As a kid, I had a fascination with snakes. When I realized they were poisonous and could kill you, my fascination turned to fear. Over the years that fear has turned into respect and awe. I was afraid of fighting as well, so I learned to play football and later became a cop. I would not take any of that back as I review my younger years. To fear something that can hurt or kill you is healthy—to a point: fear without resolution will make you a timid and fearful person—it is not healthy to live your life in fear.
In my home growing up, guns were always loaded and my father both trusted and showed us what guns could do. He taught us respect for him and firearms both. Young children, especially little boys, curiosity can get the better of them. I wanted my sons to have a healthy respect for firearms. I did not want them growing up saying the victim mantra, “guns scare me.”
I remember the first gun lesson with my boys. I set a watermelon in a Black Walnut tree and with my wide-eyed sons standing safely behind me I unloaded three-inch 00 buck into it. Their eyes grew wider. Nothing like a watermelon to create a mental picture. I offered them both a chance to try it and they declined. Respect, and a bit of healthy fear, had been instilled. Afterward we sat down and talked about how guns were not like what you see on TV, in movies or in video games.
I needed an analogy that would stick in their little brains. We loved to watch Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Next to sharks, snakes fascinated my sons—must be a little boy thing. At the time Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter was very popular. We would reel in alarm as he would handle some of the deadliest snakes in the world by the tail, yet he never got bit. My analogy came to me.
Some things just scream DON’T PLAY WITH ME
I began telling them that I disagreed with the way Steve Irwin handled snakes, crocodiles and other wild animals. As I saw it, he was well trained and knowledgeable about snakes and reptiles but he played with them for the sake of good television. I told them that one day, very sadly, we would hear of his death by one of the creatures he loved—he took chances. The dealer of that card took us all by surprise. Nonetheless, he got slightly out of his element, lost focus, and it cost him his life.
I remember telling my sons that somethings are not bad in and of themselves. Rather it is how we interact with those things that makes them so. Some things just say DON’T PLAY WITH ME. While it may be necessary to interact dangerous things, you should not fear but respect them.
I related to my sons that handling a gun was much like those individuals who handle snakes for a living. Not the ones who do it for show, but the individuals who do it to extract—milk—venom that save lives every day. I believe those individuals have three very important rules, possibly more. The three I observed worked for explaining gun safety to my children and those I teach today.
Those three are:
- Be careful
- Be consistent
- Stay focused
Careful is the opposite of careless. To be careless is to not take care or to be indifferent or unconcerned. To be careful is to be marked by painstaking effort to avoid errors and to show caution or prudence.
Know where the head of the snake is at all times. Likewise, know where the muzzle of the gun is at all times for that is the end that can kill—the end that bites. You would never point the head of a cobra towards yourself or others, why would you do that with a gun?
Just like a snake, know where and when to touch a gun. There are places on a gun that your hand or, better yet, your fingers should never go near at certain times—mainly the trigger. The gun, like the snake, must be in the right position and under complete control before you touch the trigger. Otherwise, keep all hands and fingers away.
All poisonous snakes and all guns are always loaded. Yes, snakes have been known to have dry bites, bites that lack venom, and guns can be without cartridges. But once the fangs or hammer strikes it’s too late and your life is at the mercy of Lady Luck and she is not your friend—take that from an Irishman.
Learn to do it right, then do it that way always. After years of law enforcement training my gun training has become almost second nature. Having utilized the skills in high-stress situations, I can attest to the fact that it almost becomes second nature and you are capable of doing things correctly without specific thought. The operative words are years of training and not a few trips to the range and hours in front of the video game console.
It is amazing what your mind is capable of in a high-stress situation when you have learned well and practiced the way you should play or fight. That was observed in Steve Irwin when he handled the world’s most venomous snakes the way he did—a sixth sense. That reliance on that sense may have cost him his life.
Never stop looking at your methods and insuring you have not allowed those ingrained skills to slip. There are many different snakes as well as guns—one size does not fit all. Adjust, train and update your regiment as necessary depending on the snake you are handling.
Tactics in the heat of the moment can be adjusted. Handling, on the other hand, of the weapon should not be an ad-lib process.
Absolute focus is required when handling a snake whose venom can kill an elephant in minutes. Same is true of a gun—it can change lives in a blink of an eye. Once the primer is struck or the fangs sink into flesh you can’t take it back—ever. Absolute focus, all the time, this will not only make you a safer gun handler but a better shot in the long run.
If you want a sport, job or hobby that does not require so much focus, then shooting or snake handling is not your chosen pastime or career. It was a sad day when we read of Steve Irwin’s death—very sad—but there is a lesson to be learned. When you engage in a career or hobby, understand what the ultimate consequence of failure-to-focus can cost you, then decide to be a responsible, mature and respectable person or find something else to do.