Safety in Defensive Gun Training


Keep your finger someplace other than the trigger until you are ready to shoot. This is a fundamental gun safety rule that needs to be followed.
Photo: author

When it comes to defensive gun training courses, safety is the responsibility of the instructor. The instructor’s job is to make constant assessments to ensure that the benefits of the training activity significantly outweigh the risks involved in that specific activity.Students come to defensive training courses to learn how to lead a safer life and, although training accidents are always a possibility, no one wants to be injured when training. As a result, instructors need to take their job very seriously. Unfortunately, many people don’t really understand safety as a concept, and sometimes this important concept isn’t applied when it most needs to be. That is the case in this video. Watch it. It is understandable that people might immediately want to comment on the unsafe actions of the student in this situation. There is no doubt that the student violated at least one important gun safety rule. We all need to know and understand the fundamentals of gun safety and apply that knowledge every time we handle a gun. If you have any questions on the topic of gun safety, please take a few minutes to read this detailed article on gun safety I have posted at Safety Solutions Academy.

A competent instructor constantly assesses the situation. In this screenshot from the video, the shooter’s body language demonstrates his confusion and is cause enough alone to stop the exercise.


In the video, the student’s actions (as incorrect as they are) are not what bother me the most. Instead, it is the actions of the instructor that have me concerned. Remember, safety is the responsibility of the instructor. Before any training exercise begins (I use that term generally, not necessarily in reference to this video), it is the duty of the instructor to determine if the benefits they believe the students will gain from the exercise are worth the risks involved. There are always risks. From a twisted ankle to a gunshot wound, risks are always there. The question is, are the benefits worth taking the risks? An experienced instructor who considers safety wisely looks at it from multiple angles.
  • What are the gains that the student will take away?
  • If a risk becomes reality, how severe will the consequences be?
  • How likely are the risks to actually happen based on the circumstances?
All kinds of factors can come into play, especially with regard to that last question, the likelihood of the risks. The chances that something will happen are constantly changing depending on the conditions that exist on the range and within the students who are participating in the exercise. A training activity where the benefits significantly outweigh the risks with an experienced group of students on a sunny day might not pass the test with the same group of students in cold and rainy conditions. In the same vein, perfect conditions and a group of students who lack confidence and experience could spell disaster. More capable students might have no trouble with the activity in more difficult circumstances. It isn’t easy to make these decisions, but it is important.

Dynamic training is not inherently dangerous. One important way to make training safe is to constantly evaluate to ensure the benefits significantly outweigh the risks. Photo: author


Let’s take a look at the reasons for the serious safety issues in this video and the ways they could have been averted. Before the ND, it is clear that a safety violation of some kind is likely to happen. The student’s hips and shoulders aren’t square to the target. A safe draw can certainly be accomplished when you aren’t squared up to your target, but most people need to be taught to draw safely in this type of orientation. This is an error on the instructor’s part. Failing to teach your student the techniques required to safely perform a task is asking for trouble. This isn’t a time to assume your students know what to do and how to do it. A quality instructor assesses the skill level of the student before asking the student to perform tasks that have additional risks associated with them. The student, who is intending to establish a two-handed grip, negligently fires the gun before the weak hand meets the strong hand. This is a clear indication that the finger was on the trigger before the student was prepared to shoot. This is a violation of fundamental gun safety rules. My guess is, this was not the first time his trigger finger was placed on the trigger before the decision to shoot was made. This is an error on the instructor’s part for not appropriately addressing this important issue prior to this situation. It is an additional failure to commence a complex drill when your student has a fundamental safety issue. When asked to execute multiple tasks simultaneously, students who have a history of making safety errors can be expected to make additional safety errors. It is irresponsible to allow a student to participate in a drill they are unlikely to complete safely. I saved the best for last. After the negligent discharge (and multiple negligent instructor decisions related to safety), the student is not only allowed to continue the drill, but encouraged to do so. The instructor can be heard saying, “You’re good, you’re good!” just after the errant report. This is most disturbing, and at the same time sums it all up. This student at this moment is anything but good. At a minimum, the student is negligent for firing his gun when he did not intend to fire the gun, but the situation could be much worse than that. You can clearly see the student’s surprise and confusion. The last thing this instructor should have this student do, now with a certain history of safety issues, is continue with the “training.” The confusion, anxiety, and other emotions this student is now experiencing are not going to enhance the student’s ability to complete the drill safely. This third and most irresponsible failure again rests firmly on the instructor.

Defensive training can be complex and safe at the same time. Providing students with the foundation to correctly and safely perform training activities is taken seriously by quality instructors. Photo: author


This video is a clear example of several issues that can be seen all too often in the defensive firearms industry. Instructors fail to understand the gravity of their role when it comes to safety. Safety is the responsibility of the instructor. Instructors need to understand what safety really is and know how to make decisions about where to take their students next in training. As this video shows, some aren’t up to the task. An instructor isn’t paid to coddle students and make them feel good. The instructor’s jobs are to help the students grow and to maintain a safe learning environment. Telling students, “You’re good, you’re good!” when they aren’t is an “everybody wins” participation trophy, a “keep the customer happy” approach, and it has no place in the firearms training world. When students violate safety rules, the instructor’s jobs are first to ensure safety and second to instruct. Before a student can continue with training following a safety violation, there must be instruction on what the error was, why the error was a safety concern, and steps the student must take to keep the training environment balanced so the benefits of training significantly outweigh the risks. Dismissing an error or dismissing a student without vital re-teaching is a disservice to the student and the safety of the general public.


The professional defensive firearms instructor has the responsibility to make a go/no go decision when it comes to the safety of the training regimen during a defensive gun class. The decisions the instructor makes need to be based on the totality of the circumstances and the concept of safety. These decisions should not be based on convenience, the drill that the sheet of paper says comes next, or the feelings of the customer. If you are a firearms instructor, it is your duty to know how to prevent safety issues through quality instructional decisions and how and when to deal with safety violations when they can’t be prevented. Instructors, rise to the responsibility. If you are a student, you must demand your instructors take the lead when it comes to safety in firearms courses. Students, expect professional firearms instructors to tackle the issue of safety head-on, and hold them responsible when they do not.
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17 Responses to “Safety in Defensive Gun Training”

  1. Rusty Baillie

    Sorry……..but I do not identify with that type of firearm instruction. I would not have anyone grabbing me and pushing me along……….especially firing a weapon.
    I need to learn to function on my own……..where I will be in a real defensive situation.
    If this instructional technique was judged “necessary”– then I would suggest that these students were being progressed too fast.
    The goal of Instruction is to produce independent competency and not encourage or exploit dependency.
    I have had many fine instructors who model this approach.
    I can appreciate that, with the recent elevated interest in self defense training, there are many new users who are coming to the business without prior training………I am sure our Instructional cadre can devise a safe and more dignified method.

  2. DEAN

    When my grown boys were just small boys play in Cowboys and Indians I started teaching them finger discipline. I also started teaching them to point their toy weapons down the ground until they were ready to shoot the Indian or the cowboy etc etc. As they grew older we went to a 22 rifle and a 22 pistol in learning how to handle a firearm. Eventually they bought their own rifles shotguns and pistols. So naturally I had to build a range behind the house so that we would have a place to continue to be safe. Rules of the house were no weapons loaded in the house. Certainly nothing chambered. Boys being boys small or large one of them forgot one of the rules of the house coming down the stairs his shotgun went off. $950 window had a whole image. God was good we live in the middle of four and a half acres of woods the trees outside the house called the blast. The neighbors didn’t even hear it. All the trees absorbed the noise. That was an expensive lesson for him house rules and the four safety rules. But it was a lesson he will never forget as long as he’s alive.

  3. Jerzy

    As always – great article and reading.
    Good lesson for Instructors. If you never followed the words written here – you should start doing it now. ;-)

  4. Greg Shepherd

    Good advice BUT i prefer to teach finger off the trigger, STRAIGHT ALONG THE FRAME, until you have identified your target AND decided to fire. this allows the instructor a clear view of the trigger finger in most cases and gives the student a specific training objective to do the same thing the same way each time.

  5. David

    Been around firearms many years & practice safety rules diligently all my life. Past these rules to both my kids , so well back about twenty years ago I was alone cleaning one of my S&W 659 at the coffee table & then realized I couldn’t take the slide off the frame. , upon investigation to my horror I found I had left a round in the chamber. I wasn’t clearly focused on the task at hand. For a moment I let my train of thought get distracted & the result could have been disastrous. I kept saying to myself “Dumb€SA”.

    • Howard

      The forgotten bullet in the chamber. Always got to check for it. If you can count your shots,but still check and check instructor reminded me that I laid the glock down to reload my magazines but that I had one round still in the chamber. First time could be the last time. I have a great instructor for dynamic training.

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  6. Doug Williams

    Read the article and all the responses. Outstanding text and contributions by the readers! Everything here is right on target — so thank you to everyone!! With my lifetime of FA training and experiences, I solidly concur with emphasis on safety, Instructor responsibility, and the trainee or learner role as a willing and mature student! Which has immense emphasis in individual responsibility — of everyone involved. My final comments, besides thanks for the great article, is: “Think at every level, remain aware at all times, obey the Instructor instantly, practice on a regular schedule or as often as possible, and work work work on your own FA skills!”

  7. Todd

    This should be read by every instructor in my opinion. It hits the nail on the head as far to often, it is forgotten that Safety is our first priority. Yes, we all like teaching people great things they can accomplish with a defensive pistol, but never at the chance of injury. Our job is to ensure a student can perform the task safely and if not, then to communicate and build “their weakness”. Each person is different and the need to constantly be aware of the level of each student. We need to be able to break down the “task at hand” and ensure they meet a “standard” that is one safe and two competent, if not doing that they we are not giving our students what they truly need, and providing unjust training. No one but a good Instructor know’s the amount of stress that comes with not only ensuring students learn a skill, but how much effort it takes to ensure it is done safely. We (Instructors) have an obligation to the student, their families and the community overall.

  8. Ken

    Great article, you may have heard a few months ago about an instructor here in MI who was teaching a CPL class and had a negligent discharge into the class room next to the one he was teaching in and ultimately hitting a student, fortunately the student survived, but it could’ve gone horribly wrong !

  9. Melissa Anthony

    The incident that comes to my mind is when that instructor let a child shoot an Uzi. He was killed, and the child has to deal with that.

  10. Larry

    Great article on the importance of following safety rules. Overlooking safety violations is inviting disaster to happen. Not if it will happen but when.

  11. Irondoor

    It can happen to anyone at any time. I am a licensed CCW permit carrier with a lifetime of firearms ownership and handling and years of handgun safety instruction. What is the first rule of firearm safety when cleaning a weapon? Make sure it is empty, there is no magazine in the gun and no bullets within arms reach of the area. I followed those rules when cleaning my Colt Officers 45. After cleaning, I inserted a loaded magazine and racked a round into the chamber while sitting at my breakfast table. Unfortunately, I did it with my finger on the trigger. A ND ensued. Lucky for me, the gun was pointed down at a 30 degree angle when the gun fired and the bullet went under my left hand, glanced off the table top, went through the shade of a lamp and then exited the house through its hole in a window. My wife was upstairs and you can imagine her surprise. One of my friends is the guy who installed the windows in our house. I had to call him and have him come out and measure for a new one. When he looked at the bullet hole he told me I didn’t have to explain. That’s a friend.