What safety standards? Is there anything like an industry standard for firearms safety?

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On occasion I’ll get feedback on  my articles on safety, and some will opine that anyone who doesn’t teach ‘industry standard’ rules opens himself (or herself) up to liability problems. I’ve heard this argument more than once and it makes less sense each time I hear it – on several levels. I’m sure this view is quite common, so let’s tackle the subject head-on.

First let’s address the very notion that there is such a thing as an industry standard for firearm safety (and by extension that there is a version of the Four Rules which can be held to be that standard.) There is enough variance regarding the wording of the Four Rules that I’m not sure you could hold up any one and say “this is the standard, but these other similar examples are not.” To be a standard requires consistency, and the Four Rules are hardly consistent in their wording, interpretation, or application – particularly Rule One, which is the one I take most issue with.

Second, even if the wording of the Four Rules was consistent you’d have to establish that they were in use by the majority of instructors in the business of teaching firearm safety, and further that they were being taught to a majority of firearm students. This isn’t even close to being true.

I submit that the only candidate for establishment of an industry standard would be the NRA. The NRA has more instructors teaching more students every year than (probably) all the independent training venues in the country combined. As a certified NRA instructor, I know that the NRA has its own safety rules, and they are not the Four Rules. I further submit that if one is not teaching the NRA safety rules, verbatim as presented in their course material, one is in fact NOT teaching anything remotely resembling an industry standard and the argument/defense is moot. (This should not be construed as either an endorsement or criticism of the NRA safety curriculum.)

Third, even if the Four Rules were consistent among all their users AND it could be shown that they were being taught verbatim by a majority of instructors to a majority of students, the industry standard argument is simply an admission that one can’t be bothered to seek anything better. ‘Industry standard’ is not the same as objective standard!

Back in the early ’80s, the photographic industry was rocked by several high profile suits regarding handling of hazardous chemicals in photofinishing plants. The common defense was that the industry had its own standards with regard to safe handling, and that they were being followed. That proved to be no defense at all, and several companies paid out large settlements and/or fines. The government stepped in and required that the industry’s standards be replaced with up-to-date and independently verified practices, and a for a while there was a small boom for businesses who provided compliance packages tailored to the industry. (I should know, as I was one of those entrepreneurs who made and sold such packages.)

Were I sitting on a jury in a liability case, I’d want to know if what the defendant did was the best that could be done. If the answer was no, regardless of how widespread the behavior happened to be, would cause me to find in the plaintiff’s favor. Relying on a defense of compliance with ‘industry standards’ when there are demonstrably better practices is probably not going to win any juror’s favor!

Integrity says that It’s not enough to show that you do what everyone else does; you have to show that it is the best thing to do, and that there is nothing better. I’m a big believer in excellence over compliance; of going above and beyond when possible, particularly in the area of keeping people safe from harm.

Bottom line: defending the Four Rules using the ‘industry standard’ argument is roughly the same as a teenager screaming to her Mom “but everyone else does it!” No, they don’t, and even if they did it’s irrelevant. That didn’t work with my parents, and it doesn’t work with me.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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