As a kid, I had a fascination with snakes. When I realized they were poisonous and could kill you, my fascination turned to fear. Over the years that fear has turned into respect and awe. I was afraid of fighting as well, so I learned to play football and later became a cop. I would not take any of that back as I review my younger years. To fear something that can hurt or kill you is healthy—to a point: fear without resolution will make you a timid and fearful person—it is not healthy to live your life in fear.
In my home growing up, guns were always loaded and my father both trusted and showed us what guns could do. He taught us respect for him and firearms both. Young children, especially little boys, curiosity can get the better of them. I wanted my sons to have a healthy respect for firearms. I did not want them growing up saying the victim mantra, “guns scare me.”
I remember the first gun lesson with my boys. I set a watermelon in a Black Walnut tree and with my wide-eyed sons standing safely behind me I unloaded three-inch 00 buck into it. Their eyes grew wider. Nothing like a watermelon to create a mental picture. I offered them both a chance to try it and they declined. Respect, and a bit of healthy fear, had been instilled. Afterward we sat down and talked about how guns were not like what you see on TV, in movies or in video games.
I needed an analogy that would stick in their little brains. We loved to watch Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Next to sharks, snakes fascinated my sons—must be a little boy thing. At the time Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter was very popular. We would reel in alarm as he would handle some of the deadliest snakes in the world by the tail, yet he never got bit. My analogy came to me.
Some things just scream DON’T PLAY WITH ME
I began telling them that I disagreed with the way Steve Irwin handled snakes, crocodiles and other wild animals. As I saw it, he was well trained and knowledgeable about snakes and reptiles but he played with them for the sake of good television. I told them that one day, very sadly, we would hear of his death by one of the creatures he loved—he took chances. The dealer of that card took us all by surprise. Nonetheless, he got slightly out of his element, lost focus, and it cost him his life.
I remember telling my sons that somethings are not bad in and of themselves. Rather it is how we interact with those things that makes them so. Some things just say DON’T PLAY WITH ME. While it may be necessary to interact dangerous things, you should not fear but respect them.
I related to my sons that handling a gun was much like those individuals who handle snakes for a living. Not the ones who do it for show, but the individuals who do it to extract—milk—venom that save lives every day. I believe those individuals have three very important rules, possibly more. What are the three rules? The three I observed worked for explaining gun safety to my children and those I teach today.
Those three are:
- Be careful
- Be consistent
- Stay focused
Careful is the opposite of careless. To be careless is to not take care or to be indifferent or unconcerned. To be careful is to be marked by painstaking effort to avoid errors and to show caution or prudence.
Know where the head of the snake is at all times. Likewise, know where the muzzle of the gun is at all times for that is the end that can kill—the end that bites. You would never point the head of a cobra towards yourself or others, why would you do that with a gun?
Just like a snake, know where and when to touch a gun. There are places on a gun that your hand or, better yet, your fingers should never go near at certain times—mainly the trigger. The gun, like the snake, must be in the right position and under complete control before you touch the trigger. Otherwise, keep all hands and fingers away.
All poisonous snakes and all guns are always loaded. Yes, snakes have been known to have dry bites, bites that lack venom, and guns can be without cartridges. But once the fangs or hammer strikes it’s too late and your life is at the mercy of Lady Luck and she is not your friend—take that from an Irishman.
Learn to do it right, then do it that way always. After years of law enforcement training my gun training has become almost second nature. Having utilized the skills in high-stress situations, I can attest to the fact that it almost becomes second nature and you are capable of doing things correctly without specific thought. The operative words are years of training and not a few trips to the range and hours in front of the video game console.
It is amazing what your mind is capable of in a high-stress situation when you have learned well and practiced the way you should play or fight. That was observed in Steve Irwin when he handled the world’s most venomous snakes the way he did—a sixth sense. That reliance on that sense may have cost him his life.
Never stop looking at your methods and insuring you have not allowed those ingrained skills to slip. There are many different snakes as well as guns—one size does not fit all. Adjust, train and update your regiment as necessary depending on the snake you are handling.
Tactics in the heat of the moment can be adjusted. Handling, on the other hand, of the weapon should not be an ad-lib process.
Absolute focus is required when handling a snake whose venom can kill an elephant in minutes. Same is true of a gun—it can change lives in a blink of an eye. Once the primer is struck or the fangs sink into flesh you can’t take it back—ever. Absolute focus, all the time, this will not only make you a safer gun handler but a better shot in the long run.
If you want a sport, job or hobby that does not require so much focus, then shooting or snake handling is not your chosen pastime or career. It was a sad day when we read of Steve Irwin’s death—very sad—but there is a lesson to be learned. When you engage in a career or hobby, understand what the ultimate consequence of failure-to-focus can cost you, then decide to be a responsible, mature and respectable person or find something else to do.
I do remember you mentioning that. Such a tragedy. In my first year at the Police Academy an instructor shot a student sitting in the front row of class. It can happen and does, but if we practice the rules we ingrain in ourselves and others it can help prevent those tragedies. In all those cases mistakes were made and we failed to do something we were trained to do or not do. Unfortunately, it has a high price like many things in life.
“Life is Hard, its harder when your stupid.” John Wayne
Allen, I don’t know if you remember me mentioning I’d lost a step-son to accidental gunshot back in ’95, and I hear you, I was raised that way myself, but my dad died when I was 14, and besides being the only Hell my mama ever raised, I also inherited some fine weapons, and back then a kid could take a Hi Standard HD Military down to the creek and stand on the edge of the one lane wood and iron bridge shooting bottles and cans, only to have to yield and wave to passing motorists. Well at 14, and on my own I did pretty well, I’m now sixty and still have all my digits. But at 12, my stepson who already had his own 870, and a Featherweight model 70 and several deer to his credit, and could handle launching the boat didn’t take my teachings seriously, and now I have no one to leave my suff to. There is always potential for an accident, but even after training, you can leave nothing to chance. And the fellow with the two young girls and the .44 mag, girls usually mature quicker than boys, plus boys will play with matches too, and then say they didn’t. But I like the analogy about the snake though. Best thing we can remember now is;”keep your weapons out of the hands of children and Democrats.
Thanks Jack and all for the comments. I think the best training lessons are the ones that come from our parents and people we look up to. Now y’all be safe and don’t get bit!
This goes down in my book as one of the most well-written and thoughtful articles on this subject that I have ever read in my 48 years of involvement with the subject matter. This is valuable to me as a civilian and retired military (24+ years), the father of 6, and the grandfather of 13 (so far!). Thank you for a job well done!
Thank you for this article. I found it very helpful and enjoyable.
I did pretty much the same thing years ago when my two girls were seven and ten years old. We lived in what at the time was country, dairy farms and pretty good neighbors. There was a sand bank across the street that was a thousand or so yards back off the oil and stone based road we lived on. One evening a half hour or so before the Sun set. I took my two gir;s over to the sand bank and took my Ruger 44 magnum pistol along. I set up an old can about halfway up the bank. Then at around 25 yards. I had the girls stand off to the side and put their hands over their ears. When they saw the flames come out the end of that barrel. I knew that any thought they might have had concerning my handguns or rifles was gone. Never had any problems with them touching my firearms.
Nicely written. The one gun accident I have had was caused by lack of following the three rules. The shot into the dirt in front of me gave me a lesson I still remember 30 yrs later.