RSSK Shooting Resources
Last update: 7.22.09
1. All guns are always loaded (i.e. should be treated as if they were)
2. Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
4. Be sure of your target and beyond.
Rules for Accurate Shooting:
1. Focus your eye on the front sight only – not the target.
2. Squeeze the trigger slowly and carefully – don’t “flinch” or “jerk” the trigger.
3. “Crush” the gun – have a good grip and stance. For rifles and shotguns, pull the stock tight against your shoulder.
The Rules Explained and Expanded:
The first three rules here are the absolute canon of good shooting practice. If you follow any one of them, it’s impossible to have a misadventure with a properly functioning firearm. Here we will expand on the rules, but as you spend more and more time handling firearms, they will become a second nature to you. You should also know that among veteran gunhandlers, you may be abruptly dealt with for a rule violation. Don’t worry – it’s not that they don’t like you, but they are concerned with your and their own safety. The shooting sports have historically been one of the safest sports engaged in by millions, and it’s because of a culture of very focused, strict attention to detail when it comes to the gunhandling rules. If you encounter shooters who don’t follow these rules, don’t go shooting with them. Also, be aware that many people think these rules don’t apply in environments such as sporting goods stores or gun shows, where the guns are theoretically unloaded because they’re for sale, and you may see someone point a gun at or near you. I recommend that you don’t immediately return fire, but it’s ultimately at your discretion, as with anytime someone points a gun at you.
“All guns are loaded” means that you should treat every gun as if it were loaded and ready to fire at all times, no matter how recently you’ve checked that it’s unloaded, who’s checked it, etc. Although it’s everything but impossible that a modern firearm could spontaneously fire, treating guns as if they were loaded isn’t a hard behavior to acquire. Despite this safety rule, it’s a common habit (standard for RSSK safety training) to check every gun you pick up or put down/give to someone else to see that it’s unloaded. (See below for instructions about how to do this.)
“Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy” is often referred to as “muzzle direction” (the muzzle being the front end of the gun, like on the front end of a dog). Although it’s obviously important not to point a gun directly at a person, animal, or something else irreplaceable (that you don’t intend to destroy), it’s even more robust to never point a gun anywhere near such a liability. There is a minor exception to this rule discussed below.
Different people and different organizations have differing standards about what “anywhere near” means, but RSSK uses a standard called the “180 Rule”. The 180 Rule refers to a 180-degree zone in which no liabilities could possibly lie. Imagine you’re at a shooting range, facing directly downrange. If the aim of your handgun goes beyond 90-degrees up, down, left, or right, you have violated the 180-Rule. The 180-Rule allows people to stand behind you or even off your shoulder to the side. However, if you ever shoot somewhere other than a real shooting range, it’s important to establish a shooting line (i.e. the 180-degree spread) with anyone you’re with, and to know that there are no liabilities in the downrange area.
“Keep your finger away from the trigger until you’re ready to shoot” is usually referred to using the term “trigger guard” – that is, “finger out of the trigger guard”. The trigger guard is the loop of metal or plastic around the trigger that shields the trigger from being pressed unintentionally. There IS a proper place for your finger on most firearms. On handguns, it should be extended straight out and touching the frame above the trigger guard. This standard arises from several factors. Touching the frame will help you hold and control the handgun better when not shooting. It’s also much more visible that you don’t have your finger inside the trigger guard if you keep it on the frame, which is helpful to range safety staff and to you so you’re not interrupted while shooting. Finally, although your finger isn’t in danger of accidentally slipping onto the trigger (unlike if it were against the front of the trigger guard), it’s easy to intentionally put it on the trigger and shoot quickly (as opposed to if you integrated your trigger finger into your grip below the trigger guard).
“Be sure of your target and beyond” is a rule that isn’t very useful at the range (since everything in the 180-Zone in front of you is OK to be shot at), but the rule is extremely important in other shooting environments such as hunting or self-defense. For example, it would be very unwise to try to shoot at, say, a deer standing on top a hill that forms the horizon from your point of view (since you don’t know what’s on the other side). It’s also quite unwise to shoot at an unidentified shape in the dark thinking you are acting in self-defense. Similarly, it would violate this rule to act in self-defense without moving so that your shooting direction doesn’t include bystanders in the background, or inside a building with only drywall between you and innocent people. More specific guidelines may be provided by your local law enforcement about safety rules for self-defense shooting for your jurisdiction.
To check to see that a semi-auto handgun is unloaded (or to unload it), FIRST drop the magazine or check the magazine well (where the magazine goes in the grip) to see that it’s empty. SECOND pull back the slide and look into the chamber to see that the chamber is also unloaded (if the gun was loaded, the last round should pop out when you pull the slide back). If you see the back of a round of ammo or anything other than an empty hole, the gun may have malfunctioned and still be loaded. This is unlikely. FINALLY, point the gun in a safe direction (usually downrange if you are shooting) and squeeze the trigger. Most guns will make a “click” sound – the firing pin has fallen and there was nothing in the chamber. This practice is a double-check to be sure that the gun isn’t loaded. Of course, you’ll still treat it as if it’s loaded. Note that some newer guns might not make a “click” sound because they have something called a “magazine disconnect” – pull the trigger anyway to practice the habit. Click here for an instructional video about this procedure.
Notice that the “safety” lever or switch isn’t discussed in these rules. The “safety” has no bearing whatsoever on these rules, as it is a mechanical device which will inevitably fail – don’t trust it. Also, you should be aware that, according to some, there are exactly two bubbles to the Venn diagram of shooters, which overlap: those who have had an accidental discharge (AD) and those who are going to have an accidental discharge (when, due to a mechanical malfunction, the gun fires unexpectedly). I had my first AD with the safety “on”. It was in a safe direction and no one was injured. Having said all of this, we do use the safety when we don’t plan to be shooting – why not?
There is one minor exception to what you see in rules 1 and 2: When a gun is inside a bag, gun case, holster the covers the trigger guard, etc., it’s generally assumed to be OK to not pay attention to specifically where it’s pointing (although obviously don’t intentionally point a gun in a holster at someone because they won’t like you very much). Similarly, if you are shooting at a range where it’s necessary to walk downrange to post or take down targets (or in a similar environment), it’s assumed to be OK to walk downrange with the gun sitting on a table or shooting bench pointed forward. These are minor points of shooting etiquette but the main point to take away is that when the gun isn’t being touched by a person (and therefore there’s no way for it to be inadvertently loaded or for the trigger to be pressed), muzzle direction isn’t a major concern.
When you pick up a handgun, from the moment you get your hand on it, you should have your full shooting grip with your strong hand (finger out of trigger guard), and for semi-auto handguns there’s no reason to ever release this full strong-hand grip until you put the gun down. After checking that it’s unloaded, loading it, etc., you’ll want to point it at the target. The stance we use, which is the most modern handgun shooting stance, is called the Isosceles Position. It is so named because your entire body is symmetrical in this stance up to your wrists (where your hands can’t be exactly symmetrical). Your stance should be an athletic stance, squarely facing the target, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight on the balls of your feet, and shoulders forward – much like getting ready to shoot a free-throw. Your weak hand should wrap around your strong hand for support, and both thumbs should be together where the strong-hand thumb ends up – NOT crossed over behind the gun (which can be dangerous). This is when you should begin to “crush the gun” by squeezing tightly with both hands and also creating some isometric tension on the grip by pushing with your strong hand and pulling with your weak hand – you should push-pull as hard as possible without shaking. This will steady the gun before and during the shot.
As soon as the gun is in your view, you should stop focusing your eye on the target or anything else and start focusing on the front sight. Your eye can only focus at one distance, so you have to choose between the rear sight, the front sight, and the target – the correct choice, as long as you want to hit things, is the front sight. (I’m still searching for the reason that this and this alone works, but that’s how it is.) While looking at the front sight, you should see it completely clearly even if the target gets fuzzy. Then, the pillars of the rear sight and the front sight should be even and level across the top, evenly spaced left-to-right, and the top-center of the front sight should be on the center of the target. This is called the “sight picture”.
Finally, when you have a good sight picture and are ready to shoot, you can take your finger off the frame and put it into the trigger guard and on the trigger. While keeping a good sight picture, smoothly and carefully squeeze the trigger. The trigger squeeze should be gradual, not a sharp jerk, which will throw the sights off the target. LET THE SHOT BE A SURPRISE EVERY TIME and do not anticipate the shot by “flinching” or reacting. Your trigger finger should be the only thing in your whole body that moves until the gun goes off. It’s natural for the front sight to wander on and off the target, as you are naturally a little unsteady. To compensate, continue to squeeze when the sight is on the center of the target and hold the same pressure (without squeezing tighter) when the sight is off the target and coming back.
Following these accurate shooting principles requires mental focus, and it’s easy to know how to shoot well without actually pushing yourself to let every shot be a surprise. Ultimately, it comes down to your ability to compel your own mental performance by concentrating on these three principles for every shot. If it helps, before each shot, you might think to yourself, “grip, sight, squeeze”, and become accustomed to going through that series of mental steps.
Click here for an instructional video about this procedure. (gunhandling1.wmv – 15mB)
Throughout this procedure, finger out of trigger guard, gun pointed safely downrange. To load a semi-auto handgun, first pick it up by getting your full strong-hand shooting grip, and then check to see that it’s unloaded (see above). Full magazines should be kept on your weak side so you can reach them with your weak hand. When you’re ready, hold the gun out at a comfortable height in front of you. Tilt it about 45 degrees clockwise (counter-clockwise for left-handers) and insert a loaded magazine into the grip. Make sure it’s pointed forward – think of which way you want the bullets to go! Before continuing, give the butt-end of the magazine a good smack to make sure it’s “seated”. Now, turn the gun the opposite way until it’s on its side like a gangsta’s glock. There will be serrations on the back part of the slide – grab them in a firm grip with your weak hand and pull while pushing forward with the strong hand. This will pull the slide back. When you have the slide all the way back, let go completely with the weak hand, as the spring is calibrated to provide exactly the right amount of force to load the gun. If you slowly let the slide forward, the gun won’t “go into battery”, or close fully. Now, you have a loaded gun and are ready to shoot.
Let’s say you’ve done any shooting you’re going to do and are ready to unload. The status of the gun will be in one of two ways if it’s functioning correctly: either the slide will be locked back showing an empty magazine, or the slide will be forward and there will be a round of ammo in the chamber and probably in the magazine, too. In either case, the first thing to do is drop the magazine. After this point, what you do may vary depending on the make and model of your handgun, but most will be unloaded by pulling back the slide until it stops (not far for the slide-locked gun, or for the slide-forward gun, the last round will pop out). Then, let the slide forward (slowly, if you like, although very new (post-1990) guns won’t be damaged by dropping the slide). Last, point the gun downrange and squeeze the trigger, as a final check to see that the gun is empty. This is basically the same procedure as checking that the gun is empty.
It is important to understand why the last few steps are as they are, and to understand this, you must understand how a semi-auto firearm loads itself. You can find a good animation here. Notice how it would be possible to pull a loaded gun’s slide back, observe an empty chamber, let the slide forward, take the magazine out, and still have a loaded gun. This has gotten a lot of people in trouble because they didn’t think about what was happening inside the gun.
Of course, it’s easy to googlemap up some ranges near Reed. However, like in many metro areas, ranges are often very expensive and require expensive initiation fees. RSSK has a very good relationship with the Clackamas County Sheriff Office’s Public Safety Training Center (the PSTC). They’re on 82nd past Harmony Road (Toys-R-Us) – the last turn (on the left) before 82nd feeds into I-205 – 6 miles from Reed. There are a number of reasons we use this range, but most importantly for you, they have lots of guns for rental, unlike most ranges (where you have to bring your own). In fact, you can show up without owning any shooting gear at all. Their prices are on their website – to go for the first time, rent a gun, and have 100 rounds of 9mm or larger ammunition (not .22), it would cost roughly $45. (Note that when RSSK takes trips there, students usually pay between $0 and $10 with more ammo available, although we share guns and range space). HOWEVER, to shoot at the PSTC, you have to have one of two things: either a yellow piece of paper that says you’ve shot there before (which you get at RSSK range trips) or a working gun (one per group is fine) in order to prove that they’re not allowing you, some crazed individual, your only possible access to a gun and ammo. While you’re there, say hi to the guys behind the counter (Wayne, the manager, helps RSSK tremendously), and let them know you’re from Reed College.
You can get all kinds of info about gun laws online. We recommend visiting the Oregon Firearms Federation website for Oregon info – click on the laws tab on the left (or on the one about the book if you want the complete book). RSSK will also lend you the book from our gun books library if you’d like to look something up.
There are different laws for owning handguns and “long-guns” (rifles/shotguns). To own either, you must not be a convicted felon or have been convicted of any violent misdemeanor or any drug possession charge whatsoever. You must be in good mental health, and be a citizen. However, after that, it can get tricky. To buy a long-gun or long-gun ammunition, you must be 18, but for a handgun or for handgun ammunition, or for a full-auto, you must be 21. Note that these ages never match the age restrictions for possession of these guns or ammo. To buy any of these guns from a dealer (i.e. gun store or anyone who sells brand new guns, in most cases), you will have to pass a background check. If you’re not an Oregon resident, there’s a chance that your state’s background check system and Oregon’s background check system aren’t the same, and you won’t be allowed to buy any guns from a store whatsoever.
You should be very careful in Portland about how you possess guns. Without a concealed weapons permit, you can’t carry your gun concealed, but inside the metro area you also may not carry it openly (including going from house to car). Also, you shouldn’t have it in open view in a vehicle because a recent court ruling made the interior of your vehicle a “public place” – more about this at Oregon Firearms Federation. There is no law in Oregon that forbids firearms or the carrying of firearms on college campuses. However, note that standing honor principle interpretations at Reed say that possessing any type of weapon is an honor principle violation, including for martial arts students and instructors and for campus security. E-mail us for more info about the situation about guns and Reed College specifically.
Carrying guns for self-defense is an entirely different area of law, and please e-mail us if you’d like more information.
More tips and resources coming soon.