Lately I have seen a lot of discussion about the details of best practices when handling weapons on various internet fora. Some of the discussions have been quite enlightening. Others…not so much. I thought it would be useful to give my perspective on some of these issues perhaps as food for thought and further (hopefully intelligent) discussion.
Let’s start by facing the cold hard reality that makes these discussions important: People have accidents with firearms. Just in the last week I’ve met two people who relatively recently experienced an unintentional discharge with a firearm. Let’s just look at the last several days in the headlines: A man experienced an unintentional discharge at an Easter Mass service, a police officer in Indianapolis was injured when his sidearm was unintentionally discharged into his own leg, and a police officer in Florida was killed when another officer unintentionally discharged his weapon while attempting to unload it. These things happen, and more regularly than we might like to admit.
Whether we are carrying a weapon for self defense, duty, or in pursuit of recreation like hunting or competition the thing we are holding is a lethal weapon capable of killing or maiming in the blink of an eye. The way we handle lethal weapons matters. The details of what we do, of what we ingrain into our handling habits (or fail to ingrain, as the case may be) could literally make the difference between life and death in a critical moment.
One of the big problems I have with the discussions I’ve seen so far on trigger finger discipline is that a couple of fundamental questions seem to be left out of the discussion…so I will pose them now:
Do you know when your finger is on the trigger of your firearm? Is the point at which your finger touches the trigger the result of a conscious decision?
I ask these questions because in my experience the answer to both questions is a firm “No” quite a lot of the time. I base that on watching by this point thousands of people on the range and in other areas of life handling weapons…and based on what I know about myself, too. To quote myself from an article I wrote sometime back:
“My friend Todd Green is a big photography nerd and he likes to take pictures when he’s taking a class.He sent a series of pictures of me performing a draw from the class I did with Robert Vogel and noted that in one of them my finger was on the trigger of my Glock 34 before the pistol was in my eyeline. The pistol was pointed at the berm and if it went off in that position the bullet probably still would have hit the silhouette downrange and so some would doubtlessly wonder why I would be concerned. I’m concerned because at that moment I didn’t intend to have my finger on the trigger. With the stress of the clock and an audience, I was doing something I didn’t even notice.”
In my own experience I have found that video tape and pictures of what I’m doing on the range often highlight things I do not notice in the moment with the weapon in my hand. When I’m teaching or observing others I usually pick up things they are doing that they don’t realize either. The value of an intelligent outside observer cannot be overestimated when it comes to improving your practices or making you aware of what you are actually doing…especially when safety matters are involved.
Note that when I saw the pictures from Todd I didn’t immediately begin to reason why it wasn’t dangerous for my finger to be on the trigger when it was…my exact response to him was:
“Damn…I need to work on that.”
Why? Because any time a finger is on the trigger without a conscious decision to have it there at that exact moment in time is a problem. My finger is pretty standard issue human trigger finger attached to a pretty standard human being subject to all the faults and foibles attendant to the species. There’s nothing special about my trigger finger or the person it’s attached to that makes a bad outcome impossible.
The chances of a bad outcomes increase the more you handle firearms around people. Usually when there is a loaded gun in my hand it’s in the relatively safe environment of the range. There’s a berm or a backstop in front of me capable of holding a round and all I have to do is keep the muzzle from breaking a 180 and I’m OK. I don’t often find myself with a gun in my hand in the 360 degree environment of the real world where “safe direction” is often really just “the safest direction I can find at the moment” and where the stuff that catches bullets is either very expensive or bleeds. Based on that, some would argue that my worry about the moment in time where my finger touched the trigger in the draw stroke is overblown…but I disagree.
What you don’t know can hurt you…and others.
I’m not going to get into the details of when, exactly, you should be touching the trigger during your draw or presentation to a target. I’m not going to get sucked into a debate about what “competition” guy X does vs. what “tactical” guy Y teaches…although I will parenthetically remind everybody that a lot of “competition” and “tactical” guys have had unintentional discharges due to a blend of human nature, stress, and the pursuit of speed.
I’m simply going to pose this thought: Whenever your finger is touching the trigger of a firearm, it should be the result of a conscious decision to have it there at that exact moment. If it isn’t…and experience and a basic understanding of human nature tells me that for a lot of people in many situations it most certainly isn’t…then there is work to be done.