Safety Rules


I’m going to be taking some new people to a range tomorrow. So I get to teach them the safety rules of shooting.

There are usually some posted rules, between 3 and 5ish. Written up like the ten commandments and obeyed just as well.

So I explain these things. Instead of just reciting a rule once or twice, I explain why we have that rule.

Rule 1: Treat every weapons as if it were loaded.

Well if we got someone who never handled a gun before, and doesn’t know jack about them, this phrase doesn’t exactly mean much does it?

Eh. On that note, are we running a hot or cold range? Gotta explain that too. So I like to start with this other rule:

Never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot.

See, we gotta start getting clear here. BUT I don’t know what these other people intend to shoot or not. Some people seem to think it is acceptable to point a gun everywhere. So I start to clarify the specifics.

Don’t point a gun at Howard.
Don’t point a gun at Howard’s car.
Don’t point a gun at Howard’s stuff.

Now, slightly less importantly, don’t point the gun at your self, or someone else, etc.

Depending on the range, I instruct the novice to either keep the weapon pointed up, or down, or only downrange.

I point out the designated impact area of the range, and explain that that is where your shots need to be landing. I explain not to shoot out of bounds, not to shoot the target frames, etc.

That pretty much leads into:

Know your target and what lies beyond it.

I point out the importance of paying attention to what is going on. If the range is hot or cold, if it is time to shoot. What is going on around the targets and behind the targets. Why it is important to not shoot over the berms, or the wrong directions, etc.

I might repeat the story of the Cop who was shooting at a snake in front of a bush and killed a boy who was fishing on the other side of the bush.

Now at this point, I go and cover the “Keep your damned finger off the trigger unless you are actively shooting“.

Here is where you have to keep watching the novices as the moment they stop actively paying attention they will screw this up.

Then the keep the weapon on safe until you intend to fire. This is probably the harder to get new shooter to do as they tend to forget and are not truly familiar with the manual of arms of the firearm.

Shooting steel
If we are shooting steel, I explain minimum ranges, which ammo that is allowed, and it is explained that unless you have wrap around eye protection, you stay either facing the steel or facing away. Don’t need anyone taking any frag to the eye.

I tell novices that if they drop a gun, to let it fall.
If you drop a long arm, there tends to be plenty of stock and forearm you could grab safely. But on pistol, especially smaller ones, it can be very easy to end up doing something very unsafe in the attempt to catch it.

I might share the story of when I dropped my Glock 19 and caught it. Looking down, I saw that I had caught it with my thumb on the trigger and the muzzle pointing at my belly button. Could have been much worse. Most all modern guns are rather unlikely to fire if dropped. Safer to just let it hit the ground.

Reciting all the safety words is good, but what ultimately matters is making those novices work safely until these practices are internalized. That is the hard part. When I’m supervising novices or doing instruction, I do very little anything other than being as vigilant as possible in helping them work safely.


  1. “Never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot.”

    I personally strongly prefer “always point firearms in a safe direction.”

    This gets the student thinking about safety in general, and safe directions in particular.

  2. One of my oldest mates bought a hobby farm of about 100 acres last year. I was shooting rabbits on it. He came with me and he liked it so much he bought himself a gun and I taught him, weapon handling, safety and marksmanship.

    It’s a HUGE responsibility. I had the benefit of ten years of infantry weapons training including being a range control officer on many occasions, but my friend only has my advice and common sense.

    I really feel like his life is in my hands in a sense, and I pray that when he goes for an afternoon stroll with his rifle that he always keeps my words about safety In mind.

  3. One of the things that I think needs much better integration into all training is the whole “what else is out there” issue.

    Cops and military are fond of focusing on the targets they’re presented. Backstops? Not so much… Once tunnel vision takes over in a gunfight, unless you’ve got the “need to be aware” thing engrained into your reflexes, you don’t notice that the guy you’re shooting at is in front of a bunch of noncombatants or someone’s home.

    Lots of police shootings demonstrate this, big-time. Had one in 2016 not far from where I live:

    Watch the whole thing, then realize that the deputy a.) fired 28 times, hit the subject once, in a finger, b.) basically blasted everything everywhere around that parking lot c.) the jury eventually acquitted the subject of wrong-doing, and c.) this idiot Lee Risdon still has a job.

    I was down at the shooting scene the morning after. The evidence technicians had little red flags up all over the place where the bullets impacted, and it looked about like he just spun in the center of that parking lot and blasted everything everywhere, and never hit the “bad guy”. So far as anyone could determine, said “bad guy” never fired once.

    No concern noted or displayed for what was behind where he shooting, at all. It’s a bloody miracle that he didn’t manage to kill half-a-dozen innocent bystanders.

    I repeat and re-emphasize: This deputy still has a job. Mind-boggling.

    • Several years ago the WV state police had a couple of sniper respond to a on going gun fight were some hilljack had some deputies pinned down and was firing down at them. the two SP snipers cranked off like 20 rounds at the guy from 400 yards. finally the last round hit him in the elbow and ended it. My friend who is now head of sniper training was talking to them after wards as they bragged about the shot. He said something like ” you hit him in the arm after 20 shots…” and they said “yea we were off form windage but you should have seen the group in the side of the trailer wall by him, it was a pretty tight group for 400 yards!” He was dumbfounded that they had no clue what they did wrong, and they indeed did a lot wrong and should have been fired from the swat team right then.

      • The thing that irritates me about a lot of the police shootings I’ve examined in depth is that nobody seems to recognize the threat to the public. It’s like the NYPD shootings where it seems like they actually set up a circular firing squad, fired unGodly amounts of ammo, and manage to wound a bunch of innocent bystanders.

        Frankly, I think that the whole “What’s behind what I’m shooting at…?” thing ought to be tightly integrated into training, such that you fail to qualify if you actually take some shots where the backstop is bad.

        Friend of the family actually lost someone in their extended family because of this kind of crap; the victim went to the window to see what was going on, and took a round into her chest. Took her a couple of hours to bleed out, laying on her living room floor, and then a couple of more days for people to realize that they hadn’t heard from her…

        Military is just as bad–There are no training scenarios in normal training where it’s “Shoot/Don’t Shoot”. The conditioning leads people into thinking that there’s basically no restraints on what they’re firing at–See the enemy, fire on the enemy, and f**k what’s behind him. This leads to blue-on-blue, and non-combatants being killed. It’s a pain in the ass trying to get some of these folks that have been conditioned by years of training to think that there are no other concerns when you fire a weapon to think otherwise.

        I’m convinced that a couple of our blue-on-blue and “war crime” cases have stemmed from this issue. The guys get tunnel vision, focus on the perceived targets, and forget that the bullets are gonna keep right on going.

        • there is a recent body cam released police video of a bunch of cops shooting up a neighborhood and not hitting a guy. and then another cop shows up and drops him with one round. You can see from the video the idiots shot up god knows how many houses around the dude. I will try to find the video and make it into a post tomorrow.

          • Yeah, I saw that one, too.

            I think the standard of training is way too low for a lot of these guys, and that the training itself isn’t realistic, at all. You do IPSC-style shooting, and the guy who builds the scenario has his sh*t together, you get a good idea of what you need to look for. Sometimes, it’s as simple as moving over five feet to get a better angle at the target, so as not to go flinging lead off into God-knows-where.

            The issues arise for both cops and soldiers; I think one of the bigger issues we had early on in OIF and OEF both were that the vast majority of our training areas rarely integrated civilians-on-the-battlefield as more than a check-the-block thing for scenarios. The other issue is that the scenario builders are rarely prescient or imaginative enough to build in things like foreign media showing up with cameras that look a lot like the firing posts for an AT system, and then pointing them at troops in areas where active combat is going on. That’s a two-way street, because the media isn’t smart enough to ever think “Hey, what does this look like I’m doing, to the guys with the guns…?”.

            Personally, I think that the training needs to improve. Drastically. A lot of what we do for training assumes an isolation that just isn’t going to be there, in the real world.

            It’s only going to get worse, as time goes on. Fighting in cities is unavoidable, and we’re going to wind up doing it whether we want to, or not. Best to prepare for it realistically, and recognize that we’re basically going to be dealing with a transparent battlefield crowded with non-combatants.


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