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2 Iron Laws of Gun Handling

From the desk of Jerry Bolster

Southwest Asia


This isn’t a list or a step by step guide to gun safety – the NRA and other groups have exhaustive lists. Instead, think of this as camp fire discussion over two mistakes that new shooters - and sometimes experienced shooters - make when handling their firearms.

To start - I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a friend or family member who wants to show off their new gun. This is how it usually happens:

First, they get real excited over their new purchase...

They tell me all about its fine qualities, the great deal, the special finish they read about in Field & Stream, the superiority of the barrel twist, the tactical light, the celebrity shooter’s endorsement, the effortless recoil... 

Once they’ve really gotten excited over this gun telling me all about it – they’ll run grab it out of its spot and come in the room beaming with satisfaction. 

Usually, the barrel is already pointed in my general direction...

I’m scrambling now...

Maneuvering over furniture... I’m nervously looking for the trigger finger; it’s already in the trigger guard wrapped up on the trigger like a boa snake.

I'm still trying to get away from the business end and barking about not pointing it at me or the dog...drinks are spilled, the lamp is kicked over....

The person, at this point, usually says casually with a confused and injured look that – “it’s not loaded” – which confuses them even more when they see I’m still not happy with the situation - “Don’t you trust me?” 

No – as a matter of fact, I only trust me and my eyes when it comes to something that can poke holes in me or shred the family jewels clean off my body with one spray of birdshot. We’re talking high stakes here!

Treat it like it's always loaded. How many accidents do you think have happened immediately after this sentence, “don’t worry bro, it ain’t loaded.” 

An experienced gun handler won’t tell you it’s unloaded.

They will show you it’s unloaded. With the muzzle pointed at the ground, they'll open the chamber and tell you it’s clear, then they’ll SHOW you the empty chamber. You should both agree - with a nod, grunt, whistle - however you like to gesture – that it’s indeed clear. 

After you agree it’s clear, you can hand the weapon over to your buddy - muzzle still pointed at the ground - for their inspection and to discuss the finer points of Youtube gel ballistics proving the .45’s superiority to the 9mm… or to wax philosophical on the accuracy of the AR in comparison to the AK. 

 Your finger is your first safety.  Maybe you’ve seen that movie Blackhawk Down, and you remember the Ranger commander making an issue that the Delta Force operator didn’t have his rifle on safe – and the operator shows him his index finger and says, “This is my safety.” 

Well…he’s not wrong.  If I could snap my fingers and make every gun owner perfect at one rule – this would be the one.  

The mechanical safety is good, if your firearm has one, but if you have a firearm on safe and your finger is on the trigger – I’m still not comfortable, and neither is anyone else around you.

I can’t see the safety. I don’t know if it’s unloaded. All I KNOW is that your finger is on that trigger and that’s how it goes bang.

Another point to consider - many popular handguns don’t have a mechanical safety switch and the safety really is JUST your finger.  

This is one of the first things I look for to gauge a shooter’s experience level when they’re holding a firearm.  An old salty dog shooter will have their trigger puller, the index finger, pointed straight along the side of gun unless they’re actually shooting.

Just like the Delta operator in the movie – they know it’s their primary safety.  Inexperienced shooters have a hair-raising tendency to put that finger inside the trigger guard – and usually right on the trigger. 

Learning to be aware of your trigger finger will apply to everything you ever do with your weapon on and off the range environment.

I’ve done a fair level of tactical training with SWAT teams and military units using simunitions – a marking cartridge that fires out of real firearms using a plastic bullet filled with paint instead of a lead bullet.

One thing you learn in force on force scenarios with simunitions is that keeping your finger off the trigger helps you not shoot your teammates in the ass at point blank range – which really hurts. When your adrenaline is pumping, the chances of accidentally squeezing the trigger get really good – especially if you run around with your finger on the trigger all the time.

 If you practice awareness of your trigger finger in the low stress environment of the shooting range – you’ll be better prepared to do more complex tasks with your firearm. 

Imagine hearing a bump in the night. Your wife and kids are in the house, and you need to check that one door, window, the garage, or the barn out back. 

If you’ve practiced your trigger finger discipline, you‘ll have a better opportunity to identify targets before you reflexively shoot. Target identification can’t be overstated.  If you aren’t sure what it is – don’t shoot it.  This is the cause of many accidental home shootings.  But I digress. 

Keep that trigger finger pointed and pretend you’re going to point your finger at everything before you shoot it. With some practice, this will become a natural reflex for you.

Again this is not a complete list. These are two common errors among new shooters when HANDLING a firearm. In our next post, we’ll discuss some safety considerations for when you're actually SHOOTING your firearm. 


Until we reload...

The VSS Team



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