Whether it is arming women, arming men, or just teaching others, gun safety should always be front and center. In this article, we’ll stray away from Jeff and Sarah and focus on firearm safety. They’ll be back in the next article, so keep following #armingwomen.
There is a mantra that I like to use: when we exercise the right to bear arms, we also bear responsibility for it. What does that mean? When you have the individual right, it is your individual responsibility to use it for the good of your community.
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Decades ago, the NRA set the standard for the safety rules. There are so many rules to consider, but the four I always begin with are:
1. Treat every weapon as if it is loaded.
2. Never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
4. Be sure of your target and what is around it.
Just like how the American Heart Association has updated the rules for CPR, the NRA has shifted their gun safety rules around over time. For instance, they now write “keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction.” I prefer the more active sense of “anything you don’t intend to shoot” or the powerful phrasing “do not aim at anything you aren’t willing to lose forever.” However you prefer to express them, do not just memorize the rules, understand them. It got me in trouble at times because the military likes “by the book” methodology, but I rephrase rules so they have the most impact as possible.
Gun Safety Mentality
When you buy your first firearm, you will probably feel like you have new control over your safety. But it can also feel like you have a stranger in your home. Firearms are tools, but they are dangerous tools. So with the right to bear arms, every gun owner should understand their responsibility.
I spoke with Sarah Joy Albrecht, a firearms enthusiast and founder of the nonprofit Hold My Guns. Sarah grew up around firearms. To her, the gun culture is just that: a culture that is part of her daily life. But the new shooter may not have that exposure to gun culture. A new gun owner does not need to rush out to join ARPA (American Rifle and Pistol Association), NAGR (National Association for Gun Rights), USCCA (US Concealed Carry Association), or the NRA (National Rifle Association). But they should take advantage of safety courses offered by these organizations and local law enforcement.
Hold My Guns focuses on finding safe and non-punitive gun storage for people during crisis. Life happens, people have struggles at times. But that does not necessarily mean they should lose a firearm forever. Sarah believes that gun owners should be able to trust and lean on the gun community’s resources to help temporarily remove firearms from the mental equation during crisis. Hold My Guns promotes external gun safety and storage during life events to help keep everyone safe. It also promotes individual responsibility and respect for the firearm.
Sarah also recommends taking part in the positive community aspects of the gun culture. Organizations like the Civilian Marksmanship Program and Project Appleseed advocate for the unifying values of gun ownership. Just like other sports, these organizations help youth and adults build self-confidence and discipline.
New gun owners should not buy the firearm and expect their safety problems to be solved just like that. They must practice. That means training the hand to keep the finger off the trigger until ready to fire; draw effectively to eliminate incidentally pointing the firearm at bystanders (this is also called muzzle awareness); understand how to ensure the firearm is “clear and safe.” The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) describes firearm control training this way: “you have to train these things until they become a part of your personality.”
Clear and Safe means visually and physically inspecting to verify the firearm is unloaded. If you are unloading the firearm for the first time, the process can feel a little daunting. I remember being paranoid that some invisible bullet was still in the gun. You begin by pointing the firearm in a safe direction. That can mean going out to your backyard and pointing into the dirt if need be. If you accidentally discharge the firearm, the dirt is much better than somewhere inside your house.
Finger always off the trigger. Always off the trigger. Release the magazine and stow it away from the firearm, like in your back pocket. Without changing the firearm’s direction, draw the slide back and lock it to the rear. If there was a round in the chamber, it will fly out. Beginners, let the round hit the floor. The cool kids try to catch it mid-air, but it’s just not worth it. The bullet will be fine. Slide locked to the rear and magazine removed, you may look down over the pistol and visually inspect it is completely empty, or “clear and safe.”
As a quick note, that look does not include a peep down the barrel. Your face never goes in front of the barrel. The physical test is to touch the chamber to physically verify what you see. Say the words when you verify “the weapon is clear and safe.” Pick up and clean off the expelled round and stow it appropriately.
The “clear and safe” procedure is important during practice. Every firearm organization stresses that when you are using the firearm for anything other than defensive carry, your ammunition must be in a completely different room, out of sight, out of mind. Excessive? No. It is a procedure that reminds you to respect the firearm’s capabilities. Respect that it is not a toy, it is a tool. Verify clear and safe, then put the ammunition away in a different room during practice or cleaning.
Gun Safety Practice
With practice, motions become second nature. When I stood Navy security watches aboard ship, I would spend my time waiting to arm up by practicing my sidearm draw with the empty holster. So when it came time to draw the sidearm for exercises and standing on the gun range, I developed a quick draw.
The best practice is done with a trainer. The Well Armed Woman, US Concealed Carry Association, and so many other organizations provide training videos to help shooters become proficient and excel. Unfortunately there are also bad shooters who film themselves teaching bad methods. There are also videos of highly advanced shooters who teach highly advanced procedures, those are not for beginners.
Local police or sheriff’s office may also provide courses. Go to the shooting range and ask for trainers. Golfers tend to stay bad at golf when they spend all day making divots at the driving range. Shooters will do the same: sloppy draw, sloppy trigger squeeze, and sloppy targeting. There are professionals all around who will teach safe and effective operation.
Practicing the draw, reholstering, reloading, troubleshooting, and moving with the firearm are all important activities and they should be conducted in appropriate locations. Do not rely on the firearm to keep you safe. The firearm is a tool that helps you keep yourself safe. During your practice, still follow the safety rules. Even with a clear and safe firearm, the rules apply. When your set your finger on the trigger, that motion should be deliberate.
The final safety consideration I want to address in this article in storage. You are accountable for your firearm at all times. So when it is not on your person, where is it? Is it locked away in a safe? These days, new firearms are sold with a chamber lock. The chamber lock is provided to prevent the firearm’s misuse while it is stored. Pew Pew Tactical provides a great list of gun safes with size and price considerations.
Do not let a gun make you feel like there is a stranger in the house. There is a famous quote about the gunmaker Samuel Colt, “God created man, Colonel Colt made them equal.” The firearm is a tool that allows people to turn the odds in their favor. The firearm is also a tool protected by the Bill of Rights. It is a liberty we exercise in the United States. But along with our liberty, there is the responsibility to respect that liberty and the firearm as a tool. So go get some liberty exercise, and be responsible about it.
In the next article Jeff and Sarah are going to get some firearm training time! We will discuss holster choice and wear, shooting, and tactical movements! Don’t forget to follow #armingwomen.
Featured photo: (screenshot) Gun safety is also about responsibility
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