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Tune Up Your Gun Handling

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March 19, 2012 by Karl Rehn 
une Up Your Gun Handling

All the photos taken to show these examples were done using a handgun with a training barrel or other non-firearm props, to ensure that no gun safety rules were broken.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve taught everything from National Rifle Association Basic Pistol to Texas Concealed Handgun Licensing to Defensive Pistol Skills to students with a wide range of skill, experience and prior training.

As a competition shooter and customer of commercial ranges, I’ve had the opportunity to observe good, bad and ugly gun-handling habits. That experience has led me to accept an inconvenient truth about gun owners: Every gun owner believes that his or her gun handling is safe, regardless of how good or bad that gun handling is.

This is an example of illusory superiority: a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others. It’s also known as the Lake Wobegon effect, because none of us believe we are below average.

That means, of course, that none of the discussion that follows applies to you, but you probably know someone who would benefit from this article. What separates a gun owner from a “shooter” is how you handle your gun during the 99 percent of the time you aren’t shooting it. Strive to be a “shooter” and ensure that your gun handling is safe 100 percent of the time.

Most gun owners can recite either the NRA’s Three Rules of Gun Safety or Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules, and they will claim (even as they violate one or more rules) that they obey those rules all the time. My observation is that while the absolute gun safety rules are common to all situations, their interpretation varies widely, particularly with regard to gun handling at commercial shooting ranges and less formal situations.

Most of them occur because the person handling the gun does not fully grasp the concept of “safe direction” and incorrectly believes that there is an “It’s OK; it’s unloaded” exemption.

In addition to basic gun safely rules, there are fundamental rules of range etiquette, such as only handling guns at the designated firing line, and stopping all shooting immediately if a cease fire is called. Those who have shot only in informal situations or at poorly supervised ranges often are unaware of these range etiquette policies.

What to do when you encounter one of the Terrible Twelve at a range or a gun shop? As they are in the act of committing one of these gun handling sins, ask them, “Would you be willing to fire a shot out of that gun, pointed where it is right now?”

Hopefully they will answer “No.” Then ask, “Then why are you pointing it in that direction?” If enough people start correcting others on these errors, perhaps we can indeed, all be above average in our safe gun handling skills.
NRA Three Rules

    1. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
    2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
    3. Always keep guns unloaded until ready to use.

Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules Of Gun Safety

    1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
    2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. (This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.)
    4. Identify your target and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.

The NRA rules are each stated as specific direction, with most important first. With the gun pointed in a safe direction, if you fire a round you didn’t intend to, it still goes in a safe direction. Cooper uses three of his rules (1, 2 and 4) to address safe direction in various ways. While he’s correct that failure to obey his Rule 3 is responsible for most negligent discharges, the safe gun handling failures described in the adjacent article are overwhelmingly a result of failing to follow NRA Rule 1 or the other three of Cooper’s rules., NRA Gun Safety Rules, Jeff Cooper’s Commentaries, April 2003.

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Peter M. Friedman*
NRA Training Counselor, NRA Law Enforcement Handgun Instructor, LEOSA HR218 Firearm Requalification, CA BSIS Guard & Firearm Training Instructor, NRA Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun Instructor
(925) 818-6642
email us
*Former Deputy – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dept.
*Member – Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Posse
*NRA Life Member 140506318

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