*Basic Firearms Safety*
As a boy with my first .22 in my hands, I was told that there is no such thing as an accidental discharge. That if you looked, you could go back and find the point in time where you made a decision that led to firing the weapon at an inappropriate time, in an inappropriate place or direction. To avoid just this sort of mishap, all that is required of us is to follow a few simple, easily remembered rules.
1. Every weapon is always loaded.
There is no such thing as a safe weapon. Whenever you hand someone a weapon, even one you KNOW is unloaded, clear it in front of them. Drop the magazine, rack the slide, do a visual and physical inspection of the chamber, (with your eyes then your finger) then hand it over with the muzzle facing skyward. Fully expect the person to whom you handed the weapon to clear it again, because you never can be too sure. You can apologize for hurt feelings or a misunderstanding, but there is no apology for a 230-grain jacketed hollow point. It can’t be taken back.
2. Keep your trigger finger straight and out of the trigger guard until you’re ready to fire.
This seems pretty simple, but how often do you see someone who is still setting their feet or getting their grip right on the butt of the weapon, but they’ve got their finger on the trigger the whole time? On the trap range, I see it quite a bit. Someone on the squad will shoulder a shotgun with his or her finger on the trigger prior to calling for the bird. I’m not that great of a trap shot, and even I know there’s plenty of time to get your finger in there once the bird appears. Why risk, at the very least, the embarrassment of firing a shot into the air in front of friends and strangers before you ever see the bird?
3. Never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
There is nothing funny about mock-threatening, poking or pointing at someone with a weapon, even one you know is unloaded (see rule number one). The District Attorney’s office calls it assault, and they don’t joke around a little bit. Even unconsciously letting your muzzle drift across another shooter can bring, at best, a stern warning and a few pointed comments regarding your common sense and your care for your shooting partners or teammates. The property lacking in the person guilty of such an offense is called muzzle awareness. If you’re always aware of just where your weapon is pointing, no matter what you’re doing, you’ll be in good shape. It takes practice and concentration to attain muzzle awareness, but your fellow shooters will thank you for it.
4. Be sure of your target and the background.
There was a case in the early 80’s of a licensed hunter on a large eastern military base who shot a jogging serviceman full in the chest with a load of #6 shot because he mistook the man’s gray T-shirt for a squirrel.
A snap shot at a moving object the right color, but surely not the right size, cost a man his life. When hunting or on an exercise, you should take even more care, because those around you are very likely to be dressed to blend into their surroundings. It’s far better to miss a target or give up a 10 point buck than to have to explain what happened to the police and a grieving spouse. Consider the location of roads, buildings, trails and other points of interest that could conceivably draw someone into your area of operations.
5. Never accept disregard for shooting safety by anyone.
Don’t hold back a reasonable request for someone to follow one of these rules because they’re older or more experienced or unknown to you. If they’re shooting in your area of operations, they’re responsible for your safety, and you have to be responsible for theirs. Calling someone’s attention to the fact that, every time they experience a stoppage of fire, they point their weapon down along the range is everyone’s duty who witnesses the act. Don’t stand idly by and watch yourself or another get hurt out of embarrassment or shyness.
I hope these rules are helpful. They’ve been drummed into me by my grandfather, father and uncles and later, marksmanship instructors in the military. These few short lessons, if incorporated into your actions whenever you’re armed or around others who are, will see you safely through your next training session, hunt or pop can shooting session. Semper Fi.
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