Oh, I was just sitting here thinking I should start a great big fight. You ready?
Maybe we could revisit the four cardinal firearms safety rules. What do you think of that?
You know the rules. They are: 1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded. 2. Never point your firearm at something you are not willing to destroy. 3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you have made a decision to shoot. 4. Know your target and beyond.
So, do you agree with all those rules? Do they make sense in every situation?
I contend that the four cardinal safety rules work well for flat, square ranges but could be amended for personal defense situations and for the training required in such situations. I have, for years, done some things that would get me kicked off many ranges. Some people tell me how terribly unsafe those things are, and some people cringe when they see me do them. I respond with the understanding that we are involved in a dangerous business, and there is no such thing as perfect safety. We can and should take steps to ensure the maximum level of safety, but there might be a better way than the four safety rules listed above.
I learned recently of differing definitions that more clearly relate safe gun handling techniques to the tasks of personal defense than do those four cardinal rules. While attending a class at the Sig Sauer Academy, my eyes were opened to the difference between safe gun handling and “range rules.”
Let’s take rule Number 1. Instead of treating every gun as if it is loaded, how about we “know the status of our firearms” at all times? Think about it. There are some functions that require an unloaded gun. If you diligently followed rule Number 1, you could never field strip your pistol. If you remove the magazine from the pistol, physically and visually inspect the chamber, the magazine well, and the breech face, then double check that, then have another person (or persons) check it again, you can call the weapon “clear and safe,” and act accordingly.
When you need a loaded gun, load it to the most ready position possible for the current situation. Typically, that means a fully loaded magazine, round in the chamber, and the firing mechanism on safe or decocked, in accordance with the operating system of your pistol. Failure to know the status of your firearm can result in injury or death. It is a serious infraction at the Sig Academy.
Rule Number 2 is pretty clear, and while the difference might be a matter of semantics, the term muzzle management is a better description. The all-important “safe direction” can only be determined by ongoing decision-making and is best described as “a location or direction away from anything you do not intend to damage.” This includes not pointing the weapon at any part of yourself. “Downrange” is simply an administrative term and is not automatically a safe direction.
If you manage your muzzle, that means you are always cognizant of not only the muzzle, but your surroundings as well.
Trigger-finger discipline is more than just keeping your finger off the trigger until you have decided to fire. Where are you going to put that finger before taking the shot? What about after the shot? If you define the place to keep your finger rather than just say “off the trigger,” things will be much safer. I suggest the finger be placed on the frame until you have an acceptable sight picture (on a target you have identified), and you are justified in shooting. This includes paper targets on the range but also human adversaries in defensive situations. And when do you remove your finger from the trigger? Trigger-finger discipline encompasses everything from how you use the trigger to how you keep your firearm safe when not using the trigger. It is a better, broader term than simply, “keep your finger off the trigger.”
Finally, we come to rule Number 4: Know your target and what is beyond it.
Have you stopped to consider what is in front of your target or off to the side of your target? In a defensive situation, could a person run between you and the bad guy in an attempt to reach safety? Target discrimination and situational awareness is a better explanation of this. And, if you are practicing muzzle management and trigger-finger discipline, you maintain an increased level of safety, even if you are in a dynamic situation with rapidly changing elements.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a discussion of safe gun handling versus range rules. Consider this one, single item: on many ranges, the “high ready” position is against the rules because you could be aiming over the top of the berm. Many firearms trainers deride the high ready as patently unsafe. But what if you are involved in an active shooter situation, and you need to move? Chances are pretty good you will have your gun out, but if you don’t have an identified target, you will be in a ready position. Would “low ready” be advisable if people were on the ground around you? Muzzle management means you have an understanding of what is going on around you, and you operate your firearm in the safest possible manner.
I’m very impressed with the instruction I received at the Sig Sauer Academy. I’m even more impressed with their willingness to think and adopt new methods based on real-world situations, not just life on the range.