Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stephen Hunter — Ask Dr. Guns!

Steve did a super piece in the WaPo..."It's a Different Era in D.C. If You've Got Questions About the Armed Life, Dr. Guns Has All the Answers," including this exceptionally eloquent explanation of the 4 Rules of Gun Safety:
1. All guns are always loaded. Put it another way: All guns are always loaded. That is, develop an extremely short-term memory. It doesn't matter if you checked it one second ago, maybe it magically loaded itself or a cartridge fell off an airplane and not only was it the right cartridge, but it landed just perfectly to fit into the cylinder. (You scoff, but most gun accidents involve extraordinarily unpredictable catastrophe chains.) Check it again. Get in the habit of checking it.

2. Never let the muzzle point at anything you aren't willing to destroy. I see this one violated more than any other, as people, once they know the gun is unloaded, let their muzzle discipline go away. No, no, uh-uh. You can't have different behaviors with guns, one for loaded, one for unloaded. Tragedy lurks therein. Remember, all guns are always loaded. Always. That makes you responsible for it and the direction of its muzzle all the time.

I will admit to three accidental discharges in my 30 years shooting, and all were jokes rather than tragedies because, though I violated Rules 1, 3 and 4, I had trained myself to be very uncomfortable if the muzzle wandered toward something human.

3. Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. This is probably the hardest to obey, because the ergonomics of the gun make the trigger lure the finger onward, toward destruction, and it's so easy to forget. And the bullet once fired can never be recalled.

4. Know what's behind the target. In case you're a complete idiot, allow Dr. Guns to point out what you should already know: A firearm releases a hard, pointed object into the world at speeds over (usually) a thousand feet per second and up to 4,000 feet per second. People think they know so much about guns from TV and movies, but the media almost never communicate the power of the bullet and its ability to penetrate, bounce, do insane things that no Caltech grad student could predict, much less replicate in a lab. Thus you must be responsible in understanding the ultimate destination.

Since most shooting in this urban area takes place under controlled range circumstances, that's not a problem. But no gun should ever be discharged outdoors, upward, into darkness, at fields or trees or even traffic signs. (I put a coupla .25s through a "SLOW" sign on Waukegan Road in Glenview, Ill., in 1967, so I know the temptation to irresponsible young men.)
BTW, I loaned my reader's copy of Night of Thunder to my pal Paul Erhardt...his one word book review?



Anonymous said...

Number 1 doesn't make much sense to me. He suggests checking to make sure the gun is unloaded because "all guns are always loaded." Okay, it's loaded. Leave it loaded, and quit waving it around with your finger on the trigger. Quit trying to constantly prove it is UNLOADED by saying it's loaded.

Michael Bane said...


Steve is right...checking a gun needs to become the equivalent of a nervous tic...every time it touches my hand, I check it. If it stays in my hand for any period of time without shooting, I'll check it again...and again. If I'm preparing to use it, I'll check it again.

I assume all guns are always loaded, and the only way I can know for sure it's unloaded is to check it.

Over the decades, one would be AMAZED at the number of ingenious ways unloaded guns have of getting loaded and loaded guns have of getting unloaded, usually through the devices of a person trying to be "helpful" in one way or the other. It is far too easy to set a gun down, then pick it back up and to not even remember if you're in the middle of something else. The assumption that a gun is always loaded and the reflexive check is the safest possible way of handling guns.

In my household, any guns that are out of the safe, except those being photographed or videoed, are, indeed, always loaded with a round chambered and, where required, the safety on.

Every time I pick one up, I check it. If it's going on my hip, I want to guarantee it's loaded and long as it stay on my hip, I'm secure.


Anonymous said...

I can't begin to count the number of times I've had 1 and 2 violated when I'm asking to see a firearm at a gun shop. One clerk [at a Sportsmans' Warehouse] kept handing me pistols that he was holding upside down, with the barrel pointed at my gut. Of course, he hadn't cleard the action. Yes, I took it up with the boss, who said the clerk didn't work in that section very often. They now don't sell any handguns at that store's location. OldeForce

Anonymous said...

I'm with Michael Bane on this one. You always clear the gun. As for in a retail setting, seems to me the best bet is to lock the slide back, or open the revolver, then hand it to the customer and let him/her close the slide.

Anonymous said...

MB's right. Many many many years ago it was taught "treat all guns like they are loaded." I believe it was The Col. who took it to the core "all guns are aways loaded". Right MB? the mushroom

Anonymous said...

I lost count of the number of times I have cleared pistols that I knew were unloaded and pressed check pistols I knew were loaded.

I'm the weak point in this system and I do eveything I can to minimize errors.