Seriously, Up Is Not A Safe Direction

Gun pointed skyward and sideways while checking for a malfunctionEven the most ignorant of gun enthusiasts typically know that at your friends is not a safe direction to point a gun. Yet too many act as though anywhere else is okay. Even at a range with official rules and perhaps even RSOs present to help enforce the rules, it seems that “pointed down range” is believed to mean pointed anywhere in the hemisphere beyond the vertical plane that is the shooting line.

There are some rules that most gun owners have been explained and apparently a lot of them just don’t understand:

Cooper’s Rule #2:
Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)

NRA Rule #1
ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

At an indoor range, when a shooter turns his gun half-sideways to rack the slide so that it’s pointed at the wall a mere 10-15 feet downrange, he is risking blasting a large chip of concrete out of the wall and causing it and the bullet’s jacket to possibly fragment and fly into all the shooters to that side of the range.

At the same range, when the gun goes click instead of bang and the shooter tips it up to stare in puzzlement at the chamber, she also risk shooting out lights or target carrier cables/rails.

A so-called professional holding gun skyward while handing it over to a well known gun blogger.

At an outdoor range, when a shooter lazily holds a rifle with the barrel tipped up, that shooter risks send a round over the berm to somewhere beyond, perhaps a home or business off in the distance…where people might be present.

These risks aren’t unfounded.  I’ve witnessed first hand, lights and target carrier cables getting shot out by careless shooters.  I just recently joined a gun club who’s outdoor range has been shut down twice over the years because rounds “were lost” over the berm, landing in residential properties nearly a mile in the distance (berm heights were increased and blue sky barriers have been added to reduce the risks of it happening again).

Did these happen because someone was just reloading their handgun, clearing a malfunction or handing a gun to someone else?  In these cases, no.  Each involved someone actively shooting being careless while repositioning a gun in their hands or not managing recoil.

But I’ve also witnessed unintentional discharges (yes I’m avoiding the negligent vs accidental debate) where rounds slammed almost harmlessly into the walls and ceilings far too close to the firing line for comfort while people were carelessly manipulating their guns not during controlled, aimed fire.  And I’m just one guy who doesn’t go to the range all that much.  If I’ve seen all that first hand, I shudder to think what goes at the thousands of ranges with the millions of shooters when I’m not present.

Sure, range owners design their buildings to take the abuse…because it’s going to happen.  But you and I ultimately end up paying extra in range fees for every time someone hits something other than the designated backstop.  Trust me, you hit the lights or target carrier, you’ll be asked to pay for the damage.  You hit a person?  You’ll be paying in more than hard currency.

There are a lot of experts and “experts” that will disagree with me.   Just watch how many seasoned shooters play loose with the muzzles of their handguns during reloading and administrative handling of their guns.  Who am I to question their lucky streaks?

But with few exceptions**, at shooting ranges, even ones with courses of fire that involve movement, you really can do everything you need to do with a firearm while keeping it pointed at safe backstops.  Even shooters with disabilities can learn safe techniques.  There’s no need to point it up or sideways.  Really.

** One being use of gravity to help unload the opened cylinder of revolver.

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7 Responses to Seriously, Up Is Not A Safe Direction

  1. Jeff Kaplan says:

    Outstanding article. I have always emphasized to my students that up is never a safe direction. What goes up must come down. And my heart skips a beat when that muzzle which is always supposed to go be pointed down range begins to veer of at an angle when a new shooter attempts to rack the slide. A polite and direct reminder, with an explanation of the dangers does the trick. It’s also a good teaching moment for “Finger off the trigger until you sights are on target and you’re ready to shoot.”

    This article has “re-reframed” what I already know and teach and allow me to better present it to my class, so I thank you for it. After all, we are all students before teachers.

  2. Tam says:

    The only times up is preferable to down are on the second floor of an occupied dwelling or on a hard-surfaced pavement with enough people around that the danger to nearby bystanders from ricochet is greater.

    “Safe direction” should always involve thought, it should never be rote or mechanical. “If this gun in my hands went off RIGHT NOW, where would the bullet go?” needs to always be on the handler’s mind.

    • evan says:

      Tam wrote:

      “Safe direction” should always involve thought, it should never be rote or mechanical. “If this gun in my hands went off RIGHT NOW, where would the bullet go?” needs to always be on the handler’s mind.


  3. Tam says:

    I don’t know if my pique at the company rep’s somewhat… casual muzzle discipline comes through in the vid or not. 😉

  4. Mercutio says:

    Thanx for the validation. Was righteously annoyed when the RSO reamed me for not pointing my rifle muzzle up as I was leaving the firing line. Muzzle was down.

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