Tragedy lurks around every corner and is no more than a split second away. What makes things even more challenging is human beings have a knack for failures, mistakes or oversight.
The blame game
In a recent class we had a close call when a student had a negligent discharge on the range. The circumstances behind the why are not as important as the why, but more importantly who is to blame. The answer is simple, I am to blame. The responsibility for managing a high risk training evolution falls squarely on my shoulders. It is incumbent on professional instructors to keep this in mind. You need to take ownership of everything that happens on your firing line, there are no exceptions. There are no shortcuts or free passes, if we fail to recognize danger and do something about it then the fault lies with us.
The snowball effect
The why was simple, the student in question had multiple failures with his firearms. During one of the breaks he decided due to safety he needed to switch firearms and cleared his firearm in question on the firing line. However, the negligent discharge was with a different firearm he had subsequently removed from his vehicle. Let’s back up a little bit and talk about the fiddle table. A fiddle table is just that, a flat surface you take your cleared firearm in order to perform maintenance or other administrative actions. You do not take a live or loaded firearms to the fiddle table, you only take a firearm that has been cleared in accordance with the procedures set forth in the class.
The fault lies with me
I failed to make this point clear enough and while someone could point out it was the student who pulled the firearm from his vehicle, who failed to clear the firearm and negligently fired the shot into the berm the bottom line was I failed to explain the correct procedure to use the fiddle table well enough. Over the years I have seen folks move to the fiddle table, clear their pistol at the table and then start whatever maintenance was needed. Some may question why this is a not a suitable action. While the side berm or safe direction is explicitly designed to capture an errant round in the worse case, that is the worse case.
Turning a blind eye
The correct procedure is to face downrange and clear the weapon in accordance with the procedures set forth in the class. You point the weapon not only where the round should be contained, but you reinforce the importance of your backstop and in the case the use of the backstop to catch a negligent round. While this side berm was more than sufficient not all fiddle areas have the safest backstop. The backstop for conducting your life fire training is the only safe direction to not just discharge your firearm, but clear it as well. So by turning a blind eye to the instances where students broke policy I condoned their unsafe action.
Don’t be an enabler
I enabled them to be less safe and created an environment where the erosion of safety protocol becomes a slippery slope. Your actions or inactions will be scrutinized to determine if there was any culpability on your part as an instructor. The best way to ensure you manage a safe environment is to take ownership of it, all of it. To properly brief not just safety, but expectations. To have a zero tolerance for safety violations or failure to follow safety protocol. To encourage mindfulness and alertness at all times and create redundant systems for those times when we are after all human.
Working with firearms is high risk, there are many out there who are not experienced enough or trained enough to manage the risk. Those who do, take ownership for it all.