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.
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
Move Away, Talk to the Manager
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.
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
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