As a Navy SEAL, I’ve become very comfortable around firearms. But one of the things that make me and my fellow frogmen so comfortable around weapons is that we are very vigilant about adhering to the basic rules for firearms safety and handling. Anytime you forget about them, even for a second, bad things can happen…and frequently do.
The other day on the range, one of our instructors, Tom Revaz, was teaching a basic pistol course to some new federal agents. The way this particular training was being run there were other instructors from the unit we were teaching also on the line coaching. The line had been called cold, all weapons were cleared and checked by other students. With Tom on the other end of the line working with some students, the other instructor brought a group together to do a little “private” demonstration on trigger control. He brought his weapon up and slowly pressed back on the trigger…As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, the next thing that was heard was an ear-splitting, “BANG!” It seems this instructor (can I stop using that term for him now?) didn’t think he needed to follow the same rules as the students; hell, the same rules as everyone else who handles weapons! In a word, he got cocky. High-speed, low-drag doesn’t mean shit to me if you don’t know the condition of your weapon before you decide it’s time to send that firing pin forward! Over the years I’ve seen it happen to other people on the range too and it makes me nervous. So I’d just like to make this clear: No one is so good with weapons that basic firearm and range safety rules don’t apply.
Firearms Safety Rules:
1. Treat every gun as if it were loaded, regardless of perceived or actual condition.
I think this is the most important safety rule. If you treat all guns as if they are loaded, you really have to want to shoot someone for it to happen. Even if I know my gun is NOT loaded before I give a demonstration, dry fire or clean my weapon, I still check it again to make sure.
2. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Your finger should be indexed along the receiver until the decision to shoot has been made. This can (and should) happen as soon as your barrel is pointed at your target. It should also be removed from the trigger as soon as you no longer need to shoot or your weapon is no longer pointed in a safe direction. Speaking of that…
3. Always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction and never point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.
Knowing where the muzzle of your gun is pointing at all times is critical to safely handling firearms. When we have problems with students during CQC training, we sometimes attach a laser to their gun so they can better see exactly where that bang-stick is pointing and exactly who would be taking rounds in the event of an accident. Even without a physical laser on your gun, you should imagine a laser coming out of your gun's muzzle and never let it cross the path of anyone else.
4. Be sure of your target and know your target's foreground and background.
We've all seen it at the the range, “Who shot my target?” Not a big deal there, but what about when it’s not training and lives are at stake? You need to be completely sure you know what you’re shooting at, as well as what might be in front of it (walls, cars, barricades, trees) or what might move in front of it (cars, people, dogs) and what’s beyond your target. This can be anything from people in the open to your family members in another room during a home invasion.
Firearms Safety is a Full-Time Job
Four rules — it’s not a long list. I recently began teaching my kids how to shoot, starting with a Daisy BB rifle. Before they could even touch the gun, they needed to be able to regurgitate all four rules and explain what they mean. Since the gun has a safety, they also needed to remember to keep the weapon, “On safe until aimed on target.” These guys are five and seven years old. If they can remember them, I expect everyone else I shoot with to do the same.
Speaking of children and firearms; make sure they know the difference between real guns and “play” guns. My kids love their Nerf guns, but they know they are not real. (Although they still practice the same rules with them – remember it’s “Don’t point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot”…I’ve been hit by a lot of Nerf darts!) When it comes to the real thing, avoid horseplay. Firearms are deadly and must be treated with the respect they deserve. They are not toys and should not be treated as if they were.
As I stated before, I always make sure a gun is empty before cleaning. It’s impossible to verify if a gun is loaded just by looking at it. Never presume or take another’s word that it is empty. As Reagan would say, TRUST, BUT VERIFY! It only takes a second to check, and the time it takes could save a life.
Before you shoot, make sure the firearm is clean and safe to operate. Guns need regular maintenance to remain operable and this includes regular weapons cleaning and function checks. If you have any question concerning a gun’s ability to function, a professional gunsmith should look at it.
Anytime you go to the range, make sure you know the range rules and wear eye and ear protection. Staying safe on the range is up to you. If you see someone doing something unsafe on the range, make sure you say something. Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility. Happy Shooting!