Tricky Safety Questions

There are some general principles of gun safety that people seem to broadly agree on. The NRA, for example, (in NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection in the HOme, page 3ff) lists the three basic rules

  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
  3. Always keep the firearm unloaded until ready to use

AACFI gives (in Everything You Need To Know About (Legally) Carrying A Handgun In Minnesota, page 163ff) a list more in accordance with what I learned

  1. Always treat every firearm as though it’s loaded
  2. Always keep every firearm pointed in a safe direction
  3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot

(I think the NRA omission of any rule about treating the firearm as loaded is a colossal error). However, either set breaks down if looked at closely, or at least requires careful interpretation.

For example, does a gun lying open on the table need to be pointed in a safe direction? What about a gun in a case? What about a gun in a safe? Or a gun in a holster on your body? What if the holster holds the gun pointing straight up into your armpit (the classic Berns-Martin shoulder rig)? Or straight down at your balls (Thunderwear)? What about when you’re about to shoot an attacker; is that a “safe direction”?

Sometimes people restate that rule as “Never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot” (or “destroy”). I like that a little better; the AACFI rule came out the way it did, I believe, because of a dislike for the double negative construction (which I admit is a problem especially for a short slogan to be taught to a wide range of people). It definitely solves the problem of pointing the gun at the attacker, at least.

Nearly everybody treats guns in safes as “not guns” (don’t worry about where they point). Nearly as many treat guns in cases that way. Guns on tables with the action open are generally treated that way too. People will walk downrange in front of their own guns, if they’re in that condition.

I don’t know anybody who worries about where their carry gun points while holstered, either (though the male Thunderwear users I know talk about being very careful when practicing holstering).

A lot of people, though, except gun dealers, don’t like a gun lying on a table pointing at anybody. (Gun dealers have to get used to it, I’m afraid.)

This creates interesting problems when uncasing your gun. If you don’t remember and can’t tell its orientation in the case, you may unfasten the case and instantly create a safety violation.

A lot of confusion comes from confusing needs on the range from needs in carry for self-defense. On the range it’s a very good idea to not load the gun until just before shooting; when carrying for self-defense, that’s not really an option. One workaround I’ve seen is that a gun being carried (or stored at home) for self-defense is considered “ready to use” so that (by the NRA rule) it’s okay to load it. The AACFI list doesn’t have this problem, but you could argue that not loading guns before you need them is important enough that it should be listed at that level.

A remarkable proportion of the gun community, and the accumulated wisdom and habit of that community, doesn’t consider carry. For example, it’s a major standing rule that you cannot bring a loaded gun to an NRA gun course, and many gun shops and ranges have signs posted warning you that all guns must be unloaded and cased. Carry simply wasn’t on the radar (and police simply ignored the signs).

I wonder if this is much different in states that have had shall-issue carry laws longer than us?

Think how it looks to outsiders. We’re opposed to laws limiting carry in schools and courthouses, but many ranges, stores, and gun classes have restrictive rules.

There are, of course, concerns with courses for beginners. By definition, they don’t have the experience and habits to avoid mistakes, so you want extra layers of protection between them and BANG.

In the past, a lot of people carrying just calmly ignored such rules, counting on concealment. I don’t like that as a solution, and it doesn’t address the political problem at all. And my libertarian side says people have the right to set some rules for what people do on their property, even if I don’t like their choices.

I was told recently by an NRA training counselor that the rule is to prevent things like a disaster where a student brought in a fully-auto weapon (that he owned legally with class-III license), and the instructor shot up the room with it (through not noticing it was loaded). Problem with this is exactly the problem with all the rest of the gun-control rules: the rule already existed, and didn’t prevent the problem. The number of safety violations committed here is huge, of course. Following the safety rules really would have prevented this problem. And nobody was actually shot, so the “safe direction” rule would seem to have been followed, if only by good fortune. (Actually, this event sounds like an urban legend, as do most things passed on orally, so I’m looking for some documentation.)

There are also cases like dry-firing, and especially use of dummy ammunition, snap-caps, and the like. The rule to exclude all other ammunition from the area where this is being done is not crazy — though I never do that at home. I just check what I’m actually using very carefully. But a classroom with multiple students is a much more complex and dynamic environment.

We need to be careful to not compromise safety while advancing gun rights, and to not compromise gun rights when thinking about safety.

No X-Ray Vision

As it says in the book, other people do not have X-ray vision. You just think they must when you’re first walking around in public with a gun.

With my Kahr K40 or my Taurus 85 in my pocket with these particular denim shorts, I feel like I’m blatantly obvious. The weight slams into my leg with every step, I can see the fabric bunching up strangely, and worst, the pocket tends to gape and the outer lip gets pulled down by the weight in the pocket. Looking down, I can often see the handle just below the lip of the pocket. When I sit down it makes a huge lump, and often slides off sideways, twisting the fabric around strangely.

I started this project to try to photograph these particular problems, as part of my ongoing dialog about “people are different”. (“No, really. More than you think. More than that even.”) Probably having another photographer would help. But the results I got on my own are somewhat interesting — as a demonstration of how much more obvious these things are to me than to people looking on.

So, which is which?

It’s a bit more obvious from your own perspective — straight above the pocket, looking down. The first one shows a really clear case of the lip of the pocket being dragged in by the weight hanging in the lining. In the second two you can actually see bits of the handle of the gun. And the third one isn’t from my own position, it’s from close in and out in front — pretty much where somebody else’s head would be if they were standing there talking to you.

(In the first set of examples, it’s no, yes, yes, no. But I can’t now reconstruct which was the Kahr K40 and which was the Taurus 85. In both cases they’re in the Uncle Mike’s Sidekick pocket holster that I reviewed yesterday.)

This is also probably useful in learning what to look for in others — although that’s a sport, I think, more than it’s a useful skill. I suspect what the key things to look for are varies widely (or even wildly) with style and cut of the clothing. In this particular pair of pants, what’s obvious is the weight of the gun pulling down the lip of the pocket.

Women at a Disadvantage?

Stylish women are at a considerable disadvantage in regards to carrying. I very frequently see women wearing pants that I’m absolutely sure aren’t concealing a gun, in the pocket, inside the waistband, or anywhere else. (I’ve never actually seen anybody try to wear Thunderwear under pants that tightly fitted, but given the details of anatomy revealed I believe a gun in Thunderwear would be quite obvious.) Similarly, many of their pants, skirts, and dresses don’t have pockets, or have small useless pockets. Bare midriffs pretty much sink any hope of IWB carry even with looser pants. Of course with other styles of dress all these options open up again. The advice to “dress around the gun” applies to both sexes. But I think people in general pay more attention to how women are dressed.

Shallow Concealment

People talk about “deep cover” and sometimes “deep concealment”, so there must be such a thing as “shallow concealment” (or “lite”). Since Minnesota law doesn’t require concealment at all, perhaps styles will trend that way after a while — maybe not worrying if the muzzle of your 45 shows from under your vest when you bend over, or your Taurus 85 is visible if you look down into the pocket it’s in. People already mostly don’t worry about a mysterious loop around your belt (connected to an IWB tucked under your shirt). Maybe they’ll stop worrying about the loop matching the belt color.

Then there’s the North American Arms belt buckle gun.

I doubt we’ll see women wearing shoulder holsters under sheer blouses, though.

Business Meeting

Today I went armed to a business meeting for the first time. With the Kahr in the pocket of the shorts, as pictured above. Nothing interesting happened. (Joel and I were placing a series of ads in Citypages for carry courses, but the person we were talking to never asked if we were carrying, and my mind-reading skills never caught him wondering particularly loudly. Look for “Need a Carry Permit?” for 6 weeks starting 2-Jul-2003.)

I haven’t yet encountered a “posted” location while armed, or planned to avoid one I already knew about. There’s only one location I’ve frequently gone that is now posted, that I’ve noticed. I do, however, have my plans in place for securing my weapon in the car if I do need to. It’s an interim plan, and I should work on upgrading it.

By the way, that very stiff (and very nice) Galco gun belt in the pictures is also a bit of a giveaway to anybody who is paying attention.

So My Permit Came Today

I’d been watching the mail for a while. I applied the morning of May 28th, the first day they accepted applications. I got a phone call a few days later asking for information about my instructor’s certificate and AACFI — meaning they were at least looking at my application. I was afraid they’d set them aside in an “aging” file and mail the permits at the last possible second, as sort of a final gesture of scorn. I was also keeping in touch with a few other Hennepin County residents, and they hadn’t gotten theirs yet either.

Image of permit So it came today. Pamela brought in the mail, noticed what it was, and brought it right down to me. First I’ve seen the new card; I don’t remember anyplace publishing what it was going to look like. I sent email to a few friends and the CCRN web master, and then went for a quick walk around the block. No, I didn’t have to get a gun out, I’ve been carrying in the house most of the time for a couple of months now. (Taurus 85 with bobbed hammer, in Uncle Mike’s “Sidekick” size 3 pocket holster, if you must know.)

Examination of the letter and envelope show the letter dated June 16, and the envelope postmarked (actually postage meter date) June 24, which isn’t all that bad by bureaucratic standards.

So far, in three trips, I have not:

  • Left my gun behind in a restaurant
  • Dropped my gun on the floor
  • Accidentally shown it to anybody
  • Needed it

So far, so good. I have, however, started working through the infinite list of required jokes, starting with “Actually, dear, I am happy to see you.”