FORT RUCKER, Ala. - In today's society, we are bombarded with messages informing us we shouldn't drink and drive because alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time, which can make our vehicles deadly weapons. So why do we continue to see Soldiers consuming alcohol and handling firearms, which are designed to be deadly weapons without the addition of alcohol?Six Soldiers lost their lives in fiscal 2012 to off-duty negligent discharge accidents involving privately owned weapons. Alcohol was involved in at least four of the six accidents. In one case, a group of Soldiers consumed alcohol over an extended period one evening at several locations, taking care to use a designated driver or taxi. Then, upon returning to his residence, one of the Soldiers decided to handle his privately owned weapon. While doing so, he inadvertently disengaged the safety mechanism and discharged a bullet into his head.In another case, a Soldier reportedly pointed a weapon at his friend, a fellow Soldier, to scare him to cure his hiccups. Sadly, his cure worked, and his friend will never have the hiccups again. The Soldier now faces manslaughter charges because he accidently discharged the weapon, killing his friend.As a citizen of the United States, you have a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes. You also have a legal right to consume alcohol if you are 21 or older. However, conventional wisdom and Army statistics indicate that exercising both of these rights at the same time has the serious potential of resulting in a wrong that may be fatal. If you are handling a firearm, wait until you have safely stored your weapon before enjoying that "adult" beverage. If you are already enjoying that beverage, handle your weapons some other time.Whether you use a weapon for hunting, target shooting or personal defense, your weapons-handling experiences will be far more enjoyable if you protect yourself, family members, friends and fellow Soldiers by handling your weapon in a responsible manner. Read the owner's manual, sign up for a class, know appropriate laws and policies, always THINK weapons safety and make sure you and your weapon are never loaded at the same time. Don't be armed and hammered!FYI When handling weapons on the range, in combat or off duty, personnel must be aware of and use proper procedures to avoid negligent discharges and other accidents. The U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center has a centralized collection of online resources for safe weapons handling. The Range & Weapons Safety Toolbox hosts various references and materials, including publications, training support packages, multimedia products, ammunition and explosives information, and safety messages and alerts. By using this toolbox, Soldiers and leaders can minimize risks and sustain combat readiness.Remember to always THINK weapons safety:Treat every weapon as if it is loaded. Handle every weapon with care. Identify the target before you fire. Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to shoot. Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.