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Firearms Instructor War Stories: Gun Safety & New Shooters



There are war stories, and then there are gun-instructor war stories. Buckle up.

With the surge of new gun owners out there, it’s important to circulate as much information regarding safety as possible. If you spend enough time around guns you are bound to find yourself in a situation that is not the ideal model of safe gun handling. New shooters don’t know what they’re doing wrong yet, while more experienced ones have become too complacent with firearms. Let’s take a look at some of the things that happen (and won’t happen) when we encounter such individuals. Hopefully, a “war story” or two will raise a little awareness in this piece.

Doing most of my shooting and a good portion of my training on public ranges, I have looked down my fair share of muzzles. In time you develop a sense of what to watch for and you start to notice unsafe muzzle movements before they make the full 90-degree wave down the line. For those of you familiar with the NRA’s 3 rules to safe firearms handling,  you will recognize this as the golden rule of gun safety “Always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.” The key word is ALWAYS.

Most of us have no problem keeping the muzzle downrange when we’re in the process of firing a shot. The target’s downrange and we want to hit it. No, most offenders of the golden rule generally break it during average handling and manipulation of the firearm. I’ve noticed rifle shooters tend to “flag the line” while casing and uncasing their long guns. Conversely, pistol shooters are known to have a mishap with muzzle control when it’s time to lock the slide back. While we’re on the topic of pistol shooters let’s remember that muzzle control has two components. The first component is making sure you don’t point the gun at anybody else. The second is making sure that you don’t put any part of yourself in front of the muzzle!

My first statement to a new shooter is this: “Firearms can be rolled around their line of bore 360 degrees safely. This gives you access to every square inch of it without having to take the muzzle off of target.” To drive it home I do a full field strip and reassembly of an M1 Garand without the sights leaving the berm. If you find yourself with someone who really doesn’t get it, have them imagine that it’s a flame thrower… You wouldn’t point that at the rest of us, would you?

If you spend enough time around public ranges eventually your hearing with adapt to hear critical phrases. Today, no matter how loud the range, no matter how busy, I can always hear “relax dude, it’s unloaded” in crystal clear clarity. Friends, learn to identify this behavior and always intervene, the life you save may be your own. Mark my words: There will come a time in every shooter’s career where they will pick up a gun they weren’t expecting to be loaded AND IT WILL BE! I have a story to illustrate most of my scenarios.

My famous story comes from the time when I visited a certain big-box outdoors store. This particular store keeps their guns out on the showroom, which is nice for when you want to see a few different guns and don’t feel like bothering the guy behind the counter for an hour. This would be a solid idea except that this same store keeps ammo the next aisle over. After picking up a nice-looking used hunting rifle, I opened the action (as all of us always should) and what do you know…. a shiny fresh cartridge plopped out. If somebody with poor trigger discipline picked that up before me the story may have ended in catastrophe.

My second illustration is an instance after a class. I had a fellow instructor “help” case up the rifles. Before packing the car I noticed that one was cased upside down, putting undue stress on the optic. All I had to do was flip it over and zip the case back up, however, by habit I opened the action and what do you know? LOADED!

I took the next three actions in these steps:

  1. I finished unloading the gun.
  2.  I fired the instructor.
  3. I called their credentialing association and reported the incident.

Rule number two kept these scenarios from ending in tragedy. This rule is simple, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Take notice next time you are at a gun store, how many people have their finger on the trigger? What if these guys picked up a mistakenly loaded gun? What if it was pointing in your direction? Maybe it’s just best to assume it’s loaded at all times, no?

Moving along, rule number three is equally simple, “Always keep your gun unloaded until you are ready to shoot.”

Now given that “ready to shoot” can mean something different in every scenario, allow me to elaborate. At a static target range, we are only ready to shoot after our target is hung, our eyes and ears are on, and the range officer has called the line hot. Any time you put your firearm down you want to make sure it is free of ammo, even if it’s just to take a short break or adjust something. Loading a hunting rifle shouldn’t happen until you are in the woods (no need to load it in the cabin), and once loaded it should remain in your hands or on your shoulder via a sling. As for your defensive firearm, well, it needs to be ready to shoot 24-7, but that isn’t an excuse to leave a loaded gun sitting around your house. If you look close enough all of the preceding examples have one thing in common: When they are loaded they are 100 percent under the users’ control. So once you load your defensive firearm it should immediately be holstered or locked in an isolated quick-access safe.

So as you can see it doesn’t take much to be safe with your guns. In a typical course, I cover everything you just read in about eight minutes, and it is seldom misunderstood. Let’s welcome the newbies to the world of gun ownership and provide them with some gentle education. Should you notice an infraction I urge you to always take some time to inform them of what they are doing wrong.


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