Firearm Safety: We've Come A Long Way

Sheriff Jim reminds us how far we've come with regard to firearm safety.

posted on March 25, 2022
Sheriff Jim

I enjoy seeing and re-posting the vintage photos of old-time lawmen, outlaws and famous shooters on social media. As a lifelong history buff, I am generally most interested in their guns and gear. However, what I have noticed is the number of people who respond by pointing out some obvious safety violations such as trigger placement or muzzle control. Far from being distracting, I think it is a really good thing.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when folks were pretty complacent about gun safety. You’d see exhibition shooters firing rifles and handguns at objects being thrown in the air without regard for the fact that the bullet was going to come down somewhere and could hurt someone. They even shot objects that other people were holding in their hands and/or even their mouth. Winchester exhibition shooter Ad Topperwein once shot the end off his wife’s finger while she was holding an empty shotgun shell.

And then there was the era of the TV westerns. Just about every evening you could watch one of your favorite cowboy heroes whip his six-shooter out of a Hollywood designed holster and go to blazing away at the bad guys—using blanks, of course. The trouble with that was the number of folks who got themselves a six-shooter and a Hollywood gun rig and tried that at home. The results often involved a bullet in a wall, a television set or worse …

When you think about that sort of thing, you realize just how far we’ve come in preaching and teaching gun safety. I think that it was Jeff Cooper who first insisted that we stop calling them “shooting accidents” and, instead, call them negligent discharges. The term, by its very nature, puts the responsibility right back on the person who was mishandling the firearm.

At about the same time, shooters were instructed to keep their finger off the trigger until their sights were on the target. Mas Ayoob even insisted that the shooter to keep their trigger finger outside the trigger guard, and alongside the frame, until the gun was on target—an exceedingly good idea.

So, yes, we’ve come a long way in teaching and preaching gun safety. But, we can never afford to rest on our laurels. I don’t know who first coined the phrase, “You are responsible for your own safety,” but I’ve stolen and used it hundreds of times. It puts the responsibility for safety, including gun safety, right back on each and every one of us.

So, no, I don’t mind it a bit when readers point out obvious safety issues on those old photos. We all (novices, gun experts and gun writers) need to be constantly reminded of safety procedures.

So, go ahead and pat yourselves on the back—but keep your finger off the trigger!


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Colonel Rex Applegate

For me, one of the many bonuses of this gunwriter business has been the opportunity to meet and become friends with a number of the firearm enthusiasts of an earlier generation; legendary figures such as Frank Hamer Jr., Bill Jordan, Bill Toney, Col Walter Walsh and the subject of this column: COL Rex Applegate.


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