Don’t deviate from your normal, safe routine

I need to take some video of my 5-year-old teaching the NRA Safety Rules to one of our classes.  I’m only a teeny bit biased, but he really is good at that stuff.  You see, he’s been going to our classes now for nearly his whole life and after I was reasonably confident that he actually knew the safety rules, I started asking him, right in the middle of class, if he wanted to help the class learn the rules.  For a while, he used to just sit in the back, rattle them off, then go back to coloring or playing on the iPad.  Yes, he’s that kid.

But he started getting more confidence the more he ran through them.  One day, much to my surprise, when I asked him for help with the safety rules, he gets out of his seat (totally off script at this point), parades in front of the class room, chest out like a rooster, then spouts them off in perfect form:

  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
  3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

My problem now is that he wants to ad-lib the rules, complete with hand gestures, his thoughts on life, and anything else that he thinks anyone will appreciate in that moment.  So I’ve actually inadvertently created a monster.  But boy does he know those rules.  But talking about the safety rules is officially his job.  In fact, he got sick early Saturday morning and had to miss our Level 1 class (which was filled with teachers from his school – a double whammy for him) and while sick in the bathroom, his question to his Mom was “well, if I can’t go to class today, how will everyone learn the safety rules?”

We have a 2-pronged approach to gun safety.  The first part is you have to know the safety rules.  You have to follow them all of the time.  The way I see it, if you’re safe with your gun 99% of the time, that’s 3 fatalities in your house every year.  Obviously that’s unacceptable, so just being safe most of the time equals being reckless and negligent.  We need to follow the rules all of the time.

The 2nd part of our approach deals with reality.  Knowing the fundamentals is obviously critical when dealing with firearms, but many of us need a real-world spin on the topic.  A lot of us, at one time or another, fall victim to what I call “insert good reason here.”  I’ll explain.

A good friend of ours is with a local police department and was telling us that at her Law Enforcement Only shooting range that there have been at least 2 fatalities.  How does that happen?  I don’t know the officers involved in those incidents, but I think it’s safe to say that all of us can fall prey to thinking along the lines of “oh I’ve carried a gun every day of my life for the last 35 years… which allows me to start breaking the safety rules.”  Did you see what happened there?  It was the insert-good-reason-here line of thinking.

Here are some other examples:

  • Well I’m the only one home, and the last time I checked the gun, it was unloaded
  • I carry this gun every time I hunt and I know that I can just rest my finger on the trigger – it won’t go off
  • Steve always unloads his guns before he puts them in this drawer, so I’m sure it’s unloaded

Don’t allow yourself to *ever* find yourself thinking “well, I’ll just…” or “well, because I…” [which then allows me to break the safety rules].

Since any good gun safety rule is incomplete without at least a couple gross and disgusting pictures, here’s the backstory, as it’s been told to me: a guy got a new gun and had some friends over to shoot it.  They were done shooting, the owner of the gun unloaded it, the guys were all standing around together, then the owner passes the unloaded gun to the person next to him.  He then passes it to the person next to him, and on down the line it goes.  And since these stories always involve at least a few horrible decisions, here’s the first one: the guy at the end of the line decides to load it… then he passes it back up the line to the owner.  The owner, having just verified that the gun was unloaded only minutes before, assumes that it was still unloaded.  He fell victim to the insert-good-reason-here line of thinking.  His reason was that he had just verified that it was unloaded, so that allowed him to break the rules.  Here are the next, and final, horrible decisions: the owner the decides to point it at his own hand and pull the trigger.

Here’s what resulted: a .45 ACP hole in his hand, which he’ll never forget.  Consider yourself warned.

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I’m not kidding.

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First, the tame picture.

Ouch

Ouch

Then, the not-so-tame picture.

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I’m still not kidding.

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That's gonna leave a mark

That’s gonna leave a mark

So of the 3 NRA safety rules, if he had followed any one of the three, this wouldn’t have happened.  It doesn’t take much for a series of mostly benign, somewhat reasonable decisions to snowball into the worst decision you’ve ever made in your life.

Another thing that we try to impress to our students is “don’t deviate from your normal, safe routine.”  If you start carrying a gun everyday, or even if you’re just going to the range regularly, eventually you’ll settle into a routine with your gun.  Hopefully your routine is a good one.  But don’t allow anything to take you out of your routine – it’s yours!  You control it!

Maybe it’s just me, but there will come a time when you’re putting the gun away and then one time, you’re carrying something in your dominant hand/arm.  This thought will run through your head: “well I’ll just reach over with my left hand to take the gun out of the holster…”

Uhh…

Your next though should immediately be “that would be stupid.  Why would I do that?”  Put whatever you’re carrying down and get back into your routine.  Yes, it really is that easy.

But I’m telling you, how many gun “accidents” (which are nearly all negligence) start with one person saying “well I’ll just…”?

“Well I’ll just clean this thing pretty quick while it’s still loaded…”

“Well I’ll just keep my finger on the trigger while I check this target…”

“Well I’ll just draw my gun first and then tie my shoelace…”

“Well I’ll just…”

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3 comments on “Don’t deviate from your normal, safe routine

  1. Oldschool says:

    wow that really hits the point home

  2. Jim Konzak says:

    When I saw those photos I almost felt like your son did … and I knew they were coming.

    This reminds me of the story a friend repeated to me, which he had heard in his Level 1 Class.

    Single guy, owner of semi-auto, is showing loaded gun to girlfriend. He racks the slide, ejecting a round, closes slide, ejects magazine… yup, there was another round in the chamber, loaded when he closed the slide. Result – dead girlfriend.

    It only takes one.

  3. Jim – that’s pretty much exactly why the Rampart Range shooting facility in Colorado Springs closed indefinitely. So when we verify that it’s unloaded, it’s always 1) no source of the ammunition and then 2) no round in the chamber. In that order.

    Scary stuff.

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