On Instruction and Risk Management

1156423_19045308If you’ve taken training classes, or spent much time at a range, you’ve doubtless seen instructors – or gun owners who are teaching newbie shooters but who aren’t actually trained instructors – do stupid and potentially dangerous things. I know I have.

I’ve seen people pointing muzzles at themselves or putting their hands in front of the end of the gun. I’ve been swept with the muzzle of a gun in a training class. I’ve seen negligent and unintentional discharges that ended up in the berm rather than the shooter’s leg because of accident more than intent. I’ve seen guns malfunction in potentially dangerous ways, including an AR-15 with a malfunctioning trigger group; bumping the trigger while the safety was on would cause a round to discharge when the safety was subsequently disengaged.

I get it – accidents happen, and novice shooters don’t always have the experience and knowledge to know what’s safe and what’s dangerous. But I’ve also seen instructors who do careless, stupid, or even outright reckless things with guns and think that, because they’re the teacher, the safety rules don’t apply to them.

This is my public service announcement to you: Get with the program. You are responsible for your students’ safety, and for managing the level of risk they face. If one of your students shoots themselves, or someone else, saying “they didn’t follow the safety rules; it’s not my fault” isn’t going to be nearly good enough.

I was thinking about this subject today because of article by Rob Pincus in the latest issue of Concealed Carry Magazine. (Sorry, the article doesn’t appear to be available online.) Rob talks about this very subject, and shares the story of an instructor who, while working with a line of students, loosed a shot between two students and into the berm. “I never pointed my gun at the students, so it’s okay,” the instructor said.

I understand that shooting is, by its nature, an activity that carries a certain amount of risk. The only way to reduce that risk to zero is to leave our guns unloaded and locked in the safe – and they’re not very much good to us there. Instead, we take precautions – the four basic rules of gun safety being good examples – to reduce the risk to acceptable levels. “All guns are always loaded,” we drill into our students, because that consciousness reduces the risk of someone doing something dumb because they thought the gun was unloaded. If we always point the gun in a safe direction, the damage caused by a negligent discharge is minimized. And so on.

The trouble is that some instructors seem to feel their instructor credentials give them a partial waiver of these rules. They do things in class – shooting between students, pointing guns at people, poor trigger discipline, etc. – and rationalize that because they’re instructors, and because they’re engaged in teaching, the safety rule violations are okay. But the gun doesn’t care who’s holding it, and an unsafe situation is unsafe no matter who’s created it.

Sometimes our students do things that aren’t safe because they don’t know any better. That happens, and it’s your job as an instructor to keep them safe, and to use those mistakes as opportunities to learn. They don’t have the knowledge and experience to avoid doing risky things, so it’s your job to manage that risk for them. It’s also your job to model the behavior you want them to learn – and if you’re not modeling good gun safety, your students won’t have any way to learn it by magic.ย And you certainly don’t want them to have to learn it from tragedy.

Being an instructor doesn’t give you a pass on being safe with firearms. To the contrary, it holds you to a higher standard, because it’s your job to keep your students safe even if they don’t know how to do that for themselves. That’s your burden when you teach, and the cost of failing to meet that burden can be tragic.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. Excellent, but a few typos.

    Any “instructor” flaunting the basic rules needs to be drummed out of the corps.

    • “Any “instructor” flaunting the basic rules needs to be drummed out of the corps.”

      I wholeheartedly agree. And thanks for the comment re: typos. I was writing on my iPad and it sometimes (incorrectly) thinks it’s smarter than me. I’ll take a look…

      • I hear you about the “smart” machines. Mine is a monster HP/Compaq and we go round and round sometimes. Luckily, I’m mobile and it’s not… so far I always win. ๐Ÿ™‚ It KNOWS I can always just pull the plug! BWAHAHAHA

      • Kudos to you for teaching your technology who’s boss. Mine still tends to behave like a willful two year old from time to time. ๐Ÿ™‚

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