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“Get Your Finger Off the Trigger”

by Dan Johnson   |  June 6th, 2011 22

I was watching a hunting show on TV the other day and a commercial for a gun safe caught my attention. In demonstrating the handgun rack in the safe a woman placed a handgun in the rack and then removed it. She had her finger on the trigger throughout the process. That is a violation of a basic rule of safe gun handling. I am hesitant to cast stones at this lady, however, as I am not without sin in this regard.

The NRA stresses three fundamental rules of safe gun handling. Rule Number One is unquestionably the most important: Always Keep the Gun Pointed in a Safe Direction. Rule number one is also the most intuitive and derives from basic common sense. My father did not belong to the NRA, never had any formal firearm training, and likely never read a gun magazine until I started writing for them, yet he knew that rule. He phrased it differently though. He taught me to never point a gun at anyone I was not willing to kill.

Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot is Rule Number Two on the NRA list and the focus of this blog. This rule is not so intuitive. In fact, it may be counter-intuitive in some cases. I confess when I pick up a well-balanced single-action revolver keeping my trigger finger outside the trigger guard feels as unnatural to me as sticking my pinky out when I pick up a coffee cup. Like many shooters my age, I cut my teeth on revolvers, both single- and double-action, and with the hammer down having your finger on the trigger is not a huge safety risk with these type handguns. Before anyone starts heating up the tar and gathering feathers let me state I am neither encouraging nor condoning violating Rule Number Two. I am simply stating the mechanical facts of the situation.

From earliest firearm designs and well into the 20th Century keeping one’s finger off the trigger was not as common a safety procedure as it is today. The prevalence of external hammer designs of both handguns and rifles back in the old days made firearms safer in that regard. The introduction of striker-fired firearms changed the rules but if you look at early bolt-action rifles, for example, designs like the Mauser had darn near foolproof safeties and two-stage triggers that lessened the chances of negligently activating the go-switch. Later bolt-action designs with less secure safeties and hair triggers made the finger off the trigger rule critical and I, for one, have always practiced that safety procedure with rifles of this type. Ditto for striker fired shotguns.

When it comes to handguns, the 1911 certainly falls in the keep your finger off the trigger category, but 1911s have not always been as popular as they are today. For the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, revolvers were king outside military circles. That is why old-timers like me sometimes have trouble with Rule Number Two.

Modern handgun designs like the Glock or XD that contain the safety on the trigger have raised the stakes in regards to keeping one’s finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. You can read the stories on any gun forum you choose to visit about people, often police officers, shooting themselves or others because a Glock or similar design resulted in a negligent discharge. It is not the gun’s fault. It is user error. But many of the people involved in those negligent discharges had substantial experience with firearms. They were just not properly conditioned to the realities of the safe-action trigger design.

What all this boils down to is that Rule Number Two is a good rule, no matter how awkward it may feel at times. So even if you only shoot single-action handguns, set a good example for others and keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire. It should be a conditioned reflex for all of us and if you see someone violating this rule don’t hesitate to say, “get your finger off the trigger.”

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