Exercise Your Freedom | To Help And Not To Help

posted on February 1, 2017

Next to making it—whatever “it” happens to be—go bang, the most common enthusiasm we encounter among shooters is a desire to help the less experienced. We wouldn’t suggest this as unique to our discipline, but it does seem unusually intense in the hobby/sport/profession. What motivates this urge to mentor is more difficult to pin down: From a pay-it-forward focus on safety first and fun after, to “do it like I do” or “I’ve got this,” we think we’ve seen it all.

The bad news is the huge continuum here: “Helping” is crucial (and decorum certainly expendable) when safety is at issue. But overt pouncing at the slightest opening is its own kind of problem, and not quite as small as you might think. 

Two recent experiences come to mind. Clear confusion about an M9/Beretta 92 safety, combined with poorish muzzle discipline, had a shooter of evidently modest experience peering at his handgun very nearly sideways—within about 10 degrees of being uprange and about 20 degrees of sweeping the neighboring shooter (yours truly). A step backward to open the angle and a weighty glance were accompanied by “Ah … down is safe, up or forward is hot?”These grating miscues shooters have among ourselves spill over onto non-shooting Americans with ugly regularity. We need to own up to and fix this propensity.

Suffice it to say calling his child ugly miiiiiight have fared better. Sigh.

Five minutes or so pass with dinner-plate-at-five-yards type accuracy at bulls-eye pace (which is OK if that is what suits), whereupon an elderly observer was ushered to the line for his turn: “First time shooting a handgun.” The errors in technique that proceeded would fill weeks of columns, but the troubling/injurious/dangerous triple was crucial: Acquisition of the loaded pistol from the waist-high bench was achieved with a finger in the trigger guard, crouching to place both elbows on the bench with the shooter’s face three to four inches behind the gun, and the thumbs crossed behind the slide.

We called “Stop!” With surly indignance, barely effectual corrections were made, and three unhappy shots resulted. Is it any real wonder the newbie thought that was more than enough?

The second we only overheard as part of a series of tongue-biters, and it resolves to a single sentence: “Women should always start with a revolver.”

Our first anecdote has a bunch of scary stuff, frankly, but for the moment we pick on just two. The first? Not everyone is remotely fit to teach shooting, particularly to a new shooter when they are newish themselves. Have the modesty, maturity and plain good sense to hold off on this the first 50,000 or so times you get the impulse, and then get some real instructor training. Anything else is hubris, and potentially dangerous hubris at that. Safety violations call for immediate action, but they’re the only exception.

Next, have some damn manners. It’s tough, after nearly two solid generations of often no-achievement “self-esteem,” to swallow our pride (yes, “our”— we’ve been guilty of this, too) and give or receive such well-meant help graciously. Remember, you’ve got a firearm in your hand(s). Just how many times better is “safe” than “sorry” in such a context? What’s the downside of an incorrect admonishment as long as you slow down and make sure? Even one corrected “oops” can prevent damage to gear, injury or vastly worse. (A major hint here: Have your own conduct in sound, impeccably correct order, and it’s amazing how few of these you’ll get.) This starts with our internal conduct, and ought to be easy when the other side has nothing but crude double entendres … to offer.

The “damn manners” business applies with corresponding facility to our second, simpler anecdote: There are some “old saws” in our business that need serious re-examination. First, a specific: The actual (as opposed to imputed) misogyny of the remark. Since the rationale behind this is 99.9 percent consistent—the so-called mechanical simplicity—it would apply, if true, to any new shooter. We make no apology for labeling this a shabby ego-stroke, a variation on, “It was good enough for me, so …” (By the way, there are other considerations which might render this not merely dictatorial and rude, but wrong on its face. We’re starting on this over at Carry Life.) 

We suggest there is a crucial wider nuance here. These grating miscues shooters have among ourselves spill over onto non-shooting Americans with ugly regularity. We need to own up to and fix this propensity. Nothing comes to mind? Well how about some open carry proponents who insist on AKs/MSRs (however unfairly, illogically, unconstitutionally maligned) instead of a discrete 1911, at least for starters? How about the clown that thinks a .44 or 12-gauge in the hands of a swimsuit-topped 110-pound lady friend is funny YouTube fodder? How many pals think keeping each and every shot in a safe backstop really only applies to others? Shoot into trees? Loudly fail to educate themselves on why and how we can still lose the Second Amendment? 

The connection to our anecdotes is, we hope, plain. Safety essentials need to trump all when firearms are in play—nobody, we hope, fails to follow that. But giving and receiving those observations with civility and humility, remembering the spirit in which they’re offered, has no such built-in excuse. Instead, it is time to remember who else is watching: It’s been a long time since the legislative and judicial climates were more favorable, and we’ll only get to take advantage if present outsiders are welcomed “in” to a varied, wholesome community. This starts with our internal conduct, and ought to be easy when the other side has nothing but crude double entendres like this and this to offer. 

Naysayers can best be undone by millions of good examples, and it’s past time to get to work.


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