Safety is Between the Shooter's Ears

By Schuyler Barnum

I don't know how many times I've heard people get angry with me for liking guns. Apparently guns are too dangerous for any mortal being to have (at least according to them). However, most any object in the world is potentially dangerous; it's just that guns have the potential for things to go wrong real fast.

However, they're not inherently going to hurt someone. Many these days would think the primary cause for this is the mechanical safety, which may work in any number of ways, but all go to the same purpose: to keep the gun from firing when it isn't supposed to.

However, the Boy Scouts has one of the best policies on gun safeties: don't use them. They feel that using the safety teaches bad habits, such as leaving guns loaded when they shouldn't be, or other things that can lead to someone being hurt. Because the safety can fail on its own, as it is a mechanical device, or the shooter can fail to put it all the way on.

In reality, safety is between a shooter's ears. If you aren't safe with a firearm, you shouldn't be using one. Same with many other things that can cause things to go real bad real fast, such as automobiles, motorcycles, and airplanes. The only difference is that you don't need a license to use a gun.

Gun safety is easy to learn. In fact, it's real easy. And it's vitally important. People are killed or wounded every year because they weren't handling a gun safely. In fact, a family member of mine took a rifle bullet to side of his face when he was cleaning it and wasn't being safe. He survived, but the scar is still there to this day.

The easiest to learn, and which works for most situations (although there is a system which is more detailed) is the NRA Gun Safety Rules. They are verbatim below from the NRA's web site:

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on the circumstance.

2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
When holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the frame. Do not touch the trigger until the gun is pointed down range and you are actually ready to fire.

3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Whenever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible and, if the gun has a magazine, remove it before opening the action and looking into the chamber(s) to verify that the gun is unloaded. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.

The late Jeff Cooper added this important fourth point:
4. ALWAYS be sure of your target and what's behind it.
Make sure nothing that you don't want to shoot is in or behind the line of fire.

If you memorize and practice those four points of firearms safety you are unlikely to go too far wrong. The other school of thought is the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety, which are more detailed but harder to memorize. Remington's web site has an interactive of them, but here are short explanations of each.

    1. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

    This is the same as for the NRA safety rules. Essentially, if the gun goes off, it won't hurt anyone if it isn't pointed at anyone.

    2. Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.

    Same for the NRA safety rules. If a gun isn't loaded, it won't shoot.

    3. Don't rely on your gun's safety.

    As stated before, a safety is a mechanical device and can fail. You can also forget to put it on. In some cases it engenders bad habits that occasionally result in a tragedy.

    4. Be sure of your target and what's beyond it.

    In short, watch out for what's behind what you're shooting at. People miss, and bullets can over-penetrate. Make sure nothing that you don't want to shoot is in the line of fire.

    5. Use proper ammunition.

    You can destroy your firearm or harm yourself or others if you don't use the ammunition for which your gun was designed. Make sure the gun can stand the pressure of the cartridge you are firing in it. This is incredibly important for handloaders.

    6. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care.

    If for some reason the cartridge doesn't fire when you pull the trigger, stop and remember the 1st Commandment of Firearm Safety: always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Keep your face away from the breech, then put the safety on, carefully open the action, unload the firearm and dispose of the cartridge safely. Remember that anytime there's a shell in the chamber, your gun is loaded and ready to fire. Even if you tried to shoot and your gun didn't fire, treat your firearm as if it could still discharge, because it can. (In fact, most mis-fires will go off if the hammer is dropped on them a second time.)

    7. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.

    Ever seen old shooters? Notice how they can't hear anything your saying? This is because firearms are louder than human ears can handle without protection. Also, a shot can ricochet from downrange and come back and hit you in the eye--I've actually had a ricochet hit my shooting glasses! So do yourself a favor and protect your eyes and ears.

    8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.

    An obstruction in the barrel can turn a fun day at the range into a nightmare. It can stop a bullet halfway down the barrel and can cause the barrel or action to literally explode. Make sure you've got a clean barrel before you even think about putting a bullet in the chamber. And if you get a squib cartridge, or one that doesn't feel or sound right, CHECK THE BARREL FOR AN OBSTRUCTION before firing the next round!

    9. Don't alter or modify your gun and have it serviced regularly.

    Alterations in this sense don't mean aesthetics, such as new stock and that sort of stuff. This means changes to the barrel and action. These can result in catastrophic failures. Also, clean your rifle and take it to a gunsmith every now and then to make sure it is still in good shape.

    10. Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.

    Not all guns are alike. They have different mechanical characteristics that dictate how you should carry and handle them. Anyone who plans to own a firearm should first become totally familiar with the type of firearm it is and the safe handling procedures for loading, unloading, carrying, shooting and storage.

There are three more things that are incredibly important to remember. First is SHOOT SOBER! If you are under the influence of booze or drugs (prescription or otherwise), DON'T USE A GUN! Your judgment will automatically be impaired no matter how little you have beyond a sip. It may seem fun, but it won't be when you're in court, because intoxication is not an excuse.

The second is TREAT EVERY GUN AS IF IT WERE LOADED. You must always clear any firearm every time it is picked-up or changes hands. You should never do anything with a supposedly unloaded gun that you wouldn't do with a loaded gun.

The third is NEVER PLAY WITH A FIREARM. Guns are not toys, and should never, under any circumstances, be played with. Play with fire, play with knives, juggle chain saws if you must, but never play with guns. Someday they will inevitably cross you up and you will be sorry.

Remember that safety is between the shooter's ears, not on the gun. Take the rules of firearms safety to heart and maybe a life will be saved. Perhaps two lives, because if you shoot a friend, the rest of yours won't be worth living.

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Schuyler Barnum and/or All rights reserved.