Friday, November 9, 2012

A wholly avoidable firearms training tragedy

I've written more than once about the 'Four Rules of Firearms Safety', as propagated by the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper and taught in most worthwhile firearms schools.  (Some expand them into many more 'rules', but the four basic ones are all you need to be safe with a firearm.  I discussed them at greater length here.)  Last weekend a so-called 'accident' occurred that was no accident at all - it was a wholesale violation of the Four Rules, and it led to tragedy.

Full details of the incident are not yet available, but the first two posts on this thread at the AR15 forum give enough detail to understand in broad outline what happened.  Briefly, an instructor was doing a live-fire exercise with other people downrange - in other words, ahead of the muzzle of his gun. He failed to adequately check that the 'shoot house' was clear before commencing his course of fire, and tragedy resulted.  The person who was shot (another instructor) is now in hospital with three bullet wounds;  two to the torso and one to the arm, if I understand correctly.  The wounds were inflicted by an AK-47-type rifle in caliber 7.62x39mm.

Speaking as a shooting instructor, and as one who's had to use a firearm in more than a training scenario, I have three things to say.

  1. Anyone who would put anybody other than military-trained special forces operators into a live-fire environment where others are ahead of the muzzle of the shooter's gun is begging for trouble.  For example, each and every Delta Force operator expends something like 50,000 rounds of ammunition every year in training, including precisely this kind of high-speed, low-drag scenario.  They're qualified to do it.  Less-well-trained military personnel and virtually all civilian shooters are not, no matter how skilled and experienced they may be on a 'square range'.  Period.
  2. The 'Four Rules' are interlocking safety mechanisms.  Even if you break one of them, but are observing the other three, you may cause a negligent discharge of your firearm, but you still won't cause a tragedy by hitting someone.  The shooter in this case broke more than one of them - he did not make sure of his target and what was beyond it, and did not keep his finger off the trigger until he'd done that.  The result . . . well, it speaks for itself.  If you follow the 'Four Rules' each and every time you handle a firearm, you won't cause a tragedy for yourself or anyone else.  They work.  Obey them!
  3. You need to be very, very careful in selecting an instructor.  If he preaches a 'warrior ethos' to civilians, be wary.  Civilians are going to use a firearm in a civilian setting, according to civilian law, and may face trial on criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.  In such settings, warriors need not apply!  Similarly, if an instructor or school preaches some esoteric 'combat doctrine' such as a 'warrior grimace' or a particular, over-hyped system of martial arts such as 'Systema' (as is the case with the instructor involved in last weekend's shooting), or has a blog and a (very noisy and badly designed) Web site, both labeled 'Gospel Of Violence', be wary.  If anyone offers courses in 'advanced gunfighting', be wary.  (I'm here to tell you, during eighteen years' exposure to civil unrest and guerrilla warfare, and having experienced a certain amount of activity 'at the sharp end' both in uniform and as a civilian, I never found myself in an 'advanced gunfight'!)  There are a great many posers out there.  (An excellent resource that takes delight in exposing 'posers' and 'wannabes' in the martial arts is, particularly its articles and reviews.  Recommended.)

Some of my readers will know of Larry Vickers.  A former Delta Force operator, he's anything but a 'poser' - he's the real deal.  He had this to say in a comment to an article that mentioned last weekend's tragedy:

Very carefully evaluate any instructor who is teaching this topic in an open enrollment format; bottom line in my opinion if the instructor does not have extensive US Special Operations experience I absolutely would not attend the class.

Certainly some allied SOF units could qualify in terms of instructor criteria but it is very difficult to adequately vett an instructor from overseas so my gut instinct would be to pass on a class being taught by a foreign instructor.

As far as instructors whose credentials are outside of US SOF or NATO Special Operations forces – such as Warsaw Pact – I would avoid those instructors at all costs as my experience is despite what hype may surround said instructor their actions and weapon handling techniques speak volumes about their true competency ; in other words stay away no matter what.

There's more at the link.  Scroll to the top of that page for the complete article, if you're interested.  I'm not fit to dust off Larry Vickers' boots when it comes to serious combat shooting, so all I can say is, listen to the man.  He knows whereof he speaks.

I will make this offer.  If you want to take a shooting course from an individual or school, and aren't sure about them, contact me for more information (my e-mail address is in my blog profile).  If I know anything about them, good or bad, I'll tell you;  if it's mostly bad, and I don't want to slander them, I'll simply tell you that I wouldn't go there.  If I don't know them, I'll say so, and try to point you to resources that do know them and can give you an honest, informed opinion about them.  (I recommended several schools and instructors here - scroll down to find the list.)



Old NFO said...

Sigh... It was just a matter of time... And your points are well made!

Joe in PNG said...

Another great thing is that good, reputable instructors tend to be pretty good in recommending other good, reputable instructors. If they are giving off an "only dojo" vibe- that their technique is the only game in town, pass on them.

Anonymous said...

All the links lead to other discussions, but I'm still not seeing a firsthand account.


Gort said...

I've been downrange when the firing line lit up. Needless to say I survived the experience but the range officer and his groupies got a brand new anal orifice (figuratively speaking). They turned out to be border patrol doing their annual qualifying. Sometimes people who carry weapons for work shouldn't be in that line of work.

ASM826 said...

You observed that more than one of the Four Rules was broken. I would suggest that anytime someone is shot unintentionally at least two rules are broken and usually three.

Try to imagine a scenario where only one rule is broken and someone gets shot. I don't think it can happen.