This past weekend, I had the honor of working with a new shooter. At the tender age of 26, he showed an interest, and asked to 'shoot some of my guns'. Moments like that are to be approached with some planning and forethought, and the days events began in... of all places... the living room. There, some basic rules were discussed.
There is a quote that lives because of the internet; A Russian, hearing someone say some situation involving a firearm was unsafe, is reported as saying "Is gun! Is not safe!".
Now, I haven't managed to track down the source of that quote, and I'm not going to invest much time in doing so... because I agree with the sentiment with all my heart.
Is gun! Is not safe!
Speaking with Todd Jarrett about gun safety, he makes no bones about it. Things happen, and if someone shoots long enough they will get hurt, in some way, eventually. It's nearly as dangerous as walking down a city sidewalk. The thing is, sidewalks seldom kill or maim people, but weapons can.
Firearms are designed to spit small pieces of metal out at very high speeds indeed. All the philosophy and history aside, the sheer physics of how a firearm works means they are dangerous. The same can be said for many things in our lives. Knives, cars, power tools, medicines, and even the thirty foot deep well pit I stared into last night.... all these are useful, and dangerous. Dangerous... if mistreated or mishandled.
To make the dangerous things in our lives a little safer, and a lot more useful, we have rules we follow in dealing with them. For shooters, Jeff Cooper gave only four rules. Following them at all times when handling firearms limits the odds of a tragic incident to an acceptable level. Firearms will never be 'safe', not as long as physics rule the universe, but the risk can be mitigated and controlled.
Jeff Cooper's four rules:
- All guns are always loaded!
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy!
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target!
- Always be sure of your target!
There is value to breaking these rules down and examining them. The rules by themselves are life savers, but a deeper understanding helps make them work.
1) All guns are always loaded! What this means is every firearm should be treated as if loaded, giving every consideration to where the muzzle is pointed and that it might go off at any moment. There are very few shooters indeed who have not had a surprise 'bang' at one time or another. In my lifetime of shooting, I have had five 'unexpected discharges'. Because I followed the rules, none of those incidents was even close to being tragic.
Now.... allowances must be made. In order to work on and service a weapon, there are times when the muzzle is going to cover someone, or we will need to literally look right down that hole ourselves. To make that safe, gunnies develop the habit of opening the action of every weapon they touch, looking in the chamber, sticking their little finger in the empty hole, removing the magazine, etc. It may seem extreme, but it's smart... and is generally accepted as a hallmark of an experienced and safe gun handler.
2) Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy! 'Cover' is an older way of saying 'point the bangie end at', and can be looked at that way. It means exactly what it says... don't point the bullet spitting end of the weapon at anything or anybody you are not willing to put a killing hole in. Period. End of discussion. Got it? Good! Now stop pointing that pistol at me, and yes, I know you just checked the chamber. Point it someplace else before I take it way from you.
3) Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target! Again, it means what it says. Firearms are designed to do things. If they are working correctly, the way to make one go bang is to pull back that little lever under your pointer finger. If your finger is not touching the lever, they almost never go bang.
This is not to say that unexpected things don't happen, and firearms sometimes do go 'bang' for unexpected reasons. They do... it happens... because they are machines designed by humans and humans are fallible. That said, if the four rules are followed every single time, an accidental or negligent discharge is far less likely to hurt anyone.
4) Always be sure of your target! This one is not so simple. The best way to explain the rule is this; The shooter is responsible for the entire flight of the bullet, and it's final resting place. Once the projectile has left the barrel, there is no calling it back, so the shooter should know exactly where it will end up and everything it might hit in between.
What is the final backstop? Is there one you are sure of? The point is... if the shooter is not sure exactly where the bullet will rest after it's flight, then the shooter really can't say where it will end up. That is bad.... because 'someplace over that way' can so easily turn into 'someone over there'.
Now, trap shooters firing out over a large field can rest assured their shot will fall to the ground with relative safety after traveling a few hundred yards. Range shooters generally have a heavy dirt berm to shoot into, making the event a fairly sure thing. Field shooters? Not so easy... and not to be taken lightly. A stand of tree's cannot be trusted to stop a bullet, as chance takes too heavy a hand. A large body of water might suit, if there is no chance a boater might wander into the area. No... best is to see exactly the spot the bullet come to rest, and do so before ever touching the trigger.
Follow the four rules. When handling a firearm... live by these rules till they are ingrained habit. Complacency is the enemy of experienced shooters, and smart gunnies review these rules on a regular basis, and thank anyone who points out an error on their part.