A few months ago, I was teaching a large class of women who were brand new to firearms. Some of the ladies had never even held a gun before. They had a lot of questions and concerns. And as we were getting started, you could sense the broad mix of emotions — from anxiety and discomfort to excitement and determination.

We carefully went through the fundamentals of shooting and all the basics they needed to know, and we talked about, explained and repeated the four universal gun safety rules. But, as many people know, even if you walk through each safety rule 1,000 times, there can still be misunderstandings and errors. And for someone who is brand new to shooting, it is definitely a whole new, unfamiliar world of things to do and NOT to do.

A few hours later, as we were out on the shooting range, putting their fresh knowledge and skills to work, one of the ladies, excited about her very first shot, briefly turned to high-five her friend … with the muzzle of her revolver pointed straight at my husband. He immediately stepped over and corrected the issue, taking the time to review that the muzzle needs to be pointed in the safest direction (downrange, in this case) at all times! She flushed with embarrassment, nodded slowly, and made a point to talk herself through the four universal safety rules every time she picked up her gun from that point on.

Lesson learned…?

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior happens on the range a lot. I’ve witnessed it time and time again. And I’ve mentioned to my husband and to other range safety officers that we should probably invest in some t-shirts that read: “NOT a safe direction.” I know that’s a little tongue in cheek, but the message is worth repeating … everywhere. And maybe an important safety rule emblazoned across our chests would be a helpful reminder. But, then again, maybe the message of “keep the muzzle in a safe direction” isn’t strong enough in the first place.

Rich Settembre, a firearms instructor and a follower of the USCCA blog, suggested something similar to me the other day that I had to pause to consider. He mentioned that when teaching people to drive motorcycles, he does not tell his students, “Drive as if the other drivers do not see you.” He believes that this message is not compelling enough. So, instead, he teaches them to “assume the other drivers see you quite clearly … and are in the process of killing you.”

When I first read his suggestion, I thought that Settembre’s advice was a bit over the top. But he commented, “Believe me, this gives [the students] a real laugh… and it makes the point.”

Then he added a related thought for teaching firearms safety and for making sure that students grasp the seriousness of the universal safety rules. He stated that he does not simply teach them to assume all firearms are loaded or to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Instead, he tells his students, “Assume the bullet is traveling down the barrel right now.”

I bet that gets their attention. It got MY attention. And it really made me think about better ways to relay how vitally important the safety rules are and how imperative it is that we understand these rules fully and follow them thoroughly all the time — no matter what: not to scare people, but to make sure that no one ever becomes complacent. And if we set our minds to consider that a bullet is exiting the business end of the gun this very instant, perhaps we will treat every instant with the utmost respect and caution and NEVER forget to employ the universal rules.

For all the instructors out there, maybe this is a tip you can use in your classroom from now on. For all the shooters, new and old, hopefully this is a powerful reminder of how awesome the responsibility is for us to own, carry and train with firearms.