How Far We’ve Come

Gun safety has come a long way, baby.

posted on November 4, 2023
Sheriff Jim Wilson

As many of you know, I am a life-long student of the history of the American West, especially the lawmen and outlaws. Just yesterday, I read a piece about a frontier lawman, in this case Wyatt Earp, pulling his handgun and hitting a troublemaker over the head. In fact, this “buffaloing”, as they called it was quite common and considered a proper response to certain threats and conduct.

Of course, back in those days the old single actions that most folks carried were robust enough to take such abuse. The more modern double-action revolvers and semi-automatics could be more easily damaged and possibly cause a negligent discharge. The only time I saw someone hit with a gun was when a fellow officer hit a thug over the head with his DA revolver, causing the gun to discharge and wound two bystanders.

In time, courts and juries began to take a dim view of using the handgun as a club. And our good, modern training, with an emphasis on safety, along with modern less-lethal options like OC spray and tasers, has pretty much caused the practice to be a thing of the past.

Another thing that a western historian will notice is the old-time practice of leaning on the butt of a rifle or shotgun with the muzzle resting in the dirt, possibly allowing foreign objects to get into the bore of the gun. Even worse are the photos of individuals resting the gun muzzle on the toe of their boot. Sadly, in more recent times, it has been the practice of some shotgun competitors; something that I hope is currently being discouraged. Years ago, I had a friend who had a horribly mangled right hand from resting it on the muzzle of his loaded .410 shotgun; it’s a wonder that he had a hand at all.

In my own case, as a young officer, I attended numerous law enforcement firearm classes. One thing that they had in common was the fact that no one said anything about keeping your finger off the trigger, much less keeping it out of the trigger guard entirely. To my knowledge, the first that this was emphasized was in conjunction with Jeff Cooper’s Modern Technique of the Pistol in the late 1970s. We now call it Gunsite’s Rule #3, the Golden Rule, and there is no telling how many negligent discharges and injuries this training has prevented.

Sadly, the old-time handgun men had to learn the hard way what worked and what didn’t work, what was safe and what wasn’t. In the interim, the National Rifle Association began to put gun safety into the forefront of all firearms training and individual firearms instructors have followed suit. Nowadays, just about any firearms class you attend begins with a safety lecture and that is exactly as it should be.

We certainly can, and should, enjoy the history, stories, and photos of our frontier days. But we should also take time to be thankful and mindful of the great advances that have been made in terms of gun safety. A lot of the old-time gunmen might have lived a lot longer if they had had the same training that is available to the modern shooter.


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