FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 27, 2019) - Soldiers depend on leaders to have the knowledge, skills and ability to lead and instruct classes that deal with all forms of safety. When it comes to weapons safety, we have to be the subject matter experts. Attentive leadership and an effective weapon safety program are pivotal components to reducing accidents.

In my opinion, the accidental discharge of a weapon does not exist. A firearm is only as safe as the person handling it. For a weapon to fire, one must load rounds into it and, at some point, pull the trigger. An accidental discharge is the result of poor weapons handling, inattention to detail and lack of training and discipline. It's important that Soldiers do not take weapon safety lightly. And it's just as important that leaders lead by example and enforce the standards.

Soldiers should know and understand the characteristics of the weapon (privately owned or assigned) they're using. Unless you're a licensed gunsmith or if it's within your military duties to perform direct support maintenance, do not modify or try to change the configuration of a weapon. Doing so could result in major malfunctions and possibly render your weapon useless. When handling any weapon, make sure you know its safety features and capabilities. It's a good idea to read the owner's manual or sign up for a safety class.

Even though your firearm may have a safety device, don't assume it will always work. I've often heard the misconception, "It won't fire. The safety is on." Another phrase that makes me cringe is, "It's not loaded." How many "unloaded" firearms have resulted in the death or serious injury of someone? As a cardinal rule, don't load your weapon until you're ready to use it and always treat it as if it is loaded.

A good way for leaders to ensure Soldiers understand firearms safety is to have them explain their weapon's safety features, its loading and unloading procedures and how to perform immediate action on it should it malfunction. Once Soldiers understand and successfully execute these simple tasks, the likelihood of an accidental discharge will decrease.

When storing weapons, keep them in a lockable container, inaccessible to others. It's also a good idea to use a locking device on your weapon. For those residing on an installation, it's mandatory to register privately owned weapons with the provost marshal's office. Soldiers can keep weapons in their living quarters; however, if they live in the barracks, their weapons need to be stored in the arms room. Refer to Army Regulation 190-11, Chapter 4, for more guidance on storage.

So what are the chances of an accidental discharge occurring at home? What happens when a child finds a firearm? Parents have the responsibility to practice weapons safety at home. A good time to introduce weapons safety to children is when they show an interest in toy guns. Children watch television and may be inclined to know what a firearm would really do or how it works. Don't just tell your child guns are dangerous. This alone may excite their curiosity. Sadly, this exact situation happened a few months ago at my neighbor's house and resulted in the accidental death of a teenager.

Parents who take the time to teach, practice and demonstrate the functional use of a firearm will ensure the safety of their children to a greater extent than those who don't. Children need to know what to do if they find a firearm. Constantly reinforce that firearms are not toys and at no time should be treated as such.

A leader's (and parent's) role never stops when it comes to firearm safety. You don't ever want to be in the situation where you say to yourself, "If only I provided more training or talked to my Soldier or child about the use of firearms."

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