Gun Safety Rules – The rest of the story

By Susan Callaway (AKA MamaLiberty)

Those who hate and fear guns, wanting to disarm everyone, seem to ignore the fact that most people who own and use guns are seriously committed to the basic safety rules outlined below. All of these, and more, are diligently taught in every sort of firearms training and reinforced through peer pressure in every situation where responsible gun owners meet.  Even though no clear statistics are available to point to, it would appear that the greatest number of “accidental” discharges of a gun occur at the hands of Police and a few others who violate these basic rules.  In both cases it is a matter of negligence, arrogance and stupidity, not lack of information. With something like 100 million gun owners, and possibly 400 million guns in circulation, the vanishingly small number of such “accidents” is further proof that gun owners in general do care very much about safety.

As with any set of rules, there is a body of rationale standing behind them, and it is very helpful to explore this, especially with people who are new to shooting. I present this section to every handgun and self defense class, and it spurs a great deal of deeper thinking and understanding of these rules.

1.Trigger control. We all know the rule: Keep your finger off the trigger (and straight along the frame) until you are on target and ready to shoot. This is obviously important, but there is more to it than often meets the eye. Your body operates a great deal on instinct and hard wired reflexes, especially when you are under stress. The three that relate to trigger control are:

  • Startle reflex. When you are startled, whatever you have in your hands at the time will be grasped more tightly. This, of course, involves flexing of the fingers. You can see, then, that if your finger is inside the trigger guard or actually on the trigger, the tendency will be to pull the trigger as the finger flexes!
  • Trip reflex The same physical reflex occurs if you are walking along and trip or miss your footing somehow. Your natural and logical reflex will be to grasp whatever you are holding tighter in order not to drop it. If you have your finger on the trigger, you will most likely pull it.
  • Grasp reflex This one is a bit different. If you are holding something in one hand and reach to grasp something else with the other, you are most apt to grasp with both hands! This may be overcome with extensive training, perhaps, but most people will not be able to avoid it under stress.

To demonstrate, pick up a squirt gun (or other simulator). Stand and face the “safe” wall, then place your finger in the trigger as you aim at the wall. Have someone tap you forcefully on the back or bump you unexpectedly. Notice the reaction in your hands. You MAY be able to overcome the tendency here and now because you are not under any stress, but it will require a serious act of will. Please believe me that you probably will not be able to do so if you are in an emergency situation. Again, pick up the simulator gun. Stand and face the table. Put your finger on the trigger. Now reach out with the other hand and pick up a pencil or turn a door knob. Notice the tendency to pull on the trigger. You can probably inhibit that reflex now, but under the stress of an attack, you will not even think about it. Imagine that you turn a doorknob and shoot someone standing on the other side!

Why is it so important to follow this rule all the time, even when you “know” that the gun is unloaded? Because it must become an inflexible habit – muscle memory – something you do not need to think about. In any case, the reflex is another good reason to keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to actually shoot.

2. Muzzle Control. Don’t point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. In other words, always point the gun in a safe direction.

But what exactly IS a safe direction? You can take for granted that most bullets will penetrate the average internal walls and floors of most homes. They will all go through glass and many other things. That’s what they were designed to do! Some projectiles do go farther, faster and will penetrate more, but for the purpose of discussing the safety rule, the difference is not really relevant.

So, what is a safe direction? You must consider what is around you, and what may be on the other side of walls, doors and windows even if your gun is unloaded and you do not intend to shoot. The reason for this is not that you fear shooting someone with an unloaded gun, but because you will be handling LOADED guns as well and the better you ingrain the habit of considering what is around and beyond you, the safer everyone will be. It must become a part of muscle memory.

It is not always going to be possible to know for certain there is a safe direction, but if you are always aware of it and keep thinking about it, you will reduce the chances of harming anyone if you should be so unlucky as to have a negligent discharge.

Remember, there is NO SUCH THING as an “accidental discharge” unless the gun malfunctions. You are always responsible for every single bullet that fires from your gun. Every bullet fired has to go somewhere. It WILL hit something. You are responsible for what it hits. If you have followed the rules, even a discharge from a malfunction would not harm anyone.

Here are some things to consider. Think of what might be hit in every direction.

  • Walls – What are they made of? How thick? What might be on the other side of them? Remember that ANY bullet will probably go through most common walls, regardless of caliber or distance within a home.
  • Ceiling or “up.” What is above you? If it is the roof, it “might” be a safe direction in that particular place, but it would not be everywhere. If you are outdoors, remember that anything that goes up must come down somewhere. You can’t really predict where it will come down or what might be under it when it does. You simply must think of this when you are handling the gun, as well as when you are shooting.
  • Floor or “down.” What is the floor made of? If it is concrete, a bullet might bounce/ricochet and hit you or someone, something else. If you are on a second floor, there might be people or other objects downstairs that would be harmed or damaged. Don’t shoot into water or at ice. It is almost impossible to predict where the bullet will go because it may well bounce instead of penetrate.

Is it really safe to point at a refrigerator or heavy furniture? The wood stove or gas range? They might stop a bullet, but they might be damaged to the point where they represented a danger of their own! This is important to consider because these objects might need to be used as cover in the event of an attack. You wouldn’t want to try using a propane tank as cover if you had another choice, I suspect.

Never point a gun at a human being or other living creature – unless you intend to shoot them. Know your target and what is beyond it. Even at the gun club, the only way to avoid shooting at someone or something unintentionally is to LOOK for yourself, verify your target, making an informed decision each time. And this applies to “plinking” as much as it does to serious competition.

Remember: Every bullet fired hits SOMETHING. Each one of them has YOUR NAME on it. The bottom line is to be aware, think about it, and understand the variables before you are under the stress of an attack.

3. All Guns are Loaded. Handle all guns as if LOADED at all times. The most common excuse after a negligent discharge, especially one where actual harm is done, is the very lame phrase, “I thought the gun was unloaded.”

Courtesy and safety protocol require that you never give or take possession of a gun that is loaded. You must unload it carefully, show that the action is open and empty, then hand the gun to another while maintaining both trigger and muzzle control.

When you accept a gun from someone else, or pick it up from a table, etc., examine even an open action and see for yourself that it is unloaded. Some folks go so far as to insert a finger into the action, just because. Do be careful if the gun has recently been fired, of course. They get HOT.

When you decide to clean or work on a gun, or practice dry fire, you need to verify that the gun is unloaded first – and EACH time you pick it up after that!! In dry fire, it is wise to recheck the action before each exercise even during a session.

When you are done cleaning, repairing or dry firing, it is important to mentally run thought some sort of change of gears, telling yourself carefully that this exercise is done and that the gun is going to be reloaded. Then reload and holster or put it away. Many negligent discharges happen before and after such activities because people are not CLEAR about what they are doing. If you have practiced good muzzle and trigger control at the same time, you will be far less likely to have a serious problem from any mistakes.

As always, your feedback is most welcome.

[Mama's Note: This article was originally published at Jews For The Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO).

The book, "Dial 911 and Die" is available at the JPFO website, along with many other books, videos and other items to help you promote rational risk management with appropriate tools.

Bookmark JPFO, if you have not already. And consider joining me in becoming a member. ]

About MamaLiberty

As a lifelong individualist and voluntarist, my philosophy can best be summarized here: No human being has the right -- under any circumstances -- to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation. Self defense, and the defense of others, is a basic right of all living creatures. After a long career as a registered nurse in So. Calif, I retired in 2005 to NE Wyoming, living alone in my own log home, with good friends and neighbors all around. Biological family includes two grown sons and five grandchildren, unfortunately still in California. In addition to writing and editing, I garden, sew, cook and bake my own bread from home ground wheat and other grains. Hobbies include identification and cultivation of wild food and herbs. I am also a certified instructor for firearms and self defense. I carry a gun at all times.
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3 Responses to Gun Safety Rules – The rest of the story

  1. Excellent as always, ML. It’s amazing how much some people can at once grossly overcomplicate and also trivialize gun safety. What you’ve written here is essentially the same Four Rules I first learned from Jeff Cooper long ago, which really do cover all the bases, and you have touched on some very resonant “reasons why” in your narrative.

    If I were to add anything, I’d say that I’ve had a lot of good luck implanting noobs with the proper attitude from the beginning by making this singular observation: Your devotion to these rules isn’t for a clear, sunny day at the range when you’re refreshed, hydrated, fed, confident and in the zone on flat ground. These rules will save you when you’re exhausted, surprised, confused, scared witless, in the rain and dark, stumbling on uneven ground, rushed for time and with your mind completely preoccupied with something else.

    Also, there are so many nuggets in this Clint Smith segment that are useful. The one that resonates the most with me is his comment “It’s a lifestyle change.” Pretty good use of dark humor, too, to make the point.

    • MamaLiberty says:

      Don’t need to add it, Kevin. Did you miss where I wrote over and over again about stress conditions? :) Human beings are fallible, easily distracted, highly excitable creatures, and “muscle memory” for important things like this is our best defense.

      But what I didn’t address, and should, is how dangerous it is to become complacent, to trust your “muscle memory” to the point of NOT thinking about it enough. A few times, as CRSO, I’ve had to call out some very experienced shooters for moderate to serious lapses. They are always astonished, and often unbelieving, but others on the firing line have backed me up. We can never stop training in safety.

  2. Pingback: Gun safety rules — the rest of the story | Pro 2nd Amendment Boycott – P2AB

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