President’s Column | The Silent Killer: Complacency

posted on February 22, 2022
Charles L. Cotton

In my experience as an aircraft pilot, firearms instructor and Second Amendment advocate, I’ve concluded that one of the gravest dangers we face can be summed up in one idea: Complacency. Let me tell you a few stories to explain.

I don’t fly anymore, but I’ve been an aircraft pilot for decades. When I learned to fly, you could get a multi-engine rating after just 10 hours in the cockpit. The FAA and NTSB found that freshly licensed multi-engine pilots were generally safe—at least at first—but, as time went on, their accident rate increased. To me, this was counter intuitive: You’d think that the longer a pilot flew, the safer he or she would become. But that wasn’t the case. Why? Because too many multi-engine pilots failed to practice their emergency procedures for an engine failure—the chief cause of accidents on such aircraft.

When an engine fails in a multi-engine plane, the airframe yaws toward the failed engine, that wing drops—and if you don’t apply the right control-surface corrections, the plane will torque over into a spin. When that happens, you may not have time and/or altitude to recover. Those reactions need to be automatic and instinctive, like steering a car into a skid on ice. So, it was pilots’ complacency—their mistaken belief that “I know how to fix this, so we’re good”—that led them to neglect practicing these life-saving skills. That complacency cost too many pilots their lives.

I see similar complacency—in my opinion—among some shooters. They’ll take the training and learn the drills needed to get their Concealed Handgun License. But later, when other interests or needs intervene, they’ll allow those potentially life-saving gun-handling skills to languish.

I compare it to learning to drive. Remember when you first drove a car, how the mechanics of driving—from shifting gears to signaling turns to scanning for hazards—consumed all your attention? With practice, those skills became automatic and reflexive, letting you focus on the larger mission of getting to your destination safely. In the same way, if you carry a gun for protection, you don’t want to have to think about how the gun is charged, where the safety is or any of the mechanical fundamentals. They should be instinctive, built into muscle memory, so we can focus our full attention on the larger mission of protecting ourselves. That takes practice.

Every one of us is their own first responder. When faced with criminal violence, we can only rely on ourselves. A firearm kept for self-defense is useless if locked away or disassembled—one reason why Washington, D.C.’s “safe storage” mandates were found unconstitutional in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Nonetheless, each of us must ensure our firearms are secure—not just for our own safety but also the safety of those around us. For many of us, the best option for “safe storage” is to have our self-defense firearm on our person or in our immediate and complete control.

Don’t get me wrong: Over the past century, while the U.S. population has doubled and the number of privately owned firearms has sextupled, fatal gun accidents have fallen by 83%. You can thank NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program in large measure for that. Over the past 30 years, Eddie Eagle has taught more than 32 million children how to stay safe if they ever find a gun. But our goal must be perfection. Until accidents are reduced to zero, we still have work to do. There is no room for complacency.

The same can be said of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Too many gun owners look at our recent victories—from landmark Supreme Court decisions to Constitutional Carry now in 21 states—and they mistakenly believe “our rights are secure and I don’t need to take action to protect them.” But complacency in the legislative or electoral arenas can be just as dangerous to our God-given right to defend ourselves and our families.

The opposite of complacency is vigilance. And eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. So, I urge you to be vigilant—not just for the skills that keep you safe, but also for the freedoms that guarantee your ability to do so. Consider taking one of NRA’s Personal Protection courses from an NRA-certified instructor (see To support that life-saving training, renew your NRA membership. And to back it up with public-policy expertise, consider contributing to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.


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