The Cornered Cat
“But it’s unloaded…”

So… I’ve spent the last 15 years telling people that if they want to carry a gun to protect themselves and the people they love, they need to get some professional training.

But I’m starting to re-think that.

Oh, not the general idea, of course! People do need training. Untaught people are likely to think themselves skilled enough, in exactly the same way that drunk people usually think they’re sober enough. Fact is, my incident files are full of news reports about otherwise intelligent, non-stupid people who shot themselves in the hand or foot or leg, or who killed a loved one, or who did something illegal and indefensible that they absolutely would not have done if they’d known any better. Good training stops a lot of that stuff from happening, because when people know better, they often do better.

But telling people to get trained isn’t enough. That’s the part I need to rethink. Because my own experience in training classes from excellent instructors has been so uniformly positive, it’s been easy for me to overlook the minefields out there. No more. I can’t be a blind cheerleader for the entire training industry anymore, because the training world is simply too full of stupid, stupid crap like the stuff you see happening in the picture above.

The picture was posted on the Facebook page of a training company I’m not otherwise familiar with (although I do like their reaction to this nonsense, and would like to know more about them). In case you can’t read the writing in the screenshot, here’s what their post said:

“One of our instructors attended a course last weekend in Oklahoma. One of the drills entailed unloading your gun then pointing it at one of the class instructors and dry firing. This was to get you used to pointing your gun at a real person. Please notice the loaded mags still on the belt. I’m pretty sure this violates one or more of the four Golden Rules of gun safety. Our guy DID NOT participate in this portion of the class. What do you guys think?”

Smart firearms instructors do not break the Four Rules when they handle firearms, and they don’t make excuses that let students break even one of those rules during class. Smart gun owners don’t throw out the Other Three Rules every time they think they’ve unloaded the gun. They don’t break the rules just because they think they have something more important to do with the gun than not shooting innocent people. There’s always a plausible-sounding excuse to break the rules, especially those other three rules. But too often those excuses lead to tragedy.

And by “tragedy,” I mean killing innocent people stone-cold dead. 

Breaking the safety rules happens in a lot of different ways, and not always inadvertently. Some people do it on purpose. Some people make a virtue of doing it on purpose… because they think there’s something cool about following “big boy rules.” Or because they think it’s “too hard” or “too impractical” to set up their teaching environment in a safer way.

Excuses are easy to make. It might be taking functional guns into a beginners’ classroom and allowing them to point willy-nilly at walls that won’t stop bullets. (“But there’s no ammunition here! So it’s ok! We can wave the guns around in here, because we checked them first!”) Or it might be imbecilic false macho craziness like the photo shows, stuff that happens with allegedly-unloaded guns in warrior fantasy camp tactical classes. (“Don’t worry! I know what I’m doing — I used to be in the military!”)

Whatever the excuse and whatever the setting, treating functional firearms with casual disregard is dangerously stupid, and stupidly dangerous. Even when it seems cool, or edgy, or super-tactical, or like it’s something the real experts would do, it’s really not. Disregard for basic safety concepts is actually the mark of the amateur. To quote defensive firearms expert Massad Ayoob (who himself is quoting NRA Director Mike Baker), “Seemingly obsessive concern with firearms safety is the mark of the firearms professional.”

People don’t just need training. They need good training, from people humble enough to follow basic safety protocols. They need instructors dedicated to keeping their students safe while they’re learning.

I don’t care what your excuse is. If you are teaching a class and in your class, you let students use functional firearms for any other purpose than deliberately launching bullets or dry-firing at safe targets in front of solid, will-definitely-stop-a-bullet backstops… you’re doing it wrong.

Have you ever been in a class where the instructor — on purpose or inadvertently — allowed students to use functional but “unloaded” guns in ways that would absolutely have been unsafe had the guns been loaded? What happened and what did you do?


2 Responses to “But it’s unloaded…”

  1. helkat says:

    Yup, here comes the (‘scuse the descriptive) crotch grabbing “rules apply to others” crowd. Hey fellas, you’re really outing yourselves as non-firearms professionals. Love to see what would happen to you on the line with real firearms trainers (like Mas).

  2. Spider Elliott says:

    “Have you ever been in a class where the instructor … allowed students to use functional but “unloaded” guns …?”

    Embarrassingly, I have. It was during a private lesson in my early stage of my firearm training a few years ago, and I didn’t know any better. He had me check my Glock 19, double check it, and he checked it himself. Then we moved all mags and ammos onto a table several yards away. The Glock shouldn’t fire, logically speaking, but still a bad idea.

    He played the part of a bad guy and had me do a fire-or-not decision practice. He “begged” me not to shoot, but when he (as a “baddie”) reached for his gun at 5 o’clock, I pulled the trigger at him. He gave me some pointers, and at that time, my only failure was not being able to see him approaching me while saying, “don’t shoot!” I thought he was stationary, which taught me a lesson on distance misperception. Overall, an excellent training.

    Except for the functional Glock part. I still shudder at the thought to this day. I have no excuse. My only explanation is my ignorance at the time.

    He’s a great guy and I like what he teaches, except for his habit of trusting a firearm after he personally checks that it’s unloaded. I saw him hand a newbie his own AR, chamber cleared and mag unloaded, and take a picture of his student aiming the muzzle at him while he held a camera. A great picture, maybe (if the camera were cheap, on a tripod, and on a remote), but a terrible safety habit for him and for his students.

    If I were to repeat the experience, given a challenge of obtaining a blue dummy gun, I would probably remove the barrel or maybe the whole slide assembly and just hold the frame. Or maybe use a toy squirt gun. I’m even uncomfortable with the thought of using a zip tie flag that acts like a yellow “unloaded” flag that came with my AR.

    My rhetorical question is now moot, since he has since retired from teaching and pursuing other interests. But I will not point a gun at another human being again, unless he (or she) is imminently threatening my or my loved one’s life, and the imminence is imminent.

    A tough lesson for me. I’m just glad no one was hurt.

    Spider Elliott

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