After reading the article "How Do You Shoot Yourself?" in the May 2012 issue of this magazine, I thought my weapons- handling experiences might also be useful to the safety community. If that seems a little narrow-minded and opinionated, it probably is -- but that's OK. I'm a former installation range officer, so weapons safety was my job.

Let's cut to the chase … no one has ever been shot with an unloaded gun. A bang is always conclusive proof that a gun was loaded. Firearms are discharged in one of only two ways: intentionally or negligently. Once the bang happens, it's out of your control. This article is about how to control your firearm.

I have a muzzle magnet. As best as I can tell, it's located just in front of my navel. Firearm muzzles just seem to swing mindlessly toward it whenever I'm in or near a group of shooters. When a muzzle is carelessly pointed at me, I immediately say something and the offender usually gets upset when I imply that they unsafely handled their weapons. They defensively tell me that they know it's unloaded, they just checked it yesterday and ask, "Do you think I'd do something that stupid?" And my retort is always, "Well, I don't know if it's unloaded and I don't care when you checked it. I control the muzzle of my firearm and expect the same from others!"
Try this yourself. On the range, stay aware and notice how many other people point guns at you. Controlling the muzzle of your firearm is an "always" requirement, so it doesn't matter if it's on duty or off duty. A negligent discharge will result in the least damage when the muzzle is pointed in the safest direction possible. If you witness someone mishandling a weapon, speak up! And stay cool when someone reminds you to control your muzzle.

Guns fire when the trigger is pulled; triggers get pulled when fingers are on them. If you don't want your gun to fire, don't have your finger on the trigger. I intentionally keep my finger off the trigger when I don't want to fire it, and so should you.

"The safety is on," is an excuse that covers the gamut of firearm handling sins. That excuse doesn't give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. To me, that is kind of like saying that you are driving drunk, but the cruise control is set for the speed limit. Remember, one sensible action doesn't negate the foolish or stupid ones. I don't really trust mechanical safeties. I use them religiously, though, because they work most of the time. What I trust is the "safety" between my ears and keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Being somewhat of an oddball, I read directions. I know how to operate my firearms -- how to disassemble them, clean them and reassemble them. I practice doing those things and I keep the muzzle pointed safely while doing so. When I get to the range or a hunting area, I know I can load and use my firearm safely. How many tries did it take you to figure out what that little metal tab did on your Benelli? Which of the umpteen different trigger systems does your SIG have? All of that handy information is in the instruction booklet.

My guns are unloaded when they're not in use. It's easy to load them when needed. Do you need guns loaded and ready in combat? Yes, indeed. How about when you're on the firing line at the range? Certainly. When the pistol is under the seat of the pickup bouncing around? When the shotgun is in the closet? When the rifle is next to the bed? You decide. You have to make that decision based upon your personal situation and the amount of risk you can accept. However, the jurors may have a different viewpoint. So will the cops, your spouse and mom. You need to practice loading quickly and safely so it becomes a skill you can count on.

There is no booze around when I'm shooting. This, too, is an always rule. Yes, beer is also booze. If you've had any alcohol, don't mess with your guns at all. If your friends have been drinking, discourage them from shooting or even handling their guns. Shoot completely sober, then put the guns away, relax and enjoy your beverage of choice.

Guns are expensive. Most of mine have custom work, optical sights and other accessories. I keep them locked in a safe, and I spin the dial every time I close it. Properly secured firearms are safer for, and from, everyone.

Some of you may want to carry a concealed handgun, as I have done for over 30 years. Concealed carry of firearms for self-protection is more prevalent today than ever; 49 of 50 states currently allow concealed carry in some manner. I offer this advice: before you accept the risks and responsibilities that accrue with concealed carry, find a good defense lawyer, knowledgeable law enforcement officer and local prosecutor to discuss your responsibilities and the likely repercussions from actually using that firearm. If you choose to exercise those rights, you need to do so with full knowledge. Military bases do not allow concealed carry -- so don't even think about it!

I've found that (for me) the best way to reinforce safe gun handling skills is to shoot. There are competitive events for almost every shooting interest. The United States Practical Shooting Association caters to action-oriented, very competitive people; International Defensive Pistol Association matches center around self-defense scenarios; Cowboy Action Shooting is mostly just for fun; and trap, skeet, sporting clays and formal rifle and pistol competitions stress pure marksmanship. These competitive events are open to everyone and emphasize safe gun handling, familiarity with your firearms and enjoying the shooting sports. Our Army marksmanship unit competes, and so can you. "Newbies" are always welcome. Get out there and make some noise. Safe shooting!

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Negligent discharges occur on and off duty and can happen to anyone.

• When on leave, a Soldier was injured while shooting cans and bottles with a revolver. When he was done shooting, as he attempted to de-cock the pistol, the hammer slipped from his thumb and slammed forward, discharging a .22-caliber round into his thigh.

• While on duty, a Soldier who was cleaning his weapon shot another Soldier in the leg.

Awareness of safety rules and compliance with appropriate procedures helps prevent accidents. 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 Range and Weapons Safety Toolbox is a centralized collection of online resources for managing range operations and safe weapons handling. The 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.

Visit (AKO log in required) for more information.