Why are we so resistant to learning from our mistakes?

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Last week I became aware of a YouTube video of a fellow shooting himself in the leg after making ready during a match. He starts the video off by proclaiming that it wasn’t his fault – it was his gun which malfunctioned and was in the hands of the maker’s service department for analysis of the “failure”.

I knew, ten seconds into the video, that it wasn’t the gun. I knew, just due to the fellow’s demeanor, that he’d had his finger on the trigger as he holstered the gun. No, I couldn’t see the gun or his trigger finger; I came to the conclusion just from his emphatic denial of culpability.

It wasn’t long before someone dug up other videos of this guy at other matches, videos which clearly show his finger on or near the trigger when reloading, moving, and even picking the gun up. The simplest explanation – that his finger was on the trigger when he put the gun in the holster – is, as it almost always is, the most likely explanation, particularly when the fellow in question has a habit of doing so.

Unfortunately the fellow in question apparently doesn’t want to believe that, hence his insistence that it wasn’t his fault. In a sense, it isn’t. Not the accident itself, you understand, but his unwillingness to own up to it. We, as a community, have created a culture which doesn’t use accidents as learning opportunities, but rather as chances for shaming.

Todd Greene over at pistol-training.com has an excellent article on the incident and this subject. He points out that the way we handle safety in the shooting world is so irrational that it leads to an atmosphere in which we never question what or why we do certain things. He uses the contrasting example of airplane accidents, where investigations are done so that other pilots can learn from the misfortunes of others. This leads to better pilots (and, in some cases, better aircraft.)

We don’t have that in the shooting world. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Many years ago I started considering the need to reconsider our safety rules, particularly because the set of four most commonly used contains both logical and linguistic errors – particularly in the first rule, “treat all guns as if they were loaded” (and all variations of that.) My best friend (and ace instructor) Georges Rahbani and I wrestled with the subject for quite a while before we decided that there needed to be three truly useful, internally consistent and understandable rules instead of four disjointed ones. I’ve been writing about those rules, and the changes in them, ever since.

We weren’t the only ones who saw the problem and the opportunity; I was surprised and delighted to find, for instance, that our criticisms and practices were paralleled by people like Rob Pincus. Other progressive folks came up with their own ideas and approaches, all aimed at the same end: get people to be safer with firearms. The three rules I use today have evolved and incorporate elements from many others, but the goal remains: safety rules should be clear, unambiguous, universal, and self-reinforcing – and always open to change and modification as the need arises.

The reaction of large segments of the shooting industry to this view has been less than enthusiastic. You’d think, from some of the knee-jerk reactions, that we’d collectively blasphemed Holy Writ! I’ve personally been demeaned by other writers and bloggers because I’ve dared to question the orthodoxy. In fact, one blogger has gone to great lengths to concoct a convoluted and complicated restatement of what I call Traditional Rule One simply because I pointed out its flaws. This, rather than simply admitting it is useless at best (and counter-productive at worst) and getting rid of it altogether.

As Todd correctly points out, it’s this complete unwillingness inside the industry to examine our beliefs and practices – and our simultaneous propensity for deification of certain members of the shooting fraternity – that results in our never being able to learn from the mistakes of others. I’ve said this before, and Todd’s article compels me to repeat: if all we do is bleat “Rule One! Rule One!” every time an accident occurs, or argue incessantly about whether it should be called an accidental or a negligent discharge, we’ll never make any progress.

Everything we do, including how we approach gun safety, should be subject to evolution. Actively resisting that process does nothing to help the rest of the fraternity and should not be accepted as the norm.

-=[ 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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