Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)
The One Rule That is Never Violated
Throughout this book, we have referred many times to the safe handling of firearms. By following the 10 Commandments and, more specifically, the four cardinal rules of gun safety, there should never, ever be any accidents with a firearm. That seems a bold statement, but it is absolutely true. Let’s briefly revisit:
The Four Cardinal Rules of gun safety are:
· Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.
· Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
· Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
· Be certain of your target and what lies beyond.
The rest of the Ten Commandments are:
· Always keep your gun unloaded until ready to use.
· Know how to use and operate your firearm safely.
· Always wear proper eye and ear protection whenever you will be shooting.
· NEVER use alcohol, prescription, or non-prescription drugs before or during shooting.
· Use only the correct and proper ammunition for your firearm.
· Never rely on a gun’s safety as anything but a back up to your safe handling.
While every one of the 10 Commandments are important, there is one rule that, on its own, will prevent most every accident. Can you guess which one?
Here’s a hint: This one firearm safety rule is also related to EVERY OTHER FIREARM COMMANDMENT when it comes to SAFETY.
If you guessed rule number two… you’d be close but you would have guessed wrong. (I’m a big fan of rule number two, because guns that are pointed in a safe direction don’t kill people.)
It’s RULE NUMBER ONE - but WHY?
There is a reason that this rule is first. A firearm, on its own, is not dangerous at all. You can place an unloaded firearm in the middle of a crowded room, and the only way anybody would ever become injured by it is if they trip and fall over it.
You can drop an unloaded firearm. You can take apart an unloaded firearm. You can safely transport an unloaded firearm by any means.
You see, a firearm is just like any other tool out there. It requires human intervention and interaction in order for it to function according to its designated (or undesignated) purpose. The problem occurs when we have not personally verified that a gun is unloaded and that the chamber and magazine are empty.
The following is a quote from my favorite book, Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy” (copyright 1957 Holt, Henry & Company):
It is just as easy to form good habits as it is to form bad ones. ©National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.
“Habit is a wonderful thing,” the Old Man said. “It’s just as easy to form good ones as it is to make bad ones. Once they’re made, they stick. There’s no earthly use of slipping the safety off a gun until you’re figuring to shoot it. There’s plenty of time to slip it off while she’s coming to your shoulder after the birds are up. Shooting a shotgun is all reflexes, anyhow.
“The way you shoot is simply this: You carry her across your body, pointing away from the man you’re shooting with. You look straight ahead. When the birds get up, you look at a bird. Then your reflexes work. The gun comes up under your eye, and while it’s coming up your thumb slips the safety and your finger goes to the trigger, and when your eye’s on the bird and your finger’s on the trigger the gun just goes off and the bird drops. It is every bit as simple as that if you start at it right. Try it a few times and snap her dry at a pine cone.”
I threw the gun up and snapped. The gun went off with a horrid roar and scared me so bad I dropped it on the ground.
“Uh huh,” the Old Man said sarcastically. “I thought you might have enough savvy to check the breech and see if she was loaded before you dry-fired her. If you had, you’d have seen that I slipped the shell back when you weren’t looking. You mighta shot me or one of the dogs, just taking things for granted.”
That ended the first lesson. I’m a lot older now, of course, but I never forgot the Old Man taking the gun away and then palming that shell and slipping it back in the gun to teach me caution. All the words in the world wouldn’t have equaled the object lesson he taught me just by those two or three things. And he said another thing as we went back to the house: “The older you get, the carefuller you’ll be. When you’re as old as I am, you’ll be so scared of a firearm that every young man you know will call you a damned old maid. But damned old maids don’t shoot the heads off their friends in duck blinds or fire blind into a bush where a deer walked in and then go pick up their best buddy with a hole in his chest.”
There are actually a few of the 10 commandments in this passage and, if you read the book, you will realize that there are dozens of references to proper handling and care of firearms. (If you want an excellent book on “coming of age” that you can read with your child, this is an excellent collection of short stories, each that teaches a rather profound lesson.)
We would never point a loaded firearm at another person, and a friend, a pet, our parents, our neighbors, or any object that we cared about. (Rule two- always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.)
I repeat this rule many, many times over the course of introducing a youth to firearms. I ask, “How do we treat every firearm?” And not move forward with our lesson until the question is appropriately answered.
You’ll recall from the news clips in Chapter 7 that several of the incidents were caused by a gun believed to be unloaded. Following that one simple rule would have saved those lives.
Would you shoot your gun in your living room? Most likely not. If you pick up a firearm that has been standing in the corner, would you pick it up and pull the trigger? (Rule number three- keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and rule number four-be sure of your target and what is beyond.)
What if you are uncertain as to whether or not a gun is loaded? By treating EVERY gun as if it were, you will be safe until you personally verify that a gun is unloaded and safe. (Rule five- Always keep your gun unloaded until you’re ready to shoot.)
Different firearms have differing mechanisms for their action, many completely unrelated to the others, such as the difference between a bolt-action and a single-shot rifle. How can you stay safe with an unfamiliar firearm? Treat it like it’s loaded. (Know how to use and operate your firearm safely- Rule six.)
Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
If you don’t have your earplugs in, will you damage your hearing? Yes, you will if the gun goes off. Treat it like it’s loaded and make sure it is safe until you put your plugs in and you won’t have a problem. (Rule seven, always wear eye and ear protection.)
If you follow rule number one and rule number eight, you will treat a gun like it is loaded and not handle it if you’ve had alcohol or prescription drugs.
Treating a gun as if it’s loaded keeps you and your companions safe while getting the proper ammunition (rule nine).
Every gun is loaded, it is always pointed in a safe direction.
I have ingrained this NUMBER ONE RULE so thoroughly in my own children that each time a firearm is picked up, it is pointed in a safe direction and the action cycled, chamber physically inspected, and magazine viewed to ensure it is unloaded.
Many times we will unload firearms, place them in their cases and then inside a vehicle, and move locations. We know with absolute certainty that each of those guns placed in those cases is unloaded and safe.
When we reach our next destination, we remove the guns from their cases, point them in a safe direction, cycle the action, physically inspect the chamber and magazine to verify that they are unloaded, and then proceed, safely, to our next shooting activity.
Why do we follow the same steps each and every time we pick up a firearm?
Because of rule number one. Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded. Every habit is created by repetition. Repetition of this process creates good habits, and good habits with guns are safe habits!
Like “The Old Man” said, “It’s just as easy to form good ones as it is to make bad ones. Once they’re made, they stick.”