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November 4 : 2014  
Negative Outcomes: Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wounds (Part I)
In this second installment of Claude Werner's "Negative Outcomes" series, he discusses the language we use for firearms safety rules. The Rules, as carried down from the mountain by Jeff Cooper, are the short-hand reminders of the information supporting each rule. Claude explores some clear language to illustrate the rules.


The day after the first article of this series was published, there was a news story about a famous former Major League Baseball player who shot himself in the hand while cleaning his gun. The bullet went through the bottom part of his finger and his doctors have already said that, even under the best of circumstances, he'll never have full use of it again.

Many gun people have criticized him, saying he's stupid, careless, how could this happen while cleaning it since it's supposed to be unloaded, blah, blah, blah. Here's the issue; to the casual, read average, gunowner, 'cleaning' is not the same process that serious gunowners go through.

When someone owns one gun but hasn't had it out of the case, safe, or whatever for a while, a process of re-acquaintance takes place when they do get it out. They're not necessarily playing around with it, per se, but they are going to handle it and familiarize themselves with it all over. Therein lies the danger. They are casually handling the gun a lot more than we would in just getting the odious cleaning chore over with.

In the process, they may unintentionally disregard that pesky Rule #1 "All guns are always loaded." That's the setup for a problem, especially with a handgun. If they haven't been rigidly taught some key elements and nuances of safe gunhandling and what the hazards are, it's the law of averages waiting to strike.

Let's take Rule #2 - "Never point your gun at anything you're not willing to destroy" or its NRA variant "Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction." A person who hasn't been tutored in the nuances of safe gunhandling might think that as long as it's not pointed in the direction of their family's bedrooms, they're complying with that rule. They might not realize that implicit in Rule #2 is "including parts of your own body, particularly the hand that's not holding the pistol."

Part of the problem is that the simple phrases we often use are sloppy imprecise language. "Big boy's rules" tend to be terribly slipshod communication, not far removed from caveman grunts, farts, and whistles. Very little useful information gets conveyed that way.

The lack of precise language does not serve us well as a community. It eventually comes back and bites us, or worse, someone else. When we teach someone, either in a professional capacity, or just a friend who wants to find out what shooting is about, we cannot take our own subject matter knowledge for granted, we have to be explicit about what we mean.

To do so, we need to provide measureable reference points for others to use. That's how they can understand what we mean.

• "Keep your non-firing hand to the rear of the muzzle at all times."

• "Neither hand should ever go forward of the trigger guard."

• "As soon as you pick up the gun, lock the slide open so you can see what's in the chamber."

• "Point the gun at something that won't bleed if it gets shot."

Start spreading that word and we'll start having fewer problems. And it doesn't hurt to do it as self-talk, either; remember that complacency kills.

Claude Werner is The Tactical Professor. He served in Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces and Mechanized Infantry units in the US Army as both an enlisted man and an officer. His military assignments include being a Special Forces A-Team Commander, Intelligence Officer, and Mechanized Infantry Company Commander. Well known in the shooting community, he was formerly the Chief Instructor of the elite Rogers Shooting School and has won six sanctioned IDPA Championships with snub nose revolvers. In his civilian career, he was Research Director of three commercial real estate firms and was the National Director of Real Estate Research for Deloitte & Touche LLP. His blog is Tactical Professor

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