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14 Things Everyone Should Understand About Guns

Guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands. But so are articles about guns written by people who don’t understand anything about them.

There’s sadly no excuse to be ignorant about firearms. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. They’re owned and operated safely by tens of millions of Americans each year. Our Constitution guarantees our individual right to possess guns so that we might be able to defend ourselves from those who would violently take away our freedom. Many gun controllers, however — some of whom have bylines for major media organizations — don’t actually know the first thing about firearms.

Here’s a good example of the kind of self-inflicted injury that can result from weaponizing an ill-informed opinion about guns and gun-related paraphernalia, courtesy of Ryan J. Reilly of Huffington Post:

Unfortunately, Reilly is hardly alone in his complete ignorance of how guns work. Our nation is facing an epidemic of gun-related misreporting. As a public service to those who have opinions about guns but don’t really want to spend much time learning anything about them, I’ve compiled a simple list of 14 basic things everyone should understand before writing or talking about guns.

1) Don’t Lecture Anyone On Gun Safety Until You Understand The Basic Rules

These are rules literally every person should understand, because you never know when you might be in a situation that requires you to handle a firearm. To seasoned gun owners, these basic gun safety rules are gospel. If faithfully followed, they will prevent the likelihood of you ever shooting someone who did not pose an immediate and mortal threat to an innocent person.

1. Treat all guns as though they are loaded.
2. Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re prepared to fire.
4. Always confirm your target, as well as what’s in front, behind, and around it.

Each rule is effectively a backup in case you ignore a previous rule. If you always assume a gun is loaded, then you’ll never have to say, “Your Honor, I didn’t know it was loaded.” If you screw up the first rule, the rule #2 will prevent you from shooting someone unintentionally, because your muzzle will always be pointed in a safe direction. If you screw up the first and second rules, rule #3 will ensure that the weapon is never actually discharged. And in the event that you believe your life is in mortal danger, rule #4 will prevent you from firing on an individual who’s a non-threat, or prevent you from firing through a threat into an innocent person.

These gun safety rules are to be practiced all the time, without exception. At the range. In your home. When you are carrying. When you’re not carrying. When a gun is loaded. When a gun is empty (remember: it’s never empty). The rules exist to protect you and everyone around you from harm. Memorize them. Practice them. And don’t lecture anyone on “gun control” or “gun safety,” the new gun-controller-approved euphemism for gun control, until you can effortlessly recite them and explain why they are so important.

Each rule is effectively a backup in case you ignore a previous rule. If you always assume a gun is loaded, then you’ll never have to say, “Your Honor, I didn’t know it was loaded.” If you screw up the first rule, the rule #2 will prevent you from shooting someone unintentionally, because your muzzle will always be pointed in a safe direction. If you screw up the first and second rules, rule #3 will ensure that the weapon is never actually discharged. And in the event that you believe your life is in mortal danger, rule #4 will prevent you from firing on an individual who’s a non-threat, or prevent you from firing through a threat into an innocent person.

 

It’s a simple test: if a gun controller wants to tell you what is or isn’t safe, ask them to tell you the four basic rules of gun safety. If they can’t or won’t, then you’ll know they’re more interested in demagoguery than they are in promoting safe gun handling.

2) Guns Are Inanimate Objects

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” may be widely mocked by ignorant gun controllers, but it’s true (also true is the fact that guns don’t kill people, bullets do, if we want to be really pedantic). A gun cannot load a magazine by itself. A gun cannot secure a loaded magazine by itself. An empty gun cannot chamber a round or rack the slide by itself. A gun cannot pull a trigger by itself. Each of these actions requires agency by a human being.

These are all reasons why I personally dislike the term “accidental” shooting, because it suggests a lack of accountability and responsibility. A more appropriate term is “negligent” shooting, since human action is required to load a magazine, secure the loaded magazine, chamber a round, and pull the trigger. It’s why the basic gun safety rules are so important: if followed religiously, they reduce the probability of negligent shootings to 0%.

Guns Don't Kill People

But what about intentional shootings where innocent people are targeted? Those don’t just require human agency, they require criminal intent. That’s why we try and punish criminals, rather than their weapons. It’s why gun criminals are sent to prison, while the criminals’ guns are often sent to the auction block. Criminal will is a far more dangerous and eternal thing than a simple firearm. It explains why so many criminals use illegally obtained weapons in their crimes. Why, it’s almost as though they don’t care about laws at all!

The mind that wishes to snuff out an innocent human life is far more terrifying than whatever inanimate object he or she decides to use. Don’t blame the tool; blame the individual who wishes to use it for evil.

3) Modern Guns Do Not Accidentally “Go Off”

As noted in the previous example, in order for a gun to go “BANG!” a specific sequence of events must occur, and each event requires human intervention. Modern handguns do not accidentally go “BANG!” That’s just not how guns work. Even a loaded gun, with a chambered round, with the safety off and the hammer/striker cocked will not just “go off” by itself. The trigger must still be pressed to release the firing pin or striker.

One thing that drives me nuts when I read it in the news is how a gun “went off.” Note the passive voice.

View image on Twitter
Investigation underway after officer’s gun went off inside @WesternWayneSD high school

Whether intentional or not, this type of phrasing implies that the gun itself is the hazard, rather than the person handling it. Guns don’t “go off.” They’re fired by people. This is why the term “accidental shooting” is a misnomer. Unintentional, perhaps. Inadvertent, maybe. But guns don’t accidentally end up in a state that allows them to be fired, and they certainly don’t fire themselves.

A better term is “negligent shooting.” Negligence is the proper characterization because it accurately reflects the fact that an individual neglected to follow each of the basic gun safety rules. And for gun owners, the term negligence helps foster the proper mindset for gun handling: if this weapon is discharged, it is because of something you did. Therefore, don’t ever allow your weapon to be discharged unless it is to neutralize a mortal threat to you or another innocent individual.

4) “Semi-Automatic” And “Automatic” Are Not Synonyms

If you want people to understand that you have no clue what you’re talking about, by all means conflate “automatic” and “semi-automatic.”

An automatic firearm is one in which a single trigger pull can discharge multiple rounds. In the U.S., civilians are virtually banned from owning automatic weapons. If a truly automatic weapon is used in a crime, you can almost guarantee that it was obtained illegally.

In contrast to an automatic weapon, a semi-automatic weapon will at most discharge one round with a single trigger pull. What makes it semi-automatic rather than fully automatic is that the recoil generated from firing one round results in the weapon chambering another round, assuming the magazine is not empty, but without firing the second round (as opposed to a fully automatic, which both chambers and fires multiple rounds with one trigger pull). If we’re being really technical, a semi-automatic weapon is one in which a single trigger pull 1) discharges at most one round, 2) cocks the hammer or striker after the round is fired, and 3) chambers an additional round after the weapon discharges a round and extracts/ejects the shell casing, all without requiring any additional mechanical energy from the gun’s operator.

The second part of that definition is important because it is what differentiates a typical revolver from a semi-automatic pistol. Although a revolver is capable of chambering a round after a previous one is fired, the hammer must still be cocked by the user before another round can be fired (either via a double-action trigger or a manual cocking of the hammer).

5) “Clip” And “Magazine” Are Not Synonyms

If you watch the news or movies in which firearms are used, you’ll often hear the terms “clip” and “magazine” used interchangeably. They’re not synonyms, though. Here’s a helpful illustration of the difference:

Clip vs. Magazine

A clip is exactly that: it clips rounds together so that they can more easily be fed into a magazine or directly into a weapon’s chamber. A clip has zero moving parts. All it does is clip ammunition together.

Magazines contain moving parts, most often springs. They are inserted directly into and remain in a firearm, unlike clips. The springs move another round into position so it can be chambered when necessary. In a traditional semi-automatic pistol, when a round is stripped from the top of a magazine and chambered by the rack sliding forward, the spring-powered magazine automatically pushes the next round into position to be chambered. When the round in the chamber is fired, the recoil propels the slide backwards and ejects the spent shell casing. Then, as the slide moves forward into battery, it strips the top round from the magazine and inserts it into the chamber.

This animation of the firing cycle of a 1911-style pistol clearly illustrates how a semi-automatic pistol generally works:



6) Gun Safeties Can And Will Fail

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Although it’s become something of a cliche in firearm handling courses, it is absolutely true that “the only safety that matters is the one between your ears.” Like any inanimate object, no gun is foolproof. Mechanical devices can and will fail. If you rely on your gun’s external safety as a substitute for following the four basic gun safety rules, you’re going to get yourself into trouble. This doesn’t mean gun safeties are bad. They’re not at all. They’re incredibly valuable. But a mechanical safety in and of itself is not a guaranteed way to prevent a negligent discharge. Some manufacturers such as Glock do not even install external mechanical safeties on their firearms. The only way to prevent a negligent discharge from a firearm is to follow the four basic gun safety rules 100 percent of the time.