“I AM COMMITTED TO the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.”
Ask most people in the shooting community about safety in training, and they’ll probably think of a set of rules. Depending upon their background, they might think of three rules, or they might think of four rules… but, they are most certainly going to be thinking of a set of seemingly hard, fast and simple bullet points that are thought to keep safe anyone handling firearms. When I ask instructors about safety on their range however, the last thing I want them to do is reference a set of rules. If they do, the first thing I have to point out is that the rules were most likely discussed in every class where an accident occurred, yet the accident still happened.
I first publicly questioned the practice of simply referencing sets of rules that were obviously failing in the early 2000s when a student shot a friend during a reckless act of negligence.
Rules are often forced to have exceptions. For example, most students will hear about the rule, “Treat every gun as if it is always loaded” in the classroom, but then we go on to teach them about how to properly dry fire, which involves pressing the trigger on the firearm in our home (something we’d never do with a loaded firearm, unless a home invader were involved). Another rule most likely discussed in class is, “Never point your firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy,” yet then we’ll go on to teach students about various carry position such as appendix carry, that most certainly points the firearm at something that we’d be very unwilling to destroy.
I believe these “exceptions,” which occur constantly in the firearms community, often lead to complacency on the part of the instructor, as will happen with any set of absolutist rules that can’t really be followed all the time. In other words, instructors might assume that they can decide when and where these exceptions can occur, or, they might believe that simply reciting the rules will guarantee no violation of the rules. That complacency is exactly what leads to accidents.
In the aftermath of an accidental injury in a training environment, I am always disappointed to hear instructors write the incidents off with comments such as, “If they would have just followed the rules, it wouldn’t have happened.” When you have to make that comment a few times a year, it becomes a simplistic answer to a complex problem, especially when there are instructors with excellent safety records who probably don’t even agree with you on what “the rules” are in the first place. I first publicly questioned the practice of simply referencing sets of rules that were obviously failing in the early 2000s when a student shot a friend during a reckless act of negligence. The errors that occurred in that case were much larger than whether or not a set of finite rules had been broken. It was the overwhelming response of respected instructors to write the event off as a violation of “the rules” that I found frustrating. I believe we owe it to our students to try to solve problems and prevent accidents from happening. Simply citing rules is not enough.
The idea behind the First Tenet of Professional Defensive Shooting Instructors is that as instructors, we must think about the procedures, drills, course designs, and techniques we are teaching in regard to risk and bene fit, rather than just checking the boxes on a set of rules. For example, if we’re on the range working with a brand new student who has never fired a handgun before, it would be irresponsible for us as instructors, to simply recite the rules and then tell the student to load up and fire away. We must have a procedure that prevents them from making mistakes that could get them, or someone else, injured or killed. Any other approach risks safety violations, and as an instructor, it will not be a good enough excuse to say, “My student broke the rules” if a tragedy occurs.
At the end of the day, safety is the instructor’s responsibility and all training involves real risks.
To cite some extreme examples I’ve heard about: One instructor apparently thinks it is okay to shoot through a line of his students into the berm, stating he wasn’t actually pointing his gun at the students, so his ridiculous action didn’t violate the rules. I ask, what is the benefit of that action compared to the risk of catastrophe? Is it worth having students shoot at targets next to other students? Is there really a benefit or is it just bravado? If the benefit is to experience fear or to acclimate the student to almost getting shot, then it implies there must be an actual risk of getting hurt. Personally, I don’t think the benefit would rise to the level of the risk. Is it worth standing next to a target to get a cool picture of a student shooting? Is it worth letting your students run through a live fire shoot house like SWAT team members when they have no real need for that skill set, and have had only a handful of hours of prior training?
While those are extreme examples, each instructor will need to look at everything he or she does in regards to their students’ overall safety, and the risk and benefit received from each action or drill they run their students through. It is not enough to simply recite the rules in class, or point to them on a board on the wall, and then blame the student if a tragedy occurs.
At the end of the day, safety is the instructor’s responsibility and all training involves real risks. As instructors, it’s up to us to balance that risk with the benefits our training provides.
[ Rob Pincus is the owner of I.C.E. Training Company and the Develope of the Combat Focus® Shooting Program ]