Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Keeping it Safe

(Sorry for the late post, too many things going on at work. Have to pay bills, don't you know.)

This is a great time to be a gunnie. Yes, we face threats from gun-banners, less freedom to buy guns than our grandfathers had, and a hostile media. Despite wonderful political events (Assault Weapons Ban expiration), other situations are not so rosy (gun laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, and New York). So, why am I prattling on about how great a time we are having?

It’s because we gunnies have identified and reduced risks involving guns. Look at the accident rate with firearms. Less than 1% of fatalities in the United States are because of gun accidents. We gunnies did that.

Life is risky, but must be lived. Like life, there are risks when shooting, but we gunnies deserve a big hand for reducing those risks. We sought training and developed and followed simple rules that reduce our risks. Bill and I have not listed gun safety rules yet so here they are as the incomparable Jeff Cooper lays them down:
  • All guns are loaded, handle accordingly;
  • Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to destroy;
  • Keep your finger off the trigger unless your sights are on the target;
  • Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
Cooper’s is not the only set of rules, but they are simple, direct, and easy to remember. I argue that gunnie-developed gun safety rules have done more to reduce accidental gun death than all the Federal and state regulations our governments have ever passed. We take care of our own.

Shooting will never be entirely risk-free. Swimming, tennis, baseball, and other sports have attendant risks too. One of the shooting’s risks comes from setting off a small explosion in your hands. There is a very slight chance that factory ammunition will be overloaded and cause a gun to fragment. Stringent quality control makes this less likely than getting hit by lightning while golfing on a sunny day (probably). Those of us who reload can buy excellent equipment and have a huge amount of information available. Load tables and books on reloading have greatly reduced risks involved with rolling our own.

One risk we have really reduced is hearing loss. When I was growing up, people never wore ear protection when shooting. As a consequence of this bad habit, I’m almost deaf in my left ear. An audiologist explained that this is common among long gun shooters who didn't wear ear protection. Somehow, clamping the gun to your right cheek (if right-handed) protects your right ear a little. Also, the way sound waves expand causes damage to the left ear more so than to the right. I now wear hearing protection religiously. Very few people today shoot without something in or over their ears. They will never experience hearing loss like mine--yet another improvement.

Likewise, shooting glasses have reduced risks to eyes. Range Safety Officers in competition matches have made gun sports among the safest of all sports. Hunting is actually a very safe sport because hunters have policed their own and trained new hunters.

There are still ignorant people who will never follow any rule no matter how simple or how necessary. I’ve been at ranges with Bill and while he is shooting I have stepped back and glanced down the line and seen muzzles looking right back at me, their owners swinging guns around like baseball bats. These folk need to learn gun safety and the range manager should call them down (they do, but not often enough). If you see this happen at your favorite commercial range talk to the owner/manager and make sure he helps these people learn to respect their guns. Then thank him.

So, handling guns is a significant responsibility. We gunnies have reduced shooting’s risks. It did not happen overnight and we must continue to be aware of gun safety. I’ve been shooting for 41 years and I’ve never put a hole in anything that I didn’t intend to. I plan on keeping that record while guarding what’s left of my hearing.

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