The Cornered Cat
“But I Unloaded It!”

A few more thoughts about yesterday’s post.

Some schools of thought hate Rule One, and have thrown it out. As long as you’ve checked the gun, these folks say, you can use an unloaded gun for an in-class demonstration. You can pass it around inside a crowded classroom with the gun pointed willy-nilly as newcomers handle it, or you can allow students to point it at each other during role play, or you can handle it at the front of the room without worrying about whether the classroom walls would provide a safe backstop should the gun fire. It’s perfectly safe to do such things with a functional gun, these people believe, just as long as the person handling the gun unloads it first. Or as long as more than one person checks the gun to be sure it’s really unloaded.


Please watch the following video. I’m sure you’ve seen it before – everyone in the gun world has, by now – but watch it again. Pay special attention to the fact that the person at the front of the room checks the gun himself and has another person check it too. You can see that happen as he walks off screen, saying to an assistant, “Empty weapon, right? Empty weapon.” The person he’s talking to apparently agrees, and you see him re-enter the field of view. Then he proceeds to shoot himself in the foot in a most professional manner.

This man destroyed his career just to show us all that checking the gun is not enough to absolutely guarantee the gun is unloaded, nor are multiple checks enough to make humans infallible. Even when you’ve checked the gun yourself and had a friend check it too, you should still treat the gun with the same cautious respect you’d give it if you knew for sure it was loaded. Why? Because humans make mistakes.

That’s the point. The rules overlap and provide redundant levels of safety. These multiple, overlapping safety layers provide our best opportunity to stay safe. We do ourselves no favors when we casually throw away safety rules just because someone “checked” the gun.

Stay safe.

9 Responses to “But I Unloaded It!”

  1. mgutterres says:

    Preach it sister – amen. When I teach, I talk about how many people are shot with “unloaded” guns. All guns are to be treated as if they are loaded at all times. No exceptions.

  2. telpinaro says:

    No kidding… What are blue guns for if not demonstrations?

    Besides… don’t want THIS to happen:

  3. sscott says:

    “I’m the only one in this room professional enough to carry a Glock 40–” ::BOOM::

    Uh huh. He should be thankful it was his own foot and not one of those students.

  4. larryarnold says:

    Minor point:
    Pay special attention to the fact that the person at the front of the room checks the gun himself and has another person check it too.

    It’s my impression that the second person checking the gun was one of the school personnel. I also have seen instructors ask students to double-check that guns are empty.

    As shooters who are familiar with firearms we need to remember that many people out there (particularly our first-time students) may look into an open gun with no idea what they are looking for.

    In this case the Glock presumably had an empty chamber, but loaded magazine. The officer unexpectedly flashed it toward someone, at the same time asking whether it was loaded. I’m not surprised at the result.

    Personally, it’s MY responsibility to handle my firearms safely, and that’s not something I share with others.

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      I strongly agree that the check was done poorly. In fact, there’s one more factor we might want to think about: when he asked the other person to check the gun, he told them what they would see. “Empty weapon,” he said – that’s priming the person to see what they expected to see. Whether or not the person he was talking to knew what a loaded gun would look like, he had just primed them to see an empty one.

      That said, I am not a fan of putting too much emphasis on that sloppy look. Yes, the sloppy check was bad, but it was not the heart of the problem. The problem wasn’t that the gun was checked poorly, even though the check was indeed poor. The problem was that after checking the gun, the “professional” then proceeded to handle the gun carelessly, to point the gun at his own body, and to press the trigger when he had not chosen a specific aimpoint for the bullet to hit. The poor safety behavior was centered around a habit of saying, “Oh, we don’t have to worry about the rules now, because we checked the gun!”

      He made a predictable one time error when he missed seeing the magazine and thought the gun was unloaded. But the reason that mistake turned out so badly was because he had already built a habit of ignoring the other rules once he had checked the gun. In other words he had huge, gaping holes in his safety net, and one day the shark got through.

      • larryarnold says:

        Absolutely agree. I did say, “Minor point.” 🙂

  5. Daniel in Brookline says:

    Yep! I’ve always felt that Rule One was the sort that we follow, not because we expect a problem, but because the consequences of NOT following it are so very serious.

    Human beings make mistakes. Some mistakes we can recover from; some we can pretend never happened. But a mistake with a firearm, going off when it’s not supposed to, can be deadly. In my book, anything that prevents that sort of mistake is well worth it.

    I’m not a trained instructor, but I’ve taken quite a few newbies to the range. I usually start with the Four Rules, and give them a yellow rubber Beretta 92 feel-alike to handle while we’re talking about it. I always have to stop them when they point in an unsafe direction, and I’ll say something like, “Yes, I know, this isn’t a gun; it’s a solid piece of rubber. But we need to get into good safety habits. So treat this as a loaded gun, always. You’ll hold a real one soon enough.”

    I believe Bertrand Russell once said, “I would never bet my life on something, because I might be wrong.” When we handle a gun and act as though it’s unloaded, we’re THINKING it’s unloaded, and betting — our own lives and others — that we’re right. But what if we’re wrong? You’ve made other mistakes recently, right?

  6. Demzon says:

    Just something that I would like to add though I know that this is a bit older of a post, you may find it useful some time. People can be controlled by someone they see as an authority figure. Presume for a second that the person he was talking to off camera was either a teacher, or an underling. What he said is “this is unloaded gun. Right?… Empty weapon right?” The first statement is an order in the forma of a question. From there the other person sees what he has been inadvertently been told to see.
    A good example of this There are two things going on in this video of Darren Brown. The first is that he is making them remember things. The fascinating thing about the human brain is that if you are remembering something it activates the same centers as if you are experiencing it. So in this example he is asking the people to remember something, and visualize it; directions to the subway, and what way they are facing. The second thing plays in to that of the limited resources that the mind really has for data input. He then tells a story that has the words “take it, it’s fine” in an authoritative tone. So, the person is already distracted by thinking and remembering walking down to the subway, and then he tells them in an authoritative voice and tone that “it’s fine.” The wires cross and the person is still mentally down by the subway, while being handed what they are presuming is money because it is the right size, shape, and consistency; the vision center is still concentrating on being on the platform of the subway remember, and so the color doesn’t matter.
    Bring that back over to this accidental shooting, and you can see the parts falling in place. Looking at it presuming it is a teacher or other non-para-military, or military looking at it, here is what is happening. The off screen person (OSP for this) is now being faced with a fire arm after being told about some one accidentally being killed by one. With that, the mind of the OSP is on ‘what if’ scenarios regarding what that would look like, what if it happened to them, and so on. The OSP then hears a police officer say “this is an unloaded gun.” The OSP’s visual cortex is still seeing accidental shooting scenes involving themselves and people they know. He looks and sees nothing really, and just agrees with the authoritative voice from the imposing figure.
    In the end, absolutely do not trust something that can kill some one is at any point safe. At the same time it should be learned that multitasking with such a device in hand, is a bad thing. With your training you should also be teaching yourself to focus on, as Yoda would say “where you are! What you are doing!” Especially being able to get yourself back if you mind does wander some. One good thing for this would be Tai Chi, another could be Yoga if you are doing it right. Both require you to focus on what you are doing; tai chi more so. Another good exercise would be to have some one telling you a story, recorded or on a radio, if you have ear protection with audio. If you are not focused, your groupings will get worse.
    Oh, and on your thing at the end of educating newbies I have a short story on that. I am trying to teach my soon to be wife how to handle weapons correctly as I am going to be getting one again soon as a precaution. I got her an AirSoft of the Taurus 92, nearing the same in shape and weight to the real deal and the Beretta, and did the same thing. She is learning, and getting that she needs to be very self aware with a weapon.
    Anyway, I’ll be around, good stuff as I keep reading. Thanks for bringing it all together is a good non-political format.

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