I’m not a firearm safety rules Nazi, but at the same time, I think that we do need to pay attention to safety especially when we are talking about firearms. The consequences when there is an accident with a firearm can be very severe, ranging from a bruised ego to death of yourself or another. It is this reason that people are so focused on fiream safety rules. Rules, however, are seldom the solution. People look at firearm safety rules as magic talisman that protect us from danger, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We must look at safety as a concept with rules acting as a guide and our engaged brain doing the majority of the work. Speaking of work, we are going to do some today. We are going to look at the problems that firearm safety rules can cause and how it is that we can deal with those problems.
Student Teacher Relationship
In my opinion it is imperative that the student/teacher relationship is based on trust.
- We are dealing with life and death issues when we deal with combatives.
- The student must trust that the instructor is giving the best information possible.
- Many people mistake the instructors best effort with the instructor being required to be right I disagree
- The instructor has the responsibility to commit to having the best information available to provide to their students
- The instructor must constantly seek to understand where they are wrong and improve the information that provide to their students
Instructors Undermine this Trust Based Relationships without Realizing it
- Stopping the quest for new knowledge
- Being afraid or too ego invested to admit error and introduce change
- Having do as I say, not as I do mentality
- Lying to their students
A look at two commonly used sets of firearm safety rules.
Cooper advocated four basic firearm safety rules:
- All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.
- Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.
1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
I’m just going to leave Rule number 1 alone for right now if you don’t mind. We will come back to it.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
This is a good place to start.
- We have to be careful with words like NEVER or ALWAYS.
- I don’t want a hole in my floor, yet, every morning when I holster my gun and every night when I unholster my gun I point it at the floor. My muzzle covers the floor.
- It is entirely possible that at times depending on the location of my feet in relation to my hips that I may cover my foot or a portion of my leg during the draw. I don’t want to destroy my appendages.
- I carry appendix. Think about where that muzzle is directed. Again, I don’t want to destroy my appendages….
- Am I wrong for carrying in the manner that I do?
- Think about a gun counter in a gun store. Many gun shops have the barrels of the guns inside the case pointing back behind the counter toward the legs of the clerk. Think about this rule. Does it work?
- You are in a basic pistol course at your local whatever… Throughout the entire class those pistols are pointed at SOMETHING! If this rule is true and shouldn’t be broken every instructor needs to be canned, including me.
- It is virtually impossible to follow this rule.
Paul – As I am getting closer to having my pistol permit, I am thinking about the general safety rules and how they apply to concealed carry. I have thought for awhile that there seem to be some very clear clashes that never come up in conversation. But some of these will probably seem obvious as well as ridiculous to someone who is used to carrying. It seems the rules are beat into us, but then overlooked when it comes to carrying, since they would really preclude carrying a hand gun. I am just curious what your thoughts are on this. Is it just a matter of benefits out weighing perceived risk, as with our general training?
Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Inevitably the muzzle of my concealed pistol will be pointing at something that I do not wish to destroy. Whether it is my own leg, or my four year old running up to me for a hug, or a co-worker as I climb up a step ladder, etc.
Unloaded until ready to use. Obviously an unloaded handgun doesn’t help us in self defense, but I also would not be considered a very safe gun owner to being strolling around my house with my AR slung over my shoulder and leaving it loaded and one in the chamber.
Anyways I am sure you get my point. I guess my goal in bringing this up is coming to terms with breaking some of these safety rules, in the name of ultimately being safer by carrying, and being honest with myself about the risks and benefits, etc.
- On the square range, all seems well with the last of the Cooper Rules.
- Keep in mind we want safety rules to be as universal as possible. This means that we want them to apply in the real world, in 360′ environments and under the stress of a Dynamic Critical Incident.
- The human brain does a wonderful job recognizing and focusing on threats that present themselves to us. This focus is both a physical focus where the body squares itself to the threat and the eyes collect data in the center of the field of vision and also a psychological focus where our mental energy is directed toward processing information about the threat.
- All of this information helps us to achieve the second part of the rule to positively identify the threat, but it makes the first part of the rule more difficult.
- If our physical and psychological attention is focused ON THE THREAT how can we be expected to be able to evaluate the back ground? Are there times when we may have the ability to do so? I say yes, but can we always do so? I think we would have to agree that the answer is no. Does this mean we shouldn’t shoot? I can’t answer that either. What I can say is that I will not teach my students to live and die by a wishy-washy rule.
- I don’t even know what to say to this kind of insanity.
- How am I supposed to clean a gun if it is loaded? Don’t get me wrong, I only clean unloaded guns. Wait, except there is no such thing. The manual says unload the gun before cleaning, so I remove the magazine and rack the slide. Now the gun is unloaded but I need to treat it as if it is loaded so it’s back to step one. How do you unload an unloaded loaded gun. I’m confused. Wait, I understand it, this is why no one ever cleans their guns!
- I need to admit some guilt here and I’m a bit worried about the fact that the statute of limitations hasn’t expired but here goes.
- Every time I fly I check my gun loaded.
- Totally illegal.
- But I don’t have any choice. See, all guns are always loaded. So, I break the law even though I take the bullets out, it is a loaded gun because the rule says so. Therefore, I am in violation of federal law. If there is a delay in future podcasts, you’ll know I’m doing hard time. Internet upload speed will probably be better on the inside anyway…
- So when we look at this rule we must ask ourselves where does the madness end?
- I like hamburgers, but we must agree that raw ground beef can be dangerous. Treat all hamburgers as if they are raw. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
“But I use the NRA Firearm Safety Rules,” you say
NRA Rules for Safe Gun Handling:
1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
In every one of the NRA Firearm Safety Rules you hear the word ALWAYS. It is in all capital letters. It is emphasized and it is absolute. Or is it. Let’s look at what the NRA calls #1
1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.
- Again always is an absolute so there is no negotiation on this.
- A portion of the description states: A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage.
- I have hard wood floors in my home. When I draw my gun from the holster it points at that floor. If the gun were to go off, it certainly would cause damage.
- If I choose the wall or the ceiling, drywall damage.
- The next part of the description states: Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances. Let’s play logic.
- There is safe and there is unsafe
- If we ALWAYS point guns in safe directions that means that we NEVER point guns in unsafe directions.
- If one direction is safest then other directions have a degree of unsafe.
- We never point a gun in an unsafe direction we only point it toward the safest direction.
- We are at the range the safest direction is at the backstop.
- Your gun is in the holster as you draw the gun, you are pointing it at the ground and breaking the rule.
- The rule gives us an absolute and the description tells us that the absolute changes based on circumstances and common sense. Which is it?
When holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.
- So, how do I disassemble a Glock?
- How do I function test a gun I just repaired?
- The absolute kills this rule!
Whenever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible, and, if the gun has a magazine, remove it before opening the action and looking into the chamber(s) which should be clear of ammunition. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.
- How do you define when a gun is in use? Especially when we are talking about a defensive firearm? A home defense gun could sit idle for months. Is it in use.
- I don’t want my students to train administrative function into their gun handling. The last thing I want is for a student to pick up a gun for defensive purposes and to check to see if it is loaded.
Although the Cooper Rules and the NRA Rules are intended to help improve gun safety I find that they develop confusion among students. We can’t give absolutes and then dismiss the exceptions that we make for ourselves and the exceptions that students will find them selves making when the operate a firearm. Our rules need to outline good safety practices and empower our students to make good decisions instead of instilling a rules are made to be broken attitude.
What firearm safety rules do I teach my students?
Keep your finger someplace other than the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- First off, it is a positive statement. It tells students what they should do always a good practice when you want to avoid a specific action.
- Second, there is no absolute, there is room for exceptions.
Keep the firearm pointed in a relatively safe direction.
- Again, positive
- Second, the word relatively empowers the student to make decisions about the specific scenario that they are in.
- Finally it acknowledges that it some circumstances we must make concessions if I must choose between pointing my gun at my child or my truck, the truck is relatively safe direction by a long shot.
Remember that you are in control of a deadly weapon which if used with malice or negligence can injure or kill you or someone else.
- This is all about safety as a concept as opposed to some arbitrary list of rules.
- I cannot cover every scenario in a set of rules, so your brain must be in gear.
A couple of important points to note:
- These rules are derived from I.C.E. Training.
- I began using these rules long before I was associated with I.C.E. in any way. They are that much better.
- These rules are not a numbered set. You could make an argument for why any one of these rules should be on the top of the list. For that reason, there is no order.
- Also, these rules are not independent. They work together and provide checks and balances for each other. Cooper and NRA rules do the same except the checks and balances are there for when you break a rule. With these rules they are in play all the time.
What do we gain from this conversation.
Me, I have a headache! Talking about the problems with most sets of firearm safety rules just wears me out.
- People are heavily invested in their beliefs and even though they break their own rules they swear by them.
- Hopefully if you are an instructor you look at what you are teaching and work to find the set of rules that gives your student a realistic framework to live by and at the same time builds the trust in you as an instructor.
- If you are an individual in Kelly’s shoes hopefully you will be able to transition to a set of rules that is more universal, honest and increases the safety of you and those that you love!