As a Navy SEAL I was fortunate enough to spend countless hours on the range, firing a seemingly endless supply of ammunition. When I transitioned from the military and began running my company I lost the free ammunition, but I kept the lessons I learned at the tip of the spear. With all the different tactics and techniques I learned as a frogman, it might be surprising to hear the one I feel is the most important – firearms safety.
The reason safe weapons handling is number one on the tactical skills list is pretty simple – dead or injured teammates do NOT help with mission success! In fact, they actually make it a lot harder because instead of helping you rid the world of its filth, you now need to help them put on a pressure-bandage to stop the bleeding. Simply put, from a strategic point of view safety has been instrumental in the success SEAL Teams have had in the past and is vital for our future. Although it may appear at times that we are running to the sound of the guns with reckless abandon, nothing could be farther from the truth. The only way we can continually do ballet with a boom-stick and make it home to the ones we love is an extremely high level of safety.
The following is a list safety rules that apply to any weapon, anywhere in the world. Some people make the mistake of calling these range safety rules, but it doesn’t matter where you are, the four rules below always apply. Every range will also have a list of rules that apply to shooting at their facility (range rules), so make sure you follow those too.
To Shoot Like a Navy S.E.A.L. Your Shooting Needs To Be:
- Safe: Above all, your training needs to be safe. If it’s not, you’re not training with me!
- Effective: Our actions produce the desired result – I will not fail.
- Adaptable: Gunfights don’t take place on a shooting range so your skills need to adapt.
- Learned: It’s not magic, it takes lots of practice and we also learn from the past.
So today when I teach shooting to anyone I use these core principles that I learned as a Navy SEAL to guide everything I do in training. Just like in the Teams safety always comes first. Now, I know most of you do not have to deal directly with the rise of Islamic terrorists, but I’m guessing you do have people you love. So if you’re happy with the current number of holes you have in your body, here are some simple rules to remember any time you’re around a firearm.
Navy SEAL Firearms Safety Rules
1. Treat every gun as if it’s loaded. This is the most important safety rule because if you treat all guns as if they are loaded, you’d really have to want to shoot someone for it to happen. Every time you pick up a firearm, treat it as if it’s loaded until you confirm that it’s clear. Even if I know my gun is not loaded, before I give a demonstration, dry-fire or clean my weapon I still check it again to make sure it’s clear and safe. Make sure you do the same and treat it like it’s loaded until you’ve checked it by sight and touch. And never be too embarrassed to ask for someone else to check your weapon (buddy check) to get confirmation.
2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Why would you need it there if you were not ready to shoot anyways? Until you’re aiming at your target and you’ve decided that you’re going to shoot, keep your finger outside of the trigger guard. Depending on the situation, this can happen as soon as your barrel is pointed at your target. Also remember that your finger should be removed from the trigger as soon as you no longer need to shoot or your weapon is no longer pointed in a safe direction. Speaking of that…
3. Always keep guns pointed in a safe direction and never point them at anything you do not intend to shoot. Knowing where the muzzle of your gun is pointing at all times is critical to safely handling firearms. It’s helpful to think of a laser coming out of the muzzle of your firearm and not pointing that laser at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
4. Be sure of your target and know what’s in front and behind your target. We see it all the time on the range, “Who shot my target?” Not a big deal there, but what about when it’s not training and lives are at stake? You need to be completely sure you know what you’re shooting at, as well as what’s in front of it (walls, cars, barricades, trees) or what might move in front of it (cars, people, dogs) and what’s behind your target. This can be anything from people in the open to your family members in another room during a home invasion.
If your weapon has a safety, you’ll need to remember one more: Keep your weapon on safe until aimed at a target. Four (or five) rules, it’s not a long list and there are plenty of other variations to use. Could you change the words from “intend to shoot” to “willing to destroy?” Sure, whatever you’ll remember. Pick whichever verbiage you like and live by them every day. They all mean the same thing and normally if you can even remember ONE of them, no one is going to die.
Firearms and Children
When my boys were four and six years old I began teaching them how to shoot, starting with a Daisy BB rifle. Before they could even touch the gun they needed to be able to not only tell me all four rules, but they also needed to explain what they meant. Since the gun has a safety, they also needed to remember to keep the weapon, “On safe until aimed at a target.” So if my kids can remember all five rules, I expect everyone else I shoot with to do the same.
If you have children at home, make sure they know the difference between real guns and “play” guns. My kids love their Nerf guns, but they know they are not real (although they still practice the same rules with them – remember it’s “Don’t point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot”…I’ve been hit by a lot of Nerf darts!) When it comes to the real thing, avoid horseplay: Firearms are deadly and must be treated with the respect they deserve. They are not toys and should never be treated as if they were.
Never Too Safe
As I stated before, I always make sure my gun is empty before cleaning. Although I recently had a very rude Delta ticketing agent in Atlanta tell me otherwise, it’s impossible to verify if a gun is loaded just by looking at it. Never presume or take another’s word that a firearm is empty. In the immortal words of the great Ronald Reagan, TRUST, BUT VERIFY! It only takes a second to check, and the time it takes could literally save a life.
About the Author
Chris “Snowman” Sajnog is a retired Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer, bestselling author, speaker and owner of Center Mass Group, LLC – a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business in San Diego, CA. Chris commands an unparalleled level of respect when it comes to weapons and tactical training. He was hand selected by Navy Special Warfare Command to develop the curriculum for the current US Navy SEAL Sniper training program. As a Navy SEAL he was the senior sniper instructor, a certified Master Training Specialist (MTS), BUD/S and advanced training marksmanship instructor. He is currently a DOD and DHS certified Counter-Terrorism, Law Enforcement and Advanced Marksmanship Instructor. Chris has trained DOD, DHS, FBI, CIA, Law Enforcement and multiple foreign allies in all aspects of combat weapons handling, marksmanship and tactics.