I’ve harped on this so many times over the years, but it is still being promoted or condoned. If you are casually dismissing this issue, then you are part of the problem.
What Are The Rules
The issue is simple, when is it appropriate to place your finger on the trigger. There are many opinions, but a lot of them lack the experience to be credible. Then there is the regurgitation of information. Then there are those who say the words and go through the motion, but turn a blind eye. In just about every live fire range evolution we hear the range safety rules, generally some form of the Colonel Coopers Rules of Firearm Safety. Over the year’s many, including myself have adopted, but evolved the rules for range operations. In fact, I did not know I was using Col. Cooper’s general rules of firearm safety until years later when I was an actual Gunsite Firearms Instructor. They were originally taught to me while in the Navy, but with a slightly different slant. Instead of being taught for range operations, they were taught to govern our behavior and actions while working in hostile environments. In others words, when we were down range facing an adversary in an unknown and unknowable environment to keep all members of our team safe. If you think about the safety rules from this perspective, it makes more sense. In other words, we reverse engineered them from real world operations.
The Safety Net
I have no real problem with folks infusing their own experience into the safety rules, I do so myself. But, when we fail to understand them and how they work that is where problems begin. The rules are a redundant safety net designed to account for human error or negligence. In other words, if one rule failed, the other rules would prevent an accident. When we study the details referencing the rules, one phrase is often misunderstood or left out and that is “ready to fire”. We define ready to fire as a complex series of tasks that must be preformed prior to moving the trigger finger. Let’s go back to the above idea of using real world operations and it starts with locating and identifying the target. Then, once the target has been positively identified we move the firearm from the point of carry to the target and confirm our sights for the shot required. Some form of visual sight reference must be obtained before the next step happens and that is placing your finger on the trigger.
Don’t Be That Guy
All too often I see this process butchered or completely omitted for a variety of reasons. In my opinion, the only time the finger moves to the trigger before the sights are confirmed and I mean the only time is for contact shots, near contact shots or off angle shots. That’s it! Every other situation demands you first locate, identify the target, move the firearm to the target, confirm your sights THEN touch the trigger. What I see and I’m starting to see a lot more is the blatant disregard for the importance of this rule. It is a major red flag when we see it in our courses. Think of it this way, you are demonstrating known unsafe behavior that can lead to injury or worse. Here is the other problem, you are not only demonstrating unsafe behavior, but the inability to follow instructions. I don’t care about your reasoning, the instructions are clear and you are deliberately or inadvertently failing to follow the instructions. What does that tell me about you and high risk training. It tells me you are a risk.
Skilled Management Tools
This is a major problem because it can and often times does impact the entire class. If I have a student or in the case of the last pistol course more than one student who continually demonstrated an inability to be safe and follow instructions you are left with few management tools. The first is to document the incident(s). I record video since it is easier to capture the exact moment when the rule was broken. I pull the student aside and show them the video. We review the safety rule in question. At the next break, I review the rule to the class and further clarify how we define the rule being broken. Since you must be able to see your sights or look through the optic it would require you to have the firearm at around chin level. If the firearm is close to this region we give the student the benefit of the doubt. If it is not at chin level, then it is safety rule violation and must be immediately addressed.
Dismissed From Class
When I have a student who continually disregards the safety rule I have to look deeper. In other words, after I have made them aware of the incident and re-briefed the ruled are they deliberately not following the rules. If they are deliberately not following the rules, there really is no other choice but to dismiss the student from class due to their inability to demonstrate safe behavior/conduct on the firing line. At a certain point, you must consider the safety and welfare of the class as a whole. But, what if the student is trying, but occasionally the old habit returns. Generally this happens when speed is introduced or another form of stress. In an effort to go fast they often times revert back to muscle memory and they have not had enough time to replace the old habit with the new one. Yet, still this cannot be tolerated for the simple reason one accident can mean serious injury or worse.
In the end, you must make the right choice. The right choice will always be to side with safety. You can be flexible and understanding, but you must toe a firm line when it comes to which rules you enforce. Since each of the rules are equal in my eyes I defer to which one do I see being violated the most as the one I focus the most on and that is trigger finger discipline or lack thereof. It is inevitable that when you add complexity or ask the student to perform at the limits of their ability safety will be tested. If these rules have been acknowledged and embedded in the student it allows you to work at those outer limits that we all know are essential to properly preparing a student for a defensive gun use.
In the end, once the bullet leaves the barrel there is nothing you can do. You are left to deal with the aftermath, whether good or bad.