Friday, March 16, 2012

"Unsafe Gun Handling"

I've had about a week to think about the sole Match DQ at last weekend's ARPC Club Match, and I'm still not sure what happened.

I mean ... I was there. I was watching the guy, and when I say it happen I said to him: "What are you DOING?"

What he was doing at the time was to violate the single simple rule of competition, which is to NOT handle your gun except (a) at the safety table or (b) under the direct supervision of a Range Officer.


This was the second stage of the match, which I guess was Stage 4. The starting position was (as nearly as I recall ... ignore the quotation marks) "Sitting at the table, with your gun flat on the table, unloaded, slide forward, hammer down".

Basically, the gun was to be in the same state as it would be during the match when you were not competing, except that it was on the table: safe.

We all are aware that we need to be immediately available when it's our turn to shoot. And the competitor was obviously aware that he could only handle his handgun at the safety table, or on the line under the direct supervision of a Range Officer.

It was his second match after his certification training; he had been told that, and he understood that.


When it was his turn to shoot, he quite confidently moved to the starting box, pulled his pistol from the holster, placed it on the table and assumed his pistol in the chair. His arms were crossed, he was confident and secure in his confidence that he had done exactly what the Stage Procedure Document stipulated. (This was the point at which I said: "What are you DOING?")

Unfortunately, he forgot one small detail: the Range Officer had his back turned and the competitor was not under the "direct control of the Range Officer". That is; the "Make Ready" command had not been given.


When the RO turned around, saw that the competitor was more-or-less in the starting position, he said: "I am DQ-ing you".

The RO, a trainer and a long-time competitor, knew EXACTLY what the competitor had done, as soon as he saw the pistol on the table. Making unfounded assumptions (considering the lack of RO guidance), the competitor had assumed the "ready" condition, which unfortunately required him to handle his pistol. His understanding, I assume, was that it was okay for him to place his pistol on the table at his convenience ... not under the "direct control of the Range Officer".

The competitor is a helluva nice guy, we all knew that he was just trying to make the match run faster. It did not occur to him that he was performing an Unsafe Act. He know that nobody was downrange, and in his mind there was nothing wrong with performing exactly the same actions as he would have done when the RO turned to him and said: "Make Ready".

But he forgot that SAFETY is the most important component of IPSC/USPSA competition; and that "direct control of the Range Officer" isn't just A Good Idea, it's The Law.


This is a mind set which I usually see immediately after a class.

For instance: immediately after a class I was talking about guns to a student at the safety table, trying to explain to her the difference in controls (if I remember it correctly ... but it doesn't matter) between the controls of a 1911 and a "safe action" pistol such as a Glock. She had her pistol in her hand at the time, and it was pointed at the safe backstop behind the Safety Table. During her response, she casually turned to face me ... and rotated the pistol until it was pointed at my belly. (Not the first time this has happened after a class, by the way.) I mentioned that she was pointing her gun at me. She blushed, turned around and bagged her pistol. I never saw her again. Sometimes embarrassment can serve as to filter out the people who think "Safety" is only important during a match, vs those who understand that "Safety" is important ANY time a firearm is present.

The conversation is incidental; safety is paramount, all the time, every time. That's what I try to teach, but it doesn't always take. (Note to self: I do need to stress this point in future classes!)

This is not something which typically happens with people who are entirely new to pistol shooting.

It happens with people who have been shooting for a while, but their experience has usually been in a more casual circumstance. They are accustomed to coming to the range, and everyone is on their own; at their leisure, they un-bag their guns and lay the pistols on the counter which separates the "shooting area" from the "downrange area". It is ASSUMED that they are safe, because .. hey, there's nobody downrange from them. No problem!

The concept of a Range Officer ... of "oversight" ... is not common to their experience. And at first, "Range Safety" is a casual, interpretive, unimportant concept. They are with friends, or alone, and there are no rules, really.

They're not "Bad", but in the context of the character in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" ... they're just drawn that way.

And so, when they feel most comfortable and relaxed ... they are at their most vulnerable moment; and most likely to BE unsafe because they FEEL MOST SAFE.


I'm not going to denigrate new shooters because of their prior experiences have taught them to be lackadaisical in their approach to firearm safety. They don't know any better, and sooner or later they are bound to act as if it's just an afternoon at the range with their friends.

After all, haven't they all been taught that? I know I'm guilty as much as anyone, because that's the way I feel at a match.

But, until the concept of SAFETY is fully ingrained by experience, it constitutes a disservice to our New Friends to allow them to thing that ... just because the timer is not running at a match ... they can ease off on the Safety Regulations.


It's impossible to cover all possible ways of "Doing Wrong" in a three hour class; and nobody would stand still for it, it's so negative!

Ultimately, the only way to gain experience in a potentially dangerous high-stress competitive environment is to tell the new practitioners what they must and must not do, and then allow their friends to serve as bad examples, for the edification of the others.

I'm not happy with that "solution". I think that every new shooter should have the experience that experienced shooters have; that is a conundrum, I admit, and it bothers me that I can't teach them EVERY way that they can .. well, "screw up".

It's a balancing act. As a trainer, if make the training too tough, I lose the potential of new shooters who are interested, but are discouraged by the negative tenor of the class.

If I'm too "nice", I lose the value of the Safety Training; I graduate people who don't understand how easy it is to be unsafe/how important it is to achieve the discipline to be always safe in a "running gun" situation.

On the other hand, if I'm too "tough", I dissuade people who have the potential to be safe, EXPERIENCED competitors who understand that ... "Hey, we want you to come shoot with us, but we will hold you to a 'higher standard' which flies in the face of all the practices you have experienced in a less stressful environment" ... your experience is unsafe, and we will not tolerate a lower level of safety."

(more sighs)

This is a very long and convoluted post, and I apologize for imposing my "angst" on you. I'm not really trying to apologize for my inability to be a perfect trainer. What I'm looking for is some s
suggestions from other trainers about how to achieve the perfect balance of "tough" and "attractive" in a three-hour training session. Ideally, each student would be given individual instruction, and ideally the training session would continue until the student had learned all that he or she needed to know.

Practically speaking, that is impossible. Even under the most ideally perfect situation ... it ain't going to happen. It's beyond the realm of human endeavor to cover every possibility; the best we can do is to hit the high points and hope for the best .... and in the actual event, to monitor the performance of each New Shooter very closely ... without making him or her feel so self-conscious that he/she has no possibility of performing "satisfactorily".

The only thing that I can suggest is a concept which I have only recently realized is a viable goal: That they perform "right" rather than "well".

In the early stages of a new shooter's career, they should not attempt to "perform well" (to be competitive); they should only attempt to "perform right" (to be safe).

I'm not sure that's a conceptual differentiation which will be acceptable to every new shooter, but it's a goal which may perhaps be achievable.

And it may prevent them from DQ'ing because they tried too hard, too early.