Safe Gun Handling

Unfortunately, Chabot Gun Club’s lease was not renewed by the East Bay Regional Park District and the marksmanship range is now permanently closed. We thank all of our tens of thousands of patrons for your support for more than fifty years at this important facility. There are no plans to open up at another location at this time, although we still are open to suggestions.

I wrote a letter very similar to this response to questions from an out-of-state shooter. Maybe it will help clarify what we look for in safe handling.

Dear Ron,

Thank you for your interest in gun safety. This is pretty much what I try to teach to everyone: group or private:

Umbrella Rule, covers everything: Treat every firearm as if it is loaded, unless you have personally unloaded or checked it yourself. Some schools teach that all guns are always loaded but we all know that sometimes they aren’t. Start and stick with the truth and you won’t become calloused to real safety.

The Metallic Ladder. Each of these is vitally important. They are arranged, like precious metals, in order of how much or little it takes to dramatically affect someone’s life.

Platinum Rule: Muzzle Control. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. If you do everything else wrong, but maintain proper muzzle control, embarrassment and ringing ears will hopefully be your only penalty.

Golden Rule: Trigger Control. Do not place your finger in the trigger guard until you have made the conscious decision to fire. That is different than being ready to shoot. You came to the range, hillside, hunt or whatever ready to shoot but that is not a conscious decision to fire. Up and in, down and out. The time it takes your index finger to get to the trigger from outside the trigger guard is just enough time for your brain to make you STOP and prevent a tragedy. Practice it hundreds of times until your index finger becomes your primary, affirmative safety.

Silver Rule: Target Awareness. Do not prepare to fire until you know your target, what lies behind your target and what lurks in front of your target. The movie blooper websites are full of scenes where the cameraman didn’t see the baseball cap, the kid or the car in the scene. When he takes his shot, the oops can be edited out or laughed at later. When you take your shot, you do the editing on the spot and if you screw up there is a good chance nobody will be laughing later.

Bronze Rule: Loading Control. Don’t load the firearm unless you intend to use it in the immediate future. In target shooting, adjust your position and your clothes. THEN load the gun. In hunting, make sure you are in a place where you really can hunt before you load the gun. For self-defense, are you really gonna use that bolt-action 30-06 deer rifle with a 6 power scope to duke it out in your living room? Only keep the gun(s) you would actually use in self-defense loaded or ready to load, and make sure NOBODY ELSE can get to them.

The SMALL method of Unloading Safely,

The next thing I teach is how to safely unload a firearm. It seems that even the least mechanically inclined among us can figure out how to load most guns. Unloading them is often the real safety hazard. I teach the following, which applies to every firearm ever made. This applies because the parts don’t have to be there, or they may have to be manipulated in a different order, but this method causes you to think through all the steps so you can make conscious decisions to bypass or re-arrange the steps as needed.

S: Safety. Apply all safeties first. Remove your finger from the trigger and all the passive safeties come into play. Apply all affirmative safeties. Some guns need the safeties off to open the action. Fine, do that later as a conscious decision.

M: Magazine. Remove the magazine if it comes out. Don’t turn the gun sideways to do it. Keep it pointed in a safe direction. Open the cylinder on double action revolvers, open the loading gate on single actions. Put them at half cock if that is the sequence. Know your gun! Whatever you do, make sure that when you take the next step, there will be no ammunition in line to take the place of the round in the chamber. Pump and break-open shotguns: make the conscious decision to do nothing this step.

A: Action. Open the action. This should remove the last round on most firearms. Don’t turn the gun sideways here either. In my experience, next to keeping the finger on the trigger at inappropriate times, this sideways motion is the most common cause of the violation of the Platinum Rule regarding muzzle control. Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction!

If you have to take off the safety to open the action, do it consciously.

Then lock it open with its own device or put a stick or something inert in there to keep it open. Autos and semi-autos: open the slide or bolt and get the last round out of there. If you don’t have the strength or dexterity to lock the slide back, put in an EMPTY magazine, pull or push the slide back until it locks and then take the magazine out. Double action revolvers, punch out the rounds from the cylinder. Single action revolvers: work the case ejector. Pump and auto shotguns: work the action without fully chambering the next shell. Lever guns: Keep your finger away from the trigger while cycling the action and wear earplugs. Every action has its quirks. Know them. Respect them.

L: Look. Yes. Into the action. Into the back end (never the front) of the barrel. Sometimes the shell or round didn’t come out. You must LOOK before putting the gun away. Look into the magazine well if there is one.

L: Little Finger. On many firearms, the breech (back end of the barrel) is hooded or shielded from view. If you can’t see, or even if you can, stick the little finger of your non-shooting hand into the breech. Feel around. If you don’t get stopped by the back end of a shell, the gun is probably unloaded. That dirty circle on the end of your little finger is the “Ring of Safety”. Like a ring you get from your significant other, that mark is the proof that you must have done something right; wear it proudly. Revolver shooters may be exempt, but I don’t fault my students for the effort.

That’s what I teach to everybody. Getting long-time shooters to change their bad habits can be really hard. I have made some lifelong enemies for pointing out that I know the caliber of their guns from looking down the wrong end. The obstinacy can be stultifying but most people respond well to a succinct system of protocols.

Good luck,

John