The NRA’s three rules of gun safety have been one of the first things taught to new shooters to keep them and everyone else safe. Before I start, I want to point out that I do use and teach the safety rules. They work, and to have a negligent discharge you have to break to of the three and to have an accident that results in an injury or death you have to break them all. By no means am I suggesting that the rules are optional, or that they should be intentionally broken, I simply want to look at the language that they use. So let us take a deeper look at what they are and what they really means. They may not be perfect, but they accomplish their goal. They serve as simple rules to keep you and other safe while handling firearms, without needing much explanation. They do however have deeper and more significant meaning as we think more about them. So let’s look at each of them individually and see where that takes us.
NRA Rule 1 – ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
On the surface pretty straight forward. You will also hear this one in other fashions, normally depending on the background of the person. For example I hear people who come from a predominant hunting background use “Never point a gun and anything you don’t plan to eat.” On the self-defense and military side of things I hear and use,”Never point a gun at anything you do not what to destroy.” They do say all the same thing and the NRA version is the most bland and has the widest reach.
So let’s dive in, what is “a safe direction? Is my floor a safe direction? Is it a safe direction when people are on the floor underneath? Is the ceiling safe direction? Is it a safe direction when people are on the floor above? If I am in a basement where all the walls and the floor are masonry and capable of ricochet a bullet, what’s the safe direction then?Most of us in the concealed carry lifestyle carry with muzzle (end of the barrel) pointed down towards the ground, some behind them, and even fewer to the left or right; hey store them horizontally. Most hunting rifles are stored with the muzzle up towards the ceiling, and are carried with the muzzle down. This places a whole new spin on how you carry. I have been experimenting with Appendix Carry for the last few months because my students have been asking about it and I have never done it. While in appendix carry the muzzle of the firearm is either pointed directly at my femoral artery or at my genitals. Neither of which I would like to blast a hole in. So, what is “a safe direction?” Obviously this is not as clear as pointing the muzzle downrange at all times. So let’s say “safe direction” means the direction in which IF a round was to go off, that that bullet would:
- First and foremost, not harm people unless in cases of self defense where grievous bodily harm or death may occur.
- Not harm any animals, other than ethically hunting.
- Minimizes the damage to property
ALWAYS is a really definitive statement like never, every, or impossible; it means without exception. Seems like a good plan and goal, but we are all human, which means we are fallible. The question becomes, safe for who and how. Imagine the person that breaks through a locked door into my home and provides a actual threat to my family or myself of grievous bodily harm or death in the middle of the night. The course of action they have set in place will in all likelyhood place them with a firearm pointed at them. If I ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction then there the ability for me to use the firearm for anything other than target practice does not exist. Because the argument that pointing a gun at the burglar person in not a safe direction for them. Ok, so now what?
I see this is the point where the variations of the rule come into play much better. If I “Never point a gun at anything you do not what to destroy” I then open up armed self defense, hunting, target shooting, sporting clays, 3 gun, USPSA and all the other firearms sports. Again however we end up in the language dilemma. I do not want to destroy my floor, but I would rather a hole in my floor then my roof. I do not what to destroy my basement walls, but I do want to dry-fire practice.
I do think we do know the spirit of the rule inherently, but it is worth looking deeper into. We will keep looking at each of the rules as we go on.