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Complacency kills: are you too comfortable around your guns?

Look at all those dead people.

From time to time, someone sends me a video or it pops up on my social media feed. It features someone handling firearms in an unsafe way that results in a negligent discharge, which results in a close call, a minor injury, a serious injury, or death. These videos are all over the internet now and very easy to find on sites like Youtube and LiveLeak, and are sometimes extremely graphic--graphic enough that I won't share any here on this family-friendly gun blog. Suffice to say, people who behave stupidly with guns inevitably get hurt, or hurt someone else.

Everyone does stupid things with guns when they're first starting out. If someone tells you with a straight face that from the very first day they picked up a firearm they had a perfect mastery of the Four Rules, and didn't ever need to be reminded to get their finger off the trigger or observe better muzzle discipline, they're lying. In fact, the stupidity inherent in untrained gun handling is exactly why firearms instructors exist. We'll teach you marksmanship and tactics eventually, but first we want to make sure that you aren't going to blow your own head off or put a hole in someone who doesn't need to be shot. That's why I hand my newbies an inert solid rubber handgun replica and make them practice safe handling with it over and over again until we're both satisfied that they can repeat what they've learned when they're holding the real thing. Then we move on to an empty gun (dry fire practice) in a room without live ammo in it until I consistently observe them being safe. And even after that, I'm watching their every move until I know them well and trust their judgment and skills enough to relax a little bit.

But it's not just newbies who practice unsafe gun handling. When we get comfortable with our firearms, and have enough experience to handle them without too much trepidation or worry, it can be very easy to become lax about the safety rules. After all, we know what we're doing and haven't shot ourselves yet. Why worry? We got this! And that carefree attitude gets people shot.

As comfortable as I am around my firearms, I'm also acutely aware that they are deadly weapons and have the potential to hurt or kill me or someone else if I don't operate them safely. As with any heavy machinery, their misuse can easily result in grave injury or death. It's not that they frighten me; I'm not scared to handle my guns. But I respect their power and the potential for disaster inherent in owning and using them, and act accordingly. For instance:

  • As sure as I am that I won't inadvertently load a live round into my gun while I'm dry firing or cleaning it, I still get all live ammo out of the room before proceeding with any activity that involves pressing the trigger.

  • As sure as I am that I know how to safely holster a firearm, I still always put the gun in my IWB holster while it's off my body, and then attach the holster to my clothes to avoid the risk of muzzling or negligently shooting myself while reholstering on-body.

  • As sure as I am that the fabric holsters I use for thigh carry and belly band carry are reinforced enough to protect the trigger guard, I still use a rigid Kydex trigger guard cover any time I carry my gun in a soft holster.

  • As sure as I am that I just cleared this gun less than five minutes ago and it's still empty, I will clear it again every time I pick it up.

  • As sure as I am that the gun I just cleared and locked open could not possibly have a live round in it, I never put my finger on the trigger until my sights are on target and I'm ready to press it.

  • As sure as I am that the gun I'm holding, which is locked open and visibly empty, couldn't possibly shoot anyone, I never point it at anything I'm not willing to destroy.

Habits like these must be repeated over and over until handling your guns in any other way is unthinkable. The danger for newish shooters is that when we're over the initial hump of being completely new to guns, we gain just enough confidence to be extremely dangerous with them. We don't know what we don't know. We think we're safe gun handlers, and we get lazy about the rules, and then we get hurt and find out we're famous on Youtube (and possibly under arrest or being trundled feet first into the morgue). Whether you've been shooting for four days or four decades, you must practice safe gun handling as if your life depends on it--because it does.

Be consistent, be careful, and stay safe out there!