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Friday, April 1, 2011

Making Safety First Nature

I am a chemical engineer by training. All my life, in school or at work, safety and safety training has been the first thing we give our attention to. So when I started shooting, gun safety was foremost in my mind, and I’ve worked to keep it that way.

So when my wife and kids wanted to learn to shoot, I started by teaching them the rules of gun safety. In the case of my kids, I started early, and I repeat the rules often. For instance, the Rules of Gun Safety are posted in my garage and in my son’s game room:

0. Always wear eye protection, and hearing protection where warranted.
1. All guns are always loaded.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target.
4. Always be sure of your target and what’s behind it.
5. Never try to catch a dropped gun.

These modeled on the classic rules first listed in this form by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper at the Gunsite Academy. The fifth rule comes from a recent an article in Shooting Illustrated by Chance Ballew of the Say Uncle blog. Rule Zero, or “Eyes and Ears!” as we call it, should be obvious, but will probably be the topic of a future post.

So, how do you teach these things so they become, not second nature, but first nature? Simply, by making training an everyday thing. Even the Bible says in Deuteronomy 11:19, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” When you see a gun rule violated on TV, point it out. Even better, when you see an actor or policeman or soldier on TV following a rule, point that out, too. Positive reinforcement works.

Sometimes, though, the training has to get tough. My son has a Daisy Lever Action Range Model BB Gun (alas, not with a compass in the stock, or this thing that tells time) that we gave him as for his birthday when he was 9. At that time, I kept it in my gun safe along with my other rifles, and we would only take it out to shoot together.

One day, I took it out and handed it to him. He checked to be sure the safety was on, and turned it muzzle down. As we got the rest of our gear out, I asked, “Hey, is that loaded?”

He shook it, and there was no sound of any BBs, so he said, “No.”

Wrong answer. “Sorry, Bud, what’s Rule Number 1?” At that point, the gun went back in the safe, and we had to wait to shoot another day.

Thus began the weeping and gnashing of teeth, but I held firm to my decision. Was I cruel to a young child? Or just being a tough teacher? I can tell you that he still remembers, 5 or so years later.

When we are on the range, we call each other on the rules. If someone has a finger inside the trigger guard, we call “Finger!” And if someone gets careless with the muzzle of a gun, we are all free to help them point the muzzle down, and call “Muzzle!” And because of that day with the BB gun and Rule 1, he knows that flagrant violations will make me call a stop to the shooting session.

Does the training work? For me, consider I’ve been shooting for fun and competitively since 1992, and I’ve never had a negligent discharge, nor been disqualified from a match for any reason. For my son, I think this says it all - when he and his friends break out the Airsoft or Nerf rifles for a little force on force “Tactical Tag,” every guy in the group has on safety glasses, fingers outside the triggers as they move, and move with muzzles pointed in safe directions. And as a bystander, I’ve never been hit by a stray round, which must speak to Rule 4.