The incident was described as a “freak accident” and one person said “The gun accidentally went off.”

On June 18, 2016, James Baker, the owner of KayJay Gun Shop in Ohio, was killed after a student in a Concealed Carry training class had a negligent discharge. The bullet that killed Baker had passed through an adjoining wall and struck him in the neck.

In 2013, a firearms instructor in Lancaster, Ohio negligently shot a student during a concealed carry permit training course. Fortunately, the student was struck in the arm and survived.

So you don’t think I’m picking on Ohio, a California firearms instructor shot a student during a “gun safety class”. The incident was described as a “freak accident”. One person said “The gun accidentally went off”. It would seem that a live gun was grabbed by the instructor instead of a trainer.

How to Survive your CCW Class Without Being Shot
How to Survive your CCW Class Without Being Shot

Too Many Examples

The three incidents listed above occurred during the last year or so. However, a quick Internet search will bring up numerous other news reports of students and/or instructors being negligently shot during controlled training situations. I wish it was difficult to find these reports. Sadly, there are far too many examples and we cannot just ignore them.

A common reaction to the report of someone being shot during a training class is to express sadness. As well as sympathy for the wounded party or for the survivors in a fatality. We shake our heads, share the story with our friends, and say “Isn’t that terrible?” or words to that effect.

The question we should ask is, what can we or should we as members of the gun culture do differently in the aftermath of such an incident? Or, are we the clinical definition of insane, doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome?

Follow the Rules, Always

Jeff Cooper, Lieutenant Colonel USMC, and founder of Gunsite Training Academy, articulated 4 Universal Firearms Safety Rules decades ago. These rules are deliberately simple and purposely referred to as “Universal”. Meaning they apply everywhere in the world, not just the training range.

  1. All guns are always loaded. (Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.)
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that a particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. (This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 percent of inadvertent discharges.)
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. (Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified and know what is around and beyond it.)

Every time there is a negligent shooting and a person it injured you can be guaranteed that one or more of the Universal Safety Rules was violated. Consider the three instances listed above. Where were the rules violated in each case?

Unfortunately, far too many people believe that the 4 Universal Rules are the same thing as “range rules”.  This is not the case at all. Sadly, I have read innumerable signs and waiver papers at public shooting ranges where the 4 Universal Rules were not all present or articulated.  Recently, I spent a day at a State Dept. of Wildlife-funded public shooting range. I was literally handed 27 pages of rules that I was expected to read, initial, and sign on the bottom. Nowhere in the 27 pages were the 4 Rules outlined or explained.

Always Apply

The 4 Universal Firearms Safety Rules apply inside the classroom, on the practice range, and out in public. Yes, they even apply in the midst of a gunfight. Image that if you will. You can indeed engage in a life or death fight with your gun without violating the 4 Universal Rules.

Before the commencement of any firearms training program, the 4 Universal Rules should be explained. It is the absolute duty of the instructor to ensure that everyone participating in the course fully comprehends them. Also, it is the duty of every person in the training course to monitor themselves and others for violations of the rules.

Instructor Mandates

We have been saying this for years, it bears repeating. In today’s world there is no reason why a firearms instructor should have to use a live gun. Not in a classroom environment at least. Okay, there is one exception, teaching disassembly, reassembly, and maintenance of a specific model.

There are too many makes and models of training guns available to list here. You can buy solid polymer “dummy” guns that fit in holsters, look and feel like the real deal, but cannot be loaded. Pistols, rifles, and shotguns in “dummy” versions are all available.

Thanks to the airsoft craze, nearly every popular firearm can be found as an airsoft replica. Many of these replicas have fully reciprocating slides, DA and SA triggers, and controls that mimic genuine firearms. Airsoft replicas are great for demonstrating trigger press and manipulation of the slide and controls. Their relative low cost is a big plus too.

Lastly, there are dedicated trainers built by the actual firearms manufacturers. This is not a new phenomenon, all the way back to WWII gun makers were building cut-aways and non-firing trainers. The red-framed GLOCK Model 17R is a good example.

As an instructor, before you introduce a live, real firearm into your classroom, you must ask yourself if there is a deliberate need for a genuine gun, or if a dummy or replica will suffice. The same goes for live ammunition. If you need to explain the components of a cartridge, there are pictures and diagrams as well as dummy cartridges. Mixing live ammunition and firearms in a classroom environment is an invitation to disaster.

Live Fire

In the event that you, as an instructor, need to have students handle and manipulate firearms inside the classroom, you must institute strict adherence to the 4 Universal Safety Rules. If you are demonstrating a dry (no ammo) trigger press, the muzzle needs to be pointed at something that would safety stop a bullet.

If your training class is going to eventually involve live-fire, it is generally best to save the live gun manipulation for the firing range.

There is nothing wrong with having students manipulate empty/unloaded guns on the live-fire range. Before you have students handling their real firearm in a classroom, ask yourself if there is a genuine need for such action.

No one ever had a negligent discharge and said, “Damn! I thought the gun was loaded.” 

Student Mandates

Now that you have reached this portion of the text, you will have an idea what to expect. At least from a professional firearms instructor. Before you enter a classroom or a training range I would hope that you have a solid understanding of the application of the 4 Universal Firearms Safety Rules.

Know this, if you ever hear someone say, “It’s okay, it’s not loaded.” or similar words to that effect, you are dealing with a negligent person. My friends, uttering those words shows a mental and translated physical laziness when it comes to firearms safety.

People don’t plan to have negligent discharges. Negligent discharges happen because people are either uneducated and ignorant, or they know the rules but choose to ignore them because that is the easy thing to do. Sometimes doing it right can seem inconvenient, it’s easier to just say, “it’s not loaded.”

When you take a training course, a professional firearms instructor will, at the beginning, address the Universal Firearms Safety Rules. Furthermore, they will ensure that every person in the class understands. The teacher should also address the emergency plan should someone become sick or injured during the training. If your firearms instructor ignores or glosses over the safety rules, beware.

Dummy Guns

Also, if live, genuine firearms and ammunition are being used as training props during a classroom session, again that is a red flag. There are far too many types of dummy guns and dedicated trainers to need to use a live gun for demonstrations. (again, model-specific maintenance is an exception)

If your instructor explains the 4 Universal Rules and then proceeds to violate them, you have reason for suspicion. During CCW and Self-Defense courses, it is often prudent and necessary to point/aim a gun-shaped object at a person. This is where dummy guns and replicas should be used.

Note* I am not telling you to be a smart ass or to try act like you are the smartest person in class by constantly questioning your instructor. You are in the class for a reason and should at least give the instructor the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, it only takes one single negligent bullet to take an innocent life. This is a serious subject we are discussing.

Know Your Instructor

On that topic, what do you know about the instructor? Are they a full-time teacher or do they only do it occasionally? What is their background? Have any of your trusted friends and family members taken classes from them? If the instructor is teaching you to carry a gun, have they ever actually carried a gun for a living? Again, I’m not telling you to be an ass, but you should understand the qualifications of the person standing at the front of the classroom.

On the live-fire range, be sure you understand the range instructions and what is expected of you. If you don’t fully understand what to do, it is far better to leave your gun holstered and do nothing. We cannot call “time out” and bring back a negligent bullet. Park your ego and do not be embarrassed to raise your hand and seek clarification.

Bottom Line

Though some might say I sound like a broken record, the fact of the matter is that 99 times out of 100 when someone is negligently shot in training is it due to a violation of one or more of the 4 Universal Safety Rules. As a result, someone involved might have said or thought “It’s okay, it’s not loaded.”

Both instructors and students in firearms classes need to work together to prevent negligent injuries and deaths. We like to remind our students that every one of them is a deputy safety officer. If you see an unsafe or negligent act, it is your duty to point it out.

Firearms are dangerous instruments, they are supposed to be. Chainsaws and cutting torches are dangerous instruments as well. In order to use dangerous instruments in a safe and effective manner, we mitigate the known risk through education and following a set of rules.

Guns are no different than power tools or all-terrain vehicles when it comes to risk and reward. Thus, if you get educated in their use and follow the prescribed rules for operation you have a good time and accomplish something enjoyable. However, one moment of carelessness or negligence can lead to disaster.

Follow the 4 Universal Safety Rules, always and everywhere. Only use real firearms in a classroom if absolutely necessary. Dummy guns and dedicated trainers are almost always a better option. Save the weapon manipulation and practice drills for the shooting range where there is a solid backstop. Ask questions and be sure you understand what is expected of you. Understand that every person present during a firearm training course is responsible for safety. Let’s break the cycle today and stop killing each other in training.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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