A few days ago, I posted a story about a shotgun that seemed to be unloaded when it actually was loaded. Today, I’d like to talk about a different kind of safety violation—the one ultimately responsible for probably the majority of all gun accidents: putting your finger on the trigger. But a movie is worth 10,000 words, so watch the videos, and then we’ll talk.

So to reiterate, Jeff Cooper’s four laws of gun safety:

  1. All guns are always loaded
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target [and you are ready to shoot].
  4. Always be sure of your target.

Jeff Cooper is reported to have said that the 3rd law alone could probably prevent something like two thirds gun accidents. Of course putting one’s finger on the trigger is the first thing most gun newbies (and even oldbies) do. Remember when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting partner by accident? Finger on the trigger. The guy in the second video? Finger on the trigger when he fell? The guy in the third video? Violations of rules 1, 2, and 3. (And the next time you think only cops should have guns, remember that he was the only guy in the room professional enough to carry a Glock 40.)

People who have been using guns for years often put their finger on the trigger when inappropriate, even so-called professionals. Why? Well, ignorance and bad role models most likely. But even if you have the bad guy in your sights, your finger should still be off the trigger unless you want to shoot. We’ll discuss why in a moment. But it’s not enough to simply not put your finger on the trigger; you shouldn’t even have it in the trigger guard. Your finger should be straight and placed on the frame of the gun above the trigger guard.

Bad Role Models

thumb_24s7-jack.jpgHollywood is replete with bad examples. Pick almost any movie where characters use a gun, and you’re likely to find people with their finger on the trigger. It seems that the generic bad guys tend to have better finger discipline than the stars. Take Jack Bauer of 24 for example. For the first five seasons, he consistently has his finger on the trigger.

Jack-Bauer-24-36841_1024_768_thumb.jpgFinally somewhere between season six and seven, he gained a small amount of finger discipline—at least on the poster—but in the actual show, his trigger finger discipline seems to disappear. Contrast that with the character of Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1, and you’ll find that her trigger finger discipline is always impeccable. Still the bad examples outweigh the good ones ten to one (at least).

And you’re ready to shoot…

Generally speaking, Randy Cain doesn’t like it when people try to rearrange or edit the Four laws, but for rule three, he most certainly expounds the “and you’re ready to shoot addendum.” Go watch the first video again. The female policeman…person…officer had her sights on the target, but she most assuredly did not want to shoot. The problem is that our hands are made so that our fingers work together. Try this exercise. Hold your hand out straight. Now keep your pointer (trigger finger) straight while you curl your other three finger inward (like you’re holding a gun). I bet you can’t do it. There is a fancy name for it that escapes me at the moment (something like sympathetic grasp reflex), but the bottom line is, when you are in a stressful situation, adrenaline pumping, and you’re holding on to that gun for dear life, the stronger your grip, the more likely you are to accidentally pull the trigger due to the sympathetic grasp.

So the take home message is, don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to actually shoot.