© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

Why are we so resistant to learning from our mistakes?

Last week I became aware of a
YouTube video of a fellow shooting himself in the leg after making ready during a match. He starts the video off by proclaiming that it wasn't his fault - it was his gun which malfunctioned and was in the hands of the maker's service department for analysis of the "failure".

I knew, ten seconds into the video, that it wasn't the gun. I knew, just due to the fellow's demeanor, that he'd had his finger on the trigger as he holstered the gun. No, I couldn't see the gun or his trigger finger; I came to the conclusion just from his emphatic denial of culpability.

It wasn't long before
someone dug up other videos of this guy at other matches, videos which clearly show his finger on or near the trigger when reloading, moving, and even picking the gun up. The simplest explanation - that his finger was on the trigger when he put the gun in the holster - is, as it almost always is, the most likely explanation, particularly when the fellow in question has a habit of doing so.

Unfortunately the fellow in question apparently doesn't want to believe that, hence his insistence that it wasn't his fault. In a sense, it isn't. Not the accident itself, you understand, but his unwillingness to own up to it. We, as a community, have created a culture which doesn't use accidents as learning opportunities, but rather as chances for shaming.

Todd Greene over at has an excellent article on the incident and this subject. He points out that the way we handle safety in the shooting world is so irrational that it leads to an atmosphere in which we never question what or why we do certain things. He uses the contrasting example of airplane accidents, where investigations are done so that other pilots can learn from the misfortunes of others. This leads to better pilots (and, in some cases, better aircraft.)

We don't have that in the shooting world. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Many years ago I started considering the need to reconsider our safety rules, particularly because the set of four most commonly used contains both logical and linguistic errors - particularly in the first rule, “treat all guns as if they were loaded” (and all variations of that.) My best friend (and ace instructor) Georges Rahbani and I wrestled with the subject for quite a while before we decided that there needed to be three truly useful, internally consistent and understandable rules instead of four disjointed ones. I’ve been writing about those rules, and the changes in them, ever since.

We weren’t the only ones who saw the problem and the opportunity; I was surprised and delighted to find, for instance, that our criticisms and practices were paralleled by people like Rob Pincus. Other progressive folks came up with their own ideas and approaches, all aimed at the same end: get people to be safer with firearms. The three rules I use today have evolved and incorporate elements from many others, but the goal remains: safety rules should be clear, unambiguous, universal, and self-reinforcing - and always open to change and modification as the need arises.

The reaction of large segments of the shooting industry to this view has been less than enthusiastic. You'd think, from some of the knee-jerk reactions, that we'd collectively blasphemed Holy Writ! I've personally been demeaned by other writers and bloggers because I've dared to question the orthodoxy. In fact, one blogger has gone to great lengths to concoct a convoluted and complicated restatement of what I call Traditional Rule One simply because I pointed out its flaws. This, rather than simply admitting it is useless at best (and counter-productive at worst) and getting rid of it altogether.

As Todd correctly points out, it's this complete unwillingness inside the industry to examine our beliefs and practices - and our simultaneous propensity for deification of certain members of the shooting fraternity - that results in our never being able to learn from the mistakes of others. I've said this before, and Todd's article compels me to repeat: if all we do is bleat "Rule One! Rule One!" every time an accident occurs, or argue incessantly about whether it should be called an accidental or a negligent discharge, we'll never make any progress.

Everything we do, including how we approach gun safety, should be subject to evolution. Actively resisting that process does nothing to help the rest of the fraternity and should not be accepted as the norm.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Regarding the Boston Marathon attack.

I'm still mentally processing the information coming out of Boston about the attack at the Marathon. There's so much to say, and so much that could happen as a result of this horrendous act, that I can't possibly do it all justice. So, if you'll forgive me this rather informal bullet-point treatment of the subject:

- Once again, the news reports during and in the 24 hours after the attack were wildly inaccurate. The problem is that raw intelligence is by nature messy, and it takes someone incredibly skilled and patient to sift through it and come to rational conclusions. The news readers on radio and television are most assurredly not the people to be doing that, yet they always try to be.
REASON magazine has a great article about lessons learned from the attack, and it's well worth your time to read.

- Expect attempts to link this to gun ownership. It's already been suggested - though with no evidence that I can find - that the bombs consisted of gunpowder. If that's the case, expect swift action in Congress to limit access to powder and primers. I've already seen calls to do something about the "growing threat of IEDs", and it's a sure thing that our "leaders" will jump on that with gusto.

- You can bet that any large event will now have omnipresent and quite likely overbearing security. The general public will demand action, and as one idiot in a news interview said: "They can give me a cavity search right now and I'd be perfectly happy". People will be very quick to give up their liberties for a little perceived security. Expect a push to increase funding for DHS, and an increase in TSA presence outside of airports - places like train terminals and even highways.

- You will hear calls for national programs to install British-style camera networks in major (and probably minor) cities, as well as justification and funding for more drones to "keep us safe".

- The conspiracy theories and urban legends started seconds after the blast. Don't get caught up; check information out yourself before passing it on. If in doubt, just hit the delete key.

- Greg Ellifritz had a pretty good article on his blog about
dealing with bomb attacks. His thoughts about multiple devices are historically accurate; during the Lebanese "civil" war, the involved forces came up with the idea of launching a mortar shell into a populated area, then wait a minute or so for the first responders to show up. (Lebanon had a pretty well developed cadre of first aid people at that time.) They'd then launch another shell into the same place to take out the responders. This has since been applied by bombers all over the world. Greg's advice is sound: if you happen to be in an area when a bomb goes off, leave as fast as you can. Sounds callous, I know, but you need to decide for yourself if it's better than becoming another casualty.

- Rob Pincus put out an article about
what to do if you're caught in a city which has been attacked. Rob travels more than anyone I know - in the range of 300 days a year - and so he's had to think about this on a regular basis. I'd add that his advice is generally pretty good for natural disasters as well; the effects of an earthquake will snarl things up even more than a terrorist attack, and it's something we on the left coast think about on a regular basis.

- Rob's only omission is how to get information and handle communications during these events; as we saw in Boston, the cell systems were so thoroughly clogged that it was assumed the police had ordered them shut down. That wasn't true (despite the fact that it was reported by at least one news reader), but it illustrates the problems inherent with getting information to or from an affected area. Assume that your cel phone will probably be useless; a smartphone with a VOIP app (such as Skype) will often work if you can find an open wifi connection, such as at a library. As we’ve seen in many hurricanes, hardline internet connections stay up when cell towers are damaged and inoperative. A small radio to receive the local stations can be a godsend in such situations, and a radio scanner to listen to both first responders and the local amateur radio traffic has proven to be very useful during natural disasters.Communication during emergencies is a huge topic, and I encourage you to make acquiring the proper knowledge and technology a priority in your planning.

That’s it for today. Be safe, be vigilant, and be prepared.

-=[ Grant ]=-

SARC: a proactive way to deal with school attackers.

In the midst of the debate about whether teachers should be armed, a pragmatic approach has been quietly gaining attention. It's focused on giving students and teachers ways to fight back against attackers on school grounds, ways that don't rely on politicians and contentious fights over "guns in our schools." It's called the
School Attacker Response Course (SARC).

It was borne in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school murders. Rob Pincus knew that there had to be a better way for schools to handle these kinds of events, so he took his police and SWAT experience, along with his martial arts training, and came up with some novel yet plausible and effective ways to counter the school attacker.

The School Attacker Response Course teaches students that there is an alternative to "duck and cover" - the Cold-War-era method of cowering in fear under desks. This tactic has been regurgitated for the 21st century in an attempt to keep kids safe not from Russian bombs, but from spree killers. It was silly then, it's silly now, and the School Attacker Response Course aims to change it.

The course, available free to any school administrator who requests it, doesn't talk about arming teachers at all; instead, it shows how teachers and students can fight back and escape should the unthinkable happen in their classroom. It emphasizes that these kinds of events are very rare, so it doesn't stoke children's irrational fears, and then talks matter-of-factly about what they can do if by chance it does happen.

The SARC just graduated its first class of volunteer instructors, and more are on the way. If you're an administrator who wants to really keep kids safe, or if you're interested in teaching this course in your local schools, go to the SARC website to learn more.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Don't fall for it!

(Note: I am omitting names in this article, not because the information is secret but because I want to focus on a concept. The incidents I talk about are public knowledge and can be found with about 15 seconds of Googling; if you really want the nitty-gritty details, feel free to do the searching - but please don't bring that information in to any comments here, as I want the discussion to center on the ideas not the players. Thank you.)

This last week two seemingly unrelated events came to the attention of the shooting public. First, a trainer whose background is supposedly Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) violated some cardinal safety rules and shot an assistant instructor three times; second, a well-known shooting retailer published an article on their blog that promoted what is universally considered to be an unsafe act when holstering a gun.

In the first incident, the trainer in question has produced some videos (one of which I've seen) that show techniques I find rather dubious from a safety aspect. They're presented under the guise of being "real world" special forces training and aggressively sold to people in the private sector.

In the second incident, the writer (whose pictures and videos show a certain laxity with regard to trigger finger discipline) presented a technique for "safely" reholstering guns like the Glock. This technique required the the shooter to put the trigger finger into the trigger guard behind the trigger to ostensibly keep if from moving backward if caught on something. It was supposedly developed by a Marine-turned-police officer, whose "secret" work necessitated anonymity.

Fans of the instructor who shot his assistant tried to downplay the negligent shooting by invoking nonsensical terms such as "big boy rules" and "real world" safety. Because the instructor was formerly a special forces soldier his methodology, we were told, would be different and we needed to apply different standards of safety to him and his methods.

At the same time, the author of the article in question defended the technique by invoking the inventor's status as both a Marine and an undercover cop. Because of his undercover work, we were told, his technique was "real-world" and needed to be judged under a different standard of safety.

The linkage between the two is obviously safety, but it goes well beyond that. Both incidents are infused with a liberal amount of the logical fallacy of 'appeal to authority' - that is, the material being presented is valuable (or not unsafe) because of the position of teacher/inventor. What concerns me is that so many people will actually fall for that.

Just because someone was a special forces soldier, Marine, or police officer doesn't automatically make a technique or an opinion correct in all cases. First, because of context: just because it's valuable in a war zone doesn't mean it's applicable to you in your home; second, because the authority (real or perceived) that someone receives from his job doesn't mean that his opinions are infallible. If you assume either (or worse, both) of those you can end up adopting wholly unsafe and inappropriate techniques, not to mention the loss of valuable time training and practicing them.

It's up to you to look at everything you read, see, or experience in a class with a critical eye. Just because someone is famous or holds a certain position doesn't mean he's right! You need to ask yourself whether what you're seeing is safe, applicable to your own life, and addresses a plausible need.

More importantly, the person who is promoting that technique or idea must be able to give you more justification and explanation than simply "I'm special forces/SWAT, and unless you are too you’re not in a position to question!"

Whenever you encounter a technique justified only (or at least primarily) by the status of the person who invented or is promoting it, you should immediately question its validity. Anything you learn with regard to defensive shooting has to make sense, it has to address a real need, and above all it needs to be safe. If there isn't a rational explanation forthcoming, if all you're given is appeal to authority, then you should be extremely wary of both the material and the person feeding it to you.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The next 72 hours and you.

No matter who wins the election tomorrow there will be large numbers of people who will feel disenfranchised. Twitter has been abuzz with users claiming to be ready to riot if the President does not win re-election, and even if he does the "Lakers Effect" (so named because of the propensity of Los Angeles Lakers fans to riot when they win) may come into play with nearly the same results.

As I noted last week, the slowly improving mess in the northeast will not help matters, and in fact may prove to be the flashpoint for anything that does happen. I still believe that the potential for the spread of violence to other urban centers around the country remains very high.

Because of this I think it's prudent for those who live in urban areas, or who may find themselves in an urban area over the next few days, to think a bit about how to deal with mob violence. Given the increasing probabilities I feel it’s something that you should spend a little time getting to understand.

It must be said that I've never been in a riot. I've seen them on television, certainly, but they've not been something that this good ol' country boy has had to contemplate. Luckily for us, Greg Ellifritz has been in a riot. More than one, actually, and he has some great tips for staying safe.

Go read Greg's article right now - you might thank me come Wednesday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ramifications are everywhere. Especially in being prepared.

The storm that hit the NE part of our country was more devastating than I expected - and I expected it to be severe. The original projected pressure of 939mb turned out to be very close to the actual 940mb recorded - the lowest ever for the eastern seaboard. When I saw that forecast pressure a week ago I knew it was going to be very bad, but even I was shocked at what eventually transpired. My thoughts are with our countrymen at this hour.

Watching the news from the area I was struck by a reporter's comment: she saw hordes of people wandering the streets looking for food. They didn't show any video, but I can imagine in an area where seven million homes and businesses are without power (and not expected to get power restored for many days yet) there would be a lot of scavengers. It becomes a survival tool. I can't, however, think of anything I'd want to do less than roam the streets looking for scraps and warmth.

That's why we prepare. Everyone reading this faces dangers simply by virtue of living, and while the ways in which we each prepare might be different the goal is the same: survive the event so that we can bring ourselves and our communities back to something resembling normal. Sometimes, though, in our preparations we forget the little things that turn out to be bigger than we expected.

After my Monday post about prepping I got an email from a reader who related the story of a friend of his. Seems this lady turned her hall closet into a canned goods pantry, which was probably a good idea given that she lives in hurricane country. The next hurricane wiped out her electrical service for a few days, but this time she was ready! Well, except for a little problem: seems she didn't have anything other than an electric can opener, which of course was inoperative. All her food was locked in those pesky metal cylinders!

Now you or I may have used a knife to gouge open the cans, but that didn't occur to her. Yes, adaptation and flexibility are important aspects of being prepared but there is a more important point in this tale: if you make decisions about your preparations, you need to think through all of the ramifications of those decisions. Simply investing a buck or two in a couple of hand-operated can openers was all she really needed, but didn't think of doing.

I was struck by this same problem watching the news footage from the East Coast prior to landfall. In one scene a gas station was being mobbed by people filling up their gas cans in advance of the power outages. Most of them had a couple of tiny 1-gallon plastic cans; how long would that stash run their generators? A couple of hours, if they're lucky. Then they're right back where they started simply because they didn't think their plans through. Generators need fuel, and you have to think in terms of hours of power. How many hours might you expect to be without power and how many gallons will the generator use per hour (or vice-versa) will tell you how many gallons of fuel you need. It's more than you might think.

So you've got a generator and plenty of fuel? Great! How do you plan to get that power where you need it? Most people have extension cords, but they're typically too short and almost always of too small a gauge to be safe. The generator by necessity sits outdoors, and the run of extension cord into the house is also by necessity long. The longer the run of wire, the greater the diameter of that wire must be. If you're going to use extension cords with a generator you need the heaviest gauge your can get for both safety and usability. (I'm
partial to these, which are both tough and easy to handle, because they stay flexible in the cold.)

Better yet is to have your electrician wire in a cutover panel and a special outlet into which you plug your generator. He can also wire up the super-heavy-duty cable you'll need to feed the output from your generator into the panel.

You do know that your generator, unless it's quite large, is unable to power your electric oven and range, right? In fact, depending on the size of the generator it may not even be able to run your refrigerator, lights, and microwave at the same time. How are you going to cook your cache of canned food?

How about a good, old-fashioned suitcase-type Coleman stove! Cheap, easy to use, safe, and if you get the propane type the fuel is readily available and stores for years. (Do you have a way to light the Coleman stove? How about one of the long spark-type igniters that you can find for a few dollars in the camping department of any outdoor store? Get several.)

Think through all your preparations; look for the weak points. Remember that just because you have a piece of equipment that works under a specific set of circumstances doesn't mean that you can ignore the support equipment necessary to utilize it properly. Sometimes, like our lady with the can opener, it means analyzing every single step of the problem and actively questioning your assumptions. Looked at in the proper frame of mind it might even be entertaining!

OK, maybe not entertaining…but you get the point!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Managing scarcity - it's an important part of safety.

As I write this the storm formerly known as Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast. The remnants of Sandy are merging with a winter storm, sucking frigid air from Canada, and coalescing to form what's being called a "superstorm". The forecast is for extremely high winds, double-digit inches of rain, feet of wet and heavy snow in the mountains, and water level rises as much as 11 feet in some of the bays in the region. Current predictions say that many millions may be without power for an extended period of time - days, certainly, perhaps weeks in some areas.

This storm isn't just powerful, it's huge. Looking at the maps of predicted impact reveals possible tropical-storm force winds as far west as the Mississippi River, and from South Carolina up through Maine. A blocking high pressure region to the northeast means that the storm will stick around for at least a couple of days, perhaps through Wednesday. If you live east of the Big Muddy and north of Florida your weather for the next week is likely to be dominated by this event.

Given the incredible, almost unprecedented scope of the storm some people are very likely to die. It’s a sad thing to contemplate. For my friends, family, clients and readers in the impact zone I hope that you ride out this event as safely (and calmly) as possible. Please don't take risks, and make sure your families are as safe as you can make them.

I realize this is an emerging story but I think it's important to use it as a springboard to talk about the larger context of personal safety. I run into a lot of people who spend large sums of money on guns and ammo, but very little on other things that will keep them safe. I know folks who have very impressive gun collections but no generator and only a day or two of food. Yes, you might need those guns to keep yourself safe from the looters who scurry in after any major natural disaster - but you have to survive the disaster to even begin to be worried about the looters!

Personal safety isn't just about handling bad guys; it also means keeping yourself safe from auto accidents, burns, disease, diabetes, strokes, electrocution, and all the other things that can maim or kill you. I know it's hard to keep perspective because guns are shiny and shooting them is a whole lot of fun, but if you're serious about your safety and survival you need more.

The trouble is that no one has unlimited time, money, or energy to do everything. Even if you're in the top 1% of wage earners in this country your resources are finite. Preparing for an emergency, be it criminal or meteorological, requires managing those scarce resources to provide the best return for the most likely circumstances.

Instead of signing up for yet another Ultra-Advanced Warrior Operator Level 3 Ninja Team Houseclearing course (Walter Mitty, Instructor), how about using that money to buy a generator or take a class in trauma care or outfit a pantry with shelves and stock them with food? Needing one (or more) of those is probably just a tad more likely than having to clear an office tower of 'tangos'.

It's really easy to get caught up in the fun of Barbie-dressing yet another AR-15 while ignoring the fact that you have no trauma kit (and no training in how to use it.) In the final analysis a lever action rifle and a month’s worth of stored food beats the crap out of the latest red-dot equipped flattop AR and an empty refrigerator.

This week is going to be very bad for a very large number of people. If you're one of them, my thoughts are with you. For the rest of us this should serve as an object lesson in preparedness. Remember: preparing is all about managing scarcity. Do so wisely.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A new security blog.

Over the last month or so I've started following a new blog devoted to security.

Though his focus is on information security and the technology behind it, Bruce Schneier also has some very interesting thoughts on security in general. His perspective is pretty intriguing, and so his
Schneier on Security blog has been added to my daily RSS feed.

Not many blogs make that grade, but his is good enough that I look forward to reading it regularly.

A recent entry deals with the idea of
bomb threats as a denial-of-service tactic. This hits home, as a local college faced just this scenario a few weeks ago.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Safety rules. Again. Until everyone gets them.

From a
new-to-me blogger comes the story that a woman in South Carolina was 'accidentally' shot by an off-duty sheriff's deputy during a class to get her concealed weapons permit. The deputy was the instructor.

What's interesting to me are the blogger's comments: Jeff Cooper's rules, he says, "are not flexible". Oh, really? I'll refer you back to
my original article on the detestable Rule #1 for clarification. I think they’re tremendously flexible, which is precisely the problem.

There are three issues with his conclusions: 1) Labeling rules with meaningless numbers (rules need to be in words for people to be able to understand and follow them); 2) deifying those rules by reverently invoking the name of the person who wrote them (‘appeal to authority’, a logical fallacy), thus preventing criticism; and 3) doggedly hanging onto the first rule which does nothing - repeat, NOTHING - to make anyone safer and in fact leads to exactly the accident covered in his story. That's because, as I keep saying, people feel free to do stupid things with guns that they THINK are unloaded.

Safety rules that actually work:

- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a generally safe direction ("generally safe" means that should the gun unintentionally fire, it will not hurt or kill you or any other human being.)
- Always keep your fingers outside the trigger guard until you are actually ready to fire.
- Always remember that you are in control of a weapon, and if used negligently it may injure or kill you or someone else.

No equivocation, no ambiguity, and if all anyone remembers is the first one they (and everyone around them) will still be safe. The same can never be said for Traditional Rule #1.

Respect the man, challenge the material.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: safety TV, Tam's funny, and an important video.

Over at Sharp As A Marble comes the revelation that
gun safety was front-and-center on a primetime broadcast show. I'm glad to see shooting becoming more mainstream, or more precisely returning to the mainstream status it enjoyed when I was a kid.


Funniest thing I've read this morning, from Tam on the subject of Whitney:
"I'm also waiting for the first spotting of a Velvet Elvis portrait of MJ and Whitney side-by-side, busting beatific poses, à la a Byzantine icon, perhaps with Dale Earnhardt and Lady Di at their shoulders and the mighty host of Celeb Heaven gathered behind them..."

Soon to be seen at all the better streetcorner vendors, no doubt.


Recently a county right here in Oregon produced a quality
video that aims to reduce misconceptions about officer-involved shootings. Titled “Hollywood vs. Reality”, it counters many of the common misconceptions about shootings in the line of duty. When you remember that some of those misconceptions often persist in private sector self defense, the value of a myth-busting video like this one should be clear. Definitely worth watching!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Safety rules, big revolver, and juries.

I hope everyone enjoyed my little SHOT Show recap last week. Between recovering from a nasty cold (which I picked up in Vegas) and being a bit tired of talking guns, this morning is going to be all linky, no thinky.

-- Over at the
Geek With A Gun blog, there is a discussion about my recent post on safety rules. He doesn't entirely agree with me, which is okay - the important thing is that he's THINKING about the rules and their effect on those who hear them, rather than doing the knee-jerk "the four rules are immutable" routine. The more people who understand that any rule which requires people to pretend something is doomed to failure, the better off we'll all be.

-- As you may know, I've become a fan of the Forgotten Weapons blog. This morning I checked my RSS feed to find that they have an article on the
Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon! (Hey, it's a revolver - it's topical for this blog!)

-- There was an interesting article published in TheJury Expert, which is the journal of the American Society of Trial Consultants, back in September of 2009. In it, Glenn Meyer did a little test on the
effect of firearm appearance on the opinions of a mock jury. The results were a little surprising.

Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

When are we going to give up on this "Rule One" nonsense?

The incident of a
recently graduated Navy Seal shooting himself in the head has been widely discussed in the gun world. The most common refrain (and darned near the only one I'm hearing, proving Patton's Dictum) is that he just didn't pay enough attention to "Rule One."

Go read my original article on that rule.

Here's the issue: it's not that he didn't pay attention to Rule One. It's that Rule One has a huge logic flaw, one that most people in the gun world still don’t want to acknowledge - let alone discuss. The flaw? The rule isn't, and can never, be universally true!

If "all guns are always loaded" or "treat all guns as if they were loaded" were true, we'd never be able to clean our guns.

If it were true, we'd never be able to engage in dry fire practice.

If it were true, we'd never be able to put them into a case and transport them to the range.

If it were true, the entire manufacturing and warehousing of firearms would by necessity grind to a halt.

The reason none of that occurs, of course, is because we make constant exceptions to that rule to allow those activities to happen. We make these exceptions to what is supposed to be a universal rule almost daily because we know we have to. We know that guns aren't always loaded, else we wouldn't be able to do any of these things (and many more) with them. We do this so often that we don’t even think about it, and it’s those exceptions that get us in trouble.

Face the facts: guns are not always loaded. You know it, and I know it. Rule One is a joke. Why do we keep deluding ourselves?

The problem isn't that this guy didn't pretend hard enough that "all guns are always loaded"; it's because
he chose to do something stupid with a gun that he was sure was unloaded. That's the problem, and this continual Pavlovian bleating about "Rule One" isn't helping prevent these accidents.

The solution isn't to get people to pretend harder, it's to get them to
stop doing stupid things with guns!

Since I wrote that article several years ago I've modified the Commandments a little. After conversations with a number of people, and lots of thinking about the implications, I've come to this version:

1. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

2. Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.

3. Always remember that you are handling a deadly weapon, and if you do so negligently you may kill someone - including yourself.

That last one takes care of things like watching for a proper target, making sure that you know where your bullets are going to land, following proper dry fire procedures, and all of the rest. It allows situational variance (we really don't have to worry what's behind our target when it's in front of a bullet trap at a range) and better instills the proper safety mindset that I proposed when I wrote the original article. It might have saved this guy's life.

Because "Traditional Rule One" sure didn't.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Numbers don't say things. Words do.

A man is sent to prison. At night, after the lights have been turned out, his cellmate yells "number eight!" The whole cell block breaks out laughing. After things quiet down, someone else calls out "number eleven!" Again, everyone laughs.

The new guy asks his older cellmate what's going on. "Well," says the other prisoner, "we've all been in here for so long that we all know the same jokes. So to save time, we just yell out the number instead of repeating the whole joke."

Feeling like he's now a full-fledged part of this fraternity, the new guy yells "Number twelve!" No one laughs - not even a snicker. Confused, he yells out "number three!" Silence.

Dejected, he turns to his cellmate and asks "what's wrong? Why didn't I get any laughs?"

"Well," said the older man, "some guys just don't know how to tell a joke."

I've written before - many times - about how I abhor what I call "Traditional Rule One ("treat all guns as if they are loaded.") For those coming in late,
read this for the whole explanation.

It's obvious that my opinion has had only minor effect on the shooting fraternity as a whole, as I continually see that silly rule referenced in blogs, forums and articles. That's bad enough, but there's something else that gnaws at me: the use of a number as shorthand for the rule itself.

I see references all the time to "Rule One", "Rule Two" and so on. No explanation of what those numbers mean, just the number itself - as if everyone both understands and agrees. The problem with safety rules, obviously, is that not everyone understands them in the first place. If they did, we wouldn't have so many accidents!

Particularly when dealing with people who don't have a lot of experience with firearm safety, numbers obscure the meaning. Those folks don't know the rules terribly well to start with, and throwing shortcuts at them only compounds the problem. Have you ever taken a class where the instructor assumes that you already have every bit of the background he or she does, and refers to things with abbreviations and acronyms that you don't recognize? Frustrating, isn't it? That's what we as a community do by continually referring to safety rules with only numbers.

Even for people with solid backgrounds in a subject, abbreviations blur definitions over time. For instance, can you identify all of the words in the common acronym "NAACP" without Googling? You've seen it all your life, but I'll bet for many the words have long since been forgotten. The same, I believe, happens with the safety rules.

Right now, can you recite "Rule #2" perfectly and without hesitation? What if your version of "#2" isn't exactly the same as the next guy's? What are the safety implications? Don't you think that's something you should know?

Rather than agreeing on a number, wouldn't it be a whole lot safer to agree on the actual subject of the rule? What if your numbers don't even refer to the same concepts - how is that in any way promoting safe gun handling? It's not, and that's my point.

If you're an instructor, using numbers in place of words is a sign that you're not paying full attention to the safety of your students. If you're a blogger, it's an indication that - like our hapless con at the top - you're more interested in being part of the "in group" than of actually promoting gun safety.

Stop contributing to the problem: put safety in words that everyone can understand. Say what you mean instead of abbreviating. Even if people don't agree with you, at least they'll know what you’re talking about!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A gun safety failure that goes deep into training methodology.

From Washington state, our neighbor to the north, comes an
interesting news article about a fellow who managed to put a round into a neighbor's abode while practicing his "quick draw".

There's a lot to say about this incident beyond just the safety failures. What struck me, however, wasn’t his gun handling stupidity; is was the erroneous training decisions he made before he ever committed a safety violation. It's one of those decisions that I want to discuss today.

First, an illustrative digression: many years back I was in (ironically) Washington state shooting a "tactical" match. One of the stages had the shooter standing in front of a single cardboard target with simple directions: at the buzzer, draw and put one round into the IPSC "A" zone as fast as you can; re-holster, and repeat for a total of five shots.

I was using a Colt Python in a straight-drop tunnel-loop holster and realized that I could easily 'game' the stage. The target was set abnormally low for a person of average height, which made it just right for me. All I needed to do was pull the gun from the holster, raise the muzzle to place it parallel with the ground at roughly my mid-torso, and fire. I never reached extension; it looked very much like an old FBI point shooting technique. My first draw and fire was .85 seconds and they got a little faster from there. If my memory is accurate, the fastest was something like .70 seconds. All were hits.

It was an interesting exercise and I'm sure that there are those out there who think it a good defensive shooting drill, but it's not. I was standing in front of a target which had been identified for me, the area of precision I needed to hit was predefined, I had already determined exactly what I was going to do, and I had my hands in the perfect place waiting for a buzzer which I knew was my permission to shoot. It meant nothing other than I was really fast under those artificial conditions, regardless of the importance given it by anyone else.

The fellow from the news account made a similar error of concluding that his "quick draw" was a significant thing to practice -- so much so that he absolutely needed a realistically weighted magazine to make the drill complete. There are legions of people out there just like him, oblivious to the reality that how fast one can draw is really of little importance in a defensive shooting encounter. Far more important is the ability to first recognize that an attack is happening, then efficiently process that information and recall the skills necessary to respond appropriately. The time sink isn't in the execution of the learned skills -- the quick draw -- it's in the recognition and recall.

Practicing the drawstroke by itself is called “skills in isolation", and it's a common error people make in practicing for defensive shooting. Is getting the gun out of the holster important? Yes, it is. But learning to react to a threat stimulus, efficiently process that information and develop the mental linkage which allows relevant skills to be performed without cognitive thought, is more important. Skills need context, a real relationship to the circumstances in which they'll be used, in order to be useful.

Draw practice, pulling the gun from the holster after getting ready and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do, is a simple mechanical action. It's an athletic skill, nothing more, and relative to all the other things you need to do in a critical situation not even the most important. Figuring out that you actually have a situation where you need to shoot, and figuring out WHO you need to shoot, is more important and usually the most time consuming.

How should one realistically practice? Read the last two sections of
this article over at the Personal Defense Network. A good defensive practice routine involves processing information and making decisions. It requires a random start command, one that forces the shooter to think about what he's doing, identify what he's dealing with, recognize the precision required, and recall the skills necessary to make the shot(s).

Can this be done at home? To a certain extent, yes. Having a training partner, or a smartphone app which randomizes the target calls and rounds needed, is a must. Couple that with one of the laser shot designators which are affordably available allows the kind of contextual training which is actually valid to developing self defense skills.

(There is a caveat: this is no substitute for doing the exercises in live fire. Shooting multiple 'shots' without recoil and muzzle blast is of no use. This kind of training is really only valuable to the extent of developing the necessary processing skills and verifying that the first 'shot' hits.)

The way I see it, this fellow set himself up for failure by insisting on practicing something of relatively minor importance, and doing so without any context to a real need. Forget about the safety rule violations for now -- his first mistake was making a poor decision about what he was going to "practice". The rest was simple negligence.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some bits of rifle stuff.

The Firearm Blog (one of the few blogs I read religiously)
brings us good news: Alexander Arms (AA) has decided to stop gouging people who want to make 6.5 Grendel rifles! Apparently Hornady submitted the cartridge to SAAMI to be standardized, but AA refused to relinquish their trademark. That recently changed, and now the 6.5 Grendel is available to anyone who wants to use it.

This is great news; I'd once considered building an AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel but was put off by the insanely high price tag that AA had attached to all things bearing the name. Les Baer, miffed at that very situation, essentially duplicated the round and named it the .264 LBC-AR (try saying that three times, fast!) It didn't catch on.

Now that the 6.5 Grendel can be made by anyone, without paying royalties, I hope to see many rifles so chambered. The round would make the AR platform more usable for a wider range of shooting activities, and the availability of factory ammunition should speed its acceptance. With proper bullets it would make a nice deer round with good accuracy and downrange energy. Though nothing is ever perfect, the 6.5 Grendel is as well-balanced a round as exists in the AR platform.


Take a look at this old LIFE photo essay about a gun safety class in an elementary school back in 1956. I wish to call your attention to frame numbers 5, 6, and 7 - can you identify that rifle? (I can, because it was the rifle I used as a kid. I still have a very soft spot in my heart for it.) Make your guesses in the comments!


It's a tricky task to attach a sling to a rifle where any alteration could adversely affect the value. For instance, what if you have a very old but heretofore unaltered Winchester lever action which you want to take hunting? How do you attach a sling to the butt stock without drilling a hole? I'd never thought about it, but the answer appears to be a
butt stock cover such as those produced by these guys. (I could personally do without a lot of the embellishment, but the workmanship appears to be first rate.)


In response to my recent paean to the lever action rifle, Ed Harris sent some of his thoughts. As always, interesting reading from one of the most knowledgable guys in the shooting world:

If I had to “bug out,” riding my mountain bike around EMP-killed vehicles, getting out of Doge carrying only what I could in my ruck and pockets to get beyond the moderate damage radius before the fallout starting coming down, a lever-gun and revolver combo isn’t the world’s worst choice.

I have no plans to stand and fight off the whole world. If you attempt that by yourself, in the words of the late clandestine operator, Harry Archer, who ventured in dangerous climes on behalf of our country and lived to retire and die peacefully in front of his TV, “you’ll never live to shoot-‘em all.”

I just want to protect myself and my gear, put time, distance and shielding between me and any threat, escape, evade, “shoot and SCOOT” if needed, put meat in the pot and get the job done.

A compact, sturdy, fixed sight, double-action .357 revolver such as the Ruger SP101 is an affordable compromise. It is simple for anyone in the family to use. It is accurate enough within 25 yards, “hell for strong,” rugged, highly portable and has impressive ballistics for personal defense. It can use either .357 Magnums or lower powered .38 Special ammo.

Round out the package with a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum. It offers adequate combat accuracy for “short range” (less than 200 yards in the infantry sense) and ten rounds magazine capacity. The magazine tube can be topped off without taking the gun out of action. Rapidity of fire is good. It is a natural pointer. The carbine is light in the hand, quick to the shoulder and fast to the first shot and follow-ups come easily. Teamed with a sturdy, concealable revolver, the combo is hard to beat.

The sad truth is that back East it is difficult to find someplace to practice with a military caliber assault rifle. Sure you can get a .22 LR upper for your AR, but it just isn't the same. Most indoor ranges will let you fire any rifle chambered for handgun ammo, so my most-used center-fire rifle these days is my Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum.

A .357 lever action is manageable by females and youngsters. It has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun which works great for small game, feral dogs and groundhogs. When firing .38 Special standard velocity (non +P) lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, producing a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet garden varminting.

Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at. A .357 levergun with proper ammunition is fully adequate for deer within 100 yards and with peep sights is more accurate on silhouette targets out to 200 yards than your average AK. But leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does.

The Marlin lever-gun requires better sights, but you can install these yourself. The most rugged iron sights are the XS ghost ring peep. If cost-conscious stop right there and you will have a good outfit. If you have trouble seeing iron sights well, or want to improve your longer range and low light performance, add a XS Lever-Scout rail. This accepts a variety of quick detachable optics, such as a hunting scope or military reflex sight, leaving the peep sights available for backup.

New leverguns cost less than "black rifles." Use the money you save to buy a Dillon RL550B to load your ammo! Used .357 lever-guns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle would cost new. In most places the Marlin 1894C .357 Microgroove rifles sell for about $100 or more less than a similar used "Cowboy" model with Ballard rifling, because people think that "Microgrooves won't shoot lead."

In my experience of over 25 years, the 1894C with Microgroove rifling shoots lead bullets just fine, as long as you stick to standard pressure or ordinary +P .38 Specials at subsonic velocities.

Microgroove barrels handle jacketed bullet .357 Magnum loads best. The 158-gr. soft-point is what you want to use for deer from the rifle. The 125-grain JHPs are best for personal defense from the revolver, or for varmint use in the rifle. Jacketed bullet .357 magnum rounds are expensive. You will actually need and use very few of them, so just buy a several boxes of factory loads for contingencies.

Standard velocity .38 Special, 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters are the basic utility load for both rifle and revolver. This is what you want to set up your RL550B to assemble in quantity. Bulk Remington .358 diameter 158-grain semi-wadcutters assembled in .38 Special brass with 3.5 grains of Bullseye approximate the velocity, accuracy and energy of factory standard velocity loads. Velocity is about 750 f.p.s. from a 3 inch revolver, and 950 f.p.s. from an 18 inch carbine. Ordinary lead plinking loads shoot into 4 inches at 100 yards from the Marlin. Jacketed soft-point .357 magnums shave an inch off of that. If you buy powder and primers in bulk, component cost to reload free gleaned brass that you have saved with a plinking load is about 10 cents per pop. If you cast your own bullets from free scrounged scrap lead you will save a nickel. Jacketed bullets cost 15 cents eachInstead buy a good quality 4-cavity bullet mold such as Saeco #358. Buy only a few boxes of full up magnum factory loads for serious hunting and conserve them.

My “Cowboy assault rifle” has a Trijicon Reflex II sight Model RX09 with A.R.M.S. #15 Throw Lever Mount fitted into an XS Systems Lever Scout rail. XS mounts are dimensioned to accept Weaver bases. Fitting the military M1915 rail base requires that you to determine which cross-slot you will locate your optic onto. You want the optical sight at the balance point of the rifle.

After you have located the proper cross slot to position your sight, adjust the slot width and depth with a square Swiss needle file to enable the mounting clamp crossbar to press-fit snugly into it. Retract the thumb clamps and slide the A.R.M.S. mount over the front of the rail. The rear mount clamp tightens against the angled sides of the rail only. You want no “slop” after you have fitted the crossbar slot depth and corners.

After fitting, the A.R.M.S. #15 thumb-lever mount offers quick-disconnect with perfect return to zero. I can use the tritium illuminated, no batteries required ever, combat optic or backup ghost ring peeps at will. I zero 158-grain .357 magnum loads to coincide with the pointed top of the Tritium-illuminated chevron at 100 yards. Standard velocity .38s hit "on" at 50 yards. Holding the legs of the chevron tangent to the top of a 12-inch gong at 200 yards I can hit with magnums every time. Placing the chevron across the shoulders of an Army E silhouette I make repeat hits out to at 300 if I do my part.

Maybe I shouldn't have watched, "The Road" again...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday Wanderings.

Sorry for not having a post on Monday. If you tried to check in, you probably found that the site was down. My hosting company, Dreamhost, experienced a system-wide outage on Monday which took down all of their client sites as well as their own. My site came back up, sporadically, sometime Monday afternoon. It wasn't until Tuesday night, however, that I could actually get access to upload anything. Everything seems to be back to normal (knock on wood.)

First things first: On Monday I taped an interview with Doc Wesson for the
Gun Nation Podcast. He'll be playing it tonight on a LIVE streaming podcast episode he's calling "The Wheel Of Love". It starts at 9:pm EDT, and you can listen live at this link. He'll even be taking call-ins (which gives me an idea...)

Yesterday Breda over at
The Breda Fallacy posted a little rant about lightweight snubnose revolvers for women. Tam picked it up this morning. I read both and agreed with pretty much everything they said, but I had this odd feeling I'd read it all before. Oh, now I remember! That's because I've written the same thing. More than once. More than twice. Great minds? Well, I don't know that I can claim to have one, but they certainly do. (If you listen to the Gun Nation podcast tonight, you'll probably hear me tell Doc that the snubnose revolver is an 'expert's weapon', not something for a beginner.)

In a previous life I dealt with police reports on a fairly regular basis, and I was always amused at the language and syntax in the writing. One Deputy, who was forever on 'the outs' with his supervisors for not playing the game, was once reprimanded for using the phrase "I watched him...” instead of the more official-sounding "I observed as the suspect..." This memory came back when I read a
Miami Herald article about a Florida Highway Patrol firearms instructor who was shot in the derriere by her supervisor. The official report was that the supervisor was 'inspecting' the weapon, which is apparently FHP-speak for "screwing around with". Were I in charge I'd be sorely tempted to allow Trooper Mellow Scheetz ('Mellow'? Seriously?) a penalty kick at her supervisor's privates, just to bring home the lesson, then do some remedial safety training that doesn’t allow for the “but I thought it was unloaded!” defense.

That's it for today. Be sure to check out the podcast this evening!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wrong Woman now has a blog!

Kelly Muir at
Wrong Woman has put up a blog to discuss the unique aspects of this new self defense program. Called Power Play, I can already tell that it isn't going to be your average self defense blog: her third post talks about serial manipulators and the language they use.

It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. This is something men don't normally deal with, and thus I'd never really thought about such nuances of interpersonal conflict. I've read studies that put the number of sexual assaults where the victim knew her attacker at something on the order of 80%. Now I've got a little better idea of how that happens.

It's this kind of insight that's going to put the holistic approach of Wrong Woman on the map. Mark my words.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Comprehensive self defense is becoming a reality.

This is such an exciting time in the field of self defense study! More and more reality-based courses are being offered, and we're finally starting to see true integration of all the pieces of the defensive puzzle: armed and unarmed, lethal and less lethal.

One the newest and most innovative approaches comes to us from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly Muir, an accomplished martial arts instructor, has put together the first truly integrated and comprehensive self defense course for women. Called
Wrong Woman, it teaches intuitive skills across the entire range of response.

The course starts with a Fundamentals class, where the students learn the basics of intuitive skill development. From there they can choose to take classes tailored to their particular interests: unarmed response, use of chemical/electrical tools, and firearms. Many of the classes are offered in both basic and advanced form and there's even a class devoted to risk assessment and decision making.

It's a great new building block approach to personal defense, where everything that's taught has the same basis and progression. As the student's life evolves she can simply 'plug in' the course that best applies to her current or anticipated situations.

My wife, herself a longtime student of defensive shooting, is anxious to take Kelly's course and is just waiting for her to come to the west coast! Those who are fortunate enough to live anywhere near Ohio should get to Columbus and
enroll in Wrong Woman. Be sure to check out the Wrong Woman Facebook page, too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not Monday; some more safety stuff.

Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday - I was occupied with more pressing matters. The series on the Rhino revolver will resume tomorrow.

I couldn't let this pass, however. Seems that
Alan over at Snarkybytes wants to do away with Traditional Safety Rule #1, "all guns are always loaded" (or variants thereof.)

Welcome to the club, Alan - I've been
saying the same thing for over three years now, and caught the same flak that you're now getting.

The comments over at his place are very similar to the comments that I got (and continue to get.) For whatever reason, people are convinced that the more 'rules' they have to follow, the safer they'll be. (Of course they'll argue the opposite about gun laws, the irony being lost on them.) They present all manner of convoluted arguments and frantic re-wording to avoid the very thought of doing with fewer gun handling guidelines despite the logical probability that those fewer guidelines would prove more effective.

(There is that rabid subset of Cooper acolytes who oppose any change simply because The Colonel didn't approve of it, but their numbers appear to be dwindling.)

I have a couple of nits to pick: "Keeping the finger off the trigger" isn't specific enough for my comfort level; I prefer "finger out of the triggerguard", as simply ‘off the trigger’ does nothing to prevent stumble/grasp accidents. Second, while I understand his argument (and even agree with it to a great degree) about knowing your target and what’s behind it, I believe there needs to be something that addresses things like aerial shotgunning and proper backstopping for dry fire practice. Hence my third rule, though I’m willing to consider that I’m being needlessly redundant.

My modest proposal is that safety rules should be taught thusly:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

Alan's chart is pretty good, though, and I wish I'd thought of it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Recoil and reflexes.

video of a petite woman shooting a S&W .500 Magnum made the rounds last week. At issue was an uncontrolled (negligent) discharge, occurring as a rapid “double tap.”

Watch the video, and you’ll see that as the gun recoils from the first round, a second round is ignited. The barrel is nearly vertical when the second shot fires, raising all sorts of concerns about its eventual landing place.

The various comments made (not just on The Firearm Blog) indicate a lack of familiarity with the forces at play.

If one observes new shooters closely, it's very common to see them release the trigger immediately after the sear breaks. This is particularly true where the reset force significantly exceeds the pull weight, as it does on most S&W revolvers in single action (especially the X-frame .500.) The strong rebound spring quickly, almost instantaneously, sends the inexperienced trigger finger back into the battery position.

As the trigger/finger reach full reset, the recoil has caused the muzzle of the gun to arc backwards toward the shooter's face. The shooter, who has not expected this level of violent reaction to the cartridge firing, finds that the hand does not have a firm enough grip on the gun. The hand muscles - all of them - instinctively tighten to maintain a grip and control the gun.

The problem, of course, is that as those muscles tighten so do those of the trigger finger, which is now sitting on a trigger that has reset and produced a gun that is in battery. The hand squeezes and the trigger is forced back, firing the gun again.

It's not a gun problem, and having a longer trigger travel or a heavier trigger as some suggest won't prevent this from happening. What would prevent it is proper instruction from a teacher who understands the whole issue, and is smart enough to do a couple of things: first, have the shooter dry fire the gun so that he/she understands what the trigger is going to do. Second, put only one round into the gun until the shooter is comfortable with the recoil/muzzle blast/trigger control.

The most important thing to take away from this is that it is a predictable, and therefore preventable, occurrence - assuming that the person in charge has the knowledge base necessary to do so. Some time back I took heat for having the temerity to suggest that a good shooting coach needs to have a passing familiarity with physiology, psychology, physics, and engineering. This incident illustrates why that opinion remains unshaken.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The S&W lock issue just won't go away.

Several people emailed me about
The Firearm Blog's picture of Jerry Miculek's 627PC. It would appear that his gun has had the locking mechanism disabled, leading to much renewed discussion about the incidence of accidental lock activation.

When the locks first came out there were a few reported cases of locks self-engaging. The wisdom of the internet held that the locks were just fine, that S&W would never knowingly introduce something that would put people at risk, that the reports were fabricated, and so on.

As time wore on it became apparent that the issue was real, but seemed to mostly happen with lightweight guns shooting heavy recoiling loads. Then I started getting reports of lightweight guns shooting normal loads experiencing the problem, followed by the "big boomers" and hunting loads. Most recently I've heard first-person accounts of steel guns (all J-frames, so far) shooting sane cartridges having their locks self-engage.

I've collected enough of these accounts over the last several years that I simply won't carry a S&W with a lock. The incidents are numerous enough, and the consequences dire enough, that I simply don't trust the mechanism. I recommend that all my clients seriously consider carrying a non-lock gun; if you tuned in last week you found that my usual carry revolver was a Ruger, partly because they don’t have such a mechanism.

(Just for the record: I have no financial stake in this debate, as liability issues demand that I do not deactivate a safety device - no matter how questionable - from a gun. I'm not making any money by suggesting that you carry a S&W sans lock.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

This has "bad idea" written all over it.

I got an email last week from a client whose relative was concerned that his new Glock "didn't have a safety." To remedy this perceived fault,
he's considering buying one of these.

So, let me make sure I understand the concept: a safety device that forces you to mess with the trigger in order to either put it on safe or take it off safe. What could possibly go wrong?

(Bonus question: how do you take the safety off if you're suddenly forced to use your weak hand?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not showing good JUDGEment.

The Firearm Blog
alerts us to a company called Lightfield Less Lethal that is now selling rubber buckshot rounds for the Taurus Judge. (I'm sure someone will point out that a Judge loaded with .410 birdshot is already "less lethal" and thus has no need for this product. Can't say that I disagree all that much, either.)

I'm concerned that the Judge is already selling to people who profess to "not wanting to kill someone", but have a desire to protect themselves. (I've heard that phrase so many times regarding this gun that I've become numb to the stupidity of the statement.) We've been working hard over the last several decades to eradicate the concept of the warning shot, and along comes Lightfield with products intended to just "scare them off." (Read the company's statement at the link.)

Given the market segment which appears to be buying these guns, it's only a matter of time before Lightfield is sued because their "less lethal" ammo killed someone. No matter how you rationalize or justify the use of these things, to the legal establishment discharging a gun is still lethal force even if Lightfield doesn't understand the concept.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Winchester's top sellers: The Firearm Blog reports that Winchester recently released their top five (even though there are six listed!) pistol cartridges. The 9mm is not surprisingly in first place, and that favorite of law enforcement, the .40 S&W, is justifiably in the number two slot. Coming into third place is a bit of a dark horse - the venerable .38 Special.

What's most curious is the .380 ACP in fifth place. According to a Federal rep I talked with a few years back, the .380 wasn't a big seller. If I recall the conversation correctly, they only made a run of that caliber every other year, as they could easily warehouse enough for the intervening period. I suspect a combination of many new guns chambered for the round, and the big buying frenzy that resulted in widespread ammo shortages, conspired to create a pent-up demand. Once everyone has gotten their box (or two) of the
9mm Corto, then sales will drop back down to normal.

A little problem at Gunsite: According to, a man was shot in the abdomen at Gunsite a few days ago. If you’ve seen pictures of their facility, you’ve seen the shoothouse with catwalks above which allows observation of the proceedings. Apparently a man was on the catwalk and silhouetted by overhead lights; the student saw his outline and shot it. Luckily the man survived the incident and is recovering.

Gunsite says that students are instructed not to shoot toward the catwalk, but the excitement of playing searchg-and-destroy games often leads to instructions being forgotten. If you have a facility in which you've hidden shoot targets, then challenged someone to find and engage those targets (especially under any artificial time constraints), such forgetfulness should not come as a total shock.

Yes, the guy who pulled the trigger is responsible for his rounds,
and I am in no way excusing his behavior. However, it's the instructor's job to ensure that the benefit of any training outweighs the risks. I'm not sure what the benefit of having a live observer perched on a catwalk in view of the shooter is, but setting up a bank of monitors and some cameras with 2-way audio capability brings the risk to nearly zero. In this age of cheap, remote-controlled IP cameras, the practice of having people suspended above a line of fire is decidedly antiquated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The annual ritual.

I have a physical exam every year, complete with blood panel. When they take my blood, I always ask specifically for a lead test to show how much of that stuff has gotten into my bloodstream. Last week the doctor did my blood draws, and today I learn the results. I expect my lead levels to be at their normal lows, thanks to a few sensible precautions.

First, I always wash my hands after shooting. I carry a package of those pre-moistened towlettes with me wherever I go, and make sure to wipe my hands and face after shooting, or before I ingest any food or drink. The antibacterial (waterless) gels can also be useful, but only if you immediately wipe with a towel of some sort; allowing it to dry on the skin doesn't get rid of any lead compounds, it just moves the stuff around to a larger area of skin!

Never partake of food or drink on the firing line; smoking while shooting is also a good way to introduce lead into your bloodstream. Take a break, wipe your hands and face, then eat, drink, or light up as you see fit.

Handling lead bullets usually results in some of the metal being transferred to the skin. The very best protection is to wear gloves (latex or nitrile), but if you can't do that at least give your hands a very thorough washing.

There is lead residue on and in your gun after firing. When you clean your gun, those compounds are removed and deposited somewhere. They don't just disappear! Gloves are highly recommended for cleaning chores, and you should always use some sort of disposable or washable covering over the area where the cleaning is being performed. Keep those gloves on while you clean up after the gun maintenance is finished.

I recommend that the first thing down the barrel be a wet patch, followed by a dry patch. This tends to remove the bulk of lead residue, after which you may proceed with any brushing you feel necessary. Under no conditions do I run a dry brush down the bore first; that pushes the residue out the end of the barrel, where it floats into the air that you breathe. Start with a wet patch to trap as much of that stuff as possible.

Even small amounts of lead in your blood can pose a serious health risk. Be smart, take a few simple precautions, and your only worry about lead will be the escalating price!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A uniform is scant protection from stupidity.

Today we have two tales of poor gun handling. Pharmacist Tommy sent me
this story about a police officer who shot himself in the head.

From Carteach's blog we get the tale of an Army soldier whose buddy shot him. The young man is quite lucky to be alive.

What do these two incidents have in common?
People do stupid things with guns they perceive to be unloaded. (The problem isn’t that the gun is or is not loaded, but that people are doing stupid things with them in the first place.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

DRAW FAST, HOLSTER SLOW: Tam alerts us to a ND that happened at a Todd Green class. In his commendable reporting of the incident, Todd says "Never be in a rush to holster your pistol. We all know it, we say it, we teach it. Not all of us do it." So true.

As instructors it's easy for us to forget that reinforcement, and sometimes enforcement, are necessary parts of our job. Especially when we're dealing with "advanced" students, we tend to go easy on the reinforcement of fundamentals for fear that we'll be resented for belittling their ability or experience. We have to resist that tendency, and we need to do so consistently. When warranted, enforcement (up to and including ejection from class) has to happen.

The only instructor I've ever seen who is absolutely consistent in this regard is Georges Rahbani (
TBRIYNHO.) Even in his advanced rifle classes, which are invitation only and have stringent prerequisites, you will hear "safety on" and "finger in register" (index, if you prefer) commands at the end of a string of fire. He never wastes an opportunity for reinforcement at any level of training or ability.

When Georges encounters failures to heed commands or instruction, he has a way of bringing the point home to the student: he/she has to publicly deposit a dollar bill into a pot. (The students have a friendly shoot-off at the end of class to win the pot.) This has a non-confrontational, yet still very chastening, effect on both the offending person and the rest of the students; I've seen it work on countless occasions. I don't know where the idea comes from, but I'm giving Georges the credit.

THE PROBLEM WITH ELECTRONIC SCALES: I recently sat down to work up a new .308 load. I turned on my RCBS electronic scale, waited a couple of minutes, and starting weighing charges. Much to my surprise, the weight of the charges thrown by my powder measure increased each time! I'd forgotten that electronic scales need protracted warmup periods before accuracy and repeatability can be expected. After a half-hour of warmup, it settled down and gave correct readings. Word to the wise: keep your mechanical scales around to double check the electronic ones, or buy a set of check weights.

HERE COMES DA JUDGE: From The Unforgiving Minute comes this gem:

"The inexplicable success of the Taurus Judge still depresses the hell out of me. Taurus keeps cranking out new versions, each more grotesque, hideous and nonsensical than the last, and people KEEP BUYING THE GODDAMN THINGS. Just another sign that our culture is doomed, I suppose."

(The opinions of the contributor do not necessarily reflect the views of the Management of this blog. Then again, they just might.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

THAT TIME OF THE YEAR: I hope everyone had a great (as in safe and happy) Christmas weekend. I hope you'll accept my sincere wishes for a happy New Year - may 2010 be a darn sight better than 2009!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Maryville, TN has had a couple of accidental shooting deaths in the past weeks. Both incidents involved guns that (brace yourselves) people thought "were unloaded." The Maryville Police Chief, one Tony Crisp, concludes that people just weren't pretending hard enough:

"Treat a gun as always being a loaded gun," he said. "Once you cleared it, check it again."

A more nonsensical statement I cannot imagine! I hope that you will save me the trouble of tearing it apart by seeing for yourself the logic failures therein. How much better it would have been had he taken the opportunity to do some
real education by saying something like: "never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you're not willing to shoot. Don't let anyone around you do so, either."

SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE: A couple years back I made an offhand remark about Charter Arms guns. That one little sentence generated a ton of hate mail, including some from Charter's president/owner and their largest distributor. Well, M.D. Creekmore over at made a more pointed statement regarding Charter's "quality", and he too heard from Charter's owner. It's in the comments; scroll to the bottom.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What safety standards?

I've just had an interesting email exchange with an instructor. Said instructor read
my articles on safety, and opined that anyone who didn't teach the 'industry standard' was opening himself (or herself) up to liability problems. "Everyone teaches the Four Rules for a reason", he concluded.

I've heard this argument before (more than once, in fact) and it makes less sense each time I hear it - on several levels. I'm sure this view is quite common, so let's tackle the subject head-on.

First let's address the very notion that there is such a thing as an industry standard for firearm safety (and by extension that there is a version of the Four Rules which can be held to be that standard.) There is enough variance regarding the wording of the Four Rules that I'm not sure you could hold up any one and say "this is the standard, but these other similar examples are not." To be a standard requires consistency, and the Four Rules are hardly consistent in their wording, interpretation, or application - particularly Rule One, which is the one I take most issue with.

Second, even if the wording of the Four Rules was consistent you'd have to establish that they were in use by the majority of instructors in the business of teaching firearm safety, and further that they were being taught to a majority of firearm students. This isn't even close to being true.

I submit that the only candidate for establishment of an industry standard would be the NRA. The NRA has more instructors teaching more students every year than (probably) all the independent training venues in the country combined. As a certified NRA instructor, I know that the NRA has its own safety rules, and they are not the Four Rules. I further submit that if one is not teaching the NRA safety rules, verbatim as presented in their course material, one is in fact NOT teaching anything remotely resembling an industry standard and the argument/defense is moot.
(This should not be construed as either an endorsement or criticism of the NRA safety curriculum.)

Third, even if the Four Rules were consistent among all their users AND it could be shown that they were being taught verbatim by a majority of instructors to a majority of students, the industry standard argument is simply an admission that one can't be bothered to seek anything better. 'Industry standard' is not the same as objective standard!

Back in the early '80s, the photographic industry was rocked by several high profile suits regarding handling of hazardous chemicals in photofinishing plants. The common defense was that the industry had its own standards with regard to safe handling, and that they were being followed. That proved to be no defense at all, and several companies paid out large settlements and/or fines. The government stepped in and required that the industry's standards be replaced with up-to-date and independently verified practices, and a for a while there was a small boom for businesses who provided compliance packages tailored to the industry. (I should know, as I was one of those entrepreneurs who made and sold such packages.)

Were I sitting on a jury in a liability case, I'd want to know if what the defendant did was the best that could be done. If the answer was no, regardless of how widespread the behavior happened to be, would cause me to find in the plaintiff's favor. Relying on a defense of compliance with 'industry standards' when there are demonstrably better practices is probably not going to win any juror's favor!

Integrity says that It's not enough to show that you do what everyone else does; you have to show that it is the best thing to do, and that there is nothing better. I'm a big believer in excellence over compliance; of going above and beyond when possible, particularly in the area of keeping people safe from harm.

Bottom line: defending the Four Rules using the 'industry standard' argument is roughly the same as a teenager screaming to her Mom "but everyone else does it!" No, they don't, and even if they did it's irrelevant. That didn't work with my parents, and it doesn't work with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

GETTING THE MESSAGE: I've been harping on the failures of "Rule #1" for some time now, and it seems that the attitude is catching on. Slowly, but at least progress is being made.

IT ISN'T JUST ME: I've recently expounded on the issue of dogmatic teaching in the self defense world, and I'm not alone in my criticism. Check out this post from Roger Phillips over at, then read the entire discussion. (I've never met Roger, don't know him from Adam, but he makes sense. Can't say that about everyone.)

POCKET COMPANION: no, not a J-frame! From Dustin's Gun Blog I learned of a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Legal Heat. It's an interactive version of their printed guide to concealed carry and gun laws in all 50 states, written by attorneys and instructors. It' a great idea, and something that's needed. Unfortunately, despite the viability of the concept I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular app.

There is a big issue with Legal Heat's usability. The pages are just images of the book, which means they're pictures and not text. This sounds inconsequential, but it's not. When you bring up the laws on a state, because it's showing the whole page the text is tiny; unreadably small. To read it, you need to magnify the image by pinching. (The usual double-tap doesn't work, because it doesn't work on full-frame images!) Once you magnify the image to read the text, you have to continually scroll back and forth because images don't wrap text. Finally, the app doesn't support screen rotation; it only displays in portrait orientation, which exacerbates the scrolling issue.

Frankly, iPhone users are accustomed to a higher level of application quality than Legal Heat delivers. If they would simply make their pages actual text and enable screen rotation I'd be comfortable recommending it. As it stands, even at $1.99 it's not worth the hassle.

DEAL ALERT: My background in commercial photography has left me more than a little anal retentive with regards to optics, particularly when it comes to binoculars. I'm a fan of porro-prism designs, as they a) have better three-dimensional perspective, b) are brighter, and c) cost less than roof-prism types for any given level of optical quality (resolution/contrast.)

Minox makes some of the best porro-prism binocs. The optical performance is exceptional, and the build quality matches the glass. They make an 8x and a 10x version, and at a street price of roughly $550 they are something of a bargain; you'll need to spend roughly twice as much to get a roof prism of comparable performance, and you still won't get the perspective advantage that the porro-prism design gives you.

Despite their advantages, porro-prism designs are distinctly unfashionable these days and don't sell well regardless of brand. Roof prisms are what people buy, and Minox has bowed to the market: they've discontinued the 10x model.
SWFA is closing them out at $299.95, which has to be classed as a screaming good deal. You won't find anything even approaching their optical performance for that kind of money. (Yes, I grabbed a pair - for that price, I wasn't about to pass them up!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

One of the hardest things to predict in this business is workflow. The shop will be humming along, work flying out the door, then suddenly a few large projects (total customs or heavy restorations) come in and the work slows to a snail's pace. Those bottlenecks seem to come in groups, when they're most difficult to deal with. It makes mincemeat out of the most conservative projections!


Occasionally someone will suggest that being a one-man shop is limiting the amount of business I can do, and that I should take on employees. Aside from not wanting the hassle (I was once a corporate lackey with a pile of employees to handle - I know of what I speak), there's also a bit of personal pride involved: if my name is on the work, I think it's important that I actually do said work. If it's good, I want the accolade, and if it's bad I don't want to be reduced to pointing like a 5-year-old and screaming "but it's HIS fault!"

There exists today a well-known gunsmithing concern whose very talented owner used to do all his own work. He "progressed" to having employees, but supervised their work closely. Judging by the recent experiences of several of my clients, he's been reduced to sending out emails explaining why their shoddy work is actually better than the quality product he used to provide.

Personally, no amount of money (or time savings) will convince me to do that - my clients deserve better.


I've written about this before, and others continue to make my case for me: people have a different mindset about guns they perceive to be unloaded. You may get tired of hearing it, but safety is so important that I'm going to keep bringing it up: there is a solution.


Dog people, I need some advice. We have a year-old Shepherd/Newfoundland mix who won't sleep in the spacious, insulated doghouse we've provided. He'll go in to eat, and he's been known to voluntarily pile his toys in it, but he sleeps on our porch exposed to the rain and wind. One would think that sooner or later he'd get cold enough and wet enough to use it for the intended purpose, but it has yet to happen. Should I just leave him to his misery, since it appears to be of his own choosing?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is that gun loaded, and do I really care?

In the comments to
last week's post regarding safety rules, someone asked why checking the condition of a firearm is never listed in any rules. It seems logical enough - why not check the condition of a gun when you pick it up?

I'd like you to think about that for a minute -
really think: why are you checking it?

If you plan to shoot it immediately, I can understand wanting to make certain that it was loaded. If you were going to disassemble it for cleaning, or do dryfire, or some other specific task that would require it to be sans ammunition, I understand why you'd want to verify that it was unloaded. But checking just to be checking? I'm not sure that it keeps anyone safer.

Other than those obvious examples, I can't come up with a good reason for someone to obsess about the load condition of a gun - unless it's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want or plan to do something unsafe.

Look at it this way: why are you verifying the condition if you're just going to pretend it's loaded anyhow? The answer seems to be quite obvious: because you're not really going to treat it as though it's loaded, and the reason you're not going to is because, deep down, you want to do something that you know isn't all that safe.

When I'm handed a gun, unless I'm going to do something that requires a particular state, I don't feel a need to immediate check it. Why? Because I treat all guns to the same standard:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

I'm not going to point that gun at anything I'm not willing to shoot, regardless of whether it's loaded; I'm not going to have my finger on the trigger, either, loaded or not. I don't make exceptions, because the Three Commandments neither contain nor allow exceptions. That is why they are superior to any form of the existing "Four Rules."

There's yet another dynamic at work, which I've observed over the years with a wide variety of people. Those who do the habitual check often display an absolutely frightening tendency: after they've checked the gun, they relax. Visibly. You can see the changes in their body language and facial expressions, showing that they are now at ease - and less vigilant - with that firearm.

I've seen this with new gun owners, and I've seen it with the most experienced instructors. I've seen it with combat vets and with gunsmiths, with gunstore jockeys and seasoned competitive shooters. People check the gun, see that it's empty, and drop their guard. The situation is obvious to anyone who has the courage to look for the signs. You can almost hear them thinking: "don't worry, it's not loaded!"

(Of course, not every single person does this - but you'd be surprised, when you start looking, how large the percentage is and how it cuts across all levels of experience.)

When people are handling firearms, I want to see them completely engaged. Dropping one's guard because the gun has been verified as empty is the genesis of negligent discharges. Never become complacent - the consequences are simply too great.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My muckraking safety articles

I've been asked to provide a permanent link to my articles on the failings of gun safety rules. Happy to oblige; I've added them to the Library as well.

The original article: "On Safety"
Followup article: "Following the safety rules religiously"

Please read them and consider them carefully. Of course, I'm always happy to hear comments from readers!

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not often someone is willing to admit to doing dumb things

There are times that I feel I'm harping on the safety issue, but with the number of grievous injuries and deaths that occur I don't think it is unwarranted.

The latest, sent to me by an alert reader, is a self-expose (complete with pictures) of a nasty handgun incident. Short version: this fellow, in an attempt to test a recently installed grip safety,
pointed his gun at his leg and pulled the trigger. The sequence of events was predictable. (Warning - the pictures may be graphic for some people.)

Once again, I'm going to place the blame squarely on Traditional Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded", or any variant thereof. He felt free to do something blatantly stupid with his gun, because he was sure that he had unloaded it. Since he was sure that he unloaded it, in his mind the other rules obviously didn't apply. If they did, he wouldn't have pointed it at his leg as he intentionally pulled the trigger!

What bothers me most about this fellow's misfortune isn't that he was injured, but that he still doesn't get why it happened in the first place. He is so clueless about this, in fact, that he cites the classic Four Rules of Firearms Safety, starting with the offending Traditional Rule #1 in his article, and explaining to his readers that they should follow them. This is in fact the wrong thing to do, and is what caused his injuries.

It is my opinion that the more people who follow Traditional Rule #1, the more accidents like his will occur. Again, Traditional Rule #1 leads people to do dumb things with guns, because once they're convinced the gun is unloaded they feel at liberty to ignore the other three. In my opinion, we should instead be teaching people to follow the Three Commandments of Gun Safety religiously:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

Let's look at his accident: he violated the First Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

He then violated the Second Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

Finally, he proceeded to violate the Third Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

The result? A large emergency room bill. Lots of pain. All because Traditional Rule #1 allowed him to do stupid things with a gun once he was "sure" it was unloaded!

(It is worth noting that the gentleman in question, one Darwin Teague, is on Usenet record as declaring that he would never carry a Glock, as he considers them to be "unsafe." With all due respect, Mr. Teague, if you do stupid things with guns, loaded or not, all the safety features in the world won't stop you from shooting yourself - as you have found out. I wish you luck, as you seem to need it.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Following the safety rules religiously

In last week's article, I mentioned that there was an ancient religious principle that can help keep you safe from firearms accidents. Allow me to digress for just a moment to give you the necessary background.

As you may know, Orthodox Jews have a rather rigorous set of rules that they follow. According to their tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (their Bible, which consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) Imagine trying to keep track of, let alone follow, 613 commandments!

To make the job easier and to prevent the unintentional transgression of a commandment, they have a concept called
gezeirah, which is explained as "building a fence around the Torah." This idea, which goes back roughly 800 years, refers to the additional precepts that one should follow to avoid even coming close to violating a commandment itself. They supply a sort of early warning system; if you know that you've broken the lesser rule, you know that you're in danger of violating the more sacred one.

Now I'm not saying that everyone should run out and become Orthodox Jews (you'd have to give up Saturday morning cartoons and pepperoni pizza, for starters), but the concept of a "fence" around a core set of rules is as good for keeping us physically safe as it is for safeguarding their spiritual well-being.

So, if our overriding precepts are the Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

What kinds of rules might constitute our "fence"? Well, they might include the "Seven Rules of Dry-Fire":

- Select the proper time and place (alone, no distractions, safe backstop).
- Remove all live ammunition from your training area (including those in your own gun and the gun that you will use for dry fire).
- Go into “practice mode” state of mind. Say out loud: “This is practice time, I am going to practice now.”
- Perform practice.
- When practice is over, go into “reality mode.” Say out loud: “Practice is over, this is real.”
- Put the gun into the condition in which it is normally kept.
- Put the gun away immediately (secured).

The NRA has a poster of 10 or 12 firearms rules that could constitute another fence, and I'm sure you'll find more. Some may be very general, others may be specific to the range you're using or the particular shooting activity in which you're participating.

These additional rules don't relieve you of the need for always following the Three Commandments, and are never to be considered any exception to any of them. They are a
supplement. They provide one extra guard, one extra layer of security, before you're put into a situation where the "fail-safe" of the Commandments is all that stands between you and grievous injury. They set up an attitude, a frame of mind, that makes an accident all the less likely.

For instance, I have my own fence: my shop is a sterile area, meaning that there is no live ammunition in the shop area proper. (Need I mention that there are no exceptions?) I still follow the Three Commandments, mind you, but following the rule of no live ammo in the shop area makes the constant handling lots of guns even safer.

Now go and sin - ballistically speaking - no more!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On safety

A reader alerted me to
this thread over at GlockTalk, where a debate about the first of Jeff Cooper's "Four Rules of Gun Safety" is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable "exceptions" to Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded" (or, alternatively, "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Cooper himself said "All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an article he wrote in 2003.)

I feel entitled to comment, inasmuch as the observance of said rule by gunsmiths has been invoked as one of the "exceptions." I take exception to that exception, and in fact take exception to the very notion of exceptions! Allow me to explain, and perhaps start some exceptional controversy of my own.

To be blunt: I don't like Rule #1. In fact, I believe that it is not just unnecessary, but that it actually sets people up to have accidents. I don't believe it makes anyone safer - I contend that it has the opposite effect.

It boils down to this: people do stupid things with guns that they perceive are unloaded. (Re-read that line, focusing on the word "perceive.") Once people have convinced themselves that a gun is unloaded, they treat it differently. That is where accidents occur.

The trouble with Rule #1 is that it encourages such shoddy behavior.

Follow me here: "treat all guns as if they were loaded" tacitly admits that there are, in fact, two states for a firearm - loaded and unloaded. If there were not an unloaded state, it would not be necessary to admonish someone to treat a gun "as if" it were in the loaded state, would it? If unloaded guns did not exist, the statement would make no sense. Therefore, the phrase itself establishes that there exists such a thing as an unloaded gun. Clear so far?

While Rule #1 logically admits that there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, it asks us to pretend that it doesn't really exist. This is important, as the rule only makes sense if the state of being 'unloaded' exists, but it implores us to make believe that such a state doesn't really exist. This situation is called
cognitive dissonance: holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It's a state of mind that humans don't tolerate all that well.

If one accepts the fallacy that an unloaded state doesn't exist, it becomes clear in the mind that the remaining three rules apply only to loaded guns. After all, the first rule says that there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; therefore, the other three rules can apply
only to loaded guns, because - remember! - unloaded guns "don't exist."

Here's where that cognitive dissonance thing comes back to bite us. The human mind cannot maintain two contradictory concepts ("there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, but it doesn't exist because all guns are always loaded") without resolving them in some fashion. The way that most (if not all) people apparently resolve this is to apply the rules to all guns,
unless they've convinced themselves that the gun in question isn't loaded.

In other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded,
unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns! A statement that everyone knows is untrue, which this is, will simply be ignored.

See how this comes about? If not, re-read the preceding paragraphs.

That, gentle readers, is the crux of the problem! The sad side of Rule #1 is that it implies once you've verified a gun is unloaded, the rest of the rules don't apply to it; you may handle it differently. That's when the accidents come, and is why I say that people do stupid things with guns that they
think are unloaded.

Proof? Easy: it is axiomatic that all gun accidents occur with unloaded guns. Those are guns that people had convinced themselves were not in the loaded state, and therefore didn't fall under the rest of the rules. No matter what the experience or training level of the person involved, "I thought it was unloaded" is the first excuse out of their mouths when something bad happens.

Need more? Here's an interactive proof: go into any gun store, and watch as customers (and often the counter clerks) sweep muzzles over everyone in the store. Now complain to a clerk about the shoddy practice; I guarantee the first thing you'll hear from his or her mouth is "don't worry, it's not loaded."

Still not convinced? Ask Massad Ayoob to tell you the tragic story of a well regarded and highly experienced competition shooter who accidentally killed his wife - with an "unloaded" gun, of course. My contention is that he followed Rule #1 like most people, but that its logical failings caused him to treat the gun differently because he was sure it was unloaded. The result was sadly inevitable.

This is why the forum debate runs so many pages, and ultimately devolves into the attitude "of course, Rule #1 doesn't apply to
experienced shooters, who understand what the exceptions are." I'm sorry, folks, but I believe that any safety rule that implies or encourages "exceptions" - experienced operator or no - is a "rule" that should be thrown out.

One of the best shooting instructors I know - Georges Rahbani - has done just that. He acknowledged the problem and dealt with the issue by eliminating what I'll call "Traditional Rule #1" from his curriculum. Instead, he teaches that
any and all guns, loaded or unloaded, are treated to the same standards, which he calls The Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

There are no exceptions, and thus less chance for the accidents that usually result from them.

The big difference between his rules and Cooper’s is that if you forget everything except the first one, you’ll still be safe. With Cooper’s rules, if you forget all the others accidents will still happen and people will still get hurt. The goal of gun rules should be to prevent injury or death, to the shooter or others; if one follows these rules, whether the gun is loaded or not, it will reduce that risk to the lowest probability.

As you might guess, in my line of work the chances of a negligent discharge are somewhat higher than usual. Consequently, my interest in the safety rules is higher than usual! The online debate mentions that gunsmiths must, out of necessity, violate the Traditional Rule #1 and thus don't need to follow the other rules.

Not in MY shop, bunky!

I follow the Three Rules as codified above. I don't point a gun (any assembly capable of igniting a cartridge) at anything I'm not willing to shoot. That means, in my case, a solid concrete wall in the back of my hillside shop. Because of that, I know what my target is, and what the backstop is. Finally, I don't put my finger into the triggerguard until my sights are on target (the gun is pointing at that backstop.) Yes, all the time and every time; I'm rather fond of my various body parts, and desire to retain them in full operating condition!

I think that's enough pot-stirring for one day. Next time, we'll see how an ancient religious principle can help to reinforce the constant observance of the safety rules.

-=[ Grant ]=-