"Be safe or be gone." These words greet shooters upon entering the Wyoming Antelope Club in St. Pete, Florida. It's a reminder how vigilant our sport needs to be when it comes to firearms safety. Unfortunately, safety (not unlike marksmanship) is a perishable skill. Over the years, complacency can become very dangerous, if not deadly.
Over the past few months, I've witnessed firsthand instances of reckless and dangerous gun handling. Here are a few examples:
- On a recent trip to one of my favorite ranges, the Manatee Gun & Archery Club in Myakka, FL-- one shooter left a hot AK47 unattended, round in chamber/safety off, just so he could go converse with his friends a few benches over.
- At the St. Pete Police Pistol Club, a twenty-something man swept his father with a loaded Glock 23 while moving to an adjacent lane.
- On another visit to the same range, a target fell from its automatic carrier. We all made our weapons safe, stepped behind the line, and called the range cold. While the gentleman was downrange retrieving his target, another shooter crossed the yellow line into his stall and began handling his weapon. I rushed over and grabbed him by the shoulder-- reminding him that a fellow shooter was downrange and that we were still COLD. There wasn't a single thought behind this man's eyes. Sometimes, it’s scary knowing who is shooting in the lane next to you.
- I was shooting an action shotgun match at the Antelope Club when an accidental discharge occurred. The shooter was still receiving instructions and the range officer was in the middle of his, "Shooter, do you understand the course of fire?" speech when... BOOM! The fury of a 12-gauge #6.5 birdshot peppered the Earth in front of them. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the RO ejected the shooter, post haste. “Be safe or be gone “ came into play and the shooter chose the latter.
- Last week, I witnessed a shooter bringing his weapon to the firing line in what he presumed was a "safe" manner: slide-locked back on his 1911, tucked tightly into his chest, with the muzzle pointed directly up into his chin! It was one of the most ridiculous sights that I've seen at a shooting range… EVER!
Again, firearms safety is a perishable skill set. It's your duty to stay proficient-- and to correct others that are endangering the lives of your friends, family, and fellow shooters. Let's review the basics:
1. EVERY GUN IS CONSIDERED LOADED, AT ALL TIMES! There is no exception to this rule. So, keep that muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times. Imagine a laser beam emerging from the barrel of your gun. Make sure that beam doesn't cross something you don't want to destroy forever. Check the chamber to make sure it's clear before you hand a weapon to someone. They should do the same when they receive the weapon from you-- even though you just checked it for them. Why? Because every gun is to be considered loaded, AT ALL TIMES! There's no such thing as being TOO SAFE when it comes to handling firearms.
2. TRIGGER DISCIPLINE. Keep your finger OFF the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you're ready to fire! Instead, rest it alongside the frame or slide.
3. KNOW YOUR TARGET AND ITS BACKGROUND. Don't assume anything. Keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction means knowing what it's pointed at AND what's behind it. Many times, shooters with hot weapons break the 180-degree line and point muzzles at the stalls next to them. In most cases, these walls are NOT bulletproof. So, you're essentially pointing a HOT weapon at the shooter next to you. That person could be your wife, mother, son, best friend, or neighbor—or anyone that you DON'T want to kill. One slip and BANG! Welcome to the six o'clock news. Know your background.
These are just the basics-- the bare minimum amount of proficiency you need to keep from blowing yours or another one's proverbial brains out. There are many other best practices that shooters should add to their toolbox. Remember, you're NEVER too old to learn something new. Complacency kills, so stay on point.
Also, NO range is safe. Stay frosty when you're at a range that rents firearms. It's amateur night when loaded handguns are being given to anyone with $40 and a smile. In fact, hedge yourself from these situations completely. Don't frequent ranges with lackadaisical approaches to firearms safety.
Stay safe, my friends. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but please help your fellow shooters out with a "refresher" if they look like they need it. Believe me, there are a lot of people that need it.