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Curing Shooters' A.D.D.

Careless handling of firearms on the range can lead to heart racing situations that no one wants to experience.


Here’s the good news. Statistics show that unintentional firearms fatalities have significantly declined over the last 20 years, dropping 27 percent in the last decade, and 60 percent since 1989, according to information gathered by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Firearms currently account for only 0.5 percent of accidental deaths in this country. This steady decline in fatal accidents has occurred while the number of firearms in American homes has increased. Statistically speaking, more guns in circulation should result in more accidents, but just the opposite has happened. This clearly demonstrates that modern gun owners are taking firearm safety practices seriously. However, until the number drops to zero there is still room for improvement. I was reminded of this not too long ago.

Just a few minutes after the gun shop opened one morning, I strolled into the empty shooting range to set up for a gun test. That’s when I noticed it. It was a star-break bullet mark in the bullet-resistant divider of the far right bay that had not been there on my previous visit. Since I was the only shooter on the line, I walked over to take a look. The evidence of a bullet traveling in the wrong direction inside a gun range is always worrisome, but this lasting reminder of a shooting mishap made me particularly queasy.

The location of the bullet mark made the story of the unintentional discharge easy to mentally reconstruct. The bays at this shooting range are about 3.5-feet wide with dividers extending back from the shooting bench approximately one yard. The solid, metallic portion of the divider rises from the floor to just about waist high with the transparent, bullet-resistant plexi-glass completing the dividers from waist level up to the ceiling. What the mark in the divider said is that a shooter took half a step back from the shooting bench, turned a loaded handgun sideways so the barrel was pointed at the five shooting bays to the left and touched the trigger.

If someone had been standing to the left of this shooter, he or she would have received a nasty shock, but remained unharmed thanks to the bullet-resistant divider. As I looked at the mark a little longer, it was hard not to think about the fact that most of the places I go to shoot don't have the expensive, bullet-resistant dividers. In fact, the outdoor ranges I go to only have a bit of mesh strung up between each bay to deflect ejected cases. If the same sideways discharge had occurred on one of those ranges, the results could have been much worse.

As I moved away from the damaged shooting bay to set up for the day, I kept thinking about what I’d seen. What did this barrier-scarring shooter do incorrectly? Quite frankly, everything. Safe gun handling practices have been codified in a variety of ways, but the NRA boils it down to three common sense practices:

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

In this particular instance, the shooter violated all three rules at the same time. The gun was not pointed in a safe direction, a finger was on the trigger and the gun was loaded when it was not ready to use. It’s interesting to note that if this person had obeyed just one of the three rules, the incident would not have happened in the first place. If all the shooters on the line are following all three rules, then the range is going to remain safe. In addition to proper training and basic safety practices, here are a few other safety tips to keep in mind when shooting on the range:

Practice Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is a principle most often discussed in the context of self-defense. Simply stated, it's the practice of paying attention to the space and people around you in order to identify a threat in time to avoid it. Whether a bullet is launched in your direction by a mugger in a dark alley or a green-bean novice who doesn't understand safe gun handling practices, the results will be the same. Being aware of the people and situation around you does not require a deep-seated sense of paranoia or any rude behavior on your part. Just look around as you're working and watch what’s going on. No one will guard your safety as closely as you will. If awareness of your surroundings makes sense in a situation where one person might be armed, then it should also seem like a good idea when you know everyone in the room has a loaded firearm.

Move Away, Talk to the Manager
Not long ago I was seated at a bench testing a new gun for a review. When I turned in my seat to access some ammunition, I noticed a pump-action shotgun leveled at my head. A young man was standing about three yards away at the equipment rack talking to his friends about the shotgun he was holding at his hip with the action closed and the muzzle leveled at yours truly. It may come as no surprise that I started thinking about how I should react when faced with an unsafe situation at the range.

Although there may be a temptation to get angry at or to start talking to the person holding the gun, the very first action to take is to move, quickly, out of the line of fire. Standing up from the chair I took a big step to the left so the shotgun was no longer pointed directly at me. I got out of the way first, and then worried about what to do next. From this safe standing position, I could see his finger was off the trigger, but it was impossible to determine the state of the chamber or the safety. What to do next? 

In this case, I just looked intently at the young man for a moment. He looked at me, looked at the shotgun, realized where the gun was pointed, and corrected the muzzle angle. The total time from my noticing the gun to having the problem resolved was less than 10 seconds. By the look on his face, I could see the young man realized he had made a dangerous rookie mistake. Since he did not make any other dangerous moves the rest of his shooting session, I left it at that. But what if a friendly nod or wave does not do the trick? If someone has your hair on end with lack of muzzle control, then step off of the line and seek out the range master or a member of the staff. A bit of friendly advice about gun safety will usually go down more smoothly when dished up by the folks that run the range instead of another customer.

Pay Attention
We live in a society that promotes "multitasking." Although this principle of tackling two or more tasks at once may save time in the work place, it can be exceptionally dangerous in situations that involve powerful moving objects. Just ask the insurance adjusters sorting out the cases of teenagers who were sending text messages while driving.

Once a gun is in hand, all other thoughts, priorities and distractions should be put on hold until the shooting session is over. The shooter's focus should be on the gun and what is being done with it. The mind, hands and muzzle should all be pointed in the same direction.

Handle Mechanical Failures Safely
This is a question I just have to ask because it's a behavior I've seen performed before my very eyes, and it just doesn't make much sense to me. When people choose to look down the barrel, what exactly is it they're hoping to see? There is absolutely no good reason to point a gun at any part of your body, let alone your head. If there is a reason to suspect a barrel blockage or mechanical failure, then stop shooting the gun and put it back in the case until you can take fix it at home or give it to a gunsmith. If the need to know what is lurking inside a gun barrel simply cannot wait, then please field strip the firearm and examine the barrel separately from the firing mechanism.

Don't Be a Blockhead
I was at an outdoor range and in the process of trying to figure out how to operate a tricky blackpowder pistol I had never worked with before. I was having strange mechanical problems that I would later learn could be instantly resolved by swapping out the percussion caps for a different brand. But at that time, I was getting frustrated with malfunctioning equipment, my time at the range was running out, and my not-so-great mood was amplified by a distinct need for some dinner.

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20 Responses to Curing Shooters' A.D.D.

Zev wrote:
February 27, 2013

Great article--I too was raised with gun safety my entire life, but you can never be too cautious, its as simple as that. Last week I was corrected at a range by the overseer. My error was extremely minor, but it served as a good reminder for me -- there ain't no such thing as a minor violation of a gun safety rule...

Brad wrote:
February 18, 2013

Reminds me of our pre-hunt safety chats. We always tell the younger guys to not be afraid to point out an unsafe situation immediately. God created us, but Samuel Colt makes us all equals out there.

Ron wrote:
November 23, 2012

Being a relatively new or newbie gun owner I particularly enjoyed this article. And I might add, learned from it as well thank you

Shepard "Doc" Humphries wrote:
November 17, 2012

Great article! While I know it is chic to jump on the bandwagon and proudly denounce the "idiots" that have driven over a curb, drifted over the white line, tripped over a dog toy in the night or fired a gun "negligently", I find it more productive to focus on paying attention, just as this article says. Idiotic? Negligent? Accidental? Silly? I don't care much which word we use to describe unintentionally doing or saying something we ought not to do or say. Spending an average of 40+ hours at various ranges each week has allowed me to see a lot of poor gun handling. It is serious stuff, and we should be very strict, careful and aware. I have seen some very experienced drivers, shooters and speakers make mistakes they should not have made. I can either degrade them or respectfully correct them with a, "Hey there friend, I noticed..."

GE wrote:
November 17, 2012

Very good article, must read for everyone gun owner. Keep and read often or give to new owners.

Earl Warren, Arizona wrote:
November 16, 2012

Feel free to label these firearm discharges as unintentional or accidental if you please. However when my firm gets the civil case, we are talking about a negligent discharge. I do intend to "collect" $$$$$ for my client. Idiots should not have access to sharp objects or devices that go BOOM!!!

Mack Missiletoe wrote:
November 14, 2012

One of the BEST articles yet, just needed to be written. Guns safety is #1 If you cannot be safe with your gun, then STAY THE HECK HOME and find a way to learn proper gun safety beforehand. You'd get a big 'thank you!' from all of us--and make more friends in the long run.

Daryl wrote:
November 08, 2012

Very good and poignant article that every shooter should read regardless of skill level or experience. When handling an instrument that can take a life in the blink of an eye, safety should always be the first priorty. I really like the statement, "We are each wholly and completely, morally and legally, responsible for each bullet that leaves our guns. How very true. I never thought about it that way, but what an impact that one sentence has made on me and hopefully everyone else that read that. I am going to print this article and have everyone I take to the range with me read this article first.

dft wrote:
November 07, 2012

I, like Steve, have seen poor behavior at an un-attended range. After a frown to the person who I guessed was actually a member of the range from the group, I went to the offender and pointed on the posted sign which rule he was violating (actually, I just choose one in hopes he might be able to read). He corrected that one, but persisted in his other Hollywood behaviors. I packed up and left. My concentration was gone since I was worried about this guy doing something even more stupid.

JBeechel wrote:
November 07, 2012

Great article and great timing. Had a spastic guy in the lane next to me the other day and had to call it a day. It's just not worth it. I read another good article about how you have to break two of the gun safety rules in order to have an AD.

Larry Elfers wrote:
November 06, 2012

Good Article!!!

Pete wrote:
November 06, 2012

And recognize when you are TIRED, or HUNGRY, or under TIME pressure, because that is when even you and I, who pride ourselves on our safety practices, start making "mistakes." Note that Mr. Horman was two of the three when he was corrected...better to quit for the day or at least take a break before continuing when you reach that point.

John wrote:
November 06, 2012

At my small outdoor range there is not always a range master on duty.By club rules, if there are 3 or more shooters on the line,1 must be appointed range master.This simple rule ensures that all shooters are on the same page instead of just doing their own thing.

alf wrote:
November 06, 2012

safety- always timely.

Rick Hoppe wrote:
November 05, 2012

The same could be said about car 'accidents'. I've always seen them more as negligence than accident.

Steve wrote:
November 05, 2012

We have an unattended range and for just the reasons you mentioned I try to go there early in the morning on a week day so I have the place to myself. The times when others were present I witnessed actions that would not have been tolerated by a range master. Sad, but true...

Roy wrote:
November 05, 2012

Evidently finding a hole in the glass divider is not uncommon. I was shooting at an indoor range in Baton Rouge, La. one day, and there was a hole in the left glass panel. I have often wondered how a shooter got that hole at a perfect right angle to the range.

John E wrote:
November 05, 2012

Great article. Thanks for the reminders. We shoot at an open range without dividers and so far everybody's very respectful of gun safety. We appreciate and are thankful for any safety related comments made to each other at the range.

Lisa Marie Judy wrote:
November 01, 2012

Awesome article!!

Walter wrote:
November 01, 2012

I agree with Robert Farago at The Truth About Guns: The only 'accidental discharge' is one caused by mechanical malfunction. If you 'accidentally' discharge a firearm you committed a 'negligent discharge' and you are an IDIOT for doing so. Negligence is not an accident.