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Thread: Firearms Safety

  1. #1
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    Firearms Safety

    Putting some things on paper recently. Discussion is welcome.


    Firearms Safety

    Safety is something we obviously take very seriously at Magpul Dynamics, and adherence to safe firearms handling and use is a prerequisite in order to conduct any training at all. We spend a significant amount of time talking about and reinforcing the principles of safety. Variations of the four rules below have been around for a long time, and there are as many slight variations of these rules, either in statement or in explanation, as there are trainers. Laid out here is a treatment of these rules that makes sense to us, and are excerpts from how we present these rules in class. While these may look a little different, we have phrased and explained them this way to encourage a complete discussion around the intent and application of the principle behind the rule. We encourage any open discussion about safety, and we’re not implying that other ways are wrong. These treatments are a bit unwieldy, for example, to memorize and recite. We’d prefer that folks understand the core principle, however, and we think these wordings are effective at doing just that.

    Rule 1. Always ASSUME all firearms are loaded, but KNOW the status of any firearm you handle.

    This is a rule that receives various approaches, and exists in many forms. The intent, at a basic level, is to reinforce that you should not violate any of the other 3 rules because “the gun was unloaded”, and induce tragedy through this carelessness. The true crux of this rule in all its forms, however, is really to know the status of your firearm, whether that be loaded or unloaded, and perform appropriate and timely checks to confirm that status as needed. Having an unloaded firearm, and not knowing that when you intend to employ it to save your life can be just as dangerous as foolish behavior with a firearm that is thought to be unloaded, and is not.

    We also cannot ALWAYS treat a firearm as if it were loaded, or we’d never be able to clean it or perform maintenance. What we can do is constantly know the status of our firearm, and assume it to be loaded, treating it as such until we’ve positively proven otherwise to our satisfaction and only for necessary functions…cleaning, disassembly, etc. Any time we set an assembled firearm down and pick it back up, it is appropriate to check status. If we desire it to be unloaded, this means checking that the feeding source is removed, that there is no round on the bolt/slide face, and no round in the chamber. Every time.

    Conversely, anytime we don a sling, pick up a rifle, or holster a handgun we may use in harm’s way, we need to know that it is also in an appropriate status. We will assume that it is loaded, in that we will, of course, not violate any of the other rules when we pick it up, but we will check status to make CERTAIN that it is indeed loaded, if that is where we want it to be. Obviously, checking status every ten minutes from the time you jock up to the time you unload for maintenance or to turn in for the night is not appropriate, nor necessary. Check your status when you gear up, know your status, but if in doubt, check.

    Do not get careless or hasty with status checks. Do them deliberately and consciously. Going through the motions and “looking” without “seeing” can be more dangerous than not checking at all.

    Rule 2. Avoid covering anything with the muzzle that you are not willing to destroy.

    This is another one that appears in various forms, with “safe direction” appearing in some versions. I would contend that “safest possible” direction would be more accurate. Muzzle discipline, or keeping our muzzle pointed in the safest direction available and reasonable given the task at hand, and avoiding pointing the firearm at anything that we are not willing to put a hole in, at all times, is of primary importance.

    On a square range in an open belt holster, or with a carbine in hand on that same range, we may indeed be able to never point the muzzle at anything we are not willing to shoot. However, when we carry a handgun inside the waistband, or sit in a car with a holstered pistol…is the muzzle still pointing at something we are “willing” to destroy? It’s not as clear cut. That’s why “Never” doesn’t appear in this discussion of this rule, or we couldn’t do many of the things we need to do with a firearm. Obviously, appropriate measures like holsters that cover the triggerguard and trigger, appropriate use of a carbine safety, etc, are extra layers that we use to be as safe as we possibly can, while still allowing practical firearms use and carry.

    The bottom line is to never point a firearm at another human unless they are a threat and you are legally justified in doing so. After that, we prioritize where we place our muzzle based on the direction that allows us to do what we need to do with the firearm and that points the muzzle in the direction that would cause the least amount of damage to persons, property, etc., if the firearm were to discharge. We also need to consider the environment, backstops, material construction of structures we are in, etc., to understand what the “safest” direction is.

    Be aware and conscious of your muzzle direction at all times, with the above factors in mind, to be as safe as possible.

    Rule 3. Keep your finger straight, off the trigger, and outside the triggerguard until your muzzle is pointed at the target and you’ve made the conscious decision to shoot.

    This appears with some variation, but perhaps less so than the other rules. Many treatments leave it at “finger off the trigger”. Placing your finger in an exaggerated, straight extension, outside the triggerguard, and on a reference point well away from the triggerguard, provides you with the largest margin of safety in real life employment of a firearm, and does not materially affect the speed with which you can engage, should the need arise. When do we place our finger on the trigger? Some will say when the sights are on the target. I would argue that is nearly an accurate assessment, but there are scenarios, especially for armed professionals, where, when holding someone at gunpoint, you may find yourself with your sights on the target, or some portion of the target, and NOT want your finger on the trigger. Likewise, when fighting from close contact, we may not be able to visually verify that the sights are indeed on the target. So, we phrase this rule the way we do above.

    Once we have made a conscious decision that we wish to discharge the firearm and the muzzle is oriented at the target, whether verified by sights or otherwise, then we may place our finger on the trigger as we perform our trigger manipulation.

    Rule 4. Be sure of your target. Consider its foreground and background.

    This rule doesn’t vary all that much, as it is pretty straightforward. However, this one has large differences in the difficulty of execution between square range and real world employment. On the range, we have a safe backstop, a target, and usually some method of control, whether physical or procedural, to prevent intrusion into the downrange environment. Here, we must simply verify that the backstop is indeed safe, the target is something safe to shoot at, unlikely to cause ricochets or flying debris, etc., and that no one moves in front of the firing line while the range is hot.

    In the real world, whether in a self defense, LE/MIL employment, or afield hunting game, the problem is more complex. Will an errant or fully penetrating round be stopped by the target’s background or is there enough clear area to deplete the ballistic energy of the projectile before encountering anything we do not want to impact? Is the target, indeed, a target that we wish to and are authorized to engage? Is there an intervening object or even person between us and the target? On a crowded street, or in a Wal-Mart parking lot, these questions must be answered rapidly and correctly if we are responding to a threat. Movement can improve the answers to these questions, or it can complicate them, as our angles change relative to the environment. Be aware of that environment at all times and apply the principles of this rule.

    Safe Storage

    The last consideration to touch on is not really a rule, but a practice, and that is safe storage. When we are not actively using a firearm, we need to keep it somewhere. Where that is depends largely on how quickly we need to access the firearm and the degree of protection we would like to provide it. Especially when there are children, adolescents, or even adults we don’t want to have access to firearms without supervision in the home, we absolutely need to make sure that unauthorized access is prevented. Placing firearms “out of reach” on a closet shelf is NOT an acceptable answer.

    In the absence of more secure storage, using trigger locks or cable locks through the action at all times a firearm is not in hand is one way to restrict access. Gun safes or vaults of various kinds provide better security and can also provide a measure of theft and even fire protection for the firearms themselves. Unloaded storage is obviously safest, and is fine for the vast majority of firearms, but balancing security and readiness for home defense firearms that we wish to be able to deploy quickly is more complicated.

    Loaded storage of firearms intended to be ready for home defense is perfectly acceptable, provided that access is appropriately restricted. The other side of this coin is that these firearms must be readily accessible, and may likely be called to action in the dark, as you awaken from sleep. For this, there are many fine products on the market, such as biometric and touchpad mini-vaults that allow quick access, but also secure storage. Mechanical combination locks, although the most reliable means of securing a safe, are slow and require light and dexterity…things we may not have when a firearm is needed for home defense. All things powered by electricity can also fail. So, if you rely on a gun vault or gun safe to store home defense firearms at the ready, check batteries and operation frequently, and it’s also a good idea to have some redundancy. Home defense firearms in multiple mini-vaults or a mini-vault combined with a nearby full-size safe reduce the likelihood of a failure in electronics or batteries leaving you without ready access to your firearms.

    The best prevention for all firearms accidents is education, and this includes teaching our young ones. Children in the home should be properly trained from a young age about firearms safety. The NRA has some great programs that are age-appropriate for children as they mature. As children grow up, and begin to enjoy shooting firearms under supervision, parents need to ensure that access is still appropriately restricted. Natural curiosity combined with the pitfalls of youthful decision-making can be a bad combination if access to firearms is not closely controlled. As children become young adults and on into adulthood, parents need to assess level of trust, decision-making, and responsibility before making any decision to give junior the combo to the gun safe, regardless of their age.


    Living Safety

    There are many more considerations to overall firearms safety and responsible ownership, but the more we can learn about our firearms and the more we handle, manipulate, and shoot them, the greater our margin of safety should become. Care must be taken, however, that familiarity and knowledge do not lapse into overconfidence and carelessness, as this can be even more dangerous than ignorance. Training, such as that provided by Magpul Dynamics and other reputable organizations, is a great way to increase knowledge and capability with firearms while solidly reinforcing a diligent attitude towards safety.



    A firearm is a tool which can be used to extremely productive ends. Like many tools, they can also cause harm in evil or careless hands, so we must take the responsibility of ownership seriously. Maintaining sharp vigilance for these safety rules and considerations is the best way to enjoy a rewarding lifelong experience with firearms, shooting sports, and other firearms-related activities.
    Duane Liptak, Jr.
    Executive Vice President
    Magpul Industries

    info@magpulcore.com

    This is a personal account linked to a personal e-mail. Company affiliation and titles are provided purely for transparency requirements of the host site. Although factual company information may be shared through this account, any opinions expressed are solely those of the account holder, and not necessarily those of Magpul Industries or subsidiaries.

  2. #2
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    Re: Firearms Safety

    Love it, great post/article!

    Question - what do you think of storing an AR with safety on the fire position, hammer down on an empty chamber?
    "I never learned from a man who agreed with me." Robert A. Heinlein

  3. #3
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    I always, and still do, store ready ARs with chamber empty, hammer cocked, selector on safe. My rationale for that is if I am going for the long gun, charging takes a second, and then I'm in the condition I am used to being in prior to engagement, and placing the selector on fire will not slow me down.

    For firearms that allow safety employment with the hammer forward, it's six of one/half dozen of the other on hammer forward or cocked, but I always store with selector on safe. I don't worry about spring fatigue much, and for me going for a long gun implies something more deliberate. (My first layer is a handgun. Actually, my FIRST layer is a large dog.)
    Duane Liptak, Jr.
    Executive Vice President
    Magpul Industries

    info@magpulcore.com

    This is a personal account linked to a personal e-mail. Company affiliation and titles are provided purely for transparency requirements of the host site. Although factual company information may be shared through this account, any opinions expressed are solely those of the account holder, and not necessarily those of Magpul Industries or subsidiaries.

  4. #4
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    Firearms Safety

    And thanks!
    Duane Liptak, Jr.
    Executive Vice President
    Magpul Industries

    info@magpulcore.com

    This is a personal account linked to a personal e-mail. Company affiliation and titles are provided purely for transparency requirements of the host site. Although factual company information may be shared through this account, any opinions expressed are solely those of the account holder, and not necessarily those of Magpul Industries or subsidiaries.

  5. #5
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    Words to live by. To arm yourself brings massive responsibility.

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