When people tell me “guns scare me”, I say “That’s a good start.” Then I tell them what they should really be scared of: criminals, politicians, lawyers, etc., but that is an entirely different topic. What I would like you to think about is safety. Let’s face it, we all lead dangerous lives and if we really thought about it too much, a lot of us would never go out-doors again. After all, we zoom around in steel boxes at speeds of at least 65 MPH … Yes, this is dangerous, but we do it everyday. Do I need to mention that another thing we humans do on a regular basis is enter large aluminum tubes with a bunch of strangers and careen about the sky at altitudes up to 7 miles just to visit relatives? So, it can’t be denied that we do dangerous stuff on a daily basis. Because our bodies are very fragile, we must take safety seriously just to see the next sunrise.
The thing about safety is that beyond a certain point, things are out of your control. Others around you may not be safety conscious and, let’s face it folks, you are in danger once again. You are only as safe as the least safe person around you (sounds like the golden rule of sear engagement to me). This needs to be well understood since most of us spend a fair amount of time on the gun range, reloading, working with power tools and things that go “Boom” in general. If you’ve seen the things I’ve seen, you would definitely think “Safety First” is a good policy. Let’s put it this way, I have friends who are missing eyes, have black powder burnt into their faces, are missing fingers and even more significant body parts. The thing most of them have in common is that good safety practices would have kept them fully equipped with all of their original functioning body parts.
The biggest and earliest lesson I learned about safety was from the greatest teacher of safety I have ever known, my father. Unfortunately, the lesson I learned firsthand was “What not to do.” That lesson was and is significant. I was six years old and going to the gun range was absolutely the number one thing on my “Want to do Most” list. It began as just another day at the range. Our group of shooters consisted of my two brothers, a family friend (who owned the largest weapons cache I have ever seen), my Dad and myself. It was a beautiful day and we had the range to ourselves. Our Ford Galaxy 500 was parked over the hill and beyond the dale.
We had all shot a bunch of stuff downrange when the .22 caliber weapon came out of the case. Just so you can get into shooting position with me and picture what went wrong and be in the moment, please note that even at this early age, I had proven countless times to have demonstrated good safety and handling procedures for the weapons I touched. I am a left-handed shooter and was seated at a bench. The rifle had a scope mounted that had a rubber eyepiece (in order to block out sunlight and glare and provide eye relief) that cupped around my eye. The scope had an amber colored reticle. I wish I could tell you the make and model of the firearm but that information went right out of my memory banks (if I even knew at the time), as it was a day of new and exciting weapons.
Anyway, the line was hot and nobody had called a cease-fire. The rifle had a benchrest in place and I remember that when I was getting into shooting position everything fit like a glove. A round was already chambered and the gun in battery. The safety was on, since we were taking turns shooting the various rifles. The amber hue to the reticle was something that I had never seen before and it was like entering a new world (I was only six). I had no peripheral vision when in firing position. When it came my turn, I brought my cheek to the stock and entered the shooting world. I sighted in the bullseye, took the weapon off safe and placed my finger on the trigger. I took my final breath and pulled the trigger straight back. At the moment the shot fired, I thought, “That’s odd, I’ve never used a scope that blacks out when you shoot it, kind of like a slide projector . . . Huh?” That was the last calm thought I had for some time.
I heard a sound like some 200 plus pounds of potatoes falling in front of my rifle and I regained my peripheral vision just in time to see my Dad hit the ground. Time seemed to stop for just a moment, like being in the midst of a horrific car crash, and then it was back to reality. I squatted on the ground just in front of the firing line beside my Dad. My father had broken one of the first rules he taught me before stepping foot on a gun range, never walk in front of the firing line unless a cease-fire has been called and you have acknowledged that everyone “gets” it (actions open, etc.). What I learned that day was that you could only trust yourself to do the right thing at the right time.
The above scenario qualifies as a “Bad Day,” and it was. Safety has to be practiced as a ritual… always, or an accident can and will happen. An accident usually results from a series of smaller errors, but it only takes one error in safety protocol. In my example, walking in front of the firing line is no small error; however, I believe that if the scope didn’t have that eyepiece on it I would have seen plenty of movement in my left eye even if the right eye were closed for sighting.
My lessons were not over for that day. My training prevailed, but not without tears and plenty of them. It was my job to hold a compress and tourniquet on my Dad’s left leg to stop the visible geyser of blood. I thought I was watching my Dad die. It really was just like a movie. He was explaining to me right away, whilst bleeding profusely, that it was his fault that he just took a bullet. He then starts cracking jokes, as was way. My brothers snapped into action after my oldest brother freaked out and ran around in circles for a minute or so kicking up some dust until my Dad roared at him to get a grip and get the #@&^%#@ car! My other brother was calm as usual and ready to help. It wasn’t long until the Ford came splashing through the creek. I remember my Dad cursing at seeing the car treated so violently; go figure.
As we found out later, I was three inches from killing my father with that shot. The .22 caliber bullet went into the left leg, hit the femur and was sent spinning over the groin region (yikes!) and came to rest deep in his right leg without hitting any major arteries or organs. That was the upside to a pretty down day. After everything healed and worked properly, we did go back to the range for more shooting. This could have turned me off to firearms and shooting, but it didn’t. This experience helped prepare me for other scenarios that occurred later in my life. It has been said that everything happens for a reason. You can guarantee I am one of the safest guys in the world to go shooting with, but don’t take my word for it. Always remember … safety first!
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