What’s the big deal?

I’m well past my limit with other people pointing guns at me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve looked down the muzzle of a gun when I’m on the range trying to take a class or do some practice. I’m sick and bloody well tired of having my life and personal safety put in jeopardy because someone is carelessly handling a deadly weapon.

Invariably when I mention to someone that hey, maybe not point the gun at me or anyone else that you don’t intend to kill, a good 80+% of the time I get some sort of pushback. Lip from the person who just pointed a gun at me. Like somehow I’m the one with the ***CENSORED*** problem because I take offense to someone carelessly pointing a lethal weapon at me. On more than one occasion I’ve encountered a real supercalifragilisticexpialidouche-bag who has the unmitigated temerity to ask “What’s the big deal?” when I try a little good-natured reminder to, you know, not do dangerous stuff that might kill someone.

What’s the big deal? WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Let me break this down: Guns are lethal weapons. Their raison d’être is to kill people. When you get stupid or careless with a lethal weapon in your hands, you have a high likelihood of killing or severely injuring someone. When someone points out that you’re doing something incredibly dangerous and irresponsible, you don’t have the right to get offended. I don’t care how they phrase their complaint, or how little consideration they have for your feelings in voicing it…if you’re pointing your weapon at someone then you deserve whatever comes your way as a result. Most of the time people who mention the safety issue are perfectly reasonable in how they do it, but even if they aren’t….even if they cuss you up one side of the tree and down the other, they aren’t the ones who endangered someone else’s life. You did. Thus you don’t get to be offended.

People frequently are offended, though. They seem to think that because they didn’t mean to point a gun at me or someone else that it’s somehow not a “big deal”. Bullets are stupid, folks. They leave the barrel at the same velocity and do the same damage on the other end whether you fire them by accident or on purpose. You don’t have to take my word for that. So yeah…it’s a big damn deal.

I don’t know why, but everybody likes to think they’re a special snowflake when it comes to firearms safety. That somehow “unsafe” works like the old Indian caste system or leprosy. As if there are “safe” people and “unsafe” people from birth and then they reject any suggestion that perhaps they’re doing stupid things because they’re a “safe” person. I was at a handgun class sometime ago where we did some low-light shooting. There were two relays in the class and the other relay was up on the line shooting while my relay was loading magazines for our turn. Out of the corner of my eye I saw three faintly glowing dots and it took a brief moment for my mind to process the significance of seeing three dots: Someone had their weapon out of the holster directly behind the first relay.

Now I was not the instructor or an assistant instructor for the course. So was it any of my business if someone was handling their pistol improperly?

You’re damn right it was my business. Go to just about any range and I guarantee among the range rules will include something to the effect of “Range safety is everyone’s responsibility” and “Anyone may call cease-fire at any time if they see an unsafe condition” written in them. These were prominently posted rules on the range we were using for the class. hemad

I approached the individual and found that not only did he have his weapon out of the holster, but the muzzle was pointed directly at the spine of the person on the first relay a mere six or seven feet in front of him. I spoke up and told him that guns were to stay in the holster when we were not on the line actually shooting drills. He brushed me off with “It’s ok.” I persisted by informing him that no, it’s not ok because “Dude, you are pointing your Glock directly at my friend’s spine.” This seemed to ruffle his feathers sufficiently that he felt compelled to remind this obnoxious young whipper-snapper (namely me) that he was a Marine umpteen years ago. “Did they teach you to point deadly weapons at innocent people in the Corps?”

I’m sure he thought I was a jerk but, and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, I wasn’t the one screwing around with my gun pointed directly at another human being. I consider putting somebody in a body bag or a wheelchair because one can’t follow basic firearms safety rules to be a heck of a lot farther into “jerk” territory than the guy trying to correct the problem before someone gets hurt.

In Pulp Fiction a character named “The Wolf” shows up briefly to help out Vince and Jules after Vince accidentally shoots a guy in the face in the back seat of the car. Mr. Wolf arrives on the scene and begins laying out what needs to be done to clean up the mess. Vince, the guy who made the mess by shooting poor Marvin in the face, objects to Mr. Wolf’s brusque tone. Mr. Wolf responds “If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor.” Accidents with lethal weapons happen fast, folks. If there’s a gun in your hand we don’t have time to sit and chat at a leisurely pace about what you’re doing wrong. The danger is real and immediate. Corrective action needs to happen now. This instant. If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor. Feelings aren’t the big problem in the moment where your gun is pointing at someone who doesn’t deserve to be maimed or killed.

I hear people talking often about “big boy” range rules, but I don’t often see them discussing the other half of that walnut: Big boy range rules go along with big boy accountability. That means if you screw up, you own it and you correct it. If you’re on a range with the big boys in Dam Neck and you muzzle somebody, do you know what’s likely to happen? You’re likely to get a high-decibel safety briefing at uncomfortably close distance. Get all defensive about it and you’ll likely be permanently banned from the range. Do they react that way because they’re a big bunch of meanies? Or, here’s a thought, maybe it’s because they’ve actually had teammates injured or killed because of range accidents and as a result have a very low tolerance for anyone who is doing things that might cause another one.

Yeah, I’m ranting. Fact remains that there’s a real issue here that deserves to have some attention. As ranges get busier and more people crowd on to them the chances of serious accidents go up. Just a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was narrowly missed by a round of .45 hardball because some dude who insisted he’d been shooting for “years!” (as if that has any bearing on anything) couldn’t figure out how to work his 1911 well enough to avoid unintentionally launching a round right past said friend’s leg. On the plus side, he now knows why I keep a first aid kit handy when we’re on the range.

We need everybody (that means you) actively watching for safety problems and proactively trying to fix them before blood gets spilled. We also need to remain open to someone approaching us with a safety issue. Yes, I said “we”, as in you and me. I’m as human as the next guy and therefore just as capable of doing something stupid with a gun as any other human being on the planet. I have worked really hard to ingrain safe handling practices and I make a deliberate effort to keep my brain screwed to the end of the muzzle when there’s a gun in my hand or hanging around my neck…but I can still screw up. We all need to own the fact that we’re human enough to screw up with a gun in our hands and have sufficient humility to accept correction when it’s offered. At the same time we need to be assertive enough to actively get involved when there’s unsafe handling going on. Bad gun handling doesn’t get better on its own. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.

Gun people often make the personal responsibility argument in public policy debates…well how about we as a community actually embrace a little bit of it when it comes to handling these deadly weapons on a range? This means thinking really hard about where our muzzle is pointed, where our trigger finger is, what our target is, what the backstop is, and what we are going to do should disaster take place. This means being perfectly willing to accept warnings from others that we’re violating safety rules.

Invariably someone will be offended. Tough. If they’re carelessly pointing deadly weapons at other human beings then they deserve to be offended. If they’re defensive about unsafe handling that endangers the lives of innocent people, then they deserve ridicule and derision. This ain’t about feelings, it’s about stopping unnecessary tragedy. Someone who refuses to go along with that program ought to be shunned because sooner or later they are going to kill someone.

Let’s stop reciting the major firearms safety rules and start actually applying them to how we handle firearms. There’s absolutely no room on the range for hurt feelings over safety issues. If you can’t hack it when someone points out that you’re doing something unsafe, stay home. You don’t need to be handling lethal weapons.

Shooting someone is a big deal. Pointing your gun at an innocent person isn’t OK. If I’ve seen you do something unsafe and mention it, no…you don’t know what you’re doing. Knock off the petulant whining and watch your muzzle. The objective here is having people leave the range with the same number of holes they had in them when they got there. Screwing this up means loss of life and limb. This is important, and we as a community should not suffer foolishness that endangers lives.






  1. Per a senior RSO I have learned much from: “This is a very safe sport, right up till you forget how dangerous it is.”

  2. My first thought was to print this out and post it at every range I visit, but then I remembered what most people’s attention spans look like these days. Great post, though, and I will pass it around to those I think will read it. The rest will get a louder, briefer version.

  3. I agree, when it comes to safety while handling firearms, check your pride at the door. NDs happen to even the most well trained people, and if you are lax with your muzzle – the ND could end up killing someone.

  4. Just a couple of weeks ago while working as an RO, I had to remind a shooter to mind the muzzle and finger off the trigger to which he replied “That’s the way they taught me in the Marines”. Instead of arguing whether or not the Corps would have taught negligence, I simply stated “They were wrong, do it right”.

  5. Maybe I’m just extra anal, but I feel insanely uncomfortable in gun stores because of this. How many times have you walked into a place and someone is pointing a gun in a random direction pulling the trigger? A few months ago I had my daughter, less than 2 with me, and some guy was just randomly pulling a trigger with her flagged like he was keeping time to a drum only he could here. Then he handed the gun to the clerk… who kept doing the same thing. At least it wasn’t pointed at my child that time.

    Maybe I’m just extra sensitive because I have had loaded guns pointed at me in a malicious manner at “can’t miss” range. But I feel like it is my right to be in a gun store and not have someone pointing a gun at me or my family, REGARDLESS of how many chamber checks were performed and the policies of the store regarding loaded firearms being stowed and/or checked. It just strikes me as an insanely stupid, dangerous habit to be in.

    One of the takeaways I got from the “Tex shoots himself in the leg” video is that even otherwise cautious people, through repetition over a short period of time, can train themselves to do something that makes sense for the moment but when the conditions change becomes dangerous. Last thing I need is for some guy to get used to absent mindedly playing with a trigger in the shop, then go to put his piece back on in the parking lot and out of the recently formed habit, yank the trigger.


  6. Excellent rant! And I so appreciate you ranting as you did. As an instructor I continually encounter the responses of people as you mentioned. And I am continually in awe of the lack of common sense, responsibility, awareness, however it should be defined, in their handling of weapons. Your “rant” has encouraged me not to feel too bad when cautioning people in regard to their lack of safe handling of their weapons (which is most of the time at the range) and if they have a problem with me, then THEY have a problem and not me. I’ve had shooters come to range with a bullet in the chamber and they didn’t know it; doing chamber checks with a full mag still in the weapon, or doing a chamber check at the back of the range after they have left the firing line and done a chamber check there already, and on and on. Today I actually failed a person who came to renew his gun license and told him that he was extremely unsafe with his weapon, did not know how to aim, finger on the trigger constantly, and not aware of the direction of the barrel continually. I encouraged him to part with his weapon since it was highly probable that he would injure someone else and even himself, and I’m glad he agreed and parted with his weapon. I decided today in regard to him that I am no longer going to sign off on anyone who cannot properly and safely handle a firearm. It’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair to the society that he is going out to be among.

  7. The one thing that pisses me off more than being muzzled by someone at the range is them getting flippant when I ask them to point it down range.

    You might feel like a jerk doing it, but there is nothing wrong with getting the ROs attention and having someone removed from the premises if they can’t handle safety. There is no room at the range for unsafe actions and I won’t tolerate stupidity. They get one chance to correct themselves, unless they are obviously a new shooter in which I will gladly offer help on safety and using a firearm in general.

  8. I had a lady walk out of a booth and start to swing a Glock 19 at me when I was on my way to grab some more targets from the range counter. I politely stopped her arm and asked her not to point a gun at me, a gun that moments earlier was sending rounds in the general direction of a target as her boyfriend had his head burried in a range bag. She was uppity and informed me it was unloaded, despite a magazine in it and the slide being forward. I responded that I didn’t know that for sure and at that point her boyfriend interviened and explained the error of her ways. The point of the story is not only that we all need to take personal responsibility for safety but instill it into the people we introduce to firearms.

  9. I agree with every single thing you said.

    Now, let me pose a question. In the facility where I work, we carry AR-15s safety on, with a loaded magazine inserted, and a bright orange empty chamber indicator in place. The chamber indicator is stupid, I know, but it’s not going away with the current management. Do you view getting flagged with a weapon in this condition as seriously as you do one that has a round in the pipe?

    I take it just as seriously, but not because I’m worried about getting shot – the weapon is clearly not able to be fired – but because of the bad habit it builds.

    1. I would refer them to Rule 1, it exists for a reason. As you point out it builds bad habits and it only takes letting your guard down once for tragedy to happen.

    2. I agree with Richard above. It’s a habit…if I don’t intend to kill it, then my muzzle shouldn’t be covering it regardless of what condition I think the weapon is in.

  10. Sweeping is sweeping, empty chamber doohickey or not. If you cant be aware of your muzzle in practice, how many innocents will you kill on a two way range? Pushback is a just hand in the cookie jar reaction, you knew you were wrong when you got caught but you wanted a cookie now dammit. What if you post a sign at the range stating “pointing weapons at others will be returned in kind”?

    Muzzle me once might be stupidity, muzzle me twice is a threat. Sorry rant over;)

  11. As an instructor who still bears the scar from being grassed by a bozo who was vocalizing “It’s not loaded see” as he squeezed the trigger and the gun went bang, I insist on muzzle & trigger finger discipline. I’m not known for being gracious about it either. The rules and expectations are explained at the beginning of each class.

  12. Strangely enough I find that it’s not new shooters who are the problem children in this area. I’ve been doing some work with new shooters recently and they’ve been incredibly receptive to constructive criticism. It’s the guys who think they know what they’re doing that are always the safety issue…

  13. If anyone is behaving in an unsafe manner report them to the range safety officer. If there is no range safety officer then why are you even there?

  14. My ex-wife (wasn’t an ex then) and I were both certified instructors. One day at the range some idiot couldn’t stop pointing his gun at her student in the lane to his left. Both times she jumped on him about it. Both times he copped an attitude.

    She finally just told him “Fine, the next time I see you point a firearm at another person in here, I will just shoot you. Will that hurt your little feelings less?”.

    When he went to complain to the range staff, they told him to either suck it up, since he’s wrong, or they could just kick him out now.

  15. As an RO for a collegiate club, I have to praise this rant. Our club’s very existence depends on people following the Three Rules, and none of us hesitate to correct our students on any violation, no matter how tiny. It seems, too, that the newest and least experienced shooters care the most about safety. It’s the “I’ve done this for years” bozos that are the worst offenders. Range safety is everyone’s business.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: