You know these four rules of gun safety, right?
1. A gun is ALWAYS loaded, so treat it accordingly.
2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
3. Never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
4. Be aware of your target and backstop.
If you don’t know them, you should, because you might destroy your furniture. I did.
A couple of years ago I broke most of the rules, and my dining room table and pride suffered as a result. I share the experience here, at great risk to my reputation as someone with an IQ higher than spackle, in the hope that others can benefit from my lesson learned the hard way.
Before I publicly humiliate myself, let’s discuss the inherent elegance of the four rules of gun safety. If you start imagining scenarios, you’ll quickly see that the rules overlap.
If you treat your gun like it is unloaded, but it is really is loaded, no one gets hurt if you stick to rules two, three, and four.
If you point a gun at a person who’s not threatening your life but you don’t have your finger on the trigger, you’ve made a mistake and that person will rightfully get upset, but won’t get shot.
If you violate rule one and two but have the gun pointed at something you’re willing to destroy, no one gets hurt.
You get the idea. You have to break a number of safety rules for something awful to happen, and that’s by design. It’s kind of like redundant systems in an airplane.
My Dumb Mistakes
So what did I do to violate the core gun-safety rules? I have a Ruger Single Six revolver that I keep loaded with .22LR snake shot to deal with the water moccasins that frequent my backyard and sometimes my garage.
One day, I was in my home office working and had the gun on my desk, as I was planning to do a little snake hunting between phone meetings. I often have (unloaded) guns on my desk when I write gun reviews so I can handle them and derive some inspiration for my articles, so having the Ruger there was nothing unusual. After a phone call, and while I was still thinking about the meeting, I picked up the Ruger and walked towards my back door.
On the way, I stopped to ponder something and casually cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger while pointing the revolver at the dining table. Why? The trigger was there. It was just asking to be pulled!
I got quite a shock when the gun fired, just as it was designed to do. It didn’t “go off.” I pulled the trigger when it was loaded. It’s that simple. My dogs about jumped out of their skins, as even a little .22LR is pretty darn loud when shot indoors.
Let’s consider an after-action review in the context of the four rules.
A gun is ALWAYS loaded, so treat it accordingly. In this case, it actually was loaded. I broke rule one, simple as that.
Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. I broke that one too. My subconscious intent was to dry fire, but I clearly wasn’t ready to dry fire, or else I would have carefully verified that the gun was unloaded before pressing the trigger.
Never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy. My wife and I disagree on this one. I really don’t care for the dining table, but apparently she was not willing to have me destroy it. I’m taking partial credit because I’m admittedly “willing” to destroy furniture once in a while. Even in my moment of stupidity I at least did not point the gun at a living thing.
Be sure of your target and backstop. If I had been intentionally dry firing, the wood floor backstop would have been safe, although risky to my good behavior status.
What I Learned
1. Assumptions are dangerous. I assumed the gun was unloaded and did not double verify that status as rule one would imply. We can get away with a lot of assumptions that don’t risk lives. We can assume the oil level is correct in our car. Of course, if that assumption proves false, it’s time to fork out the cash for a new engine, but we’ll live through the experience. When we make assumptions about the loaded condition of a gun, however, we better be right. At minimum, the consequences of a false assumption are embarrassment or property damage. In the worst case, it can lead to loss of life.
2. It’s critically important to follow an exact and specific procedure before handling a gun. Do the exact same steps every single time. Verify that the gun is unloaded. I like to put the ammo from the gun near my dry-fire target, so as I am pulling the trigger, I can visibly verify that the ammo for the gun is not in it. The specific procedure is important. That’s why 20,000-hour veteran airline pilots still use written checklists for things they’ve done thousands of times. The consequences of forgetting even a single action can be catastrophic.
3. In lives full of distractions, it’s very easy to lose focus for a split second–even when handling guns. Who among us can say they’ve never left a door unlocked? Or missed a stop sign? Or made any other mistake from a momentary lapse?
4. Shooting your dining table does not increase the level of marital bliss.