According to Colonel Jeff Cooper, universal gun safety rule number two tells us to “NEVER let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.” As much as we teach (and repeat) this safety must, muzzle management is still something I see people struggle with, no matter their level of experience or expertise. Luckily, there are some tips and ideas to get this important rule to stick and become part of your routine — all the time — no matter if you are handling the gun, reloading it, clearing a malfunction, cleaning your pistol or shooting that firearm.
A firearm that is holstered properly or that’s placed in a bag or on a table is of no danger. Only when a gun is handled is there a need for attention and concern. This is why the universal safety rules are in place. And this is why muzzle management is of utmost importance. Unless we find ourselves in a life-or-death self-defense scenario, we never want to point a gun at another person. Ever. And we need to be very careful not to inadvertently sweep that muzzle over ourselves, either. Many people do this while holstering their firearms, but I see it, too, if folks are asking questions, demonstrating something or just focusing their attention on something else. And, of course, beyond considering people, it’s important to take note of nearby things. Not every inanimate object is an appropriate or safe target!
To keep in mind how important muzzle direction is, you can think of it in a few different ways. For one, think of the muzzle, the “business end of the gun,” having a very strong magnet that is always being pulled downrange and/or toward your intended target, berm or backstop. While your body can move, and even while the gun can turn, the muzzle is always in the safest direction possible.
Another helpful reminder is the idea that a laser is extending indefinitely from the muzzle of your gun. So anything — or anyone — in that imaginary laser’s path would be in the path of a bullet that’s fired. A technique that can help demonstrate this, both visually and kinesthetically, is the dowel test. For demonstration purposes, if an instructor inserts a dowel into the barrel of the gun, it represents the muzzle direction (and the bullet trajectory) extending outward.
The dowel example often surprises people of how careless we can be if we don’t consider the muzzle’s direction — not just a few inches or feet in front of the gun, but hundreds of yards away … and more! It’s a clear reminder that we are responsible for safe firearm handling, and we are responsible for every bullet that leaves our gun.
(NOTE: As an example, if you happened to fire your gun up into the air, the bullet could travel up to a mile high, depending on the angle of the shot and the power of the gun. The projectile would eventually fall, and while air resistance would limit its speed, bullets are designed to be fairly aerodynamic, so the speed could still be quite lethal if it happened to hit someone.)
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