In the firearms training world, there are those who have fired a shot unintentionally and those who will. Another way to look at is play with fire long enough and you eventually get burn.
Words have meaning
The first thing we have to understand is defining an unintentional discharge. The way I explain an unintentional discharge is when the gun fires as a result of failing to follow the safety rules. Either through your carelessness, lack of attention or deliberate indifference the gun fired while in your possession. Modern semi-automatic firearms do not go off by themselves, they can only be fired through human intervention. As gun owners, students and practitioners of the art it is incumbent on us to be safe. If it is predictable, then it is preventable.
It’s not about belief
If we were to study many of the recent unintentional discharges the question you have to ask was where did things break down and thus resulted in the discharge. The majority of the events I have viewed all pointed to a single issue, the operator of the firearm believed the gun was unloaded. That right there is the major issue. Whether through operator error or deliberate indifference their actions lead to an undeniable conclusion. Safety rules and procedures did not materialize out of thin air. They came from the hard lessons we learn in life. It is when we fail to apply this lessons we move from accidental to negligence. It is one thing to discharge the firearm accidentally due to ignorance and a whole other matter when you know better.
The Golden Rule
Many who are reading this blog have been around firearms a long time. I’m confident many would agree the most important safety rule is “keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction”. Over the years I have come to appreciate this rule the most. While adherence to all rules is critical, the priority needs to be safe direction. Teaching new students a litany of rules they have never heard of before sets everyone up for failure. For one thing, they are not going to remember all of them. Second, even if they do remember, they still have to apply the knowledge or change their behavior. You can point the finger at the student and say it is their fault for not knowing. In truth, it is your fault for not recognizing the limitations of the students and acting accordingly.
Keep it Simple
For this reason, we brief three safety rules. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction so if you fail at all the others you hope to minimize property damage or injury. Keep your finger on home position until ready to fire. If you are not sure where your finger belongs then always go home, high along the frame and away from the trigger. Keep the gun unloaded until ready to fire. Once you get these three rules embedded into your students you can conduct live fire training with a reasonable level of safety. There are interpretations an instructor must adapt. One such interpretation is defining a safe direction and when it is safe to load. That is not to say there are other types of rules such as general rules or site-specific rules, but for a new student these three are the bare minimum.
Set the Example
As an instructor it is incumbent upon us to ensure the safest training environment possible. Unintentional discharges whether accidental or through negligence is the gravest of sins. As an instructor, the first thing you have to acknowledge is how this event could happen to you. Don’t think for a moment you are exempt. From there, you have to ask yourself where do I want the bullet to rest should it go off during a demonstration. Prior to a demonstration whether live fire or dry practice I confirm where the bullet will rest and ask whether safe then adjust accordingly. When I’m performing a demonstration do I ask a fellow instructor or student to confirm the condition of the firearm. No, I don’t and the reason I don’t is I have to set the example that I can be trusted to safely unload and handle a firearm. Most students will not have access to a second party when they are on their own to double check their work. We all need to develop the skill to complete this fundamental task on our own. Then hold this standard and others accountable.
Guns are dangerous, it is for this reason we rely on them for defensive use. There is no reason we cannot mitigate risk where necessary through education and training.