Sunday, September 9, 2012

Message from Frail Liberty on the 4 Rules

Copied in its entirety from an e-mail I received from our frequent commenter Frail Liberty:

You continue to try to make a case that there should be zero tolerance for gun-owners who negligently discharge their weapon.  You cited Jeff Coopers Gun safety rules in one post presumably as evidence to support your zero tolerance policy.  You refuse to even consider analogies of other irresponsible behavior that results in many times more injury and death and whether or not other zero tolerance rules would be appropriate.

So, I thought perhaps a brief primer on the 4 gun rules may be in order to help put thing into perspective.  This is not an effort to excuse any negligent discharge.  It is, however, intended to show that not all ND's are equal and to highlight just one reason why your dream of instant stripping of all gun-rights for any infraction is just a silly, nonsensical wet-dream fantasy.

The four rules are (the most common version):
  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

The first three rules deal with safe gun handling until the point in which you are ready to fire.  The fourth rule deals with collateral damage when firing - it really does not come into play for safe gun handling when not intending to fire.  So for the purposes of this discussion, we will cover the first three rules.

The thing about these rules is that they are not universally absolute. Now that I threw that bomb our there for you - I anticipate you, or one of your cronies, will take it out of context. So please, let me explain.

For the purposes of general gun handling (i.e. nearly all the time) they are 100 percent absolute.  But, there are times in which the rules must be modified in letter but not violated in spirit.  Several examples include:

All guns are always loaded: Well, this is true - except that every-time a gun is disassembled for cleaning, this rule must be modified to become "All guns are always loaded - until proven otherwise". (Actually, this modification is written as the rule in some places.)  We check and double check our guns to ensure they are not loaded so that they can be disassembled and cleaned. But, the other rules are strictly obeyed even while modifying this one.

Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy: You know those cool shoulder holsters that you see detectives use on TV? Did you know that the muzzle of their loaded gun is nearly horizontal and thus constantly pointed directly at people everywhere they go? Is this a violation of the four rules? By the letter, yes.  But they are not handling it at the time.  The trigger is covered as thus it is impossible for anything, including fingers, to be in the trigger guard. So in spirit it is not considered a violation. But extra care has to be used when drawing the weapon as it is impossible not to sweep the area during the draw.

Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target: If only this rule were religiously followed, the number of ND's would shrink to a mere fraction of current levels. And yet, this is one of the rules that frequently must be modified in the course of normal gun care and training.  After cleaning, the re-assembly of some guns require the trigger to be pulled to reset the hammer or striker mechanism.   Also, repeated dry-firing (or using a snap cap) is an excellent tool used by competition shooters and others wanting to become familiar with particular trigger feel on a gun. So, after verifying (many of us do this twice) that a gun is unloaded and while obeying the other rules, we will repeatedly cycle the trigger mechanism.

But none of these instances violate the spirit of the rules, and in fact are necessary activity specific modifications of the rules.

So, why do I highlight all of this? The point is that in order to have an ND inflict injury to anyone - all three of the rules must be simultaneously broken. I would never excuse any violation of the rules - but the reason that all three are important is that we are, in fact, human beings.  Mistakes WILL happen.  Just like they do when we humans drive 4,000 pound vehicles on the road. We miss stop signs and red lights and turn in front of oncoming traffic and veer on the roads and follow to close behind another mistake prone human driver. Human error is a part of the human experience. The three rules are designed, not only to prevent ND's when properly followed, but to minimize damage when a mistake causes one (or even two) of them to be violated.

If 1 and 2 are broken no shot is fired because no finger is on the trigger.
If 2 and 3 are broken (assuming the rule 1 modification is accepted and the gun is verified unloaded) no shot is fired because there is no ammunition.
If 1 and 3 are broken a shot might be fired (an ND to be sure), but no one is harmed because the gun was pointed in a safe direction.

In fact, while nearly all ND's could be prevented by being strict about rule 3 - rule 2 is, in my opinion, is the more critical rule. If it were followed religiously - no one would ever be hurt by an ND. And yet it is the one that, when violated by itself, never results in a call to police and therefore no opportunity to apply your draconian dream. So you would be unable to consistently punish the most flagrant violators.

Let me close by highlighting a way in which silly gun-control laws and regulations force diligent gun owners to actually break the rules - on a daily basis. I work at university and am, by law and university policy, prohibited from carrying my gun into the buildings in which I work. So, every day, I must disarm when I arrive at work and rearm as I depart. In order to make it difficult for my gun to be stolen from car while at work, I lock it in a Nanovault gun vault secured by cable to the underside of the passenger seat. So while parked, I un-holster the weapon and lay it horizontally in the case, close the lid, lock it, and slide it under the seat.

During this procedure, I treat the weapon as if it were loaded, because it is - and I keep my finger WAY off of the trigger. But, I cannot keep it pointed in a completely safe direction. It has to be horizontal to go into the vault. The best I can do is keep it pointed in "as safe a direction as possible". Depending upon where I am parked and who is around, sometimes (most of the time) that is toward my engine block while other times it is toward the passenger door where it would strike other parked cars.

And all of this must be done because I cross an arbitrary boundary to perform my role at work. I go to off campus events armed with the same students that I cannot be armed around while working with them. And thus, at least 10 times a week, I am forced to bend the critical rules of gun safety in order to stay in compliance with the law.  Will I have an ND because of this? No. But do these laws mitigate any real risk on campus? No - they just force me to engage in slightly riskier behavior for no real benefit.

After a couple of overtures by e-mail, I'm still not sure what his point it. When I asked if it was that his gun-free zone at work was a bad thing, he just repeated the paragraph beginning with "So, why do I highlight all of this?"

It seems to me that, as he rightly points out, it takes the violation of 3 of the 4 Rules simultaneously to have a serious accident, my "zero tolerance" policy makes even more sense.

Now, the words "zero tolerance" are loaded with negative connotations. The fact is I'm very tolerant.  Often I feel that a jail sentence for an act of gun negligence, even when someone dies, is excessive.  I do however feel that the loss of gun rights has to be strictly upheld.

What's your opinion?  What do you think Frail Liberty is getting at with that lengthy message?

Please leave a comment.


  1. His points are obvious:

    1. We are all human, so perfection is impossible. If you look honestly at the record of gun owners, though, you'll see that we get exceedingly close--better than 99%, in fact.

    2. Teaching these four simple rules, instead of the lawyerly verbiage that comes in manuals, is an important part of gun education.

    3. Gun-free zones such as the ones that he and I go into for our professions, are at best a nuisance. I've gone shooting with some of my former students. One in particular has now moved on to pursue a degree in history, and he sees me as a mentor still. When I'm having coffee with him or when we get together at someone's house, am I presto-chango more dangerous to him than I was in the classroom? He doesn't think so.

    Mikeb, you're tolerant of everything that you tolerate. But we don't want your tolerance. Tolerance means that people in power put up with something disagreeable from the lower masses. We prefer freedom and legal equality.

  2. Mike,

    Thank you for posting the correspondence in whole. I welcome any feedback.


    Although long winded, as my explanations tend to be :), I also thought the points were pretty obvious. Thank you for confirming it.

    1. You weren't long-winded at all, and certainly not in comparison to the screeds of some around here. By the way, what's your subject at the university? I'm in English, if you haven't seen me say that before.

    2. Hi Greg,

      I am staff, not faculty - so I do not teach. But I do interact frequently with students.

    3. It's good to have some other members of the educational community around to remind the control freaks that we're not all afraid of guns.

    4. Thanks. My place of work is the primary reason I post and tweet under a pseudonym. The administration at our school is aggressively involved in suppressing gun rights.

      I have acquaintances with a few mid to high level staff in the Provost's and President's offices and so I don't dare, at this point, risk outing myself as a gun-rights and campus carry supporter.

      It really ironic, in fact, that academia is supposed be a place of free flowing ideas and evaluation of evidence. Yet, we consistently hear the emotionally driven arguments that college kids drink and guns and alcohol don't mix. Instead of looking at the many facts of the situation ... such as:

      1. Faculty and Staff are also impacted by the arbitrary boundary
      2. The vast majority of undergraduates would not be of legal age to carry anyway
      3. Those that do are still trained in the law, and are already trusted by the state to carry everywhere else except campus

    5. Exactly. I've said those very things to Mikeb time and again, but it does no good. Critical thinking is not to be found on the gun control side.

    6. For me, the argument that rowdy college students would be too dangerous if allowed to have guns is secondary. The primary reason guns on campuses is a bad idea is because it would interfere with the professor/student relationship. The gun can be and often is a tacit threat. I know you guys don't like to admit it, but non-gun people see it that way, right or wrong. This would cause problems in the learning environment.

    7. That argument actually does carry some validity in my opinion.

      It is, however, made completely moot by the fact that the weapons are concealed.

    8. Exactly so. Here in Arkansas, we're required to keep a carry gun concealed. I buy my clothes with that in mind.

  3. And yes, this paragraph contains the primary intended message (broken apart for additional clarity):

    So, why do I highlight all of this? The point is that in order to have an ND inflict injury to anyone - all three of the rules must be simultaneously broken. I would never excuse any violation of the rules - but the reason that all three are important is that we are, in fact, human beings. Mistakes WILL happen. Just like they do when we humans drive 4,000 pound vehicles on the road. We miss stop signs and red lights and turn in front of oncoming traffic and veer on the roads and follow to close behind another mistake prone human driver.

    Human error is a part of the human experience. The three rules are designed, not only to prevent ND's when properly followed, but to minimize damage when a mistake causes one (or even two) of them to be violated.

    1. Doesn't the idea that it takes violating 3 of the 4 Rules to have a serious tragedy support my "one strike you're out" idea? That's how I'd take it.

      About the percentages, they're debatable. What you think is acceptable or negligible I think it too much.

    2. 300,000,000 guns
      100,000,000 +/- gun owners
      Fewer than 700 accidental gun deaths per annum

      When are you going to define words like "acceptable" and "negligible"?

    3. "Doesn't the idea that it takes violating 3 of the 4 Rules to have a serious tragedy support my "one strike you're out" idea? That's how I'd take it."

      No, not any more than the idea of following too close behind another vehicle should remove one's driving privileges.

      And remember, you could only reliably punish the least offensive of the rule violations.

      I would MUCH rather have someone break rule 3 by slipping their finger into the trigger guard whether while keeping pointed in a save direction than to be swept by a weapon even if I know it is not loaded - even if it had a chamber flag in it where it could not even possibly be loaded:

      So, your plan would be equivalent to removing driving privileges for people who travel a few miles over the speed limit, but letting those who drive under the influence off scott-free.

    4. "When are you going to define words like "acceptable" and "negligible"?"

      When you define words like "avoidable" and "preventable."

    5. "So, your plan would be equivalent to removing driving privileges for people who travel a few miles over the speed limit, but letting those who drive under the influence off scott-free."

      Weak comparison and weak argument that you keep resorting to it.

    6. Avoidable: that which can be avoided

      Preventable: that which can be prevented

      You want more detail? I'll add that in both cases, the element of practicality enters into real-world calculations. For example, given the evidence, I see no reason for believing that drug use is preventable by law enforcement. By the same line of reasoning, I see no way that gun control can work in a country with long and open borders and at least 300,000,000 guns.

      Your turn.

    7. I don't really know why you think the car comparison is week (except that perhaps it doesn't support your desired goals) as it is just about as close a comparison as one could find.

      True story:
      20 some years ago, my sister briefly left her daughters in her car parked in my parents driveway while she ran inside to grab something. She shut the car off and left it (a standard) in reverse. I don't remember if she had set the parking brake or not - but if she did, it didn't bite very well.

      While she was inside, one of her girls climbed into the drivers seat and found her key ring and managed to insert the key and turn the ignition. My sister ran out after the commotion to find her car was in the ditch in the yard on the other side of the street. The girls were very scared but, thank God, otherwise unharmed.

      This was a negligent act by any definition of the term. The ending could have been very different and very very sad. But, it was no more or less negligent than those who fail to properly secure a firearm in a home with young children. It is a poor decision that could have very bad consequences.

      So, why would you not want to remove her privileges to own and operate a car? Why do you consider that such a poor comparison? What is so different about it?

    8. You don't see how I can say the comparison is weak, perhaps, because you think it supports your argument.

      Apples and oranges are at least both fruit. Cars and guns are further apart than that. That's why.

    9. But they are not so far apart when it comes to the effect of irresponsible ownership and operation. In fact, they are darned near identical.

      Again, I ask a specific question: What is so different about them that deadly irresponsible behavior with one warrants zero tolerance more than deadly irresponsible behavior with the other?

    10. All right, if you insist.

      Cars are already regulated. There's licensing for drivers, registration for vehicles, yearly inspections and insurance requirements.

      Please don't tell me about all the unregistered cars that are on private land. That argument is bullshit, but whenever we get into it, that's what comes up, because this is a losing argument for you.

      The reason I reject the comparison is because a gun is not just another inanimate object that we may or may not own. It's a weapon, and as such is subject to special consideration. A car is for transport, a refrigerator is to keep your stuff cold, a gun is for killing. Each is subject to appropriate regulations according to its intended use.

      So, like I said, the comparison is worse than apples and oranges, which are at least both fruit.

    11. I'm right with you up until the part about a gun is only for killing. While that is certainly true in one sense, it belies the fact that it is the lethality of the tool that makes it so effective at protection.

      We do not measure the effectiveness of a police officers gun by how many lives it has been used to take. But rather, we acknowledge that the tool, even when holstered, severs to protect both the officer and the lives others around him/her. Therefore it's actual useful purpose is the opposite of killing.

      But, that is a diversion anyway. The other factors you bring up are valid comparisons. And yet the FACT remains that in-spite of the regulations on vehicles, irresponsible ownership and operation still kills and injures many more people each day than firearms. All of those deaths and injuries are 100% preventable - and yet we tolerate them as 'accidents' and 'mistakes'.

      So if you want to have a discussion about what regulations are appropriate for firearms vs. vehicles - we can talk about that all day and much of it would be apples and oranges. But that is NOT what we are talking about - is it?

      The topic is dealing with reckless actions while using either tool - and on that topic you are 100% wrong. It is just about as apples to apples as one can get.

    12. OK, let's continue.

      gun deaths in spite of no real gun control - 30,000
      car deaths in spite of very real controls - 40,000

      Let's imagine guns controlled like cars.

      guns - 5,000
      cars - 40,000

      Let's imaging cars controlled like guns.

      guns - 30,000
      cars - 100,000

    13. Ok, lets ...

      You are trying to divert the argument ... again. I won't even get into rebutting your chosen numbers because it doesn't matter. The whole subject here is negligent ownership and handling (what the media commonly calls accidents). The subject is not about overall death count from either tool.

      We can have a discussion the overall numbers and what legislation has done to both and all about unintended consequences that don't get factored in to the total impact on society and individuals. But that would be a diversion.

      This conversation is about why you think our legal system should treat reckless actions with guns so differently than reckless actions with vehicles.

    14. I don't. Since you've sucked me into this comparison, I feel guns should be regulated like cars are. The result would be something like this:

      Let's imagine guns controlled like cars.

      guns - 5,000 deaths
      cars - 40,000 deaths

    15. Nope, sorry man. You keep overlapping intentional and negligent and those do not play together for the purposes of this discussion.

      The topic here is that you think the law should deal with negligent discharges and other types of irresponsible behavior with a gun (i.e. like leaving them where a child can get them) with a one strike and you lose all gun rights forever policy.

      This is not a discussion about other gun control schemes (presumably) intended to reduce intentional gun violence.

      You are trying to say that cars and guns are apples and oranges - and in many ways you are correct. That is certainly correct with regards to intentional homicide and/or harm. Without looking up data, I can say with confidence that guns are used much more frequently than cars to intentionally kill or mame people.

      But, cars and guns are also apples and oranges with respect to how frequently they are used to protect with guns being far more protective against crime (at least at the moment a crime is occurring) than vehicles. (FWIW, transportation is also not specifically enumerated in the Constitution also making it apples and oranges ... but that is a different topic.)

      So it is in the area of recklessness is where we find the two of them being very similar and worth of analogizing.

      We have shown rather clearly that reckless behavior with 4,000 lbs vehicles cause much more harm in the U.S. every year than reckless behaviour with guns. I gave you a personal example from my family of irresponsible behaviour with a vehicle that very easily could have killed two of my nieces.

      I want to know what, in your mind, makes the one so much more worthy of punitive legal action than the other.

      (And please don't try to tell me it is not punitive. Removing a right from a any citizen is ALWAYS punitive - sometimes it is justified, but it is still punitive).

  4. MikeB the problem is that your side wants to tell other people what they can or cannot do ... with some arbitrary, undefinable notion of safety or probability as your rationale. And the punishments that you want for accidents go against hundreds of years of common law.

    Telling someone what they can or cannot do violates their liberty. And arguments about safety or probability are simply justifications for violating someone's liberty.

    And throwing away hundreds of years of common law is a bad idea. What we should be doing is upholding basic common law and holding people accountable/liable for their ACTIONS. That includes the basic common law aspect of negligence versus malice. If a person harms someone's property through negligence, they are responsible for restitution. If a person harms another person through negligence, they are again responsible for restitution and likely face a sanction (a fine or short prison sentence) as an incentive to act responsibly. Finally, if a person harms another person with malice, they are responsible for restitution, will face sanctions (large fines and/or long prison sentence), and could forfeit rights forever since their actions were an egregious attack on society.

    A negligent discharge is not malicious or an attack on society ... and denying someone any of their rights forever is not consistent with common law. What is consistent with common law in the event of a negligent discharge of a firearm is restitution. And if the discharge injured a person, sanctions that are on par with the level of injury are in order. A small fine and a couple days in jail might make sense for an extremely minor injury. A more serious injury might involve a more substantial fine and a longer stay in jail. If the discharge caused a death, then a few years in prison for manslaughter is in order.

    1. I pretty much agree with your way of describing it. But, I think you're a bit too soft and tolerant about the negligence.

      Since we cannot foresee the future we have to hold people accountable for the actions the commit. "Accidents" with a gun are one way of identifying those who are unfit, and it's a good idea to disarm them before they do any more damage.

      My idea is that the stories we read daily about negligent discharges are about people who are not virgins as far as gun negligence goes. Many of them are using drugs or alcohol and represent a continuing danger to themselves and others. Some of them are just stupid, others just don't care.

      So, I think a much stricter standard is called for. Also, your idea of meting out punishment according to the damage done, although it makes sense, fails to consider that the same exact act of negligence can kill a kid or put a round in the floor. In both cases, removal of gun rights is appropriate, and perhaps jail time is too much if the incident truly was an accident.

    2. Your idea? How about your evidence?

      When you support a lifetime ban on driving for anyone who has an accident, you'll be consistent. Until then, you're just anti-gun.

    3. Speaking of consistency, MikeyBoy has never once addressed the fact that his co-blogger has had two negligent discharges. One would think that this would be the first person that he would try to convert to the "wisdom" of his one-strike rule. But no, hypocrisy is on parade today.