FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Maneuver Support Center of Excellence safety experts have a message for the Fort Leonard Wood community: Whether acquired for hunting, target shooting or personal defense, firearms are designed to be lethal. Storing or handling them in a responsible manner helps protect everyone.

According to Oscar Powers, MSCoE’s Safety director, risks regarding privately-owned weapons, or POWs, may be mitigated by following the guidance built into the acronym, “T-H-I-N-K:”

  • 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 don’t intend to shoot; and
  • Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.

Powers said since fiscal year 2017, 20 Soldiers across the Army have lost their lives to off-duty mishaps involving privately-owned weapons, and an additional three Soldiers are now permanently disabled. Some of the common factors involved in each mishap were indiscipline, complacency and alcohol.

“Alcohol is not the correct lubricant for your privately-owned weapon,” Powers said. “Make no mistake, you should never handle a weapon after or while consuming alcohol. Alcohol was a factor in over half of the POW mishaps.”

Additionally, POW mishaps typically occur in social settings, Powers said.

“All too often, an individual deliberately pointed a weapon at themselves or someone else, believing it to be unloaded, which resulted in a tragedy,” he said. “It is imperative that you always follow the basic standards of safe-weapons handling, one of which is, never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot. If you see someone handling a weapon in any unsafe manner — especially while under the influence of alcohol — take action. You could save the life of a family member, a friend or even your own.”

An important thing to remember, Powers said, is that not all weapons operate in the same manner.

“Proficiency with your assigned military weapon does not make you an expert on all weapons,” he said. “If you are handling a new weapon, read the owner’s manual carefully and take a class to get the proper training.”

Like prescription medicines and harmful chemicals, firearms should be stored securely, Powers said. Some best practices include:

  • Lock-up firearms unloaded and store ammunition separately.
  • Consider disassembling firearms as an added measure of security to prevent access.
  • Double check that a firearm is unloaded when moving it in or out of storage.

Powers said there are a few simple ways to help ensure firearms are secured. One of the cheapest and easiest is to obtain a cable lock.

“A cable lock can be used on most firearms, allows for quick access in an emergency and offers security from theft,” Powers said. “The cable runs through the barrel or action of a firearm to prevent it from being accidentally fired, requiring either a key or combination to unlock it.”

Another form of protection is a gun case, Powers said.

“For those looking to conceal, protect or legally transport a firearm, a gun case is an affordable solution that’s available in a variety of materials, including plastic, fabric or metal,” he added. “Be sure to lock it with an external device like a cable-style gun lock for added security.”

For added protection, Powers recommended investing in a gun safe. They come in multiple sizes, and many are available with biometric security options — such as fingerprint verification — to ensure only certain people have access.

“A gun safe protects its contents from the elements and allows owners to safely store multiple firearms in one place,” Powers said.

For more information on authorized use, safe handling and storage of personally-owned weapons — along with clarification for commanders regarding the requirements and limitation on POW registration — visit the Army Combat Readiness Center website.