I could have died today

This is an email that I had sent out to my cadre last year regarding a very unsafe interaction with a student on the range. 

I hope the title caught your attention and inspired you to continue reading. If not, well you suck for not caring. 

I literally just finished a private session with an alumni student who has become rather good with a handgun in terms of precision and overall ability to manipulate his handgun… technically. (Alumni meaning that he has taken at least 10 hours of individual training with us.) 

On occasion, I have had to remind him to remove his finger from the trigger when his elbows are retracted, and he is no longer on target. But not very often. Today, he quickly learned why this is important. 

During a B-8 warmup exercise, he caught a piece of brass between his eye protection and the side of his face. He danced off the line in a panic, turned to his 4 o’clock, finger on the trigger and gun pointed STRAIGHT AT ME. All that I could do is repeatedly say, “Finger off the trigger ” while attempting to step away from his muzzle. 

There are some lessons to be learned here. 

First, the job of a firearms trainer is an inherently hazardous job. I was complacent and was attempting to push the boundaries to gain a better angle to see any minor discrepancies in his shooting performance. This put me out of arms reach of the shooter and, in turn, put me at an extreme disadvantage in terms of physically controlling his muzzle during the chaos. 

Had he simply applied a little pressure to the trigger, I would have had a gunshot wound to the abdomen and a colostomy bag would have been my best hope. 

Second, we handled the situation by stopping the course of fire. Unloading, clearing, re-holstering, and sitting down to discuss it. Once we had both cooled down from the event and talked about the mistakes that had been made, we moved on for the sake of him not seriously setting back in his confidence. He knew the mistake that he made, and we moved on. But I repositioned myself appropriately and stayed ready for any future mishaps. 

Finally, DO NOT become complacent in your work. On long days and long weeks, it is very easy to do. Learn to pace yourself and stay in control of the environment around you. Expect something like this to happen to you because, if you do it enough, it will. 

Remind yourself to stay within arm’s reach as best as you can and DON’T BE AFRAID to put your hands on a student should you have to keep them safe as well as yourself or the rest of the line (if you are in a class). 

I’m going to go write up my living will that I have been procrastinating for quite some time now … and change my britches. 

We have since put appropriate levels in place to mitigate risks and keep complacency low. 

Working 8 students back-to-back for 5 days a week can take a lot out of a trainer and create complacency. We have separated blocks of training throughout the week covered by different instructors. This helps to keep the trainer fresh and alleviate some of the cognitive strain on the trainer. 

Billed hats are strongly advised on the range. Even though I have had brass slip below the bill of the cap and produce the same problem, it seriously reduces the chances. 

We now include conversations about hot brass issues prior to shooting. This helps to solidify it as a possibility and not surprising to them when it does happen. It also helps to remind the trainer of the possibility, so that they are more careful. 

I hope that this article may assist others who act as an RSO or a trainer. Lessons learned can often be from mistakes that have been made. This just happens to be one of mine. 

Tim Kelly 

Apache Solutions LLC 

[email protected]