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The Fifth Rule of Gun Safety

Handling firearms comes with a mandate: habitual, uncompromising firearm safety. Following this mandate keeps us and those around us safe. The rules of gun safety are vital not just for our own safety, but for the fact that often when we’re handling guns we’re surrounded by other people.

Despite this mandate, I see unsafe gun handling every time I go to the range. Not sometimes, not most of the time, but every time I’m at a gun range.

women not minding their muzzles

Safe shooters unconsciously adhere to the four rules of gun safety. These rules are perfect and need no addition to ensure that our actions cause no harm to ourselves or others. What they do not account for, however, is the fact that some of the people who handle guns are incompetent, unsafe, or otherwise fail in their adherence to these important four rules. Therefore, responsibility requires that we follow yet another rule. A fifth rule.

The 5th Rule of Gun Safety:

“Pay attention to where other peoples’ muzzles are pointing.”

 

This “rule” is handwritten on the whiteboard at the outdoor practical range I visit once or twice every week. There are several skills classes taught each week at this range and the safety briefing given to the students in each of these classes includes a reference to this rule. And with good reason.

I understand that this extra rule of gun safety was proposed candidly one day by Brian, one of the instructors there at Proactive Defense. Makes perfect sense. With a number of shooters training on the line in one of the bays—students in a class or just people out for a day’s training and with all of the involved manipulation—there are a lot of gun muzzles for a range officer or an instructor to monitor. There are too many, in fact, from moment to moment. Therefore, he recognized, if we’re going to be safe we all have to keep track of where nearby muzzles are pointed.

Brian’s logical epiphany is not something he coined or otherwise imagined first. Situational awareness is common among responsible people, especially at the gun range. But like the other four rules of gun safety, this one is not something the average citizen thinks about and it cannot simply be learned. Gun-safety rules can be learned in 5 minutes, but this learning is irrelevant until after months of continual forging of unconscious habit. Like the other four rules of firearm safety, this one has to be drilled into the student and rehearsed time and time again until it becomes a habitual action one performs moment to moment, with all manner of manipulations, and under all sorts of circumstances without ever thinking about it. Finally, one becomes almost incapable of unsafe gun manipulation and is, finally, safe with guns. But before this can happen, the idea of a rule must be codified. That codification is precisely what Brian and my friends at Proactive Defense have accomplished, and then train into their students.

So, if you are a gun owner, here is your mandate—the fifth rule you must internalize and forge into an unconscious habit: pay attention to where the peoples’ muzzles are pointing. Despite the continual efforts of organizations and individuals, some of the people around you who are manipulating and firing guns have no grasp of the four rules of gun safety. Your life is at risk and only your vigilance can preserve it.

Be responsible. Be vigilant. Pay attention to where other peoples’ muzzles are pointing. When you observe someone violate one of the vital rules of gun safety, don’t hesitate but offer a kind-but-firm admonishment—or ask a range officer to be your proxy. Impress upon your fellow gun enthusiasts the imperative of gun safety. Live to train another day and help others to do the same.