From the first .22 caliber bullet that I ever launched from a gun (a Ruger 10/22), I’ve never been afraid of firearms. Even when, on that same day, I tried out a .45 pistol, a 12 gauge shotgun, and an M1 Garand, the feeling was profound respect… never fear. Interestingly I’ve been noticing, at shooting ranges in NH, MA, and on forums, that many experienced shooters are goddamn pussies around firearms, and I think I’ve figured out the common thread. Freaking sport shooters.
Now you may be thinking, “Pussies around firearms? How can you be too cautious?” Sure. Gun safety is incredibly important, however there are 4 cardinal rules of gun safety, and I’ve noticed that a lot of shooters seem to have invented about a dozen unspoken amendments, restricting what you can do and how you can move.
The four rules of gun safety are:
1. Treat every gun as if it is always loaded.
2. Never point your muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep you finger off the trigger until you have identified your target and you are ready to fire.
4. Know your target and what’s beyond it.
Nowhere in the 4 rules of gun safety do I see one that says, “Never allow anything that you are not willing to destroy to pass in front of a 180 degree swath, centered around your target.” The rule that annoys me most is this concept of the 180 degree danger zone. If, for example I’m on a range that’s 50ft wide, and the only people that are shooting are me on the far right and another shooter on the far left… There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to shoot from 20ft forward of the firing line, as I would still be well behind “the 45 degree mark” in the other shooters right periphery. Likewise it’s my job to determine if that shooter is an 8 year old and know better than to trust his being responsible enough to follow basic gun safety. The whole concept of a firing line is flawed, and it drives me bat shit crazy that every recreational shooter out there seems to think that all anyone ever does is stand still and shoot at a bullseye. I don’t…
Another one that pisses me off is not being able to turn around with a loaded gun. If I don’t aim it at anyone, what the hell is the issue? For the layman, I’ll explain why one would do this. During defensive drills, you take your defensive action(s) and then you need to finish the drill by scanning your environment for threats before holstering or lowering your weapon. This is performed with the gun pointed skyward, but the general feeling is that this is an exceedingly dangerous action. How it’s any different from facing forward with the gun pointed up, I have no idea. The gun aims up either way…
Once I was trying out skeet shooting with a friend, at the range of which he is a member. When skeet shooting, you shoot while standing in one of a number of squares. As I was about 10ft from the square, walking up to it, I loaded the shotgun and closed the action to get ready to shoot. The gun was aimed down range, with the muzzle up and my finger off the trigger, yet the range attendant said, almost frantically, “Please remove that round from the chamber!” Once I stepped up to the square he said sternly, “We don’t like people to load the gun before they’re on station.” I understand if you don’t want hot guns while people are standing around waiting for their turn, but I was stepping up to the station and handling the gun safely. Even a negligent discharge would have sent shot flying in the same direction it does when you shoot the flying clays. I was baffled by this.
So the culprit here is recreational shooters. Sport shooters. These are the guys (and gals) who only understand the idea of getting in their shooting stance, aiming carefully, and shooting at a bullseye, a steel plate, or a flying clay. To each their own, but the issue is how these people infect defensive shooters. The right way to handle range safety is to have the 4 cardinal rules be absolute, with all other measures being discretionary. On outdoor ranges, shooters are trusted with the responsibility of talking amongst themselves to establish when a range is to be declared “cold” so a shooter can go down range to set up a target. So, it should be with establishing a staggered firing line. Frankly I don’t even think discussion is needed around after-action scanning or maintaining loaded guns. If the 4 cardinal rules are followed, that isn’t a problem.
My shooting drills involve forward, backward, and sideways motion, and involve laying down, kneeling, and turning around, all with a loaded gun. The trick is to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, and no one will ever get hurt. In the real world, gun fights don’t happen on firing lines. People don’t stay still and if you, as a defensive shooter, stay still you’ll be dead very quickly. In the real world there will be people and objects down range that you must NOT shoot. In fact, there may even be innocent people standing only feet to the side of your intended target. Defensive training in a static environment is not defensive training… it’s just shooting a target.
Think of it this way. When you drive down the road, you pass by cars with nothing but some yellow paint separating you and those cars from a 100mph collision. Yet, despite how severe we all know a car crash can be, we take the risk and trust that we and other drivers are responsible enough to stay in their lane. Shooting is no different. If you’re shooting at a taret down range you have a lane of fire. Stay in your lane and it doesn’t matter if there’s someone 10ft to the right of your bullet’s flight path. The nice thing about modern firearms is that they’re much less likely than cars to have an unexpected equipment failure like blowing out a tire or sheering rusted wheel nuts. At least with guns you can really boil safety down to the shooter behind the gun.
If you can’t shoot safely in a dynamic environment you have no business at a range with people. Since every range is filled with people who don’t feel comfortable with someone shooting a foot forward of the magic one-eighty, I just shoot on Sunday afternoons when I can typically have a range all to myself.