Safety, Shooting and Gun Ownership

By Bob Campbell published on in Concealed Carry, Safety and Training

Safety is the number one focus when using any firearm. There are too many preventable accidents and deaths caused by people who do not go to the range to practice or who mishandle their weapons at home. Make sure you, and your loved ones, are trained and understand the safety rules.

Thoughts on Safety

I am a man of many interests and try not to be single-minded. I look at every point of view and leave some things to those better qualified to comment. The NRA and Second Amendment Foundation best handle politics and the political-action front. After all, we have a two-party system, the Democrats and the Americans.

A young woman in a white t-shirt and pink shoots stands by her black target

This student is young and bright and enjoyed the basic NRA course.

I do not wish to venture into politics and readily acknowledge that some Democrats are very pro Second Amendment. I find that an open attitude often leads to a positive experience with those who are, as we say, gun people . However, there are some who are anti-gun. To you and I, that means anti-rights and anti-freedom, and rightly so. However, we need a perspective.

Some who seem anti-gun are simply terrified. They do not operate chainsaws, have a fear of flying and would be petrified of a six-speed transmission behind an LT 1 engine. That’s OK if they wish to live a circumscribed life, but I will be damned if they are going to limit my endeavors and enjoyment.

Recently, a particularly noxious person took me to task for my opinion on a recent accidental shooting. The accident was unfortunate, then again, so are vehicle accidents and drownings. Being familiar with the case, I avoided the first comment that came to mind. I simply asked, “What could be done to improve safety?”

Recently, I gave a talk about firearms safety at a corporate level, and it went well. There is always common ground. One attendee remarked that he did not keep a gun ready at home because of sleep walking. I nodded in agreement. I would not drive my Corvette if on pain medication and would lay the gun aside as well. The subject of children and firearms is common, and as an NRA-certified trainer, I have to issue a disclaimer—my opinion may not mirror that of the NRA, and the NRA is the final word on training and safety and has been for more than 100 years.

Gun Ownership

Young father in blue shirt and green ear protection teaches a little boy in a plaid shirt how to shoot the right way, with a wooded area in the background

Ryan Joseph gets his first shooting lesson from his dad, who is an author, a military intelligence officer and certified NRA instructor.

Gun ownership is a right—an important right. It is also a heavy responsibility.

We have to do our part for gun safety. I did my part with the presentation and believed it went well. You can do your part by following safety habits, setting a good example and encouraging everyone to properly store their firearms. Remember, it is not just the pro-gun and anti-gun people.

There are quite a few who straddle the fence. They may own guns for the same reason they have spare tires, although they could go either way when they vote. We need to make a positive influence on them; we must demonstrate that gun ownership is not dangerous to the community or ourselves.

The best means we have to win the public relations battle is being good examples. The training we receive often begins at home. My father was not a gun guy in the sense that I am. He owned a handgun or two, and he was a former Marine. He also owned a few nice pocket watches, a couple of silver dollars and an antique steam engine. The guns were tools and had only passing interest for him. That said, he taught me what he knew.

The first shot and the beginning of a lifetime of safe shooting.

This is the first shot and the beginning of a lifetime of safe shooting.

My grandfather was a hunter and outdoorsman and gave me a good start with invaluable lessons. He had a story for every form of bad gun handling. He was a careful gun handler and treated his houseful of guns with respect. He was much safer than the occasional gun handler. As time goes on, I see shooters tend to drift from that paradigm. They go about their shooting, and the children go about their interests.

My children have varied interests, and I always share the shooting sports with them as much as possible since children learn from their parents. In my case, I learned invaluable gun handling skills from W.R. Williams. Children are a responsibility, not a bother, and we should teach them safe gun handling.

The influence we have on our children cannot be overrated. As an example, my daughter is the least interested of my children in firearms, although she respects and understands their importance in the scheme of things. When she was about three, I had some photographs developed and got quite a surprise. I was doing a feature on the Colt Dragoon and the Bowie knife. In the edge of an otherwise very nice photo layout were her toes. She was very interested in what dad was doing.

I had the unloaded Walker and Bowie on a Western blanket on the porch and was standing on a ladder, shooting the images. It was the next image that told quite a story. While I was setting up, she had boosted my camera and took her own photo. There it was, perfectly framed and in good focus—a photo of her water pistol.

Never forget—they watch what we do and imitate us.

My grandfather initiated what I thought was a very good program. He taught me the safety rules, and the first time I was allowed to carry a rifle in the field while hunting, it was unloaded. And it remained unloaded. Now, the rule is all guns are always loaded, and we should treat them as if they are loaded.

I passed the indoctrination. Later, my own sons carried wooden training rifles before graduating to air rifles, and that program worked well. It takes time; a crash course in safety is never the best idea. Safety training is an ongoing, lifetime event.

SLRule

Man in light blue shirt and white ball cap teaches two young ladies how to handle a gun, with a wooded area in the background

Rev Caton is a great mind among the author’s friends and a credible instructor who does a fantastic job with young people. He has no (gun-related) paper on the wall and always uses common sense.

Safety training is not for the firing range. We teach and learn safety in a classroom environment, and staying safe must be second nature. Those who do not handle firearms safely are also the ones who misuse chainsaws and remove safety equipment from their lawnmowers. They should not handle a slingshot, much less a firearm. The rest of the population is trainable.

Let’s look at the safety rules and some examples of how they are broken.

Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

I am sick and tired of poor gun handling at gun shops. It is embarrassing. Frankly, I stopped going to one shop just because of that. If the salesman checks the gun to be certain it is not loaded before handing it to me, he has my respect. There are quite a few guns brought into the shop for sale or trade that are loaded; just ask the people working the gun shows. It is scary. Not long ago, an man and his wife were pointing a Ruger LCP at everyone in the vicinity in this shop. Sure, it had a tag on the trigger guard, but remember, all guns are always loaded.  The clerk just stood and watched. He pointed to me and said, “Bob teaches a concealed carry class.” I said, “I want to live too much. They don’t need to be in my class.” By the way, they were older people. This simple rule saves a lot of heartache.

Never let the muzzle cover anything you do not want to see destroyed.

This is muzzle discipline. It must apply evenly to both loaded and unloaded guns, although there is no real difference.

Keep your finger off the trigger.

Your finger must not be in register until you fire. Not when you think you will fire, or when you are ready to fire—when you fire. Humans are bilaterally symmetrical. We have two sides. If you are clearing a house and you trip or the non-dominant-side hand twitches, your strong-side hand will jerk in sympathetic contraction. As an example, this incident occurred a few years ago. During a raid by a well-trained team, the point man went in. The second man had a Glock in hand and his finger on the trigger. He stumbled and pressed the trigger. The .40 caliber bullet struck the point man in the back. While the man had armor, the shot dropped him to his knees, and he felt nothing below the point of impact for several hours.

You and I do not wear armor.

Keep your finger off the trigger.

Be certain of your backstop.

When dry firing in the house, triple check the firearm and be certain the point of aim will stop a bullet. It is best to only practice at an established range and not in a field or forest. I mention this because dry fire is an important component of marksmanship training. Ideally, it should be done on the range, although that does not always happen. For dry fire, the only way to do it safely is to triple check the firearm to be certain it is unloaded, and then carefully consider your backstop. A bookcase full of books and a brick wall are good backstops for a pistol.

Let me share a story with you. A police sergeant was stuck on desk duty on the graveyard shift. He was not quite at the age when he was glad to have the break from the street. He also fancied himself a good shot and had done well in competition. During a long, boring shift he unloaded his revolver, set the cartridges on the desk and dry fired at the row of lockers across the hallway. That was a safe practice because the lockers were metal and attached to a heavy wall leading to the basement. If the gun discharged, the bullet would strike the locker.

However, a misstep such as this could be a career-shattering upset. He repeated the process several times:

  1. Unloaded the .38.
  2. Dry fired.
  3. Reloaded.
  4. Holstered the revolver.

You know the rest of the story. He drew the gun, sleepily, dry fired and shot a locker. And not just any locker, but the lieutenant’s locker. So, the sergeant, one of the best guys anyone has ever worked with, called in a rookie who has been on the force for less than three weeks. He will remain nameless.

The rookie found the ashen-faced sergeant, who roped him into the plan. The locker door was bent badly, and the old RNL slug also penetrated the sleeve of a winter coat. No matter, it was summer time. There were unused lockers toward the rear, and in no time at all, they changed the doors, and all was right in the world. We, I mean they, did not bother with locks—no need.

Now, that was not the ideal course. The sergeant was the salt of the earth and so was the lieutenant, but the sergeant was already in a jam for chasing a suspect into a parking garage, wiping the lights off of a Chevy paddy wagon. The rookie? Well, the code of the blue and all that. He reasoned it was better to preserve the old guy’s sanity than have him own up to shooting the boss’ jacket. Besides, he was the sergeant, and he was just a rookie. Bottom line, such things destroy careers and can be deadly.

SLRule

Heres is another case in point about trigger discipline, involving the same lieutenant. He was a tall man, a tough cop, great officer and a man among men. I cannot state that more strongly because the closest he came to being shot was by his own men. As I previously shared, one plugged his jacket. Another almost plugged him.

At the time, the bane of the town were liquor store robbers. They would run into the store, rob and leave. Within a few hundred yards they would be in a neighborhood that shielded them. And I mean hid them out. Some were violent, and quite a few clerks were hurt and a number killed, but some robbers were killed, too. In response, we formed the shotgun squad. Cops did not usually do a walk-through of liquor stores because we did not want the car parked in front of the store. On one occasion, the robber ran the wrong way, toward a college campus, and the chase was on. The armed robber ran in and out of a wooded area that contained a dry wash on one side and creek on the other. The boys grabbed the shotguns out of the trunk. The lieutenant and the robber exchanged shots at one time. About that time, the captain, a man of much experience, was on the scene. He yelled, “Boys, watch those shotguns!” The rookie—the same one who starred in the earlier drama—thought, “What the hell is he saying watch those shotguns; we are after an armed robber!” The robber ran up a hill, and the lieutenant went hell bent for leather after him. Another officer, a very experienced cop, followed with a shotgun.

The lieutenant scrambled hard. As they neared the crest of the hill, the shotgun discharged, shooting off the lieutenants’ hat. He collapsed head first in the mud. All of the men surrounded him. He groaned and rose, placing his hand, bloody from the climb, on the back of his head. It came away bloody. “How bad is it?” The man holding the smoking shotgun replied, “Looks pretty bad.”

The charge had missed the lieutenant’s head but destroyed his hat. The bad guy got away. The cop who shot the lieutenant’s hat off took two day’s sick leave, and the lieutenant was at work the next day. A good man almost was killed by another good man because of poor trigger discipline.

Do not climb with a loaded gun, and for God’s sake, keep your finger off the trigger.

SLRule

So, I have one more case to share; this one illustrates muzzle discipline.

A few years ago, I was performing a test program of service pistols. The handgun was loaded, and the decock lever actuated. All worked well during the first session. After 100 rounds, I decocked the pistol, and it fired. I thought perhaps I had caught my finger in the trigger guard—although I had never done that before. I decocked again, and it fired again. Whoa! I have never experienced that in the past. Immediately, the gun went to the shop. What happened to the HK USP was that a sliver of brass-metal shaving had prevented the firing pin block from functioning properly. Always keep the muzzle in a safe direction when you decock a piece.

On another occasion, I was firing an AK-47-type rifle at the range when I loaded a magazine, racked the bolt and the rifle fired. The cause was the firing pin stuck forward. When the bolt ran forward, the rifle fired. It was startling, although not truly dangerous, because the bullet struck the ground.

There are very few true accidental discharges; most are caused by negligence. I believe that discharge, caused by a mechanical problem, was a true accident. Had the gun discharged due to that mechanical defect and struck an innocent person, I would have been negligent, period. On another occasion, I had the same type of malfunction with an ancient Astra 400 pistol.

Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

SLRule

A child should be brought up with safety. There are good examples in every discipline. As an example, when my daughter was young, I obtained a cute little knife from Finland known as the Little Girl’s Knife. It was carried in a doeskin sheath with a sprig of rabbit fur on it and was plenty sharp enough to do kitchen chores. It is the traditional Finnish first knife. She learned well and did not cut herself.

By the same token, an axe and a hatchet are indispensable tools that must be learned. If you wait until a child is a teenager and try to teach them safety, you will have a helluva time. The learning of safety is incremental. Driving, using tools, using a knife, a chainsaw or changing a tire can be dangerous if not done properly.

Get with the program, start young and raise self-sustaining citizens. Good safety is everyone’s responsibility, and not just gun safety.

New Shooter Concerns

Another area of concern is new shooters. Remember, the self-taught sometimes develop terrible habits. A tabula resa with no proper training may be taught. Those who have done well in school and have good study and listening skills do well. The best means of starting them off is with an inoffensive .22 rimfire firearm. Unless they must be trained right now with a defensive firearm for a pressing reason, a light recoiling and good handling .22 is the only choice. Make the shooting sports fun.

A brown handled, black barreled .22, pointed to the right, on a light gray plank backdrop

An excellent gun for that first shot is a Ruger .22.

Use the proper hearing and eye protection and always observe safety rules. A pet peeve of mine is the inadequate personality type that seems to get a thrill from allowing some interested young person to have their first experience firing a gun with a .44 Magnum or 12-gauge shotgun. The recoil hurts, the kid may be knocked down and likely will not be enthusiastic about the shooting sports. In my experience, those jerks cannot shoot straight themselves, and their behavior is beneath contempt. It is not amusing.

The first shot can be a daunting experience. On the other hand, a few years ago, my friend Fred and I took his girls and wife to the range for a training session. They began with .22 rifles and .22 revolvers. I was carrying my Commander .45, so Fred gave it a try and liked it. His teenager is an accomplished pianist and a bright young lady. She wanted to try a centerfire, and the Commander was on hand. I had schooled her in the proper technique. I even loaded the Commander with a single round, no magazine, and told her if it kicked too much to hand it to me. Well, I should have brought more ammunition. That youngster grooved into the Colt .45 automatic and remarked that, while it kicked more than the .22, with proper technique it was controllable. She has a good attitude. I would have hated to see her enthusiasm dimmed by a bad shooting experience.

Safety Is Important

There s nothing more important than personal safety. Do not let anything come between you and safety, and be vocal when pointing out errors. By the same token, offer a safe and sane example for young shooters; make the shooting experience fun and safe.

What kind of training have you or your children had? Share in the comments section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (1)

  • Devilrider

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    As a veteran, I always feel comfortable in handling firearms. However, I always learn something when reading an article such as this. Very good.

    Reply

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