Keeping new shooters safe takes some time and a well thought-out plan for instruction that must include gun handling and safety protocols. This is not an area where you want rush through details or cut corners.
Any time we teach someone a new skill that involves situations or equipment that, if not executed properly, could lead to a catastrophic injury or an accidental fatality, time must be taken to cover all specifics and potential scenarios. This obviously isn’t ground breaking news, but it’s surprising how often important details can fall through the cracks. From driving a car, to using farm or industrial equipment, power tools and certainly firearms, even a minor lapse in judgment can have a tragic outcome.
Ultimately you won’t want to make any assumptions with what your ‘student’ may or may not understand about firearms, how they operate and how
to maintain safety. The saying ‘You don’t know what you don’t know” would always apply to most new skill development, and it’s critical to minimize the risk wherever possible.
When it comes to teaching another about guns in general and how to handle them, there are a number of key things to consider. As someone who is teaching a new shooter, you really have to put yourself in their shoes and approach the process as if they know nothing. Again, don’t assume. We know that most people these days have a short attention span and that they also learn in different ways. It’s important to cover all of your bases by verbally explaining the detail, visually showing them how to do it and then letting them try it themselves. Repeat as necessary – this isn’t a one-&-done process.
At least in the short-term, it’s key to supervise, reiterate and reinforce the principles (whether the person wants to hear it or not). There’s too much at stake not to. You’ll also want to walk-the-walk and do absolutely everything by the book when you’re with them. Try to avoid slipping into the complacency or bad habits that years of experience may have provided. Although you may be perfectly safe overall, we all compromise just a little. You can’t go wrong by setting a good example.
The other thing to contend with is the high volume of gunplay that we consume in media. Through TV, movies, online content and video games, we’re bombarded with a ton of imagery that can easily stick with us over time. The Hollywood notion of firearms handling can be realistic, but it can also be horribly misleading. We see so much of it that we tend to get a little desensitized and even adopt a sense of familiarity or comfort level with guns and shooting without even having held a real weapon. It’s the instructor’s job to be aware of this influence and to offset it with some real world facts. Never accept ‘yeah I got this’ after just a few minutes of practice.
In this case, we’re not even talking about loading, shooting safety, proper transport or storage (those are part of different conversations). At a bare minimum, this is really all about the basics of handling a weapon and keeping yourself and those around you safe.
Consider enrolling in a professional gun safety course with a certified instructor. There are many reputable organizations that offer these resources and it can help to take the guesswork out of the process.
Many beginners have found it helpful to use a ‘dummy’ gun to handle and practice with before they attempt the real thing. This can help to offset any inherent anxiety that may occur with first using a real weapon and eliminates any risk of injury.
Be sure to understand the mechanical characteristics of the weapon that you’ll be using. This would include how it works exactly and the specifics of how to handle and carry it properly. Every gun type and model has its own particular specs and methods of handling.
Treat every gun as if it were loaded. This is usually at the top of most safety lists, and for good reason. Never take a chance in this regard. It’s also a good plan to keep guns unloaded when not in active use – and pay special attention to the difference between loaded and chambered.
Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. That is, never point your weapon at anything you are not willing to kill or destroy. This is basic to all gun safety protocols. This applies when setting your gun down anywhere, loading and unloading, walking or climbing etc. This is entirely the shooter’s responsibility.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. This is important and applies to shooters of all levels.
Don’t rely on your gun’s safety. It’s a mechanical device that could potentially fail and it is really just a backup to proper gun handling. Never take a chance that your gun won’t fire because it’s on (and was the switch up or down on this weapon?).
Never leave a gun unattended. Loaded or not, this is always a monumentally bad idea no matter the level of experience of the shooter. Bottom line – just don’t do it.
Never handle a weapon if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This would also include any prescription or over-the-counter meds that may affect your behavior, judgment or actions.
If you’re not 100% sure about something – ASK! There’s no shame in getting clarification on a detail or asking for instructions to be repeated.
Responsible gun ownership, handling and operation are all important for a variety of good reasons. Promoting safety, competence and confidence should be the goal of every learning experience.
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