Gun Safety: You Don’t Get to Have a Bad Day

Imagine this scene, if you will:

A man enters the gun shop. He unlocks a pistol case and removes a handgun. Dropping the magazine and cycling the slide, he sets it down on the counter. “I’d like to sell this gun,” he says. “Don’t worry – it isn’t loaded.” The store clerk picks the gun up and pulls the slide back to lock it. CLINK! A loaded shell tumbles from the ejector port and lands on top of the glass display case.

I’ve heard two versions of this story recently. In one case, the pistol in question turned out to have a broken extractor which failed to engage with the chambered round when the slide was pulled. I didn’t hear an explanation for why the round in the second case failed to eject the first time, but it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the reason, had the triggers been pulled, both guns would have discharged – possibly with tragic results.

If you’ve been shooting for any length of time at all, you can probably recite the basic gun safety rules by heart. Rule number one is: Always treat every gun as though it is loaded. if you unload a pistol, cycle the slide, and then hand me the gun, I’ll lock the slide back and check the chamber with my own eyes and finger to be sure it’s unloaded. It doesn’t matter that I just saw you unload the gun. I’ll double-check because, Murphy’s Law being what it is, the one time I don’t check is the time something crazy and tragic will happen.

I used to have a friend who was an air cargo pilot. She used to say, “when you’re flying an airplane, you don’t get to have ‘a bad day at the office’, because if you do, airplanes get destroyed and people die.” She also had a T-shirt that read, “In God We Trust – Everything else we double check.” Good advice for pilots, to be sure, but good advice for gun owners too. Assumptions lead to complacency, and complacency leads to tragedy.

Don’t make that mistake yourself. Always assume that every gun you handle is loaded, until you’ve checked it yourself. On a revolver, open the cylinder and count the empty holes with your fingers, inserting a fingertip into each one. If you shoot a semi-automatic pistol, drop the magazine, lock the slide back, and check the chamber with eyes and fingertip. Rifle or shotgun shooter? Same thing – empty the magazine, in whatever way is appropriate for your weapon, and use eyes and finger to make sure the chamber is empty. For good measure, check it a second time. If you pull the trigger, always make sure the gun is pointed at a safe backstop, just in case. When you clean your gun, remove the ammo from the room where the gun is.

It may feel silly to check a gun that you’ve just watched someone else unload. But trust me, you’ll feel a whole lot worse if someone gets hurt because of the gun you thought was unloaded. Check and double-check, every time. It’s a good habit to get into, and it’s a habit that saves lives.

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