Skill Set: Too Safe?

Your number one concern when working with firearms is safety. We apply the four safety rules consistently, any and every time there are firearms present. Keep in mind, firearms by design are lethal weapons, and should be treated as such. Safety is a religion; a life or death matter. But, is there such a thing as being “too safe?”


Thinking you’re safe enough, believing that you’re too safe is actually dangerous. You become complacent, which leads to carelessness. “Careless” doesn’t really sound like a word with much consequence. However, carelessness with firearms, your negligence, often has tragic results.

While teaching on the range teaching I watch everyone. Newer students can quickly become overwhelmed with the material, and skip a step that ensures safety. Overserving seasoned students ensures they haven’t developed any bad habits between their last visit. And, since everyone can make a mistake I keep an eye “on all of ‘em.”

Regardless of where I am, when someone presents a firearm into that environment I get ready. Remember, safety is an individual responsibility. No matter where you are or who is doing what your responsibility is to ensure a safe environment. You automatically assume until proven otherwise that nobody else has a clue how to safely operate a firearm. Never forget – the majority of firearms owners don’t even know, much less understand and apply the four basic safety rules. Someone is making motions to draw their pistol. If possible, I get in close where if necessary I can control their muzzle. If that’s not possible - or for those who don’t have a lot of experience controlling a gun with a person attached - it’s a good idea to create distance, preferably towards cover. Watch everyone, regardless of their age or experience.

Improper technique

Using the wrong gunhandling skills or defensive techniques is unsafe. Techniques used on military battlefields can be unsafe for civilian applications. Skills often displayed during a run ‘n gun competition are not for self-defense.

You are responsible for every round that exits the barrel, whether it was fired on purpose or through negligence. For self-defense it’s mandatory to maintain muzzle discipline – it’s always pointing in a safe direction and you don’t sweep/cover bystanders - and keep your finger off the trigger and clear of the trigger guard.

Safety also means applying techniques that greatly reduce or eliminate the possibility of being disarmed by the threat. For example, I don’t watch many videos, but once in a while someone sends me a “recommended” clip. It’s disturbing the number principles and techniques being taught “firearms instructors” for self-defense that were created for tactical team applications. Again, think “safety,” then context and application.

In A fight

Yes, even when defending against a violent attack, “safety” is your number one concern. In self-defense life and death are on the line – otherwise you wouldn’t be using your weapon. The fact that you’re using a lethal weapon tells you how important safety is. If you injure/kill innocents while stopping the threat(s) you have done wrong.

Is it possible during a confrontation that I sweep/cover someone negligently? Yes, but it’s not because it’s a habit. Muzzle and trigger finger discipline don’t make you any slower when it’s time to put hits on the threat. Controlling the muzzle/trigger finger greatly reduce the possibility of you shooting the wrong “target.”

Can you be too safe? No. You have to ingrain the four safety rules so they become habit. You apply the four safety rules consistency to everyone, just like you do with any dangerous tool. However, firearms were designed to inflict injury; that’s their only job. Your “job” is to ensure that force is only used at the proper time and in defense of life.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. Visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.