As a professional firearms instructor with years of experience and thousands of students ranging from military, law enforcement and civilians, I have been exposed to many variations of the cardinal rules of safe gun handling and general gun safety.
One I constantly hear touted as the cardinal rule of gun safety is “Always treat every weapon as if it were loaded.” Rules are synonymous with laws, and in order to be considered a rule, it cannot be subject to much, if any, interpretation. The verb “treat” does not dictate a specific action; therefore, it cannot truly be a rule.
For example, if a person who has never handled a firearm before and a person that is experienced with firearms was asked to “treat a gun as if it was loaded,” there would be different actions taken by each. The one with no experience is not likely to touch it; whereas, the experienced person is likely to handle it and clear it if necessary.
This is precisely why firearms instructors need to be cognizant of varying levels of proficiency among their students. Even experienced shooters can become complacent, and that could prove more dangerous than a beginner whose not paying attention during a range safety briefing. Just as not everyone has the same learning style, not everyone is at the same level of proficiency.
In my professional opinion, the first rule of gun safety taught to all shooters regardless of experience is “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.” Most experienced shooters are unable to properly define “safe direction,” and when asked, instead provide a plethora of examples rather than defining it. That is due to a lack of training and could lead to potentially dire consequences. Teaching that as the cardinal rule requires a brief discussion on what a safe direction is, and that is critical.
While the definition is of safe direction is simple: “In the event of an unintentional discharge, no personal injury and minimal property damage will occur,” it still needs to be taught and the instructor needs to be sure the students understand its meaning and when it is most applicable. Take note of the word “unintentional” as opposed to “accidental.”
I have had a recent student argue that the word “always” is inherent in “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction,” and the word “immediately” is inherent in the definition of cease fire: “Stop shooting immediately.” These arguments prove the words not to be inherent in nature. It shows the importance of teaching the definitions to a point of understanding that can truly only be accomplished through providing examples and asking questions. Any firearms instructor who merely reads from a PowerPoint presentation is not worthy of the job and is providing a grave disservice to their students.
This segues into the media’s use of the word “accidental” alongside “shooting”. This is another misnomer. Accidents are by nature not preventable, they just happen. To call any shooting accidental is ludicrous. In order for a tragedy to occur, FIVE things must be in place: 1. FUNCTIONAL, 2 HANDLED, 3. LOADED, 4. POINTED, 5. FIRED. It is absolutely impossible for those five things to happen by accident.
While “Always treat every weapon as it were loaded” might be a good mindset, it should certainly not be touted as a rule simply because it does not dictate a specific action. No tragedy involving a firearm should ever be coined “accidental” because if the gun safety rules are not being followed, the result becomes an unintentional choice due to lack of knowledge and/or ignorance. This is why gun safety training is so important.
To learn about gun safety, how to shoot, become a better shooter, or take your training to the next level, contact Fundamental Firearm Management today. Visit our website www.ffmva.com to learn more.