I get so tired of the “no live ammo in the classroom” chant from people who refuse to worry about bullets going through walls.
It has its exact analog in the “always check that the gun is unloaded” chant from people who routinely point the gun at their own body parts.
Checking the loaded or unloaded status of the gun is important. But putting a hand in front of the muzzle is a foolish thing to do even when we think there’s no ammunition in the gun.
Keeping ammunition out of the area where we intend to dryfire is important. But pointing a deadly weapon at an unreinforced wall is a foolish thing to do even when we think there’s no ammunition in the area.
Flimsy interior walls (and many exterior walls of modern construction) simply do not stop bullets, so deliberately pointing the gun at a plain, ordinary wall while pressing the trigger is not the same thing as pointing it in a ‘safe direction,’ and should never be treated as such.
To be clear, I do support the idea of taking ammunition out of any room, including a classroom, where people will be handling firearms. Just as I support keeping ammunition out of any other place we use for dry fire. It’s a great rule to follow whenever and wherever a person will be dry firing, because striving to keep ammunition out of the dry fire area does make a noisy mistake less likely.
Mistakes can and do still happen.
Trying to keep live ammunition out of the room can never erase the chance of making a deadly mistake. It’s not a 100% guarantee that there will never be ammunition in the room or in the gun. Mistakes about the ammunition status can (and sadly, do) still happen.
We can make mistakes about whether the gun has any ammunition in it. We can make mistakes that include mixing a live round among the dummy ones. And we can make other types of mistakes that lead to equally bad outcomes.
We have more than one safety rule, because people can make more than one type of mistake.
That is why the core safety rules always apply even to “unloaded” guns.
Because we can make mistakes about the gun’s loaded or unloaded status, we simply do not point guns at people we are not prepared to shoot.
Pointing a functional gun — loaded or not, ammo in the area or not — at another human being is a dangerous thing to do, because sometimes people make mistakes and the gun is really loaded and then it really fires and someone really dies. That’s why plastic dummy guns and devices such as replacement ‘training barrel’ mockups that turn the functional gun into a non-functioning replica are absolutely required whenever the program calls for students to point guns at each other or at the instructor.
It’s not enough to simply unload the guns, no matter how carefully, because so many people have died of getting shot with “unloaded” guns when someone made a mistake in this type of program.
“I didn’t know the gun was loaded!” won’t bring your best friend or fellow student back to life, and it’s a lousy thing to have echoing through your nightmares for the rest of the years you spend on this earth.
But the wall…
Pointing a functional gun at people you can see violates the core safety rules.
In the same way, pointing a functional gun at people you cannot see also violates the core safety rules.
Because people may be on the other side of any wall and you don’t have x-ray vision, you don’t know that no one is in your line of fire as you press the trigger. And if there are people on the other side of the wall, there can be deadly consequences.
“No ammo in the classroom” is supposed to be an added layer of protection, one that we put in place over and above the lifetime habit of following the core safety rules. It is not intended to be a replacement for any of those rules.
In other words, keeping ammunition out of the area isn’t something we do instead of using a ‘safe direction’ that includes a solid backstop when we dry fire. It is something we do in addition to using that solid backstop for dry fire.
Keeping ammunition out of the area isn’t something we do instead of not pointing guns at other people. It’s something we do in addition to not pointing guns at other people.
Keeping ammunition out of the area isn’t something we do instead of not putting our own hand in front of the muzzle when we press the trigger. It’s something we do in addition to keeping our own body parts away from the muzzle.
Nothing is 100%
As long as people treat any single rule or safety protocol or gunhandling habit as if it is the only layer of protection they will ever need, they will do things such as:
- Pointing the gun at a normal interior wall with people on the other side of it.
- Palming the muzzle as they snap a handgun’s trigger in the gun store.
- Playing quick draw mcgraw games with ‘unloaded’ guns rather than inert dummy guns, perhaps even calling this type of activity ‘force on force’ to make it all tactical-ish n stuff.
If the area offers a solid backstop and the lesson includes group dry fire, “no live ammo in the classroom” can be an excellent classroom-management tool. But that’s really all it is. It isn’t a core safety rule, it does not stand on its own without the core safety rules also being in effect, and it’s entirely possible to run a competent and safe lecture-only classroom without it.
Safety rules and protocols are like multiple layers of swiss cheese. Every single one of them has a hole or two. We stack them up so that no one hole goes all the way through the stack.
When we rely on only one layer of protection — whether that layer is “it’s unloaded” or “there’s no ammo here” or “keep your finger off the trigger” or whatever that one layer is — we’re destined to fail. And the hole that goes all the way through the stack may also put a hole in someone we love.