Rules of Readiness
Everyone who has any interest in guns should have Cooper’s 4 rules of firearms safety down cold. These rules, unlike other rules, are not merely “guidelines” and should never be broken. If you own a gun, and do not handle it according to these rules, you are a fool. Moreover, you are a danger to those around you, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be. If you make a habit if breaking the 4 Rules, some day you are going to make a big mistake. Hopefully you only hurt your pride.
We can all do better to improve our safety. If you’re not safe now, obviously get it fixed. If you already have a good awareness of gun handling, keep working on being safer. This, like shooting in general, is not something that you learn, check off, and never have to work on again. This is a process. It’s something to always work on. It’s also life and death.
Most gun safety is presented in terms of only safety. Readiness is usually not a prominent factor in safety literature. I believe that safety and readiness are not mutually exclusive. I believe that the sharper our skills, the readier we can be while maintaining a completely safe condition.
I believe that, to some degree, the same 4 Rules that govern the safe use of firearms outline keeping them ready for action.
1. All Guns Are Always Loaded
When a gun is expected to be used at some future point, it is incumbent on the user to ensure that it will work as expected when the time comes to use it. With respect to “social guns”, make sure you have it in the proper condition of readiness so that it will not fail you when you need it most. This condition of readiness should be the same one that you use in training, and you should have several thousand repetitions of dry fire practice with it before you can expect to be able to count on it under stress. You don’t want to find out that your safety is on by pressing the trigger and getting… nothing! You don’t want to find out that you don’t have a round in the chamber by hearing a very loud “Click” instead of the “Bang” you were expecting.
If you expect that the gun should be loaded, you should put the same amount of care into verifying that it is loaded as you would verifying that it is clear. If in any doubt, check it. Learn to check it in complete darkness by feel. Be aware of any potential dangers involving deactivating your safety with a live round in the chamber (remember Rule #2!!!).
Use ammunition of a known and appropriate quality. Know the characteristics of your ammunition- what the zero is, what your holdovers/comeups are, what the approximate maximum effective range is, have an idea of the terminal ballistics, etc… Have an appropriate amount of spare ammunition.
2. Do Not Let The Muzzle Cover Anything You Are Not Willing To Destroy
Should you find yourself in a situation in which something needs to be shot, get your muzzle on it and prepare to fire. Don’t let hesitation get you killed.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target.
When you acquire a sight picture on something that needs to be shot, get to shooting it. Don’t let yourself get a good sight picture without beginning to break a shot.
If you are practiced to the point where you are confident that you are shouldering the rifle to break a shot, as in a snapshot, the sight picture is going to be where you want it, and you are utterly familiar with your rifle’s trigger, it is not imprudent to place your finger on the trigger as the butt is settled into the pocket. Press when you confirm the sight picture.
4. Know your target, the backstop, and beyond.
I once saw closed circuit TV footage of a gunfight in a clothing store. A clerk and a bad guy had a somewhat protracted (10-15 seconds) gunfight at a distance of about 5 yards. There was a clothing rack between them. I would guess that even a pistol bullet would go right through a rack of clothing. Apparently these fellows did not. They played the peek-a-boo game, alternately popping up on opposite sides of the rack and getting a quick shot off over it.
This demonstrates that just because something is visually obstructed, it is not necessarily obstructed to the path of your bullet. This can be used to your advantage if you are familiar with the terminal ballistics of your particular round. Not that this does not remove your responsibility that you know exactly what you are shooting at, and what the round will do after it passes through the target.
There. You can now be completely ready while being completely safe.