By MARJ LAW
The phone rings.
This is a familiar voice, but there’s silence for a moment. I wait.
“I have a confession to make.” (Another pause.)
“I shot myself.”
“What? Are you hurt bad?”
“Not too bad.”
“What did you shoot?”
“Got my index finger. In the joint.”
“Oh, man, will it be OK?”
“It was mostly a flesh wound. But it did bleed pretty good.”
“Did you go to the hospital?”
“Yes. And I’d already called and told the Sheriff’s Office.”
“So what’s going to happen to your finger?”
“They bandaged it up. Since the gun was a .22, I got a lot of lead in it. And some bone fragments. Might need some surgery later.”
“How’d this happen?”
“Well, it was my wife’s gun,” he begins. (Sounds like a half-excuse, but I’m sure not saying that aloud since he was hurt.)
He was about to take the gun apart.
“First, I dropped the magazine.”
Then, to take some guns apart, you need to pull the trigger.
So, with the grip in his right (dominant) hand, he’s pulling back the slide with his left hand. The barrel is shortish, and his left index finger covers the muzzle. He pulls the trigger.
“Ow ow ow!”
The finger that had covered the muzzle is wounded. He quickly grabs paper towels to mop the blood off the floor, wraps paper towels around his hand and goes to the hospital.
What could have prevented this near tragedy?
He knows what he forgot to do.
“Marj,” he assures me. “I do know the Big 4 Rules.
The Big 4 rules of Firearms Safety are:
• The gun is always loaded.
Even if you drop your magazine out of your gun, you must pull back the slide and inspect the chamber. Many guns can still fire without their magazines.
• Never point at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
First, the muzzle must always be pointed in a safe direction. It is not safe if any part of your body or anyone else’s body is in front of the muzzle. You also need to be aware of what is beyond the direction of the muzzle.
• Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on your targets.
• Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
Could someone else have been hurt, or something else broken by this inadvertent discharge?
It’s my fault,” he confesses. “I knew better. Just wasn’t paying attention. You might want to write about this because it might help someone else avoid the same thing. Here are some pictures. Just don’t use my real name.”
And he’s right. Even those of us who have taken classes and shot for years have to be alert every moment we have a firearm in our hands. Or if someone nearby has a firearm.
Short-barreled guns require added attention to safety to prevent your fingers from getting in front of the muzzle.
So, one day, I’m relating his story to some of our range friends who shoot regularly.
“That’s nothing,” says Emma. “You should hear what my husband did. Frank, you tell them.”
“I was about to clean my revolver too,” Frank begins. “I had left it loaded when I left the range. I don’t usually do that.”
“What happened?” I ask.
“I was in the bedroom. I must’ve pulled the trigger. The bullet hit another gun which was in a new pouch. The bullet ricocheted off that gun and hit me.”
“Oh, no! Where were you hit? Was it bad?”
“Well, it hit my upper middle thigh, and it hurt like heck and it bled. I called Emma. She was 4 hours away from the house at that time. She told me to go directly to the hospital.
“I said again it hurts. She told me again to go to the hospital.”
“Yes. It was a little embarrassing.” (I think that may have been an understatement.)
“They fixed me up,” he continues. “But then, two deputies came to the house and wanted to see where I was hit.”
“Yikes,” I say sympathetically.
“Yes, it was even worse because the deputies were both young women. Good thing Emma was home then.”
“Yeah, good thing,” agrees Emma.
“So, what is the most important thing you learned from that awful experience?” I questioned Frank.
“Two things. One: I should have unloaded the revolver before leaving the range,” he says. “I don’t know why I didn’t that particular time.
“Two: I should have paid more attention to what I was doing.
“I know better,” he adds ruefully.
“Oh, and I made a hole in my brand-new gun pouch. It was a good one too.”
Both guys knew a lot better. This was a hard lesson because of inattention.
I spoke to a deputy at the WCSO range. He reiterated two of the Big 4 Gun Rules.
“Of course, they know their accidental discharges should not have ever happened,” he explained. “The first rule is the gun is always loaded. Unloading a gun involves not just dropping the magazine, but also inspecting the chamber if it’s a semiautomatic handgun, and all the chambers if it’s a revolver. These men know that a gun does not fire by itself.
“Next rule is: never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy. The muzzle must always be pointed in a safe direction. Safe from you and from anyone else. These two rules of the Big 4 would have saved both men some pain.”
Marj Law is the former director of Keep Wakulla County Beautiful who has become an avid shooter in retirement.