The second rule of the four rules of gun safety has a few variations:

  • Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction.
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you do not wish to destroy.

The conflict in these variations is in the positive vs negative language–always vs never.

People who study these things say that our brains can’t process negative well. We hear, “Don’t touch that!” and our minds are drawn to fixate on the thing we are not supposed to do–touch that (whatever that may be). When we fixate on that negative, we sometimes fail to acknowledge a positive alternative to the negative action which leave the person with a series of negatives to work through until a positive is identified.

“Don’t point your gun at me,” doesn’t do a whole lot of good if the alternative to you is the person standing next to you. An alternate, safer alternative should be provided.

“Don’t point your firearm at me,” as a negative, with the added alternative of “Point your firearm at that sand bag.”

Both concepts of a negative to avoid and a positive alternative are equally important. They’re interlocking layers of safety.

This worked well for me while working firearms sales after deciding I was done staring down the barrels of customer’s guns. Instead of simply admonishing people not to point guns at me I started giving them alternatives to myself. “Hey, if you want to check out those sights, point it at that mount hanging on the wall over there,” or, “If you need to take that out of the box, please point it that black box on the floor.” It kept muzzles off of me but also off of other customers and staff.

When I teach I like to combine the two variations for two reasons:

  1. To guide my students into identifying things they don’t want to shoot.
  2. Giving them safer things to point their muzzles at while they are administratively handling their firearms.

Define Pointing!

We can’t talk about what we should and should not point our firearms at until we first define what it means to actually point a gun. The simple fact of the matter is that the muzzle of your gun is always going to be pointed somewhere and whether or not it is dangerous is dependent on it’s ability to be acted upon in that moment. I like to call it active and passive pointing.

Active pointing is a gun in hand or in any contraption that can act upon it with the intent to make it discharge. It can be acted upon to fire and subject to the errors of human judgment and will.

Passive pointing is a gun absent any will or ability to be acted upon. A gun sitting on a table is passively pointing but unable to be acted upon until it is picked up or moved. A gun in a quality holster, with it’s firing mechanisms properly protected is passively pointing and unable to be acted upon until it is drawn from the holster.

A passively pointed firearm poses almost no risk which is why we can carry firearms in shoulder holsters that passively point the firearm at those around us, or in locations such as appendix inside the waistband (AIWB) without fretting about the muzzle being pointed at private bits and legs when we sit down.

Indeed, if passive pointing were something to worry about we would not be able to take our firearms anywhere. Every gun in every range bag, safe, lock box and holster the world over would eventually be pointing somewhere it shouldn’t be pointing.

Yet, it seems to be those transitions between passive and active pointing where most errors in gun handling occur which is why there is rule number two and three (which we will discuss later!).

But, next, we’ll talk about about things we don’t want to shoot and things we don’t want to shoot yet!