By: Shawn Whittington, Senior Instructor
Due to several recent news reports involving deaths caused by negligent firearm discharges, I wanted to discuss firearms safety.
April 4, Ware County GA: a ten year old girl is shot and killed by her younger brother while handling a shotgun. April 4, Lincoln NE: a 21 year old Army Veteran is shot and killed by his friend with a handgun purchased only hours before the incident.
The following are firearms safety handling RULES, not suggestions or guidelines. There are certainly more than I will list here, but these are the ones you cannot compromise on. These are rules that, if followed, will keep you from hurting yourself or anyone else.
The Rules of Firearms Safety
#1 Keep your weapon pointed in a safe direction
What direction is that? It is going to depend on where you are and what you are doing. They won’t always be up, down, straight ahead, left or right. It means not at yourself or anyone else. If you’re “muzzling” or “flagging” people, cars, structures or property, you and those around you are at risk.
#2 Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
Having worked at a public range for over a decade, this is the single most violated safety rule I have observed. It is a negligent discharge waiting to happen. There are a number of unconscious reflexes that can cause you to involuntarily clench your hand. Being startled and losing your balance are just two.
If your finger is on the trigger of your weapon when this happens, you will fire it. And if you have ignored Rule #1 you or someone else will pay the price. Every time you touch a firearm you must be conscious of where your trigger finger is and what it is doing. When shooting any firearm, your finger doesn’t go to the trigger until ready to fire. As soon as you come off target, your finger comes off and goes away from the trigger. No exceptions.
#3 Treat all firearms as if they are loaded
Never assume a firearm is loaded or unloaded. Always check and verify. Every time you touch a firearm, check its condition. It doesn’t matter how many times it was checked before it ends up in your hands, you must check it again. How do we verify if a firearm is unloaded and safe? There is only one way: remove the magazine if it a semi auto and open the action and look in the chamber to verify it’s empty. Do not rely on loaded chamber indicators alone, since they are mechanical devices that can fail.
#4 Secure all firearms so they aren’t accessible by unauthorized persons
Children should not have access to any firearm. Neither should adults who are not familiar with safe gun handling rules. Modern electronic gun vaults are affordable and reliable. Balancing security and accessibility has become quite easy.
Deaths resulting from the negligent discharge of a firearm are preventable and generally caused by one of two things, ignorance or carelessness. The aforementioned incidents were likely an example of each. The incident involving children was likely due to ignorance, while the other involving adults, with at least one having military training, was probably carelessness.
No one reading this will be able to claim ignorance as an excuse. If you are interested in learning and honing the knowledge and skills needed to operate a firearm safely, get the training. Our four-hour Intro to Handgun class is the perfect place to start.