Firearms Safety – A Tactic You Can’t Live Without

firearms safety as a tactic

Can I get some love?


One of the sayings you learn as Navy SEAL is, “If you ain't cheatin, you ain't tryin.” It means that most rules tend to be limiting and if you want to win, you need to learn how to “bend the rules.” But the key here is that I said most rules, not all. Some rules are mandatory, such as firearms safety, no matter how high-speed you are and those rules are the ones written in blood. Let’s take for example the rules associated with safely handling firearms.

These rules came from someone picking up a gun, thinking it wasn’t loaded, pointing it at their buddy — and killing them. Someone pointing their gun at the back of their teammate going through a door, tripping — and shooting them in the back (will never walk again).

A new officer covering a suspect with their finger on the trigger, getting startled (see below) and pulling the trigger — suspect no longer a threat. Someone handing a loaded firearm (off safe) to a friend (new to firearms), who grabs the gun by the trigger — shoots someone on range in the arm. Or the police officer that shoots at a suspect on the street, misses the bad guy and hits a woman behind him in the leg.

firearms safety rules

Sure some of these people (OK, all of them) are doing stupid things, but that’s why we have rules. If there were no bad drivers and roads weren’t slippery, we wouldn’t need seat belts — but they are and we do. Gun safety rules have been written in blood and we don’t need people who bend these rules handling firearms.

So High-Speed It Hurts

I've seen a few tactical instructors recently teaching their students to keep the weapon on fire (Safety Off) after all threats have been eliminated. To be clear: standing around, pumped up on adrenaline after killing someone, with only good guys around — weapon on fire.

I don't understand this foolish logic. Why are we choosing to break this rule? The only thing I can think of is pure stupidity. People thinking they are “above the rules” and “a safety only slows you down!”.

Firearm Safety Rule #1: Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.

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I can mount my weapon and rotate my safety just as fast as I can mount the weapon without working the safety. The reason is that I've practiced it quite a bit over the past twenty-four years. If you don't practice enough to do this, you shouldn't put yourself into tactical situations with a firearm and you definitely shouldn’t be teaching other people to handle firearms!

Firearms Safety Rules

  1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
  2. Never point a weapon at anything you’re not willing to shoot.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your ready to shoot.
  4. Keep your weapon on safe until you’re aimed in on a target.
  5. Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.

Startle Response

The startle response or startle reaction is a response to sudden, startling stimuli, such as a sudden noise or quick movement. The startle response involves flexion of most skeletal muscles and a variety of visceral reactions. This reaction is involuntary and cannot be controlled, not matter how much you train. An individual's emotional state may lead to an increased (Hyper-Response) or a variety of different responses, and this comes into play during high-stress shooting situations.

NOTE: The startle reflex is a brainstem reaction that serves to protect the back of the neck (whole-body startle), or the eye (eyeblink), and also facilitates escape from sudden stimuli. It is found across the lifespan, and in many species, and is different than the startle response.

What would be a simple mistake on the range can easily turn into a blue-on-blue shooting when someone is not following one of the basic firearms safety rules in a tactical situation.

Imagine your weapon is off safe and you're in a room with the rest of your team. A loud noise startles you and you “accidentally” pull the trigger. The round ricochets off the cement floor and bounces up and hits a teammate in the femoral artery.

What simple step could have avoided this? Putting your weapon on safe? Finger off the trigger? It's interesting if you think about what accidents really are. Are they avoidable or unavoidable? They are always avoidable and safety is no exception.

Safety = Mission Success

High-speed operators are not less safe. They’re more safe. Look at the number of mishaps of any Special Operations unit compared to that of any conventional unit. The numbers are not even close. But for some reason, people think they need to break safety rules to join the elite.

If your team were involved in the blue-on-blue shooting above, you’re not going to complete the mission with the one man down that was shot, the guy that shot him (I wouldn’t trust him with a gun), your medic and now you’re pulling assets to run a CASEVAC. How are you going to complete this mission? Real operators understand this. Real operators have seen what a mishap does to mission success. Real operators don’t break safety rules.

Is safety part of your tactical toolbox? Share your safety stories here.