal breathing10
Conversation60
Crowded restaurant 70
Lawn Mower 90
Rock Concert 120
Snow Mobile 120+
Jet engine at take-off 145
.22 LR HV Rifle 157  (141 with Sionics silencer)
9 mm Pistol 160
.45 ACP Pistol 157
.44 Mag revolver 164
.223 AR-15 170  (159 with Sionic silercer)
.308 Win Rifle 170 (154 with Sionics silencer)
.30-06 Rifle 171
.458 Win Mag Rifle 174
12 ga Express Load 167
9 mm H&K MP5SD subsonic suppressed 75
M2 .50 Machinegun 176
M3 Recoiless Rifle 190
155 mm HowitzerM119 183
Large rocket at lift off 184
Humans feel physical pain 190
Humans die 210
Note:  Firearms fitted with muzzle breaks will generally show a higher sound pressure measurement at the ear than firearms without them.

Given the potential health benefits I don't understand why noise suppressors are restricted.  They should be nothing more than a firearm's accessory. (Update 1/17) It appears that there is legislation now being considered to remove "suppressors" from the NFA regulations and to treat them like common firearms (NCIS/4473), because of health issues (hearing safety.  We shall see.

Eye Protection
Eye protection is a given any time you shoot or are around others shooting--whether in the field or on the range--because a ruptured case, or bullet or powder fragments from another firearm can permanently take away your vision.  Wearing a "baseball cap" with the brim pulled down close to your glasses can increase eye protection by helping to prevent debris from getting behind your lenses. If you are a glasses wearer be sure that you always get impact resistant lenses.

While safety glasses are an excellent idea to protect you from harm when shooting,  most folks forget about them when cleaning or working on firearms or other machine tools. Regular, prescription glasses, if they have a shatterproof lens (not all do) are adequate for most work which does not produce flying chips of metal. They will keep flying springs and splashed oils/organic solvents, out of the eye 99% of the time.

Real safety glasses with side shields, or goggles, are the best things to wear if you are going to be doing something that produces chips, generates abrasive pieces (grinding or power sanding) or are using compressed air which can blow the chips or solvent into the air. Normal glasses will not always protect against these things and a single chunk of steel, or aluminum, into the eye makes for a very painful period and an expensive trip to the eye doctor. There are also safety glasses designed to be worn over prescription glasses and multiple types of glasses, goggles and face shields can be purchased from your local "industrial hardware", "machine shop supplies" or from one of the mail order machinery suppliers.  

Most safety glasses meet ANSI Z87.1-1987, because that satisfied the old OSHA requirements. The new standard is ANSI Z87.1-2003. 

Body Protection
Ejected brass is HOT and can cause nasty burns.  Don't shoot with a lot of bare skin exposed especially skin where flying objects can become trapped..  Several amply endowed young women I know have nice scars in their cleavage because they didn't cover up properly and their reaction at the time was very "interesting" (and entertaining) to say the least.


The Responsibilities of Firearms Ownership

The use and ownership requires that you accept certain important and grave responsibilities.

First, you have the responsibility to know and understand your state laws regarding the purchase and possession of firearms. In addition, if you own a firearm for protection you must know and understand those statutes regarding self-defense and lethal force that apply to your state. These laws vary from state to state and can range from highly restrictive to very liberal. You must know these laws so that you are aware of the circumstances under which you can legally use lethal force. Your attorney is the best source of information on your state's laws.

Second, you must make a conscious decision that if you own a firearm for personal protection that you will use lethal force when it is necessary and proper to do so. A firearm should never be used only as a threat. Firearms are weapons, and a weapon is a tool to project lethal force. When you "present" the weapon (draw it, grab it, etc.) you must be physically and mentally ready to use it instantly and without hesitation. If you do not believe you could ever shoot someone, then do not purchase a firearm for protection.

You also must understand the concept that you do not "shoot to kill" or "shoot to wound." If you are justified in shooting an attacker, you shoot to STOP the attacker (that is, to make the attacker cease the harmful actions against you). Whether the attacker dies of the wounds received is a legal or moral matter for others to decide. It is of no consequence to you during your response to the attack. The important thing is that the attack be stopped! If you do not accept these things you should not have a firearm for protection.

Third, you have a responsibility to acquire the skill and knowledge to handle and use your firearm safely and effectively. Unlike what is portrayed on TV and in the movies (shudder!), the effective use of any firearm, and especially a handgun, requires substantial training and continual practice.

As an example, consider an individual who carries a handgun on their person. To attain a level of proficiency that will be adequate to ensure their survival in an unexpected lethal encounter requires the initial expenditure of about 500 rounds of ammunition and about thirty hours of training. To maintain that same level requires the expenditure of a minimum of about fifty rounds a month. For someone who will not be drawing the weapon, such as a homeowner, the training requirements and maintenance levels are less but still substantial. (The fact that the average police officer fires about fifty rounds, two or three times a year, should tell you something!)

Without adequate training and practice you can put yourself in greater danger with a firearm than without it. The fact that you own a firearm does not make you automatically safe from harm.

As a wise old sage once said:

"You are no more armed because you own a gun, 
than you are a musician because you own a guitar."

While proper training can be expensive, you should seek it out. It is well worth the cost if you are serious about firearms and the safety of yourself and those around you.  

Fourth, you have the responsibility to ensure that those individuals who reside with you, including any children, receive training in firearms safety. In addition, you must safely store your firearms when they are not in your immediate possession. Contrary to much media hype, children and firearms are not a problem if proper attitudes are established at an early age as we will discuss later.


The Health Benefits of Shooting

"Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Peter Carr circa 1785, gave some good advice about shooting.

"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks." 

For some comments on shootings health benefits click here.


The Storage of Firearms

It is just plain common sense (which doesn't seem to be all that common now days) not to leave firearms lying about when you are not in the immediate vicinity, whether or not there is anyone else around. Simply because of their value, not to mention safety, firearms and ammunition not in use should be stored in a secure place, preferably in a safe or a steel vault such as the old Treadlock brand gun vaults or similar units. These are available in prices ranging from about $100 for a light steel plate unit all the way up to bank vault type units costing several thousand dollars. The keyed type steel vaults utilize a non-duplicable key and  while not ultimately as secure as a bank vault type unit they will thwart all but a determine safe cracker with a cutting torch, especially if you lag-bolt them to the floor or walls. If you carry the key on your person at all times you will be as secure as possible from unauthorized access to your firearms. They are money well invested and anyone with more than a single firearm should get one. (They also make a good storage place for other valuables like cameras and jewelry.)

Many individuals have a loaded firearm in their home for personal protection, although they don't habitually carry it on their person. This causes all kinds of panic from the hoplophobic anti-gun crowd as being "dangerous" and they would have people believe that it is the leading cause of childhood deaths not to mention the leading cause of everything from cancer to warts. However, if a firearm needed for protection is kept under lock and key all the time, getting to it in time of need can be difficult and the delay could prove fatal.

There are several possible solutions to this problem. There are commercial "gun safes" available that utilize finger pads to unlock them and which can be activated very quickly. These could be used in situations where even though you are present in the home there are individuals around that you need to keep away from the firearm.

Another solution, when you are present, is to have the firearm readily available in an unlocked drawer or on a shelf, but unloaded, while you carry a spare magazine or speed loader on your person. Many people who habitually carry a sidearm use this method when they are at home. With a minimum of training one can load a pistol about as fast as one can pick it up. When you leave the premises you lock up the firearm or load and holster up.

One solution that many people I know use is that they equip a nightstand or desk with a lockable drawer and store a firearm there. When they are at home they unlock the drawer and leave their keys hanging in the lock. This allows rapid access and keeps your keys from "hiding" from you which should be appreciated by anyone who has spent hours looking for their @#!*!&! keys.

The current politically correct rage is "trigger locks" and "smart guns." Trigger locks have a place but they are not a cure-all. First, their use on a loaded firearm kept for self protection is dangerous as their installation or removable could cause an unintended discharge. Second, they are slow to remove. As to their preventing unauthorized use of a stolen firearm their protection is illusionary. At least one major brand name trigger lock can be be defeated simply by using a thin bladed screw driver through its rubber pads. If a firearm is properly stored under lock and key, the chances of an unauthorized individual getting to it is slim, and if it is gotten to trigger locks can easily be removed by an individual with a  Dremmel tool and a cutoff wheel, a drill or bolt cutters. The place of trigger locks in my mind is to provide temporary denial of easy use during unloaded transportation or temporary storage.

The "smart gun" idea is no where near a useful state, and probably will never be, especially for a firearm used for personal protection. A dead battery, a lost magnetic ring, a loose connection, or electrical interference can cause disastrous consequences as could a burst of high energy radio or magnetic energy. There have even been proposals that the government should have the means to remotely deactivate all civilian held "smart guns" in the event of a "national emergency." (Doesn't that make you feel safe?)

(In NJ they recently passed a law which states that if/when "smart guns " come into use that the police will not be required to use them. Hmmmm! Great technology, eh? Good enough for the peons but not the government.) The claim that they would prevent someone from using a stolen gun is also a joke. If the firearm is stolen the device can be easily deactivated by just about anyone by disassembling (forcefully or otherwise) the firearm.

No, safety is not gadgets! It is common sense.


Guns and Kids

If one is to believe the anti-gun hype, a gun within five miles of anyone under 21 years of age is responsible for all the crime and disasters since the "Big Bang" (no pun intended) as well as global warming and cancer.  I grew up in a house with firearms and among relatives who were shooters and I had relatively easy access to them. I even rode my bike to school with my trusty Remington .22 in its case so I could shoot with the rifle team in junior-high.  I have been professionally involved with firearms training for over 48 years and have taught people ranging in age from 6 to 78. While there are some children and some adults (including a lot of "agents of the state" for that matter) who need to be kept away from firearms as a matter of course, I have found that the general answer to the children and firearms question is usually just "de-mystifying" firearms by training, establishment of proper attitudes, and common sense (which seems to be severely lacking in some people).

Children are by nature curious and when they see firearms, whether on the "screen" or in real life they naturally what to check them out. That is where problems can occur if they have not been properly introduced to the subject.

When children are infants there is generally no exposure to or interest in firearms and as long as the firearms are properly secured there will be no problems. As they grow and begin to notice things the educational process can begin.

The initial exposure to firearms should be under carefully controlled conditions under which they are allowed to see your firearms and handle them 1 at a time if they wish, after both of you carefully check to ensure that they are unloaded. You should explain to them that these are not to be touched under any condition unless you are present. Let them know that if they ask, you will allow them to see them again but that any attempt to access them without you present will result in (severe) punishment.

You should also instruct them that should they find an unattended firearm anywhere, or if another child should display a firearm, that they should immediately leave the area and tell an adult. (However, giving such an admonition does not absolve you from the need to properly store and control access to your firearms.) Concurrent with this introduction, they should be instructed to never let a firearm point at anyone and that they should not touch the trigger. This initial satisfaction of basic curiosity and the knowledge that you will show them the firearms again upon request will help to eliminate the desire for them to snoop. As they get older continue to reinforce the principles of safety. Ingrain the "4 Rules"  into their minds to the point that they apply them even to gun-shaped objects. (I always smile when I see someone carrying a cordless drill with their "trigger" finger straight.)

When I remarried, many years ago, I had a safety session with my step-children (ages 8 &10 at the time) who did not have a firearms background. After a discussion of the subject I made a big show out of unloading a revolver and allowing them to safely handle it. When they were finished, my wife distracted them for a second while I loaded a primed case in the cylinder, closed the action, and placed it back on the table. Within a couple of seconds, my stepson reached for it saying he wanted to see it again. I stopped him and asked him how did he know it was unloaded. He replied, "Because you unloaded it." I picked it up, and pulled the trigger. The resulting "bang" permanently imprinted Rule 1 in his mind and I made it a requirement for them to memorize all four of the rules.

I believe that it is also very important for children to be taught that firearms use in the media is not real life and that for the most part the handling and safety is very poor. I actually made a game with my son and step-son out of spotting safety violations on TV and they got very good at it. You'd be surprised just how fast they could spot fingers on the trigger and other stupid practices, and they even pointed out those rare, at the time, correct, straight fingers.

When children begin to express interest in actually shooting a firearm (I shot my first firearm, a .22 Hornet rifle, at age 5) it should be done in a deliberate and controlled manner. Initial firing should be done from a fully supported position. Don't overwhelm them with marksmanship instruction, just give them the very basics and concentrate on the safety rules and the need for eye and ear protection. Keep the targets big and close. At this juncture it is often a good idea to impress upon them the deadly nature of firearms by your shooting at a target such as a watermelon or paint can that will violently disrupt.

When finished shooting you should involve them in the cleaning up of the range area and also in the cleaning of the firearms once back home. This will help to teach them all of the responsibilities of firearms ownership.

As they grow, begin to teach them in greater detail as is appropriate to their grasp of things, but always continue to emphasize the four safety rules, personal responsibility, and the making of sound decisions.

One of my fondest memories is of the day that a local police officer stopped by to have me work on a pistol. As he began to remove it from its case my 8 year old son tapped him on the leg and said to him, "Make sure it is unloaded before you hand in to my father." I guess the lessons took.

A friend of mine, Rosco Benson, came up with the following "pledge of responsibility" in response to a politically correct Mother's Day anti-gun pledge distributed by the Clinton White House. This one is much better and much more to the point!


Protecting Our Kids In School

The creation of the so-called "gun free school zones" and other "no guns" areas (probably better titled "Please kill us zones") has done nothing but let evil people know that they are safe to kill with impunity in these area because they know there are "no guns allowed."  When people who choose to get concealed weapons permits go through a more stringent background check than many police officers and frequently receive better training there is absolutely no reason to bar these folks from carrying anywhere.  Our children would be a lot safer if teachers and parents at schools could be armed.

Dave Kopel wrote an excellent article on this subject.  Click here to read it.


Statistics

The Nationals Safety Councils Injury Facts 2008 Edition  provides a comprehensive chart  2008.

 

ACTIVITY

 ANNUAL INJURIES

INJURIES PER 100,000

Archery

3,180

47

Baseball

163,834

1122

Softball

111,094

896

Basketball

529,837

1984

Bicycle riding *

480,299

1349

Billiards, pool

4,722

15

Bowling

18,553

41

Cheerleading

25,966

683

Fishing

73, 206

180

Football

460,210

2585

Golf

37,891

155

Ice hockey

21,825

839

Martial arts

24,835

528

Mountain biking

10,135

119

Skateboarding

125,713

1296

Snowboarding

50,660

974

Soccer

186,544

1332

Swimming

178, 412

316

Tennis

22,425

216

Volleyball

57,387

517

Water skiing

9,928

158

Weight lifting

73,425

223

Hunting

239

2

* Does not include mountain biking

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it.

Or to put it another way, according to the National Safety Council, compared to the number of fatal firearms accidents , you are ...

57 times more die in motor vehicle accidents,

30 times more die from poisoning

25 times more die from falls

7 times more die from choking & suffocation

5 times more die from drowning

4 times more die from fires

3 times more die from medical "misadventures"

3 times more die from environmental factors

1.2 times more die from bicycles & tricycles

The number of fatal firearms accidents among children has declined 86% since 1975 and continues to do so.

So, to what can we attribute this drop to? Certainly not "gun control laws." Voluntary firearms safety training, not government intrusion, has caused firearms accidents to decline. Nationwide, 57,000 NRA Instructors and Coaches conduct firearm safety and proficiency programs developed by NRA's Education and Training Division, reaching nearly 700,000 program participants annually. Young Americans benefit from learning firearms safety in NRA programs offered through civic groups such as the Boy Scouts, Jaycees, and the American Legion, and schools. State hunter safety courses and mandatory concealed carry safety courses also contribute.  Since 1988, Eddie Eagle has been used by more than 20,000 schools, civic groups, and law enforcement agencies to reach 17 million children. 

A recent article in the (Seattle) Washington Post-Intelligencer concerning accidental deaths caused by physicians, states that a study by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that deaths due to medical mistakes (not just accidental deaths) run some where between 98,000 and 120,000 per year (there are about 700,000 doctors). The AMA is for obvious reasons not commenting on these figures.  Interestingly, medical "accidents" are specifically no longer listed in NSC's tallies.

If we assume (conservatively) that there are 80 million gun owners and 1500 gun related accidents (including all ages) and 700,000 doctors and 100,000 "oops's, it appears that doctors are a whole lot more likely to accidentally harm you than gun owners. Even if we use "all gun related deaths" (justifiable, accidental, and criminal for all age groups) and round up the statistical 29,250 deaths to 30,000 we find that the medical profession is still some 3 to 4 times more likely to harm you than a gun or a gun owners.

While it would not be "politically correct," I would like to see a mandatory firearms safety program included all public schools as part of the "health" program, teaching basic firearms safety considerations and the admonition to "STOP! Don't Touch. Leave The Area. Tell An Adult." if a firearm is found would be a good thing. While some hoplophobic parents "who would never own a gun" would cringe at this idea the fact remains that there is always a distinct possibility that a child will at some point come in contact with a firearm. It is also amazing just how many anti-gun people have "Uncle Harry's" old gun stuck in a closet somewhere. Knowing safe procedures, whether or not their families had any firearms, would help to prevent any future tragedies, just as learning proper skid control with a car can prevent a car wreck and proper hygiene can prevent diseases. We supposedly try to teach our children to be safe around strangers, cars, fire, alcoholic beverages, drugs, and sex. Why not firearms too?

Unfortunately the anti-gun crowd ignores personal responsibility, and ignores the facts that only a miniscule percentage of firearms are ever used incorrectly (something like .00001 to .0004 percent depending on whether you use accidents or all firearms deaths), and that firearms accidents rank way below some other (but politically correct) injuries such as choking on food and medical "mistakes." Instead they simply call for more and more useless and draconian "gun control" legislation in their effort to demonize honest citizens who choose to own and responsibly use firearms.


Dry Firing Practice

Dry firing, or the actuation of a firearm without the use of ammunition for the purpose familiarization or practice is a very important part of training.

However, it is a very special and potentially dangerous situation, one that needs to be approached carefully.

First, by definition it violates Rule 1 since the firearm must be "unloaded," and second, you deliberately point the firearm at something and pull the trigger with the express intention of NOT putting a hole in your target, which is a major violation of Rule 2. We don't compromise on the enforcement of the 4 Rules.  However, done with the proper care and strict procedures it can be done with safety. Your target backstop in your dry fire area should be of such construction that if a live round were fired no harm would be done. The following procedure is recommended.

1) Set a reasonable time limit for the dry-fire practice session. Fifteen to twenty minutes is optimal, with thirty being about the maximum for beneficial effect. More than that and bad habits start to creep in.  When doing dry fire practice go for smoothness of motion instead of shear speed and concentrate on your sight picture and surprise break.

2) Dry-firing should be done only in that specific area, and the practice target should only be displayed during the session. DO NOT leave it up when not practicing. For dry fire practice at short ranges and using feet for yards, you can click here  for 1/3 scale silhouette target in MS Word format.  For other target types make a just make 1/3 scale target.

dry fire targets

3) Go to your designated dry firing area and unload the weapon. Place all ammunition in a clearly marked "Live Ammunition" container in and then remove that container to another inaccessible location.

4) Return to the dry-firing area. Recheck the weapon by sight and touch.

5) Point in at an area that would sustain little damage if a round were negligently fired into it (i.e., a drum of sand). "Click" off as many times as it takes to cycle the weapon to its capacity (i.e., once for self-loaders, six or more times for revolvers). Then recheck the weapon by look and touch.

6) Mentally enter the "Practice Mode." Concentrate on dry firing drills and avoid distractions. If you do experience a distraction, i.e., phone call, immediately cease dry fire practice. If you decide to continue your practice session later, you must begin all over again at Step #1.

7) If dummy ammunition must be used as part of the dry-fire practice it must be clearly identified as such by sight and touch both before and after use. Store only dummy ammunition in your designated practice area. When finished with the dummy ammunition remove it from the firearm and return it to its storage location.

8) Repeat steps 4 and 5.

9) After the last drill is completed, mentally leave the "Practice Mode," and return to the normal "Street Mode." Put the target out of sight and leave the practice area. The session is now over--no "one more time."

10) Retrieve the live ammunition and load the firearm or return it to storage

I have been asked why the need to bother with all of the above steps for dry firing practice. In a word, SAFETY!

By confining the dry firing to a specific area and target we can help to eliminate negligent discharges resulting from the "one more time" syndrome in which the shooter does one more practice drill but forgets that the firearm is now live, resulting in an embarrassing "bang" when one expected a "click." Leaving a designated area and removing the target help to reinforce the notion that practice time is over.

In regards to dummy ammunition it is imperative that it be clearly and easily identified as such by sight. This can be accomplished by insuring that the dummies are distinctly different in appearance than loaded ammunition--by drilling large holes in the cases, chemically staining the cases black, plating them, or using commercial red or clear plastic dummy rounds.

However, remember that above all, safety is a state of mind and not mechanics.

|Back to the Practice Page|


Some Closing Thoughts

New Shooters
Many folks new to shooting get turned off when the first thing they shoot is some heavy, hard kicking firearm, without first getting the basics.  The initial procedure I have used for years is basically the following.

  1. Teach the 4 Rules

  2. Teach basic functioning and handling

  3. Teach basic stance, trigger control, and proper sight picture with dry firing.

  4. Using low power or reduced power ammunition (or preferably .22RF) load 1 round and let them fire at a large, close target, using a rest if necessary.

  5. Proceed to further training

Getting the word out
One area where firearms safety is usually ignored and the general gun handling abysmal, is in the movies and on TV. It never ceases to amaze me that anyone is left alive after viewing the antics on the screen. I have seen such terrible respect for proper procedures that I have actually ducked in my living room and in the theatre.

Perhaps we can all help here. Whenever you see poor gun handling or a violation of firearm safety rules in a movie or TV program, take a minute to write or email the producers. Let them know that you do not like what you have seen and remind them that they have a moral duty to portray proper firearms safety. You might also indicate that by showing unsafe gun handling they could be leaving themselves open to a law suit should someone be injured because they "saw it done in their production."

It helps to know your enemy
The anti-gun folks operate on the philosophy that guns and gun owners are bad, evil, or dangerous.  These people believe that firearm should only be possessed by the police or military, or if by ordinary people, at least only under very tightly controlled conditions and regulations as to the type, number, and caliber that may be possessed.  The proponents of this philosophy generally fall into 3 types.

Group 1  These are the primitive, superstitious people. These people believe that some 'magic' talisman will protect them from bad things. A rabbits foot, a four leaf clover, a string of garlic around their neck, or a sign with a picture of a handgun with the international "no" symbol.  There is ample proof that magic talismans do not work to keep people safe. Otherwise there would be no mall shootings, and no school shootings.  Yet the people in this group make a decision to ignore observable reality and choose to retreat into there superstitions and ignorance and to rely on others to take care of them.  Pass a law, post a sign, and we'll be (or at least feel) safe.

Group 2  These are the mentally ill. They are the people who actually fear guns, gun owners, or any object that make a person able to be responsible for themselves. They think that if firearms magically disappeared that the world would be  a huggy-kissy place.  Unfortunately I do not know of many mentally ill persons who were suddenly cured by observing reality. If anything, reality tends to drive the mentally ill deeper into insanity. It usually take professional therapy to 'cure' the mentally ill. However, since it appears that most "mental health professionals" belong to either Group 1 or are mentally ill themselves, I don't think we'll see a therapeutic resolution in the near future.

Group 3   This group is the truly evil group in our society. They are people who gain validation from chaos. The Hitler syndrome. "I will give you safety and security if only you will surrender a few 'unimportant freedoms' and give me just a little more power.  WE will take care of you."  These people gain pleasure from the suffering of others. They are the bigots, the hateful people who love control for the sake of control. Many of them employ armed body guards for their safety but don't want mere common folk to be able to protect themselves.  Most of the anti-gun legislators are in this category, as are many business owners and college administrators who choose or lobby for "please kill us zones." 

Thanks to Charles Carter for the anti-gun classifications.

Someone, somewhere, will have a negligent discharge today.  

It will NOT be me.


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Updated 2017-01-10