Experience, Mindfulness and Gun Safety

GALs1159_zps256b745aI was at the range all day Saturday, teaching in the women’s shooting program that our range runs. The program began as a quarterly thing with 20 or so shooters, and has now grown to a monthly event with many more students, many more instructors and a long waiting list.

I was there, and teaching, despite the fact that I’d been sick all week and my throat was raw. It didn’t hurt too much, but when I talked it sounded roughly like someone had stepped on a bullfrog. Oh, well.

One thing I’ve noticed as that as we’ve been doing these clinics, we’ve gotten better at it, and things went much more smoothly this time. I did, however, notice one thing I wanted to talk about today, and it’s a lesson which goes right to the heart of Safely Rule #1.

The lesson is simply this: Just because you’re holding a blue gun, a SIRT pistol, or a gun with a training barrel doesn’t mean you get a free pass on where your muzzle is pointing.

At the clinic, I watched a couple of the new shooter orientation sessions, and there were instructors standing there – with a completely straight and irony-free face – sweeping their students and fellow instructors while talking about the basic gun safety rules. While I know that there’s no possible way you can harm someone with a blue gun – well, unless you throw it at them, perhaps – I still think there are some reasons why this is bad practice for an instructor:

  • It’s a poor example of modeling. We teach our students that ALL guns are ALWAYS loaded, and not to point a firearm at something they aren’t willing to destroy. But how can we expect them to learn and internalize this lesson if they don’t see US doing it? “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work any better on the firing line than it does anyplace else. Deliberately pointing a blue gun at someone during a training exercise is one thing; muzzling your students because you’re being careless is something else entirely.
  • It conditions you to think the basic safety rules have exceptions. I’ve written about this before, but the fact is that too many instructors behave as though their credential gives them an exemption from the safety rules. This is a recipe for tragedy. The best way I know to make sure you always follow the safety rules is…wait for it…to always follow the safety rules. If you’re used to making mental exceptions to the rules, sooner or later that’s going to come back and bite you.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that it’s never the new and inexperienced instructors who behave this way. My personal theory is that it’s those who’ve been doing it a while and haven’t yet had an experience that scared the you-know-what out of them. The enemy of safety is complacency, and if you can’t afford to be complacent around guns, you doubly can’t afford to be complacent around guns and new shooters who don’t yet know enough to keep themselves safe and who will internalize what they see you doing.

Don’t make the mistake of being complacent and careless. Don’t let the words “I thought it would be okay because…” come back to bite you. Instructors don’t get a free pass on the basic gun safety rules; if anything, we should follow them MORE religiously when we’re teaching.

Photo credit: Dave Peck/SLOSA


  1. That’s one of my pet peeves, too!

    It makes me crazy and I’m a firm believe in modeling behavior. In fact, I got after my nephew at Christmas time for walking around with his airsoft pistol dangling from his hand with his finger on the trigger. When he told me, “it’s okay, it’s just an airsoft”, I reminded him that he would not be able to go out to the range with me if he couldn’t show me he used the safety rules AT ALL TIMES.

    Call me anal retentive if you will, but I don’t want anyone hurt on my watch because of complacency.

    • Yes, exactly. That’s why the cops who are most likely to be killed in the line of duty are those with 4-9 years of experience. They have just enough experience to get complacent but not enough to know how dangerous that is.

  2. It’s a matter of “muscle memory” – the most important part of any habit. If you diligently practice something the “right way” each and every time, it becomes automatic. Does anyone have to actually THINK about each step of a thousand and one activities and processes we undertake each day? Climbing the steps, unlocking the door… and yet, none of these things is potentially fatal if we don’t do it right.

    So, as far as I can see, the key is consistent and frequent practice to build that muscle memory and make that safety as automatic as possible. This doesn’t absolve anyone from needing to think about it much of the time, of course, but is a serious backup, especially necessary during an emergency when the conscious thinking part of our brain tends to lose focus on anything but the threat.

    The experts tell us that it takes about 300 repetitions of the desired action to create a new habit. It can take as many as 10,000 repetitions of an action… perfect repetitions, to replace an old habit with a new one.

    Seems like starting with a good habit would be money in the bank, quite aside from the danger involved in practicing bad habits.

    And any instructor who ignores the rules and deliberately engages in unsafe behavior needs to be confronted with this and given the opportunity to change their ways. If they don’t, they need to be exposed, shunned and put out of business.

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