More Tactical Heresy

Tactical Heresy for the day: You cannot train yourself to be 100% safe with a loaded firearm, round in the chamber, no safety for every moment of your life.

Anyone who says differently needs to explain why Massad Ayoob had a negligent discharge, and what the deficiencies in his training happened to be. (here’s a hint, Massad does not have a training deficiency).

Safety is not a destination that you arrive at, it’s a constant activity (kind of like breathing, you need to keep breathing just like you need to keep applying risk mitigation actions). Safety is really what you apply to an activity AFTER you’ve decided to do it (anyone who says “safety first” a bit of a moron).

Pistolero ToddG has been chewing on what he termed the “Safety Sin” for nearly a decade at this point. Here is a quote from his original blog posting way back in 2009.

The reality is that none of us is perfect. We have safety rules to minimize the chance of someone getting hurt, but if you are around guns often enough and long enough you are going to see mistakes happen. Eventually, you are going to make one yourself. The most dangerous gun handlers are the ones who think they’re too safe to worry about making a mistake.

As a community, we need to stop treating all accidental discharges as foolish and criminal acts. By placing every accident under the umbrella of sin, we do ourselves a disservice. We lose the chance to examine the details and learn from them. We lump the competitor who made a momentary transgression in with the idiot who’s never learned anything about safe gun handling. Worst of all, we create a mindset that tells us mistakes won’t happen to smart people (meaning, “us”) … which breeds complacency, which breeds more mistakes.

We have redundant safety rules specifically so that when a mistake does happen, it’s less likely to result in an injury. But “less likely” is not a guarantee. Remember that the next time you’re pointing your gun at the wall to your kid’s bedroom because you know you’ll keep your finger off the trigger … Or the next time a buddy hands you a gun without clearing it first because you both know you’re too safe to make a mistake.

And if you’ve read all this and still believe, “It’ll never happen to me,” good luck with that. I hope I don’t see you at the range. Or in the Emergency Room.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

I think that Todd has a very realistic outlook on the risks of being around loaded firearms in situations that are specifically designed to rush people, stress people, and help them improve their gun handling skills in the event they need them for self defense.

It is a statistical certainty that if you never fire a gun you’ll never have a negligent discharge, but screw that solution as I like shooting guns and I have a right to shoot guns (and for many many years now shooting guns has been a job requirement). But, years of being around people who have negligent discharges at work (from weapons ranging from the M2 machine gun to M9 pistol) to negligent discharges on public ranges, I think that anyone who says, “They just need more training” has abandoned rational thinking and engaged in some sort of religious belief that with just enough training, someone may achieve “100% safety” even with a loaded weapon, on their body, round in the chamber, no safety involved.

To think about it in a different way, would you carry a loaded pistol, condition zero, no safety, if you had “a few beers” in you? If the answer is “yes” then I hope I’m never around you when you do that. But would you carry a loaded pistol in condition zero with 18 to 20 continuous hours of no sleep? If you answer “yes” to that because you think that you are stone cold sober, no alcohol involved, you really don’t understand how lack of sleep and being under the influence of alcohol are indistinguishable in terms of impact on your cognitive abilities and reflexes.

In short, you are not as good of a version of yourself after a double shift and no naps as you are when you are fully rested. The fully rested, top shape version of yourself is the least likely version to make a mistake that could cause a negligent discharge. A very, very large part of “elite forces” training is to hammer home those firearms safety measures so that someone can do them when they are running on 28 hours of no sleep. But even if you went through that training as a young and vigorous human being, how much of that did you retain over the ensuing decades?

Here is another perspective on the MAG-40 discharge:


The negligent discharge took place at the halfway point of day 4 and there is no doubt that everyone involved was spent. Some may have been more fatigued than others. As we are learning more and more about fatigue it is becoming clear that being tired can significantly impair our motor skills and even our ability to make good decisions. As I look back on the incident I can’t help but wonder what role fatigue may have played.

Mental Fatigue
I am a prime example of how fatigue may have been an issue. As the course host I had been awake late at night and up early each morning to make sure everything was in order for class. Although I am used to a hard schedule, when it is a class it is more intense than usual, but I don’t think that was the tough part. Remember our student with safety issues? I was his shadow making constant corrections and physically interacting to ensure safe trigger finger discipline and muzzle orientation when the gun was coming out of the holster and moving back in. Often I was dealing with both trigger and muzzle issues at the same time. This was mentally exhausting. When Mas was teaching and students were off the line, it was my time to grab a couple of deep breaths, a sip of water and get re-energized for the next experience at the line physically correcting this student’s trigger finger and muzzle direction.

And even if you DO have decades of experience, you too, like Massad Ayoob (who I would still absolutely recommend for anyone looking to take a class) can make a mistake, being watched by another intensely trained instructor, who can make a mistake.

What happened? The stainless steel Model 66 is a silvery color similar to a nickel-plated cartridge case.  Three of us, one of us twice, had looked and failed to see it there. On a lot of revolvers, when cartridges are ejected they can hit the left grip panel, which blocks their exit and allows them to slide back into the cylinder.

The big culprit – on my part, certainly – was “the look that doesn’t see.”  Closely associated with complacency, it happens when you’ve looked for something dangerous countless thousands of times and seen nothing there, programming your brain to see nothing there when something is.  It’s associated with the fortunately rare tragedy where a hunter who desperately wants to see a deer in the woods spots a hiker wearing gray-brown clothing with a white handkerchief sticking out of his hip pocket, and concludes that he is looking right at his intended quarry, a white-tail deer.

Today’s incident will become part of our safety lecture, as the one in 1977 has been for many years. No matter how many thousands of rounds a year you fire nor how long you’ve been in the game, constant vigilance is the price of safety when operating any potentially dangerous equipment, from vehicles to power tools to, yes, guns.

To shift gears to another routine but risky activity, motorcycle riders have a few sayings:

“There are old riders, and their are bold riders, but there ain’t no old, bold riders.”, “There are two types of riders, those that have gone down, and those that will go down.” and “Dress for the slide, not for the ride.”

Guns are powerful tools, and deserve respect, very much like motorcycles in that regard. Don’t berate someone because they don’t choose to carry in condition zero (or because they choose to ride a sedate Honda 500 rather than something they aren’t comfortable with). Their level of risk tolerance should be their own, based on their circumstances and abilities.

Now before you read what comes next, I’m not recommending “trunk carry” as a primary carry choice, but having a gun in your car outside the restaurant and being seconds away is better than not having a gun at all. Here is a quote from

The shooting could have continued if it weren’t for two men who ran out to their vehicles and grabbed handguns locked in their trunks, Mathews said.

I know, trunk carry is “tactical heresy” as the pistols weren’t on their person in condition zero. But it saved lives, and was better than “harsh language” as a defense option of self and others. Thankfully those men were able to act fast enough to prevent loss of innocent life. The point of having a gun is to give you tactical options AFTER you choose to use it, it isn’t a magical totem that keeps bad guys away, and the condition that you carry only changes the time between decision and options. On body, condition zero, as fast as you can draw and present. On body, condition three, as fast as you can draw, rack, and present. Off body, in the trunk of your vehicle? Well that’s as fast as you can get to your trunk.

And that speed does matter, off person carry doesn’t always end up working so well, as the Texas Church Shooter was able to kill 26 before he was able to be engaged by the person who retrieved an AR-15 and provided resistance. Had someone been carrying in condition zero, or condition three, the time lapse between threat recognition and decision to use lethal force in response would have been much lower. So if you “trunk carry” an AR-15 or other firearm, then body carry a pistol if you can.

And that that brings up my final thought on the matter, even if you choose to never carry a firearm so that you never have a negligent discharge, it is impossible to create a situation where you 100% will never be shot. Bad people are out there, including career criminals and “lone wolfs” who finally snap. The gun isn’t there to stop them, the gun is there to give you an option to resist with lethal force. Having an accident is very rare if you are safety conscious and focus on drilling down on the skills that will keep you from shooting yourself even if you do have a negligent discharge. But the risk that you will shoot yourself is never going to be “zero risk”, even people who did everything right can experience a ricochet.

I hope these words are encouraging you to be a little more lenient with someone who chooses not to carry in condition zero. Their life isn’t your life, and saying that “they might as well not carry at all” is not born out by evidence. A fraction of a second difference makes a difference if you are being bum rushed by someone individually targeting you, but outside of that scenario there doesn’t seem to be any advantage to carrying in condition zero for surviving other violent encounters. And even then, condition zero carry isn’t going to save your life from a sniper, suicide bomber, or random drunk driver, although thankfully the sniper and suicide bomber are still statistically rare.

But go forth, train as best you can. After all, no one wants to be the next poster in this forum (and I highly recommend you go read the posts):

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2 Responses to More Tactical Heresy

  1. Dick says:

    Took me 38 years but I finally had that negligent discharge. .380 PPK. Round went through the new mattress, lodged in the Box Spring. N E V E R think it won’t happen to you.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      Yup. And there are two types of competitive rifle shooters too, those that have crossfired in a match, and those that lie about it. Everyone makes a mistake sometime, just how our brains are wired.


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