On Feb 25, a 12 year old girl was shot at an Idaho gun range. According to the reports, she was there with her family as also were the Idaho III% Militia, who were training that day. One militia man, trying to clear a malfunction, accidentally shot her with his 9mm handgun. A range safety officer said that “obviously, something went wrong”. Duh.
The bullet ricocheted off of a steel table and hit the girl. One quick word about bullet ricochets. It’s not like billiards. The bullet, when hitting a smooth surface like pavement, a hard table top, or even water, will skip up an inch or two and continue on IN A STRAIGHT LINE until it is stopped by something or someone.
Something indeed went wrong – THREE things went wrong. Let’s revisit the rules.
1st. Don’t point the muzzle of the gun at anything you don’t want to destroy or kill.
2nd. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you’ve acquired your target and are ready to shoot.
3rd. Keep the gun unloaded until you’re ready to use it.
I was initially trained in safe firearms handling by the Heartland Training Team. One of the graphics they used was the figure of a triangle to represent these rules. I’ll reproduce it here.
If any leg is separated from the rest, you don’t have a triangle, nor will you have an accidental shooting. Connect all three, and, well, you might just need a lawyer or at least an insurance agent.
Look at the muzzle of your gun. Not like that. I meant, notice the direction in which the muzzle of your gun is pointed when you hold it.
Imagine a laser beam coming out of the muzzle. (For those space cowboys who really do have laser beams on their gun, use that.) What will the bullet hit when the trigger is pressed? Remember, a bullet will travel over a mile unless it hits something. What is the something along that beam that it will hit? Who is the someone along that beam that it will hit?
Now look at the trigger. Not that trigger.
It’s not an autopilot switch; it’s a trigger. Guns don’t just “go off”. I have a marvelous collection of news articles where the writer says that the gun “just went off”. They don’t. You, or your clothing, or something, has to press the trigger to the rear.
Finally, is the gun loaded? And here’s the catch – self defense guns MUST be loaded, or they are not ready to use. In fact if you’re in the habit of carrying a semi-auto gun without a cartridge in the chamber, you’re carrying an unloaded gun. Although ammunition is close by (in the magazine), the gun is unloaded, and not ready for self-defense. But if you’re not carrying it for self-defense, KEEP IT UNLOADED, until you are ready to use it.
Let’s put all this together. When you practice at home, sometimes called dry-firing, make sure there is NO ammunition in the room, and notice where the muzzle is pointed. Will your neighbor get an unwanted surprise if you make a mistake? Is your dog at risk? A loaded book case makes a decent backstop for home practice.
When you’re at a public or private shooting range, do you place the gun on the table with the cylinder open, or the slide locked back and the magazine out when someone is down range checking targets? When you are not shooting, but handling the gun, loading or clearing malfunctions, where is it pointed? Are you facing the target? If so, then your gun is likely pointed to your left or right at someone. Blade your body toward the target so that your gun is pointed in a safe direction. AND KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF OF THE TRIGGER!
Remember, take away any leg from the triangle, and you increase your safety. Two or more legs, and you’re really a Safety Joe.
Finally, speak up for firearm safety. If you see someone handling a gun in an unsafe manner, no matter who it is, or where you are – SAY SOMETHING!
Last year, because we had moved from Ohio, I had to take another concealed carry course in order to get a Kentucky permit. The class was unsafe. Despite the clear prohibition against ammunition in the classroom written in the state manual, the gun table, where all the handguns lay, was littered with ammo for those guns. And at the breaks, all the students gathered around the table handling their guns and handing them around. The instructor was carrying two loaded handguns, and used them for demonstrations.
And the coup de grace was on the range. While the instructor was busy with 4 shooters at a time on the firing line, the balance of the class gathered in the ready area fooling with their guns. In fact, one older lady began loading her revolver. Enough was enough. “STOP!” I said to her. “You can’t load a handgun behind the line, you shouldn’t even be holding it!”
She said, “I’m not pointing it at them” and continued to load. I continued to protest, and finally, her daughter stepped in and said, “Just wait, mom, we can load up there”. (If I ever take a class from that instructor again, I’m wearing my level IIIA vest. I’d like to come home safely.)
I should have spoken up all day. But I, like you, just hate to make waves. However, if your safety or the safety of others is at risk – MAKE WAVES! By all means, make waves.
In my collection of articles about unintended discharges, there are stories which range from merely embarrassing mistakes to deadly mistakes. Don’t be that guy. Firearms are wonderful tools – THE tool of freedom. Use them to protect yourself and those you love. Use them for recreation and sport. But always – First, Safety.