There are several sets of rules regarding safe gunhandling. All the sets of rules emphasize the concerns of their originators. However, many similar things are said but stated in different ways.
Which set of rules you choose to use is less important than picking a set and following it scrupulously. Firearms are instruments of ultimate personal responsibility and can be very unforgiving of even a moment of carelessness. Gunhandling is just as important as marksmanship, but many people are careless about the way they handle firearms, which can result in death or serious injury.
The National Rifle Association’s set. Link
The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s set. Link
Glock has its own set. Link
Like most competitors in the Action Shooting Sports, I use The Four Rules originally developed by Jeff Cooper. Lists of more than three or four items are difficult to memorize, so I still prefer them. There are minor variations but they all follow the same pattern.
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
- Identify your target, and what is behind it.
When talking about gun safety, we need to be careful about taking our subject matter knowledge for granted, especially nuance. Each of the Four Rules has a given amount of unstated subject matter knowledge inherent in them. I have had this discussion before and I continue to maintain the following: telling people with little experience four sentences and expecting 100 percent positive results is ridiculous.
The Four Rules are a memory aid like OCOKA, not a teaching paradigm. Glibly reciting them and expecting people to understand the depth involved in them is like showing someone a flashcard about algebraic formulas and then expecting the person to understand Mass-energy equivalency. The written explanation I provide my students about the Four Rules is three pages long with multiple (2-7) subsections explaining the nuances of each Rule. In the case of Rule #2, there are seven subsections.
“Never point your gun at something you’re not prepared to destroy,” to someone who doesn’t know much about firearms, can be easily interpreted as “Don’t horseplay around with your gun and act like a toothless buffoon by pointing it at your wife or dog.” There are multiple nuances that are not immediately apparent in a one sentence reading. For instance, here is one subsection of my handout:
“c. In many cases, you will have to choose between pointing the gun at an inanimate object, such as the floor or gun cabinet, or pointing the gun at a person; always choose the inanimate object, never point the gun at a person.”
I speak for no one else but there’s nothing in a gun shop I am prepared to destroy when I handle a gun. However, the choice between shooting a gun cabinet and shooting the person behind the counter is fairly easy to make.
Granted a few people are exceptionally stupid. For instance, the guy who disabled his hand by negligently shooting it and then did it a second time because he insisted the only way he could manipulate the slide was by pushing it against his disabled palm. He posted pictures of the second incident on GlockTalk years ago and almost seemed proud of them. People like that are untrainable.
I think most people would be much more competent if we in the industry didn’t take so much for granted. People who have never operated a handheld device more complicated or dangerous than a coffee maker need an explanation first and the memory aid second to reinforce the explanation.
When explaining the Four Rules, I always include the statement:
In addition to the Four Rules, always store firearms so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
The attached explanation is NOT all inclusive of the implications of the Four Rules. However, it is a starting point to allow shooters to think about the proper way to handle guns safely. Feel free to distribute the PDF to anyone.
I hadn’t planned on having a real life example of Know the Rules in relation to Decision Making but sometimes life gives us opportunities. In this case, it didn’t concern legal rules but social rules.
Out on my walk this morning, I had an interesting encounter with a future criminal, perhaps several potential criminals. It brought to mind something that I mentioned in my guest lecture at The Complete Combatant last weekend. Know the Rules, including the rules of the criminal interview.
The setting was a typical suburban area with sidewalks on both sides of a two lane arterial street. Three middle school aged boys were walking toward me on the sidewalk. There’s nothing unusual about that, although the time was a little late to be going to school. They were twenty to thirty yards away from me. When I first saw them, they had just passed the traffic signal on the corner I was walking toward.
As soon as I saw them, I identified them as Green shoes, Red shoes, and Brown shoes. This is a habit I got from Jimmy Cirillo, as he mentions in his book Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights. I don’t even know if it has any general value but it’s fun to me. A variation of the technique worked very well for me during one stage of an IDPA Championship that had a multiple moving target array.
As they walked along the sidewalk, they stepped aside in the bank driveway and had a pow-wow. Right away, I knew something was up. Secretive pre-contact activity is a clue. Then they got back on the sidewalk and started walking again.
I made an immediate decision. Although I had both a pistol and pepper spray on me, this was unlikely to shape up as a situation where those would be the appropriate tools. “If he pulls a weapon, I’m going to grab it from him or grab his hand and twist his arm to give him a radial fracture.” In any criminal encounter that I can’t avoid, my primary objective has evolved into “I’m going to fuck you up. Win, lose, or draw, you’re going to have to go to the Emergency Room.” Then those difficult and uncomfortable questions by the police begin.
As we closed, Mr. Green shoes, the largest, made the approach. Mr. Red shoes and Mr. Brown shoes looked younger and were noticeably smaller. Green shoes was clearly the Alpha in the group.
His initial approach was so tentative I couldn’t hear what he said. That set the tone for the interview. Clearly, he wasn’t practiced at his craft, so I could have a little fun with the situation.
“Excuse me?” was my response. This was in a decisive firm voice. Something criminals are looking for is indecision. If you don’t display it, they frequently don’t know what to do. As I said it, I started to rub the palms of my hands together. This isn’t an unusual gesture but it pulls the hands up into a low fence position.
“Do you have any money? I’m going to …..”
Before he could even finish, I cut him off. “No, I don’t” and put my left hand up to accentuate the point. The hand up would have allowed me to block or divert a weapon if he had produced one. Then, I immediately started back on my way and left them in the dust. Once again, decisiveness is key. I.e., ‘this interview is over.’ I kept an eye on the shadows to make sure they didn’t follow, which they didn’t. One of the reasons I like this walk route is that the sun is at my back and throws the shadows where I can see them.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Green shoes will graduate to full-fledged robbery, either strong arm or armed, fairly soon. Probably in less than a year, he’ll go for it. He was just getting accustomed to his skills, much in the way boys play catch before they start actually playing baseball. Since I didn’t interact with Red shoes or Brown shoes, I have no opinion about their future plans.
When I walk, I don’t walk around in la-la land listening to music, talking on my cell phone, or being task fixated watching my dog take a dump. My head is up and my eyes are on the horizon. Consequently, I saw them at a distance and had time to adjust my Awareness and mental DefCon appropriately. This is also a good approach to driving, rather than being visually fixated on the rear bumper of the car in front of you.
Having my hands in a low fence position would have allowed me to respond much more quickly than if they were at my sides. I prefer a low fence in general because I live in a mostly normal world. The high fence is actually a superior defensive posture but it’s weird looking and off-putting if you usually deal with benign people.
Being decisive is important to controlling the situation. If you can maintain control of the situation, you can often walk away without conflict.
Items for improvement
I let Red shoes and Brown shoes get behind me while I interacted with Green shoes. They were both small and I have no doubt I could have easily nailed either of them. But if they had weapons, the situation could have become much different. I need to practice getting into a position where I can see them all.
Taking a short ‘breather’ a few steps after breaking contact would have allowed me to maintain surveillance on them and be sure they had continued on. Or turning off route and going into the bank parking lot. If their moving off had been a feint, watching them or eluding them would have precluded them from bum rushing me from behind.
For whatever reason, the eggs I made when I returned home tasted even better than usual.
The decisions we make almost inevitably determine the outcomes that result. Good Decisions lead to Positive Outcomes and Bad Decisions lead to Negative Outcomes. We all know that decision making is difficult in a broad array of situations. Having a framework for decision making can be helpful.
Skill development and to a lesser extent, ‘situational awareness’ are the most often taught or talked about aspect of personal protection. In the broad scheme of things, though, those are only a couple of aspects to the process of not being criminally victimized. Ultimately, skills and awareness are just inputs to our decision making process. The decisions we make are what will determine the outcome of any encounter.
It’s trendy now to view Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop as if it is a model that can help us ‘think faster,’ i.e., make tactical decisions more quickly than our opponent. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. The O-O-D-A Loop is a representation that describes in a strategic sense how one party thinks during the course of the decision process. That is a far cry from being a usable decision model or even framework. Colonel Boyd never mentioned O-O-D-A as a tactical decision model, nor do I believe he intended it as such.
Those who wish to look to Colonel Boyd for a decision model would be best advised to read his Aerial Attack Study. Over 50 years after its publication it is still considered the manual for fighter combat. The Aerial Attack Study describes a decision process almost completely the opposite of the way most common taters describe the O-O-D-A Loop. By performing an in-depth analysis of the situations fighter aircraft could encounter, Colonel Boyd described exact maneuvers and counters our fighters could use to defeat the enemy. That’s a better framework for defining tactical decision making.
This post is the first in a series describing a conceptual framework for decision making. Several other people contributed thoughts to it and I thank them for their input.
Know the Rules and Have Adequate Skills were proposed to me as inputs to good decision making by my friend LTC (Ret.), JAGC John Taylor. In addition to them, I include Understand the Situation.
If we overlay these two sets of inputs, a graphic would look like this.
Finally, to make Good Decisions, we need to consider two levels of focus:
- Tactical – doing things right, our techniques and procedures
- Strategic – doing the right things, what is in our and our family’s best long term interests
What rules do we need to know?
- Use of force
- Use of deadly force
- Employer policy and cultural peer pressure are corollaries to the legal
- Other rules
- Firearms and other weapons’ safety rules
- Our personal core values
- Rules of ‘the interview’ (between predators and prey)
- Difference of criminals’ psychological rules from our own
- Changes from the (your) past
Knowing the legal rules bears some discussion. There are several excellent books about the legalities of using deadly force, such as:
The Law of Self Defense
However, there isn’t much material about the use of non-lethal and less-lethal force. This leads to some confusion in people’s minds about tools like pepper spray. One common tater opined that pepper spray couldn’t be used legally unless the victim had already been physically battered and the battery was continuing. While this might POSSIBLY be true in some States where citizens, or perhaps subjects, exist in an almost perpetual state of arrest, it’s certainly not true in most of the US, where the citizenry remains free.
As an example of relative importance, most law enforcement officers will never apply deadly force in their entire careers. On the other hand, they will use some kind of physical force on a regular basis. As private citizens, there are only a few situations that justify the use of deadly force on our part. Having the ability to employ some form of non-deadly force is an option that needs much more serious consideration than it is generally given.
Note also that of the ‘Other rules,’ only the Safety rules for firearms are commonly taught. Although the balance of the Other rules aren’t thought of, they will definitely be inputs to our decision making.
Since it’s probably the first thing we should consider, we’ll go into Know the Rules in more depth in the next installment. Far too many people don’t consider the Rules very much, especially the Other rules.
There’s a Safariland holster blowout sale on my webstore. Glock 17 and S&W M&P holsters at prices you can’t afford to pass up.