The first consideration of training

I’d been mulling over my next article for the past week or so, it was going to be an introduction to terminology generally used on shooting ranges, as, like any specialized field, shooting has it’s own jargon that can be confusing to newcomers.  However, a discussion thread on FaceBook convinced me there’s a more important subject…


Safety has to be the first priority in a training class.  The NRA doesn’t allow any live ammunition in training classes, I’ve only heard of ONE exception being made at NRA Headquarters, and that involved someone with a government protective detail, they got to keep their ammunition.  Even with that restriction, instructors are still expected to follow the rules of safe gun handling religiously, even to exaggerate them to make sure students are kept aware of how important they are and that the instructors themselves follow the rules.  Even with completely inert training guns made out of rubber, the rules are followed.  They’re rules, not guidelines, rules written in blood.  Those rules are why, despite a continued growth in the number of firearms owned in the United States, accidental gunshot deaths have been declining in absolute numbers, not just in incidents per 100,000 people.

The incident in question involved a family who went to a training course put on by someone who they had known for years and trusted, even considered a friend.  The instructor is a combat veteran with an exemplary record for personal heroism.

But the instructor kept sweeping at least portions of the class with firearms, and when called on it, ignored the concerns of the students who raised objections.  It’s irrelevant that the firearms in question had been unloaded and had the slides locked back.  The FIRST RULE of firearm’s safety is treat every firearm as if it is loaded.  The SECOND RULE is never point a firearm at anything you aren’t prepared to destroy.  The family in question was experienced shooters, one member was himself a certified instructor and has attended numerous courses from nationally-known instructors.  They finally decided, after multiple incidents of having firearms pointed at them, to leave.  One family member had flown in from across the country, the class was supposed to be a family bonding event.  But they left.

They were right to do so.  The instructor in question doesn’t list any formal certifications for himself or his instructors on his site, and doesn’t list any NRA classes as being taught at his school, and the name of his school certainly suggests he would not be teaching NRA courses because the NRA is very particular about using the word “weapon” in their courses, but if he IS an NRA certified instructor, he could likely lose that certification over the experiences of people in that class, even though it wasn’t an NRA class.  The NRA takes safety that seriously, and particularly the reputation of their training department.

It’s the responsibility of everybody on a firing line to practice the safety rules, particularly the instructors, and to raise an issue if violations are noted.  Nobody should “blow off” safety concerns, they should always be addressed.  Most accidental gunshot wounds and deaths are because someone disregarded the safety rules, a common refrain is “I didn’t know it was loaded!”.  There’s a rather infamous video of a DEA agent in Miami exclaiming to a classroom full of parents and students that “I’m the only one in this room that I know of  professional enough to carry this Glock .40”, immediately before shooting himself in the leg.  I’ve helped clean up after someone knowingly violated the rules, because he thought his gun was empty, that was a very unpleasant experience, his first words, as told to me by a friend who was nearby, were that he knew he screwed up, that he knew better.  That guy gets out of jail this year.

Safety is the first and most important consideration in training.  An instructor who can’t agree with and follow that is not an instructor I want to train or be on the same firing line with.  I can teach someone who is ignorant about firearm safety how to be safe.  I can’t teach someone who is too arrogant to follow the rules to be safe.

The abuse of ITAR and it’s First and Second Amendment ramifications

Recently, a guy in Texas spent his time designing and testing a simple pistol that could be manufactured by anyone using a 3D printer, and posted the design on the Internet.  Within days, the US Department of State contacted him to pull the files down, on the grounds that they violated international arms controls laws regarding exporting munitions.

The US Government has tried this before, in the early ’90’s, with Phil Zimmerman and the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) public key encryption software he wrote using the RSA algorithms, in response to reports that Congress was considering legislation to require that any encryption software sold in the US have a backdoor that the government could access.  Phil Zimmerman included notes with the software that there were potential legal issues with exporting the software from the United States because strong encryption software was classified as a “munition” and governed under the Munitions Control Act of 1954, commonly known as ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations, but it was posted on the Internet and exported outside the US by unknown persons.  The US Government investigated him for several years over whether he violated ITAR because the software was published online.  An interesting note is that the PGP software could be exported in PRINTED form, including in a form allowing for easy scanning and optical character recognition (OCR), but not in usable software form, so the printed source code, and even t-shirts implementing PGP in Perl could legally be exported.

An interesting twist, and one that impacts me and my friends, is that the National Rifle Assocation (NRA) has recently sent out an email to at least some NRA trainers stating that the US government was giving them unclear guidance as to whether providing firearm’s safety training to foreigners was in violation of ITAR, and as a result, they were not accepting foreign students to NRA Instructor or Chief Range Safety Officer training courses, and advised other trainers to consult with a lawyer familiar with ITAR if they intended to teach classes with foreign students.

To my mind, these restrictions represent clear violations of the First and Second Amendments.  It’s legal for a foreigner legally present in the US to fire a firearm, and even in some cases to purchase one, but it’s illegal to teach him how to do so?

Of course, with the defeat of attempts to capitalize on the deaths of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama made it clear that he would take action using the regulatory powers available to him, I find it very disconcerting that only a few months later we encounter these restrictions, at the same time as the IRS admits that it was imposing additional burdens on conservative groups applying for 501(c)4 status, and while the evidence is unfolding about how the Obama Administration flat-out lied to the American people and Congress about the events in Benghazi, Libya, that included the deaths of our ambassador and three other Americans, blaming them on a poorly-done video insulting Islam that nobody had heard of, and deleting references to terrorists and Al Queda. Only a few days ago, President Obama, in a college commencement speech, was claiming that anyone who tells you there is reason to fear government tyranny is lying.  I think the accumulated evidence is clear on who is lying, and a government that lies to it’s people and actively tries to subvert their rights meets the definition of tyranny.