The Art of Muzzle Discipline

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Little things — unexpected small teaching moments or instances of “Well, would ya look at that!” — may, I believe, make a great deal of difference in accidents with firearms.

Watch That Muzzle Discipline

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, airport is called the “Sunport.” It’s relatively small compared to Chicago or New York or Atlanta, but it is delightful (as airports go). The Sunport is easy to negotiate and mirrors the culture of the Southwest. It’s perfectly OK to wear your boots and Stetson here.

Traveling through the Sunport on the way to a backpacking trip last month, I was drawn to a painting. It was remarkable, really, named “Guadalupe Sunrise” and painted in oils by Gary Niblett, a member of Cowboy Artists of America. Niblett resides 60 miles north of Albuquerque in Santa Fe.

Niblett’s painting is luminous and perfectly suited to the Sunport. A pioneer family stands in front of a Conestoga wagon as if they are surveying the area and have at last found a place to settle. Mom shades her eyes. Dad, who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Tom Selleck, stares straight ahead. It isn’t certain where the boy is focused, but it may be on the muzzle of the rifle his father holds. Maybe “holds” is the wrong term because dad has his otherwise nondescript lever-action rifle in front, butt on the ground, with his left hand covering the muzzle.

“Guadalupe Sunrise,” painted by Gary Niblett, as displayed at Albuquerque’s Sunport

“Guadalupe Sunrise,” painted by Gary Niblett, is on display at Albuquerque’s Sunport. Note the hand resting over the muzzle.

Don’t Get Shot When Far From Help

I don’t imagine that state-of-the art medicine would have saved the dad had a sudden jiggle or inadvertent kick caused his 1800s rifle to fire. From Niblett’s painting, we can guess that the family is far from help, pretty much on their own. Certainly, the dad would have lost his hand, and the way the gun is pointing … well, who knows. The dad’s incapacitation would have meant hard times for the pioneer family, and life on an unsettled frontier was hard enough.

Niblett’s painting is beautiful, and I wish I could have met him, talked about art and pointed out this one small flaw. I call it a flaw but know that millions of shooters have, at one time or another, held a rifle or a shotgun in a similar manner. And while firearm safeties have vastly improved in the 150 years since the era of the painting’s subjects, hundreds and maybe thousands of folks have been seriously injured by carelessly placing their hands over muzzles.

It’s an easy thing to become careless with firearms. They require continuous awareness whether we carry openly or concealed.

A Different Time for Weapons Safety

I can’t be too hard on Niblett, however. Carelessness with weapons has always plagued parents and commanders.

During a recent visit to Romania’s National History Museum, I found a very small example of artistic license that was as immediately recognizable as that in “Guadalupe Sunrise.” An image of a holy warrior that dated from the 14th century shows the warrior (or angel or saint) with his right index finger draped over the crossguard and firmly grasping the blade. It is the ideal hand placement to lose the very finger most necessary for control of a 4-pound sword.

A 14th century painting of an angel holding a long sword.

This untitled work of art by a 14th-century artist hangs in Romania’s National History Museum. Note the finger gripping the sharp blade.

I may be nitpicking, and I have no quarrel with either artist, but their works provide teaching and learning moments. The world is full of such moments. If we pay careful attention and discuss them within the firearms community, we can be a safer family.

Remember the firearms safety rules. Never point your firearm at anything you don’t wish to destroy … including your hand.

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About Rick Sapp

Rick Sapp earned his Ph.D. in social anthropology after his time in the U.S. Army working for the 66th Military Intelligence Group, USAREUR, during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Following his time in Paris, France, he worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before turning to journalism and freelance writing. Along with being published in several newspapers and magazines, Rick has authored more than 50 books for a variety of publishers.

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