A number of things came together this week that inspired me to write this. Yes, this is a little long, but I care about your safety — and I hope you care about your own safety — so please read the whole thing.
We start off with yet another “high speed, low drag operator” that will train you to be the ultimate badass. Alas, the video has been pulled from YouTube, but the ENDO post summarizes it pretty well.
Then TLG recounts a muzzle direction experience. That post was inspired by this post at GunNuts. And yes, I’ve had muzzles pointed at me. First time it happened, I chewed them out pretty harshly, and just like Tim @ GunNuts tells, people don’t get it. I’ve also had it happen during my teaching at KR Training, which somewhat comes with the territory but thankfully 99.9% of the people that do it turn white afterwards and I think walk away with the sober realization of their safety violation and what could have been. So while it wasn’t a fun way to teach a lesson, if serves as a lifetime reminder to adhere to “the rules” then I’ll go with that (tho I really don’t prefer that as a teaching tool).
I also recall a good friend telling me a story about a class he took from high-profile national-level instructor. During the class the instructor was called out on his poor gun handling, and he got “big boy defensive” about things as he made excuses for his violations.
Let’s go over the rules again.
First, we have Col. Jeff Cooper’s rules (source: Jeff Cooper, Commentaries, Vol. 11 No. 4, 2003):
- All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. For those that insist this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target. This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60% of inadvertent discharges.
- Identify your target and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything you have not positively identified.
Then we have the NRA’s rules:
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
- Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Why do we have these rules? To keep people safe. You know what? It’s not necessarily to keep YOU safe, but certainly for the safety of those around you since most of the time that muzzle is pointed at not-you. Do you want to hurt someone? Do you want to kill someone? Do you want to ruin the remainder of someone’s life, or deprive them of it? especially if that person is someone you love and care about? Can you handle living with the burden the rest of your life? Can you handle the lawsuits? Can you handle the bills? Can you handle being crucified by the press and the public? If you cannot handle these things, then you cannot afford to violate the rules; in fact, even if you can handle these things, you still cannot afford to violate the rules . I don’t care how high-speed-low-drag you are, I don’t care how safe you think you are (because you probably aren’t).
Yes, that means me too… I’ve violated rules, and still kick myself for it. But that’s the thing: we’re human, we will make mistakes. We must do all we can to avoid making them, but part of the way the rules work is if you follow all of them but something goes wrong be it your humanness or Murphy’s Law, then damage is still minimized. Finger on the trigger but muzzle in a safe direction? Well, it’ll be loud and likely the floor or something got damaged, but no life was lost. This is not license to violate any rules; merely a layer of protection.
So why is it so many people — check that, instructors — think it’s OK to knowingly break the rules? Ben Goldstein, the guy from the first linked-to-post, defends his rules violations:
But, to rest the point, never would there be an instance of an instructor or a shooter walking in front of a loaded firearm. Note the word “loaded”. In my sessions, we first check our own weapons, then we double buddy check (check the shooter to the left and right of you), and then I check each weapon on the line, any and all magazines, any and all backup weapons and backup mags, and then, and ONLY then, is the line considered dry. Do I break Rule number 2 of the firearm safety rules? Yes, sometimes I do. And I have been working on trying to blend absolute focus on each individual with NOT breaking Rule number 2, and it is a work in progress. Being in front of a student helps me instruct and them learn, and there are advantages and disadvantages to this method.
As Col. Cooper himself wrote: “For those that insist this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.”
What are you teaching your students? That it’s OK to point guns at people (VCA’s aside)? That the rules are OK to violate at some point? At last weekend’s defensive knife class we were talking about such intensive safety protocols as used in shoothouses, simunitions training, force-on-force, and other such things. And you know what? Trying to blend all the absolute focus you want, but bad shit still happens. It is not OK to violate the rules, and it is not OK to talk about the rules then disregard them. Students will learn more from your example than your words.
These poor choices and behavior often get defended with the instructor (or their defenders) saying how the instructor asked if anyone had a problem with them violating the rules. For example, “I’m going to stand downrange while you shoot, does anyone have a problem with this?” And a typical response is that no one raises their hands, no one speaks up. As if somehow that’s justification for this behavior.
Do you know why the students aren’t speaking up?
Read this article and pay attention to: #4, our tendency to conform; #5, our herd mentality; and especially #6, that we depend upon authority figures to make decisions.
Professor Milgram interpreted the results of his sobering experiment as saying that people in stressful situations who don’t feel like they have the ability or expertise to make decisions will leave the decision-making to the group and its hierarchy, and that when they obey someone else’s orders — even orders that violate their own conscience — they no longer feel responsible for their own actions, believing they’re just a blameless tool of an authority figure.
That’s precisely what we have in a class. If you are coming to a class, you are admitting you don’t know something but wish to learn. Thus you go to someone that knows. So we immediately have a hierarchy of the instructor above the student. Plus it’s evident this instructor has some “dangerous” skills and knows how to deal with it (at least, in the eyes of the student), so thus if the expert is OK with being downrange, if the authority figure blesses this behavior, it must be OK… and I don’t want to be the asshole that speaks up and ruins it for everyone else, then gets cast out of the group, I’m nervous enough and stressed enough already, etc.. So really, that no one speaks up is not a surprise and really isn’t any sort of defense that this rules-violating behavior is acceptable.
So I write this to say to students: speak up.
If someone — especially the instructor — is being unsafe, speak up. If you don’t feel right about something, speak up. What’s the worst that can happen? If the instructor is worth their salt, they will humbly accept the correction. As well, the instructor might have to ask you to trust them and you go with what they say. Why? Well, the nature of a firearms class is going to be stressful and is going to push you outside your comfort zone. To some extent, you need this and have to go through it to help you achieve your goals. But you have to know if you feel uncomfortable just because it’s new and unknown, or because you know this isn’t right and you know it’s a violation of the rules.
You also have to look at the whole of the instructor. Are they humble? Are they working to build and earn your trust? Or are they trying to be a hot shot? Do they disregard your voice, even if it’s a dissenting one? Do they lift you up, or do they put you down? Are they more concerned with showing off their macho, or with helping you achieve your goals?
In the end, if something doesn’t feel right, you do NOT have to do it. You can sit out. You can ask if someone else can go first, or for the instructor to demonstrate, if it helps for you to see it before you do it. And in the end, if ultimately something isn’t right, you can leave the class. I cannot say how the instructor/school will handle it, if you’ll get money back, or whatever. But ultimately don’t worry about that, because your safety is more important.
If you are at a gun range and see someone breaking the rules, call them on it. Report it to the range safety officer. If worse comes to worse, just pack up and leave.
I know it won’t be easy to do this, but nothing in life worth having is easy — and your life and the lives of those in classes with you are worth it. The safety rules do not have exceptions (what part of “always” do you not understand?). As an instructor, we need to not just teach by our words, but also by our example. Our safety is more important.