Monday, March 9, 2015

Semantics, Yeager and Negligent Discharges

I like youtube, and I watch videos all the time, but I don't really keep up with any particular channels or the people behind them. Sometimes I miss months or years worth of videos from people who I have "heard of" and one of those people is Tex Grebner. I know what you're thinking if you are familiar with him - wow, you're late to this party. That's true, and I had heard about his ND when it happened, but I honestly didn't care much for anything he was doing and never even bothered to watch the video. What's more, I'm not really talking about his ND necessarily, it's just the thing that got me to thinking about this post. The reason the title starts with "semantics" is that I often roll my eyes when I hear a firearms instructor say things like, we don't call this or that the same thing that other people call it. I'm always wondering why it matters what we call it, when we're talking about the same thing. That's called semantics, and in my mind it really makes no difference what you call something if everyone understands exactly what you mean regardless of the term. But, James Yeager has an older video out about Negligent Discharges and he talks semantics briefly. He asks people what they look for when they unload a gun and check the chamber. He says that he frequently hears "brass" given as the answer. James insists that this is the wrong answer and that you should be looking for an empty chamber. Anyone answering that question with the word brass probably understands that looking for brass is to suggest that if you see brass, you have the opposite of what you're looking for in an empty gun and that is their intent. To me, normally, to say that "brass" is the wrong answer is simply arguing semantics.

But it isn't. And I realized why as I thought about my answer to James' question and thought about what I do when I perform what he calls "dry practice", not "dry fire practice". Again, semantics, right? My answer to his question is, I look for an empty magazine well, I look for that black hole into the barrel, when there is a magazine in the gun I specifically look for the follower, and I even look for the feed ramp. I will often cycle the slide on an empty magazine just to be sure it locks open. It's not that I look for these things, but I look at them. Now we're really arguing semantics. But the point is this. It isn't about what you call it, it's about how your brain conceptualizes what you're doing. It's the act of purposefully looking at the specific parts of the gun to know with absolute certainty that you're being safe. I realized that the reason I call it semantics is because I never call anything anything. It's the difference between simply following the rules, and living by them. When you perform a procedure a certain way, for no other reason than it's the safest way, without thinking about a list of rules, then it makes no difference what you call it. But I had never realized that about my own thinking. Sometimes you have to argue semantics in order to get people to change their way of thinking.

Why is it even important? Besides preventing accidents that anti-gunners love to use against us regardless of their rarity, or causing yourself or someone else serious injury or death, it's important because shooting is all about repetition. It's about muscle memory. It's often about speed. When you do something fast, without thinking about it, it'll happen before you know it. And I realized somewhat suddenly, that's a scary notion. Suddenly I understood why I feel so much anxiety when I come across an ND video. Most of the time I can't even watch them and to be honest, I don't watch them. Yes, I believe in facing fears and reality and I think that a mindset based in reality is vitally important. With that said, I have forced myself to watch scary things and I just don't see the benefit in torturing myself repeatedly. It's terrifying, but it should be. Dry practice in my opinion is extremely beneficial, particularly for people who can't afford thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition. Becoming fast, and proficient, building muscle memory, and efficiency are all part of becoming a good shooter but these things can also lead to what some people consider the inevitable ND. I'm not suggesting that you assume an ND is inevitable, but why not treat it as if were? It's not that an ND is inevitable, it's that one mistake can have very horrible consequences.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, it goes deeper than how I personally approach safety. It gets into why and how safety was ingrained in my mind in such a way that I would begin to treat the terminology of safety as insignificant. I grew up with guns and I think that is absolutely key. It is a key every single anti-gunner completely misunderstands and maybe can't even conceive. Whatever it is in your life, if you have the understanding of it from childhood, it becomes ingrained. We start learning as children, we learn best as children, we can be given learning scars as children. I began considering this long ago, wondering how my father and my family had burned all these lessons into me, yet I don't specifically remember "rules" to strictly abide by. I couldn't have even given anyone the four firearms safety rules, but I lived by every single one of them. So I think, the safety rules are simply words used to describe behavior and semantics become more important when you think of it that way.

A couple things have caused me to think about all of this in depth though. The first are videos of shooting "fails". Like ND videos, I don't watch them, but I have watched what I consider enough of them to learn from. I see one theme that persists. Someone will put a gun into the hands of a completely inexperienced shooter, often a gun with violent recoil, knowing the new shooter will get abused by the gun, all to have a good laugh. The people who do this sort of thing are dangerous and harmful to the shooting culture. They are part of the problem. When someone knowingly creates an unsafe gun handling situation, they risk lives in the name of fun. To me, that is mental instability and a picture of someone who shouldn't even be considered for firearm ownership. If you are a new shooter, never ever allow anyone to pass you a firearm until you are completely certain of how to handle it safely and what to expect from that firearm when it is fired. In fact, I would leave the situation all together. I like to think of myself as a control freak. As a life rule, I never put myself in a situation where I am not in control of my safety with a complete set of realistic expectations for that situation.

The second reason I have this topic on the brain, is teaching. I recently saw a few videos in which an experienced shooter introduced a complete novice to firearms in a very safe and effective way. I found this to be very encouraging because it tells people who did not have the opportunity to grow up learning firearm safety, that some people genuinely want to share and teach, which helps demystify firearms, alleviates fear and anxiety, and generally promotes the culture in a positive way. I have been in the presence of two NDs in my life. Thankfully no one was injured. I am glad that mine wasn't the finger on the trigger, however, I feel like the first one was my fault. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing, but over the years I have learned from the situation and I place a lot of blame on myself. I was helping a new shooter, and what I failed to do was provide a good representation of expectations to that new shooter. At that time, I didn't understand how I should have conveyed expectations or for that matter, technique. I was completely unprepared as a teacher. The gun was fired once, successfully and safely, but because the recoil was more surprising than the shooter expected, the second round was fired unintentionally. It was an ND because safe trigger finger discipline was not adhered to and the shooter did not intend to fire the second round. The new shooter actually ended up dropping the gun after the second shot, which made a further unsafe situation. As I recall, there were two rounds in the gun and there should have only been one. That was probably a decade ago or more. Today, I think of just how much really needs to be covered in order to give a novice what many of us received in a lifetime of shooting from childhood. A lot of new shooters, particularly female shooters are entering the wide and sometimes intimidating realm of firearms, and a lot of experienced shooters are tasked with sharing knowledge. I can't count the number of videos I've watched of new shooters who are getting safe instruction from knowledgeable people, but not necessarily effective instruction. I think it's worth considering how long it took to gather knowledge before passing it on to someone who hasn't had that benefit of time and experience to learn from. There is a lot of information that has to be delivered and it cannot be absorbed in a short time. How we teach is a matter of safety in itself, and we are responsible for delivering knowledge in ways that promote the 2nd amendment, not damage it.

The bottom line is, it's not about the words, it's about how you think. I have always disagreed with the idea where by changing the words, you can change perceptions and I still do. However, when you think of it in this context, as a teacher, you develop the perceptions through your teaching, the way James Yeager probably does, and you adhere to terminology that mirrors the curriculum so that the perceptions are referred to in the same way they are practiced. Be safe. It is our refined familiarity with the firearm that can lead to negligence. The higher standard of responsibility associated with firearm safety directly correlates to the higher standard of responsibility held by the firearm owner. A more responsible American citizen is a better American citizen.

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