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Saturday, December 30, 2006

“Situational Awareness”-Critical to Firearms Safety, Too!

A regular topic on the various firearms discussion forums is whether the 1911A1 pistol is “safe”, for duty use or everyday carry. This is often accompanied by discussions of whether it is “safe” carried with a loaded magazine and ‘cocked & locked’ (Condition One), the hammer down on a live round (Condition Two), or with an empty chamber (Condition Three). It is my contention that, given proper training and familiarization, John Browning's masterpiece is just as safe as anything out there- and that a moment's inattention can easily result in an unintentional shooting, regardless of the firearm involved.

I have had occasion to sort out, or had first-hand information on, somewhere around fifty 'accidental discharges'. Some of these were law enforcement folks, and some occurred in the private sector. Overall, firearms ran the gamut from sporting & police shotguns, through .22 and center fire rifles of all descriptions; and handguns of all three types. Three were fatalities, several resulted in debilitating injuries, and one occurred in my presence. Several, which I didn’t count, were simply shootings that were reported as accidents- to cover a crime. One was an obvious suicide, which a family member had mistakenly reported as an accident.

The ‘law enforcement incidents’ occasionally resulted in ‘career changes’, replaced police radios, fluorescent light fixtures and a lot of plaster on the walls & ceilings of one particular cop-shop where I worked, several years ago. This was before I took over the firearms program there. We had no more of them in the five years that I ran it.

I find it interesting that in all those ‘accidents’, spanning 30 years, only two of them involved 1911-type pistols. Both of those were clear-cut cases of “Oops- I forgot to remove the magazine, before I ‘cleared’ the chamber.’’ In those cases, the only ‘fatality’ was a waterbed. There was nearly another however, when this guy’s wife ran into the bedroom and saw what he had done. Momma did make him sell it and I missed a sweet deal on a barely-used Colt Gold Cup, over that one.

We have seen far too many of these. The most famous in recent history was the videotaped (and plastered all over the Internet) self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered by a DEA agent, in front of a classroom full of school-kids. It was preceded by his announcement “…I'm the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry a Glock 40 as he holds the Glock over his head with the slide locked open- and the magazine plainly in place. He releases the slide, points the gun down, and BOOM-right down the leg. “How’s your situational awareness there, Bud?” That had to smart a mite.

WAKE UP, PEOPLE! The magazine exists for the express purpose of feeding rounds INTO the chamber, and it will keep doing that as long as it has ammo, and is IN the gun. TAKE THE MAGAZINE OUT before clearing the chamber! LOCK that slide open IMMEDIATELY when clearing the pistol! We have written previously on the safe handling of the semi-auto pistol.

The common denominator between all these unintentional discharges was this- a temporary and total lack of situational awareness regarding the condition of the firearm involved. The type and condition of the firearm involved was almost inconsequential to the event itself.

There were even accidents with break-down single/double barrel shotguns. These were the classic "I thought it was unloaded!" ‘accident’. ‘Accidents’ also occur when someone has been fiddling with (and often dry-firing) an unloaded gun. The gun gets reloaded, and then the 'fiddler' forgets and points it at something and pulls the trigger- just like he did without incident, five minutes ago.

One of the more humorous of this variety involved a deputy on midnight radio duty, who had been dry-firing his new .38 snub-which somehow got reloaded. Shortly thereafter he drew a bead on a nice, framed picture of a former Governor of Missouri; quite common in county offices at that time. I have to at least give this boy high marks for precision; he centered His Excellency right in the schnozz, from a distance of about 30 feet. I guess all that dry-firing had helped. In those days the Sheriff had a residence in the jail, and to say that this event brought about some ‘excited utterances’ would be an understatement!

The good news is that in most of these events, the shooter had the good sense to remember Rule Two, which in those cases limited the damage to only property- and pride. The other good news is that thanks to the tireless efforts of good men like the late Jeff Cooper, these events are becoming less and less frequent. We have become better educated as a result, and our “situational awareness” regarding the firearms we handle is far better than it was 35 years ago. We are now much more conscious of the condition of our firearms, where that muzzle is pointed, and our collective trigger finger discipline has advanced by light years.

But let’s not ‘throw a shoulder out’ patting ourselves on the back just yet. All it takes is a split-second of inattention to destroy a life, which just might be your own. The concept of “Situational Awareness” should be a main component in your personal safety/self defense ‘toolkit’. Common sense dictates that we simply expand that concept to include the condition of any firearms in our care, custody and control.

Stay Awake. Stay Aware. Know your gun. And always remember-


Rule 1: All Guns are always loaded

Rule 2: Never let the Muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.

Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

Rule 4: Be sure of your target and what is behind it.