8 Feb 12

The vast majority of current serious pistols do not have “manual” safety levers/buttons, although all have “passive” safeties, some external (grip-safeties, trigger-tab safeties), and some internal. Many modern pistols feature both.

All “Operator-Grade” pistols, intended for serious purposes, are specifically designed to be routinely carried, on the person, in holsters, loaded. As I’ve indicated before, this practice can be done with an acceptable degree of safety, and, in fact, is done by millions (including me), every day. That is why “hot” pistol-training ranges are now the norm, at least among the enlightened.

If there is a legitimate example of a modern, reputable pistol “spontaneously” discharging, I’ve never heard of it, although fables abound in this regard. In any event, such a thing is about as likely as a modern car “spontaneously” starting itself and then driving itself around the block!

There are also non-serious pistols, designed strictly for collections, competition, fashion-shows, and other non-critical applications. None are designed to be routinely carried, in any condition, and none are suitable for that, nor for any other serious purpose. I don’t own any.

Utility rifles are currently divided into three categories, (1) Commercial/recreational, (2) Military, “hobby-grade,” and (3) Military, “Operator-grade.” The second category has existed only recently, and is a direct result of manufacturers cynically catering to participants in competitions where military “look-alikes,” flimsy, undependable pretenders, masquerading as legitimate military rifles, have some perceived place. I don’t own any of these either!

Students attending our Urban Rifle Programs are encouraged to bring only rifles from the third category. Rifles from the other two are not designed for serious, strenuous, demanding, military use, making them non-starters for our purposes. In addition, manual safeties on many do not render the rifle drop-safe.

Rifles in the third category are, as indicated, designed and built for military employment. All are designed to get hot and still run, and all have military-specification, manual safety levers. Like serious pistols above, all are designed to be carried, loaded continuously. Accordingly, in our UR Courses, we run a hot range. Rifles stay with the student, continuously loaded, for the duration.

Carrying a loaded rifle is not exactly parallel with carrying a loaded pistol. Loaded pistols, secured within suitable holsters, are inert, because the trigger is completely enclosed and thus inaccessible. Hence, no need for an additional, manual safety lever/button (in most cases).

Conversely, rifles, even when equipped with legitimate slings and carried as recommended, still have triggers in the open, which are thus susceptible to being touched by, or entangled in, snaps, toggles, laces, and other objects and articles of clothing. Any such object small enough to get inside the trigger-guard may be able to apply enough pressure on the trigger to cause an unintentional discharge as the rifle is being carried. Such UDs, while not common, do occur and are well documented.

So, few disagree with the universal directive that manual safeties on carried, loaded rifles must remain “on” as the rifle is born-along by its carrier. In fact, I recommend to students that they physically confirm the position of the manual safety lever every few minutes, as the lever itself is, like the trigger, out in the open and can thus be unintentionally/inadvertently pushed “off” as the student runs, sits, stands, goes to the prone position, etc. The foregoing is also an obvious, and strong, argument against “ambidextrous” safety levers!

Accordingly, as we’re carrying these loaded rifles around, and, in the same setting, participating in live-fire shooting drills, the question comes:

At what point do I push the manual safety lever “off,” and at what point do I push it back “on?” Whatever routine we embrace must be strictly adhered to, and correctly practiced, every time we train. The danger is: (1) a safety lever that is “off” when it should be “on” may contribute to a UD, as described above, and (2) a safety lever that is “on” when it should be “off” may contribute to the user being killed, because he is unable to shoot at the critical moment.

Guidance I give students is this: The manual safety is pushed “off” as the pistol-grip is grasped and the stock touches the shoulder. So long as the stock is in continuous contact with the shoulder, and the pistol-grip is being grasped, manual safety remains “off.” Manual safety is pushed back “on” as the rifle is re-slung.

Thus, as the Operator moves about in a tactical circumstance, the manual safety stays “off,” so long as the rifle continues is the above-described posture. A strong “register” position for the trigger-finger is obviously critical.

An alternative policy is to keep the manual safety “on” until sights come on target, and quickly push it “on” again the instant sights drop out of the sighting-plane. It may sound lofty and good, but, in actual practice, where Operators are moving fast and bringing rifles up and down multiple times within a few seconds, it is confusing and impracticable.

We can’t teach students to “… do it this way most of the time, but do it this other way when things really get exciting!” In training, students have to learn a single “system” and train to do it that way all the time, and the system we teach must do them good service in all circumstances.

Thus, as noted above, I am persuaded that we have no choice but to run our Urban Rifle training “hot,” adhering to the system described above. I have run my Urban Rifle classes that way for two decades, with no significant safety issues.

Training “safety” should be defined as:

“Reasonable measures we take in an attempt to reduce risk, while always keeping training goals our prime consideration”

Unfortunately, “safety” is currently defined in many quarters as:

“A maniacal preoccupation with the utter eradication of all risk, to the point where training goals are rarely considered, and are often forgotten entirely.”

On such ranges, what takes place is little more than masturbation. It can hardly be described as “training.”

As noted above, “hot” pistol ranges, thanks to pioneering work by Cooper and many others, are now largely accepted as the normal training setting, at least in this country. “Hot” rifle ranges are still confronted with a good deal of bureaucratic/institutional push-back, but the principle is the same. How do we “train” Operators to do something, without ever actually doing it?

As trainers, we can never be bullied into believing that our product is “safety.” Every trainer, worthy of the title, knows and understands that our product is “Victory!”

We forget at our peril!