Outtakes for New Shooters: Your Muzzle and You
This installment of Safety Outtakes highlights Rule #2: Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy. This one can save you from making what may be a tragic mistake, especially if one or more of the other Four Rules are overlooked. This applies to all gun handling, but the focus here is the sometimes more complicated issue of concealed handguns. This information may seem pedestrian, but its importance for injury prevention and our reputation as gun carriers is paramount.
Rule #1 was covered in depth here, if you want to start at the beginning.
The Four Rules in this series were distilled and promoted by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, who helped shape the role of guns in modern America. The Rules are simple and perfectly applicable to “real world” applications in comparison to some other renditions of gun safety guidelines. Although this series is written with the new shooter in mind, no one is exempt from the Four Rules—and like the law of gravity, the more often one defies them, the quicker life-changing, or even life-ending, consequences show up.
Just a quick recap of the Four Rules:
1. Every gun is always loaded
2. Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy
3. Finger off trigger until sights are on target and you’ve decided to shoot
4. Be aware of your target and what’s around it
Somewhere between the classroom and the range setting, the Schwarzenegger Effect takes hold. When asked to repeat the Four Rules, most students change the wording of #2 from “never allow the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy” to “never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.” There IS a difference, and it’s a big one. The pointing thing, I suppose, folks subconsciously absorb from TV and movies, a la Terminator. In real life, a greater proportion of time is usually spent gun-in-hand, off-target, rather than “pointing.” This is especially true for new shooters who’ve not invested in a range holster, or have only a concealment gun with a holster that’s not conducive to re-holstering safely or easily….my own daily carry setup uses just such a holster.
An important aside here: Do NOT practice drawing and re-holstering from concealment with a loaded gun before doing so with an unloaded one. Repeat, unloaded, until you can conduct those tasks smoothly and safely.
Back to “covering” versus “pointing.” Guess what? You’re “pointing” the gun at something anytime it’s outside of a holster, whether you intend to or not. You must develop an awareness of where that muzzle is at all times. In today’s world where most people’s first firearm isn’t a long gun but a pistol intended for self-protection, this important habit is a bit harder to learn. Concealment guns are usually small—and the shorter the barrel, the easier it is to “muzzle” yourself or someone else without meaning to. I’ve seen this error even by individuals who are experienced with a long gun.
Most folks err by committing the muzzling crime upon themselves, dangling the gun in one hand and flagging their own leg and foot.
Fix the “what do I do when I’m not shooting and don’t have a holster” issue by using the simple two-handed ready position. Maintain a firing grip, trigger finger straight and resting on the frame, and let your upper arms relax on your chest. You can relax this way just as well as with one hand on the gun, but the muzzle will automatically point to the usually safe area on the ground in front of you.
It’s really simple. Just don’t allow the muzzle to pass over—or, in range-speak, cover, flag, or sweep—anyTHING you’re not willing to destroy. That’s not just other humans; it’s also structures, vehicles, dogs,….you get the idea.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes. Some are practiced on a more or less regular basis, speaking here of handguns in the hands of civilians for defensive use. Law enforcement and military applications have a couple other exceptions not addressed here.
The first exception is when the gun is being carried on your person, in a purse/pack, or is otherwise in storage or transport. Think about it: the muzzle’s always facing somewhere. Even when the gun’s secured in a hip holster, it points at whatever’s behind the wearer when they bend over. That’s okay, as long as that holster keeps the weapon from falling out AND covers the trigger guard with no possibility of that protection being compromised by any object. This is true of all concealment setups….and the reason why, if you must carry off-body, the gun should be holstered inside a compartment dedicated to the gun alone. Once the gun is secure with a covered trigger guard, muzzle control isn’t a concern until you draw the firearm.
Momentary flagging oneself or something else is practically unavoidable for most draws. This is true regardless of the method of carry. It’s an example of why these rules overlap to some extent….rule #3, finger off trigger, ensures safety during the brief time the muzzle is moving from holster to on-target.
Another exception to this rule, for defensive shooting purposes, is the manipulation of the gun for reloading and clearing malfunctions. Most well-intentioned beginners bend waaaay forward and point the muzzle to the ground to do these things. While that is indeed keeping the muzzle in a safe direction, it’s not serving their readiness to make a hasty escape or counter-attack. Bending over is triple trouble in that it decreases peripheral vision, negates the ability to turn and/or run quickly, and makes your gun easier to steal right from your hands. It’s more effective to maintain a normal posture and bring the gun into your field of view.
Accomplish this by maintaining hold of the gun in the firing hand as you bend your elbows and pin your upper arms along your ribs. Voila, the gun is right there in what is now a “workshop” area for any manipulations other than shooting. The magazine well and ejection port are easily seen and felt here, facilitating good handling even in darkness. The practice of this method is safe when done correctly, with trigger finger straight and on the frame.
It’s also disallowed at some ranges, and that’s a shame, because, like many arbitrary “safety” guidelines, training with the bend-over method means you’ll likely use that method in a defensive encounter too…and that can allow an enemy to prevail (that’s PC-speak for “get you killed”).
The obvious, hopefully rare, exception to this rule is that, presented with an immediate, inescapable threat to your life or the life of an innocent person whom you choose to defend, you must be prepared to train the muzzle on that threat—be it two- or four-legged. You must be willing to press the trigger if necessary; until the attack stops. This exception is the topic of whole other books and courses.
It’s folly to believe that a mechanical safety of the firearm is a substitute for muzzle control. Safety levers and buttons can fail. Safety is the responsibility of every person who owns a gun or decides to shoot one.
Now go practice excellent muzzle control, and enjoy shooting!