Numbers don’t say things. Words do. Use them.

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A man is sent to prison. At night, after the lights have been turned out, his cellmate yells “number eight!” The whole cell block breaks out laughing. After things quiet down, someone else calls out “number eleven!” Again, everyone laughs.

The new guy asks his older cellmate what’s going on. “Well,” says the other prisoner, “we’ve all been in here for so long that we all know the same jokes. So to save time, we just yell out the number instead of repeating the whole joke.”

Feeling like he’s now a full-fledged part of this fraternity, the new guy yells “Number twelve!” No one laughs – not even a snicker. Confused, he yells out “number three!” Silence.

Dejected, he turns to his cellmate and asks “what’s wrong? Why didn’t I get any laughs?”

“Well,” said the older man, “some guys just don’t know how to tell a joke.”

I’ve written before – many times – about how I abhor what I call “Traditional Rule One (“treat all guns as if they are loaded.”) For those coming in late, read this for the whole explanation.

It’s obvious that my opinion has had only minor effect on the shooting fraternity as a whole, as I continually see that silly rule referenced in blogs, forums and articles. That’s bad enough, but there’s something else that gnaws at me: the use of a number as shorthand for the rule itself.

I see references all the time to “Rule One”, “Rule Two” and so on. No explanation of what those numbers mean, just the number itself – as if everyone both understands and agrees. The problem with safety rules, obviously, is that not everyone understands them in the first place. If they did, we wouldn’t have so many accidents!

Particularly when dealing with people who don’t have a lot of experience with firearm safety, numbers obscure the meaning. Those folks don’t know the rules terribly well to start with, and throwing shortcuts at them only compounds the problem. Have you ever taken a class where the instructor assumes that you already have every bit of the background he or she does, and refers to things with abbreviations and acronyms that you don’t recognize? Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s what we as a community do by continually referring to safety rules with only numbers.

Even for people with solid backgrounds in a subject, abbreviations blur definitions over time. For instance, can you identify all of the words in the common acronym “NAACP” without Googling? You’ve seen it all your life, but I’ll bet for many the words have long since been forgotten. The same, I believe, happens with the safety rules.

Right now, can you recite “Rule #2” perfectly and without hesitation? What if your version of “#2” isn’t exactly the same as the next guy’s? What are the safety implications? Don’t you think that’s something you should know?

Rather than agreeing on a number, wouldn’t it be a whole lot safer to agree on the actual subject of the rule? What if your numbers don’t even refer to the same concepts – how is that in any way promoting safe gun handling? It’s not, and that’s my point.

If you’re an instructor, using numbers in place of words is a sign that you’re not paying full attention to the safety of your students. If you’re a blogger, it’s an indication that – like our hapless con at the top – you’re more interested in being part of the “in group” than of actually promoting gun safety.

Stop contributing to the problem: put safety in words that everyone can understand. Say what you mean instead of abbreviating. Even if people don’t agree with you, at least they’ll know what you’re talking about!

-=[ Grant ]=-

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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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