Marty eJournal column pixDo you practice safe gun handling?

by Marty Hayes, J.D.

As more and more people turn to guns for self defense, a large number of whom have no previous experience with guns, and with the mandatory state licensing programs for obtaining concealed carry licenses requiring little actually firearms training, it is more and more likely that otherwise certified good guys with guns will, on occasion, experience a mishap. My column this month will address this issue and I implore you, especially those of you without a lot of years experience as a gun carrier, to give what I have to say some real introspective thought. It is a deadly serious topic. Let me give you an example.

About 20-plus years ago, I got a call from the wife of a former student who related a story to me. I had never met her, but she wanted me to know what had happened in her household. I sat on my couch (office in the home) and listened with horror as she related that her husband had shot their daughter in the head with a .357 magnum revolver. This student, as it turned out, had a drinking problem, and was at the time of the shooting, drunk.

He carried a revolver in a horizontal shoulder holster, and for some reason, was at home and was handling the gun, while drunk. Predictably, he ended up discharging the gun while holstering in the horizontal shoulder holster, and the bullet went through an interior wall and struck his daughter in the head. Fortunately for all concerned, the daughter lived, although I know nothing more of the extent of her injuries.

What went wrong? Well, two things. The alcohol reduced his cognitive and physical skills to the extent that the discharge occurred, and that, combined with the gun being pointed at an UNSAFE direction resulted in the tragedy in the home. What is an unsafe direction? Any direction that if the gun discharged, serious damage, injury or death could occur. And that folks, is a pretty big part of the world.

When you take your gun out of your holster, where is it pointed? First, probably at the floor of the building you are in or at the ground. Assuming there are no people below the floor (as would be true in a second story room) you are okay at that point. But when you orient the gun horizontally, the muzzle is now pointing at all kinds of things. If you are indoors, you are pointing it at a wall (either interior or exterior) and that wall will likely NOT stop the bullet. You are still likely responsible for the damage caused by the bullet. I would say with complete conviction, that this is the most common violation of gun safety and it occurs with alarming regularity.

Further, it regularly happens with another violation of standard gun safety protocols: that being NOT keeping your finger off the trigger at all times, until you are actually in the process of intentionally shooting the gun. You see, the hand closes naturally around the grip frame of the gun, with the index finger (trigger finger) also wanting to close around the gun and go to the trigger. The number one violation of gun safety rules that I see in training courses is the finger on the trigger at the wrong time. We routinely tell students to get their finger off the trigger, multiple times. And the worst offenders are the experienced gun owners, people who have been shooting a long time.

We are just human beings…

And humans make mistakes. Heck, I made a mistake tonight refereeing a football game, a stupid one. But it happens and we have to accept that. We also make mistakes when handling guns, so that means we as humans need to put into place gun-handling protocols that become physical habits. In order to build the physical habits of good gun safety protocols, NEVER handle a gun unsafely, regardless of whether or not you have physically unloaded it and double-checked it. Build up the habit of gun safety, and to do that, ALWAYS handle guns in a safe manner.

In addition to always pointing the gun in an identified safe direction, you must also religiously practice indexing your trigger finger on the side of the frame, not inside the trigger guard. Doesn’t matter if it is single or double action, or whether there is a safety on the gun. The finger is the true safety, and it must remain off the trigger until you have decided to fire the gun.

Lastly, there is the very real identification problem, when you are actively shooting the gun. In practice, make sure you know where that bullet will strike, and you can live with that bullet strike. Bullets are singularly mean spirited, meaning that regardless of your intent, wherever it lands after you pull the trigger, the bullet will attempt to damage or kill that thing. If you live in an urban environment, then you have a much harder task ahead of you than those of us fortunate to live in rural America. Then, even if you are not actively shooting the gun, the bullet will still damage or kill if one inadvertently hits an object or a living creature.

Now, having said all the above, consider this. In addition to the moral issues regarding injuring or killing someone you didn’t intend to (like the example above) there is still the legal consequences of that stray bullet. Next month, the eJournal will address this issue.

Click here to return to our October 2016 Journal to read more.