So, you’re no longer a novice shooter and have gained a degree of experience. You have worked your firearm safety practices into muscle memory and made the four universal rules part of your everyday life. How has your view of those safety practices changed? Is there really a difference in how to apply them now over how you did when you were a novice? If you’ve been working hard, the answer is both yes and no.
The four universal rules have become part of your weapons handling code of conduct. But you find they are more apparent and concise when you think about them now. Personal experiences have etched the practices into your mind, and they are no longer generic instructions. They have definition and clarity.
Rule number one: Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
Now, when you pick up a gun, your mind switches gears, and you assume a weight of responsibility. This responsibility is serious business, and there is no room for play here. And as a reflection of the burden you carry when handling a firearm, you will accept no less in others. When presented with a violation, you will take control physically, if necessary, to ensure others treat guns with the respect that a deadly instrument deserves. When handed a weapon, you now physically check to see if it is loaded, sometimes sticking your index finger into the breach to ensure your eyes are not lying to you.
Rule number two: Never point the firearm at anything you are unwilling to destroy.
As you apply the first rule, the second becomes easier. Your muzzle has become your third eye, and you are always conscious of where it points. Now that muzzle control has become muscle memory. Your primary concern is sweeping parts of your body while manipulating objects, opening doors, and handling the gun during reloads and immediate action drills.
As your skills have grown and you have entered the arena of more dynamic shooting scenarios, the degree of adherence to these rules becomes more necessary. There is no room for error in a 360-degree shooting environment, especially with others on the field. During team drills, someone may cross your muzzle, and you have learned to automatically move the weapon muzzle up or down to avoid sweeping a team member.
Rule number three: Keep your finger off the trigger unless you are ready to shoot.
This rule has changed dramatically for you. It is now “keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.” You have learned the danger of running or walking with a loaded firearm. Moving can quickly turn into falling, and clutch response is a real thing that can lead to an accidental or negligent discharge.
You have also learned that manipulating a gun during reloading, clearing malfunctions, and working around barricades, barriers, and obstacles can cause you to strike the weapon accidentally, with poor trigger control that can lead to an N.D. (negligent discharge).
Rule number four: Be aware of your target and what is beside and beyond your target.
Now, we think of this as possible bullet endpoints. You know that there is a cone of liability when your gun discharges and that it can penetrate through your target and structures. You calculate areas of uncertainty and where that bullet can end up. As a more advanced shooter, you have also learned that changing your position can change that cone of uncertainty in your favor.
Your understanding of these rules has developed and changed, and now you understand them much more. But are there new rules? Are there other responsibilities? Yes, there are.
You are legally and morally responsible for securing your firearms when they are not in your possession.
Whether it’s a lockable gun box, quality safe, or secured gun room, the firearms are locked away, and access is safeguarded, only available to those you trust to share that responsibility. This includes your vehicles. There are various security devices to lock down your guns while traveling. You are responsible for keeping your firearms out of the hands of children and adults when they are not in your possession.
There are other ways to secure your firearms other than lockable storage.
Gun locks are required by law to be supplied with the sale of each firearm from a licensed dealer, and they are an excellent way to prevent the use of the gun from unwanted use but not unwanted possession. Deactivation is another option that can be as simple as removing the striker or other component. Securing magazines and ammunition separately from the weapon is often recommended. Once again, these methods can keep the firearm from unwanted use but do not control its possession.
Know the laws governing possession, use, and storage in your city, county, state, and federal jurisdictions.
This applies to your home when you travel and during concealed carry. It is a wise practice to print those ordinances and be able to present the actual documents to any authorities that you might encounter. It shows that you, as an individual, are trying to act responsibly and legally while reminding an officer what the actual law is and not some personal interpretation of the law.
Know the laws governing self-defense in your city and state.
Do the research and learn the consequences. Learn the basis for an excellent legal defense should you ever have to use your gun to protect yourself or your loved ones. Consider getting a concealed carry license if that is an option. Many organizations offer membership for legal aid and support.
Do not handle your firearm unnecessarily.
Do not handle your firearm unless necessary when carrying it in a loaded condition. This can apply to long guns but is most commonly applicable to handguns. Whether you are carrying for duty or concealed, leave your weapon alone. Check that it is loaded, in battery, that your optics are on, the magazine is seated, and whatever you need to do to prepare it for use, then holster it and leave it alone. If the gun is in the proper condition and your holster is adequate, nothing will change that other than you messing with it. Constant press checks often lead to negligent discharges.
Implement safety protocols for dry fire practice.
First, designate an area for dry fire training. It should have a bullet stop, Something like a heavy concrete wall. Train with your muzzle pointing toward that backstop, Something that will physically stop a bullet should you ever have a negligent discharge. You should ensure no ammunition is within your dryfire area and triple-check all firearms and magazines. Utilize devices like weighted training magazines and polymer barrels that will not function with ammunition or use Airsoft or SERT guns.
Perfect the employment of your gun’s manual safety when working on advanced gun handling skills.
Whether it’s working on your draw with a handgun or presentation with a long gun, you need to develop the muscle memory to take the firearm off safety when bringing it to a sight picture and placing it on safety when you come off the mount. Only through repetition will you perfect this skill. It also applies when moving from one shooting position to another, during magazine changes, and when clearing malfunctions.
Perfect your muzzle control when working on advanced shooting techniques.
During movement and between shooting positions, you should become constantly conscious of where your muzzle is pointing (also known as the third eye concept). In addition, you maintain the same muzzle control during gun manipulations like reloads and malfunction clearing or manipulating objects while controlling your firearm.
You are responsible for becoming an expert in maintaining your firearms and ammunition.
You need to become an expert on your gun. Understanding the design, function, and maintenance, you should be able to perform disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly operations while examining it to ensure it is in safe operating condition. You need to know the ammunition type, options, and their characteristics within your weapon as well as their performance down range.
In reality, your learning for both your weapon skills and safety approach never stops. More advanced shooting skills require more sophisticated safety techniques. You will find in this journey that your safety skills will constantly grow and evolve as you grow as a shooter. Those that progress to more dynamic shooting, including team tactics, shoot house scenarios, concealed carry combatives, and multi-gun shooting, all require top-level handling skills and the utmost safety competency.
And finally, Become an ambassador for firearms safety. Take every opportunity to teach others, be polite, professional, and firm, and relay the importance and responsibility of their actions with firearms. Start with the four universal rules, explain them in detail, and relate your experiences and how you apply them daily. Help convert others into professionals.