I was working the 4x12 shift on a hot muggy night, back in my Border Patrol days, and thankfully I had just been relieved by another agent so I could take a break. I threw the Ramcharger in gear and headed into downtown Calexico to get myself something icy cold to drink. It was just about all I could think of, I mean it was hot, muggy,and I was sweaty and thirsty - Calexico summer nights can be like that. I had just pulled up to 7-Eleven and was opening the door when I heard the brief whoop of a siren from behind me. I turned around to see a sheriff's deputy pulling up. He waved me over and when I got to him he told me he had one in the back for me. He insisted take the guy before I could buy my icy cold beverage because he had just gotten another more important call. I reluctantly said okay and he escorted the guy around to the back of my vehicle. The illegal was handcuffed, and when I asked the officer why he told me because the guy had been a jerk and sort of resisted but was being okay now. I through my set of cuffs onto him and took off the deputy's. Then I started to pat the guy down. The deputy got all sort of huffy and asked why I was doing that because he had already done it. I kept at it. Then he said the magic words: "Don't you trust me?" Almost at the exact moment that the last word left his lips, I pulled a pair of about 8" to 10" scissors out of the illegal immigrunt's groin area. He had had them hidden where most men are a bit squeamish about searching. The deputy stood there with his mouth hanging open - dumbfounded. I learned that night, trust is something that you should not give freely relative to some things, it should be earned by the person to whom you give it. So when it comes to things that could be the difference between life and death and I can exert control over them, I make sure to err on the safe side. If it hurts some one's feelings - too bad. That attitude may just have saved my life that night - you see the illegal alien who had those shears down his draws had not been headed to a sewing class and he was not a tailor, so why do you think he had them?
When it comes to firearms and ammunition, I have much the same mindset. I had a guy hand me a semi-automatic pistol when I was a firearms instructor. I was inspecting the pistols before qualifications as we always do. I asked him if it was unloaded and he explained that because he was late, he had taken it upon himself to go to the range where we clear weapons, before each inspection, to clear it himself. I asked him to hand me the weapon, action closed, as is our set procedure in the classroom (the range officer opens it to check it, we don‘t want anyone but an instructor operating a gun in the classroom). He handed it to me and I opened it and out flew the cartridge that was in the chamber. He swore he had unloaded it but the proof was there in that shell casing that he had not. I went over his actions with him. He then realized what he did was to open the action and remove the round from the chamber, let the action go forward, then took out the magazine. So he actually had just reloaded one into the chamber because he did things sort of backwards. Normally, after taking the pistol we run it through an operational check that includes dry firing it. Should I have trusted him enough that the weapon was empty. Maybe you would say that based upon my trust for other agents who have received the same training as I, then yes I should have. The truth is, yes I did trust he was being truthful and accurate about having reloaded but that does not mean that I should not, for safety’s sake, have verified it. So I followed procedure and did just that and avoided an accidental discharge. Had I not done what I did, then it could well have been to late for someone had I sent a round down the barrel. I know of a firearms instructor, in fact a primary firearms instructor, who put a round through a wall in the classroom, in a situation almost identical to the one I just described, essentially because he trusted and did not verify. Luckily nothing but his pride was hurt.
As Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes used to say: "Trust no one". It is good advice up to a point but let me change that just a little bit for firearms safety purposes. When it comes to firearms and ammunition, trust only those who have earned your trust and only to the degree to which they have earned it. In all cases, even with folks you trust to the greatest extent, you can take another step. There is an old saying: Trust but verify. It is a good one indeed, especially as related to firearms safety and it comes to play or should come to play often when handling firearms and ammunition. It is a mindset I choose to live by when around firearms. Will a mindset like that prevent all accidents or incidents caused by negligence with firearms or ammo? No it will not but what it will do is reduce the chances for something to go wrong. So how do you do this? How do you achieve trust or how does someone else earn it from you, and how do you verify that your trust was well founded without you seeming like totally anal wanna be dictator? Pretty much the same way you do anything else wherein you do not appear to be an arrogant tyrant. You do it with a cool head and with respect toward those with whom you are dealing and you do things by example in as much as if you require it of others you also require it of yourself. Will that prevent every person, with whom you have interactions while handling firearms, from becoming offended if you point out a safety issue to them or if you double check something? No it will not, but being polite and respectful, even if being direct and to the point will go a long way to keep people from taking offense - especially if what you are saying is correct. It will also go a long way toward building up trust on both ends.
The thing is though, developing trust between firearms folks it is not just a pointing out safety infractions issue. In fact, that is not even the most important issue. The more important issue is that you trust yourself first. So, to start, learn how to safely handle firearms before judging anyone else to determine if they are trustworthy with them. You learn, not only by reading rules, but by practicing safe firearms handling each time you use firearms. When others see you handling firearms safely, or hear you talking about them in a knowledgeable manner, they will develop a sense of trust toward you. It works the same with you developing trust for them. What you are doing, is taking in information given off by others, comparing it to information you already have stored in memory and determining, by using judgment and verification, whether or not the other guy is trustworthy. If you are a good judge of yourself, when it comes to firearms safety issues, then you will be more likely to be good judge of others. So what does this mean in the real world of firearms and ammunition handling? I will give some more real examples to answer that question.
I have several firearms. They are only infrequently unsecured; sometimes loaded, sometimes not. I live with my wife and 2 children. Well, they are not really children an longer, they are both young adults. When it comes to my son, he is allowed to handle all of my rifles and shotgun but not my pistols, unless absolutely necessary. As for my wife and daughter, I trust them not to pick up and handle any of my firearms without my express permission except unless absolutely necessary. I then trust them all to handle the firearms in a safe manner if they do need, for some reason, to handle one. Maybe they need to move it because a plumber is coming over on an emergency call and they want to make sure it has been secured, or something like that. Why do I trust them all? Well, over the years that I have been married with children, I have taught all three of them about basic firearms safety and my son shoots (my daughter used to shoot and my wife went once). The most important thing I taught them was never to mess around with them but if they are curious about them, then to ask me to show them. I started that with my wife probably before we were married, and with my kids almost from as soon as they could understand - probably around age 3 or 4. I have kept at it all these years and still give them a reminder now and again. In all that time, I have never seen my wife, daughter or son do anything really unsafe with one of my firearms in the home. They have earned my trust but as I said, I still give them reminders now and then.
As for my son, he has earned the most trust from me because he also handles and shoots firearms with fair regularity. He handles them safely, and is very safety conscious while doing so. I trust him so much I allow him to handle my rifles at his own discretion and I have allowed him to bring his own rifles and ammunition into our home. That trust though did not come freely, it was earned by him sticking to the rules, by him exhibiting responsibility with firearms and ammunition, and by him being safe with them over the course of several years. That trust is not taken fro granted either. He must keep on earning it from me. One way to check on that is by observation, just seeing how he does things when I am with him and he is handling firearms. While you can often verify trust through observation, sometimes what you are hoping to observe just does not take place. So what to do then? The answer is easy - give a test. Remember trust is earned, it is not blind faith.
When he was first learning to shoot, I used to go over the firearms safety, each time, before we handled guns or started shooting. I would start by asking him to tell me the rules I had taught him. If he forgot something, I just reminded him, then I supervised his shooting within easy arms reach. As he developed into a safe and responsible shooter, I started to drop off on the supervision thing and started to leave of the testing of the rules thing. He would shoot at his point and me at mine. Every now and then I would check on him though with a subtle test of one sort or another. I would take a rifle out and place it on the bench, from which he would be shooting, with the action closed (after I checked it first to make sure it was not loaded). Then I would see what he would do. Invariably when he picked it up, he would keep it pointed downrange, then open the action (usually he would first remove the source of ammo, such as taking out the magazine). If he did that, he passed. If not, then he was reminded to check first. What he would be checking for was not only to see if it was loaded, but if it had been loaded then to check to see if it had the right ammo in it.
I don't just check on my family regarding firearms safety, I make sure to verify others exhibit it before I fully trust them around me with firearms. Now, I am not saying I will not allow someone wearing a holstered firearm to get in my car, or that every time a cased gun is in my car it has to be in a locked case or have a safety lock on the gun itself. Nor am I saying, I will not allow someone to show me a gun, or me to show them a gun, at the range or at a gun show unless I first interrogate them about firearms safety rules or have them demonstrate proper firearms handling techniques. What I am saying is that I will not give them unearned full trust. If I get into a car with a coworker, I trust them not to pull out a firearm and start fiddling with it in my car. Why do I give that person such trust. Only because I know that he or she has gotten a lot of the same training as have I and that they have passed an awful lot of firearms testing before being trusted with the firearm by my agency.
If, on the other hand, I have someone who is fairly new to shooting getting into my car while wearing a holstered handgun, or while carrying a cased rifle or shotgun, and who is eager to go shooting, you can bet I will have checked them first to make sure they are trustworthy. If I get into my car with someone about whom have little or no knowledge about their gun safety mindset, you can bet I will try to figure it out first, or that the guns will go into the trunk or that I will remind them "no gun handling in the car". It does not have to be that blatant, there are subtle ways of doing it but if subtlety does not work then coming right out and saying something is just fine. I am not about to let someone like that into my home, my vehicle, come with me to the range or just handle firearms around me unless they have earned my trust to some extent. Why not? Because of the fatality factor. I'd have to be bonkers to allow someone I did not trust at all to have unrestrained access to firearms and ammunition around me and my loved ones unless I could keep them under supervision. Did you catch that - unless they were supervised? So yeah, I will let a new shooter hop into my car for a trip to the range with his brand new Remington 870 and several boxes of slugs. I'll even let him ride with the cased gun across his lap if he wants once I verify it isn't loaded and once I make sure to tell him that he is absolutely not to handle the firearm or ammo in my car. If he reacts like a jerk, guess what - no ride from me. If he seems to be responsible, well he is already beginning to earn my trust but not enough to allow him to be unsupervised yet. The supervision thing does not mean I am watching over him like a prison guard, just that I made sure to remind him not to handle the guns or ammo while in the car (remember he is new to all this) and then keeping an eye on him now and then, or having someone else do it, during he drive. Of course, it could be a bit more than that, I could insist that the case be locked and the ammo be kept in a separate locked container or better yet just put it all into the trunk. Heck, my guns and ammo are almost always in separate containers when I travel with them and the guns are most often locked with gun-locks. I trust myself, so why do I do that? is it paranoia? Is it nonsense? No, it is neither, it is simply following the firearms safety rules that I learned long ago.
Same thing applies at the shooting range. When I go shooting, there are often other shooters at points next to me at the range. Do I trust them to be safe with firearms? Yes, up to a point. Why trust them. Well, first of all, they are not at home shooting out of their windows down toward a crowded street with reckless abandon. They have come to the proper place, in my area a range is the only proper place available, to shoot. Is that enough, nope not really. When I enter the range area, I observe the other shooters. As I set up my gear, I continue to do so. I am looking for shooters who are not being safe. One day, while I was at the range with my son, having a nice day shooting, another guy showed up with his two young sons. I am guessing the dad was about 35 and his sons about 9 to 12 years old, only about a year between their ages. They were shooting a Marlin 22 rifle, one with a tubular magazine. I don't know what it was that made me turn around and look over my left shoulder, I guess because every now and then I just look around me to be aware of what is going on, but when I did, there was the dad standing behind the firing line by a few feet. He was shaking the rifle violently, apparently it had malfunctioned, and it was pointed right at my son. He got it working again and before I could say anything a range officer had gone over to set him straight and did so politely. The dad seemed to get it, even though it was kind of obvious that he was not all that into shooting, and went back to one of his sons who had stayed at the firing bench and they started shooting again.
Now, you may have trusted him after that, because he was an adult and had just been told by the range officer how to do it right and do it safely but I follow that little rule, trust but verify. I trusted him enough not to do it again or would have left the range. I did not trust him enough not to keep checking on him. Several minutes later, I took another look around. Once again, the guy was behind the line fiddling with the rifle while it was pointed at another shooter, this time at me! It was only for a second or two but it was very unsafe. I went over to a range officer and politely told him about the guy being unsafe again. The range officer did his thing and very politely but sternly told the guy the rules once again. The dad seemed very embarrassed and apologetic. He went back to the bench and the firing line. All seemed well but guess what, my son and I took a break. I did not tell my son why right at that moment but it was because I did not trust the guy. We went and got some sodas at the other end of the range. When we got back, it was not 5 or 10 minutes later, I saw him at it again - dangerously pointing the gun in the direction of other shooters, this time if I remember right, at his own son. I was about to explode and tell him off myself this time but luckily the range officer saw him first and reamed him out big-time. They threw him off of the range. Then we ended our break and went back to shooting. I really hope that did not ruin shooting for that guy and his kids; I hope he went to a hunter safety course or went back to the range by himself to seek out instructions on how to do it right. Something tells me though that was the last day he ever went shooting with his sons.
So sure, I give a certain amount of trust to people at the range but not blind or complete trust. I can say, without a doubt, that the range officer who caught the guy unsafely handling the rifle earned some trust from me that day, I just wish he had made him leave the second time he saw him doing it. On the other hand, others lose my trust, what little I may have had in them before knowing them well enough to develop more of it. If I see someone screwing up, I'll either get a range officer or tell them myself. If the guy is an ass about it, I can always leave the range but you can bet I will let a range officer know about it then. I am not about to get in to a pissing match with a stranger, who has exhibited bad gun etiquette at a range if only because he is armed. If the guy seems to accept what I have pointed out, then I will trust him enough for me to stay but I will keep an eye him just like I did on that dad. Mind you, when I speak to someone about a safety violation at the range, or anywhere, I am not talking about a guy who picks up his obviously unloaded weapon from the bench, momentarily covers another person with it, apparently realizes his mistake and corrects. I am talking about people who exhibit piss poor and unsafe firearms handling by blatantly violating a safety rule or rules and/or by repeatedly violating them.
I do the same with new shooters I take to the range and even with experienced shooters. I trust to an extent but verify. Just because you shoot a lot or handle firearms and ammunition often, and have never had an accident with a firearm or ammo, does not necessarily mean you are safe with guns and ammo so with experienced shooters, I trust but verify. With new shooters, I tell them the rules before they even see a gun. Then I go over firearms nomenclature with them while showing them the gun they will be shooting that day. I never assume that someone even knows what is something as basic as a trigger. To assume things when it comes to firearms and handling them safely, to blindly trust that someone will handle guns or ammo in a safe manner, is simply asking begging for trouble of the kind where there are no do-overs. To build up earned trust and respect is something all together different and it goes a long way to assure safety. Remember, just because someone has earned your trust, or you their's, it is not going to guarantee that an accident or tragic incident will not take place. While it does go a long way to make things a lot safer, that is only so if you base your trust on a good foundation. That foundation needs to be set on the bedrock of the rules of firearms safety and how well you follow them yourself. That is why I expect other shooters to correct me if I am caught violating the safety rules and I take it and learn from it. That earned trust thing works both ways and to earn it we have to realize we are or should be responsible for one another, to a reasonable extent, when it comes to firearms safety.