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Stupid or Safe? by Ray Hawk I have been around guns all my life. Well, for most of it. It began when I was eleven with a Daisy Red Ryder B-B gun. My training? A stern warning from my grandfather that he would tear up my bottom end if I shot any of my siblings, the dog, several property cats or any song birds. Sparrows or black birds were fair game. I soon found out that window glass was off limits too! When I was fifteen, I bought a Mossberg .22 semi-automatic rifle. My training? My grandfather and common sense added to my "no-no" list of targets. I also learned from my uncle that a .22 bullet could travel as far as one mile. So, I tried to watch where I shot, or where I pointed the muzzle of my rifle. When I was 16, some younger friends of mine were playing with their .22 rifles. I learned an important lesson from them. One thought his rifle was unloaded. He was re-enacting one of John Wayne's tricks raising his rifle and shooting the bad guy. As he raised his rifle, the unloaded gun went off. The bullet caught the other just above the eye, killing him instantly. My lesson? Unloaded guns aren't unloaded! This lesson came closer to home when a hunting teen and I got caught in a downpour. We ran into a culvert to stay dry. With nothing to do, we decided to shoot at some tin cans and bottles that had found a resting place outside our temporary concrete umbrella. My friend emptied his rifle on several available targets. He recocked the Remington semi-automatic and pulled the trigger. "Click!" He repeated the action. Again, "click." He recocked the gun the third time and turned the muzzle toward me and said, "I'm gonna kill you Hawk." His finger was still inside the trigger guard. I immediately pointed my rifle at him and seriously informed him that when he pulled his trigger, I would pull mine. Both he and I knew my gun was loaded. I didn't know whether his gun was or not. A stand off took place. He thought I was joking. I convinced him I was not. Finally, he turned his gun away from me and casually pointed it toward the cans and bottles and pulled the trigger with the comment, "Well, Hawk, it isn't loaded." His rifle barked, a bottle shattered, and a surprise look expressed his unbelief. He learned the lesson which his actions only fortified in me. Unloaded guns kill. I hope, after 54 years that my friend still respects that lesson. I do. Having been around and owned guns for so many years, I thought I knew all about them and was a safe and responsible gun owner. Then I decided to take a class to get my concealed carry permit. Once acquired, I didn't want to be a 50 round a year shooter. So I started shooting my handgun more. I was invited to join the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA). I was also invited to become a teacher for our club's handgun classes. I went through the NRA course to receive my certification. I soon discovered that my knowledge and responsibilities as a rifle and handgun owner had been based more on Hollywood than anything else. The number of times I have seen people pick up a rifle or handgun and pull the trigger to see if it was loaded, is frightening. Yet, in spite of my experiences, before my NRA training, I have been guilty of that same practice, especially with handguns. Just call me lucky. In all those cases of stupidity, I never once had an accidental discharge; however, I have seen others who were not as fortunate. IDPA has a rule that when one finishes his course of fire, he is told to unload and prove to the safety officer that his firearm is empty before holstering. After removing the magazine the shooter shows the officer that the chamber of his gun is empty. When the slide is released from his grip, it automatically resets the trigger. The shooter may point the gun toward the berm or backstop and pull the trigger before reholstering. One person went through the steps as ordered. His gun of choice was a Kimber. However, when he pulled the trigger, it fired! How? I don't know. It should not have. The chamber was empty. If so, where did the cartridge originate? The magazine had been removed. Perhaps it just looked empty!! I might add that IDPA rules specify that if a person accidentally discharges a pistol "closer to the firing line than two yards," he is disqualified from the match (Official Rule Book, p.7, S1F., April 15, 2005). I usually ask the shooter to aim toward the berm before pulling the trigger just prior to holstering. I have seen some point their firearm at the ground near their feet and pull the trigger before the SO could remind them of the safety rules. Again, I'm not talking about casual shooters. These folks are seasoned IDPA members and should know better. Carelessness. Stupidity. It only takes one careless moment to change your life and ruin someone else's. The best safety on any firearm is the handler's mind. It should be trained to know that the gun is always loaded; never point a gun at something you are not prepared to destroy; always be sure of your target and what is behind it; and keep your finger off the trigger until your target has been acquired. So, in the words of the desk sergeant in the old TV series, Hill Street Blues, "Ya'll be careful out there." Ray Hawk is a minister and a member of the NRA and IDPA. He lives in Jackson, TN and is a member of the Tennessee Sports Foundation.