What Is a Gun?

6-Feb-13 – 16:21 by ToddG

Catching up on two months of blogs from around the net I came across an interesting post about safety. It opined that the Cardinal Rules should be followed not just with live firearms but with blue guns, SIRT pistols, and the like. It’s a view shared by others, certainly; at the pistol-forum.com Rogers Shooting School class last year, the Rogers instructors made the same point. The idea is that gun safety is a matter of habit, and training “guns” need to be treated the same as regular ones.

G17week17-allGsHowever, I’ve got to say I disagree. Blue guns, SIRTs, and the like exist specifically because we can’t use a live weapon for certain things. For example, I do a lot of demonstrations using blue guns and SIRTs when I teach. I could do all those things with my carry gun, but using the training aide allows me to point it wherever I want. Students get to see my grip and stance from every angle, not just behind me from a safe distance. Students get to see how certain techniques pertain to realistic targets (i.e., real people) instead of just static cardboard and steel.

Now, I do ask students in advance if anyone has a problem getting a blue gun or SIRT pointed at him. Over the past five years I’ve had maybe five people raise their hand. But that’s fine. I make sure not to use those as a backstop.

Training guns can also have tremendous value in force on force training… and in fact, they can be used under circumstances when a real FOF weapon (like a Simunition pistol) would be too dangerous. Losing that training value in the name of blind adherence to the safety rules is silly.

That’s another reason I don’t like the “treat all gun-like objects as if they were loaded gunsmetarule. Safety shouldn’t be a game or something we pretend to do. A real gun should be treated differently… because it’s a real gun, and real guns can be dangerous if you don’t follow the safety rules.

And when you get right down to it, even the people who advocate the “treat all gun-like objects” don’t really do that. If you’re handing SIRT guns out to first time students to teach them gun safety and one of them inadvertently points it, finger on trigger, at the head of the student next to him… are you kicking him out of class? No. You point out it’s wrong. If that same student did the same thing with a loaded gun, would you simply correct him and let him stay in class? I hope not.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 22 Responses to “What Is a Gun?”

  2. How on earth are you supposed to do force-on-force training if you’re going to follow the four rules with FX guns or blueguns? Nonsense.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who treated the four rules like this, as if they were handed down from God himself and not man-made, actually ended up being incapable of defending themselves with a gun in a life-threatening situation because they’ve conditioned themselves to never point a firearm at another human being through lack of FoF training.

    By jellydonut on Feb 6, 2013

  3. As with all rules:

    The rank amateur doesn’t know them.
    The intermediate practitioner knows them.
    The true expert knows when to break them.

    By Curby on Feb 6, 2013

  4. Jellydonut summarized it nicely, “How on earth are you supposed to do force-on-force training if you’re going to follow the four rules with FX guns or blueguns? Nonsense.”


    With that said, I’m not sure if I can approve of how all instructors ensure safety when handling blue guns. In the military we would have line-outs to make sure there was absolutely no ammunition on ourselves or gear, at all, when transitioning from a live fire event. SouthNarc does the same thing in his classes when going into force-on-force evolutions. The same basic concept of ensuring you’re handling a training “gun,” and not a real gun, needs to be applied when using them as instructional aids.

    Those who think they’re smart enough that they don’t need to worry about it are woefully ignorant. Force Recon thought the same, and they’re certainly HSLD dudes of superlative aptitude…..and then they shot each other on accident.

    By Tyler on Feb 6, 2013

  5. To follow up, a practice I’m not fond of would be an instructor holstering a real firearm for firing demonstrations, while also at the same time wearing a holstered blue gun as an instructional aid. Or, switching between a blue gun and real gun in the same holster….which is much more common, I imagine.

    I think it’s fine to holster a blue gun and draw it in the direction of your students for demonstration purposes….but before doing so, the instructor firearm should be removed from himself and preferably placed under the control of another human being. Doing so minimizes, near eliminates, the chance that he could have a brainfart and draw a real gun.

    Of course, there’s a lot of people out there that are too smart to need such silly safety measures. Safety measures are meant to limit your ability to make a mistake and/or lower the severity….relying on personal ability or aptitude is not a safety measure.

    By Tyler on Feb 6, 2013

  6. I agree with Tyler above.

    On another note, a few years back I pulled my son’s karate instructor aside after a class where he was mindlessly spinning a dummy gun around on his index finger in front of a class. I started off ” you are a role model to these kids and you were just modeling a behavior that…….”

    By Jeff on Feb 6, 2013

  7. Great post Todd. Wayne and I use Blue Guns or SIRT pistols as instructional aids. We spend a ton of time on firearms safety and to go with that, we practice what we preach. What pisses me off about Glock not wanting citizens having blue guns is that we tell our students that they need to have a dedicated training tool to safely practice a lot of the handling techniques. This is the best way I know of to decrease the risk of a injury or death during training and practice. Training tools are not toys, but they are also not firearms. Firearms should be treated like firearms and training tools treated like a training tool..

    By nyeti on Feb 6, 2013

  8. Jeff — That’s actually a perfect example of something I would not have a problem with. The class just spent the evening poking each other in the ribs with the “gun,” pointing it at one another, etc. It’s clearly not a real gun. So I don’t feel the need to treat it like one. Pretending that it’s a gun essentially means pretending to follow safety rules.

    To paraphrase a friend: If someone can’t distinguish between a blue gun and a firearm, he probably shouldn’t handle either one.

    By ToddG on Feb 6, 2013

  9. Todd,
    My comment was probably out of context with your commentary. In a class of adults, with everyone clear of real guns/ammo, no sweat. In a class of kids with only a fraction of them exposed to proper gun handling instruction, I think it was a bad idea.

    By Jeff on Feb 6, 2013

  10. I agree there’s a nuance needed there. And while I agree there’s a reason we have simulated guns for circumstances where we can’t/shouldn’t use a real gun, I still advocate them being treated/handled like real guns *except when explicitly being used in lieu of a real gun*.

    By this I mean that when being held at rest, holstered, or otherwise manipulated, they should be handled like a loaded firearm. Why? Because very few people have such perfectly ingrained habits that they would not erode them at all by handling simulation guns haphazardly.

    Where the exception comes in is when one of those actions is explicitly part of the exercise/demonstration in which a real, loaded firearm would be inappropriate for training. That should be a conscious choice — “I’m going to point this Blue Gun at Todd to demonstrate this point” — and should always be accompanied by an explicit decision to do so.

    While I’m less concerned with someone like you handling simulators in a more… relaxed… manner, not everyone who is learning from that exposure has the same discretion and experience. Lead by example.

    By Arclight on Feb 7, 2013

  11. weird, just finished having this discussion with two people over the last 4 days. Both were LE (I’m not) and both have been trained and advocate, to handle all training guns, Sim, Blue, Sirt etc, as real firearms. I made a few of the points above and was told “to know my lane and stay in it”. Glad to see I’m not the only one who disagrees with their policy.
    I know I much prefer any of the above listed to be pointed at me during a training course than a real gun as one prominent instructor likes to do (after ensuring it’s cleared and no live ammo is present etc). But, at least he does ask if anyone has a problem with it at the start of the lecture.

    By Rob E on Feb 7, 2013

  12. I wonder how they would feel about training knives.

    By David on Feb 7, 2013

  13. I look at working with a bluegun as another opportunity to build good or bad habits. For me, it makes sense to treat it as a firearm except for the parts of the training that dictate the use of a simulation. If I treat it as a toy I’m just cheating myself.

    By Peter on Feb 7, 2013

  14. LE and NRA instructors teach the 4 firearms safety rules all the time. Rule #2 states “never point the muzzle of a weapon at anything you are not willing to destroy.” That rule does not mean that you never point a gun at someone else during a training exersize when it is appropriate. I think some people are taking things too literal and not recognizing appropriate training needs.

    However, I would contend that if you get into the practice of carelessly pointing “blue” guns , such as the Glock Trainer which is really a Glock without a fireing pin, around a class all the time, there is the potential that when you do have your live gun on that you can have an unintentional accident during a momentary lapse of remembering which gun you have on.

    I see both sides, but having seen someone shot by accident, I tend to go with being more careful and not allowing guns to be pointed at others except for specific training activities. All other times we enforce the muzzle rule.

    By KennyT on Feb 7, 2013

  15. +1 Todd. If one allows the habituation of handling gun-like-objects to overlap unconsciously into real gun handling then they’ve lost too much concentration/focus during real gun handling.

    By JHC on Feb 7, 2013

  16. I can see a lot of parallels to Todd’s post and the Schools these days. You can get kicked out of school for bringing a 2×4, roughly cut into the shape of a gun, to school. Since when is that a firearm? A gun is a gun, everything else is not.

    A projectile can’t come out of a Blue Gun, so it isn’t a “Gun”. They are great training aids, just like an overhead projector.

    By JohnR on Feb 8, 2013

  17. @JohnR: Absolutely, zero tolerance policies have always been the refuge of lazy policy-makers. Recalls my other post above re: exceptions to rules.

    By Curby on Feb 8, 2013

  18. There are a lot of very “experienced” shooters who have never done FOF or close contact drills therefore are ignorant to the true purpose of blue/sim/SIRT guns. I think the shooting and training community is gradually going full circle and realizing that FOF/hands-on type training is critical if one wants to effectively deploy a firearm in defense of his/her life. As courses such as Shivwork’s ECQC and Cecil Burch’s IAJJ get more popular and more people realize how important these type of courses are, I think inert training firearms will become more accepted.

    I do agree with some of the above statements regarding peer-disarming of individuals who are working with a mix of live and inert firearms. This should be done diligently and was SOP for most of the civilian, military and LE training combining live/inert weapons.

    By john on Feb 9, 2013

  19. “As with all rules:

    The rank amateur doesn’t know them.
    The intermediate practitioner knows them.
    The true expert knows when to break them.

    By Curby on Feb 6, 2013

    @JohnR: Absolutely, zero tolerance policies have always been the refuge of lazy policy-makers. Recalls my other post above re: exceptions to rules.

    By Curby on Feb 8, 2013”

    I take exception to the inference that any firearms instructor who has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to firearms safety is following “lazy policy-makers” rules.

    The problem with your three rules above is every firearms class is mingled with someone who fits each category, and allowing the amateur to do things a true expert is doing is a huge problem for me.

    The art of knowing your class and the limitations of your students is step one in determining what should be allowed and what should not. Even in LE training classes there exists a huge difference in skills and knowledge among students, which requires instructor dilligence in maintaining a safe range/classroom etc.

    Firearms courses should be set up, course outlines reviewed and approved as to safety/content, then the class outline needs to be followed.

    In FOF classes it is expected that Simunitions or inert guns will be used and at times appropriate to display at the actor in the drill. What should be unacceptable is officers muzzling each other and spectators as they conduct the drills.

    Our SWAT team had a problem with us telling them to “watch their muzzles” at all times while they were using our live range and shoothouse. Their response was “we are trained professionals and we know our team members will muzzle us from time to time and we believe that is okay as they are trained. Until one of them had an AD and almost hit another officer, they changed their mind.

    You do what you practice and if you don’t practice like you should do, you are asking for a bad experience.

    By KennyT on Feb 11, 2013

  20. I agree that overall safety is a critical goal. My point is that specific rules often have gray areas and exceptions that highly trained practitioners are more likely to be able to appreciate.

    Yes, training classes often involve students of different levels. Yes, beginners shouldn’t be performing advanced techniques especially when there’s an element of danger involved. However, none of that is a strike against those three rules of thumb.

    There are two arguments hidden in those statements.

    The first is that you must learn and practice the basics before you can start learning the exceptions. The whole concept of using rail mounted or fore-end mounted lights breaks the muzzling rule, which is why using such a setup is arguably ill-advised for most, but definitely not suited for a beginner.

    The second is that every rule has exceptions, including “every rule has exceptions.” If you look hard enough, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find corner cases. Every situation should be evaluated on its own merits, which is why zero tolerance policies inevitably miss the subtleties.

    By Curby on Feb 11, 2013

  21. If you’re using simulated guns, keep the real guns somewhere else:


    By Peter on Feb 15, 2013

  22. What a tragedy. Seems the instructor made a very bad choice to point a gun at someone during training that he should not have. Unfortunately the instructor had a live gun, which really surprises me because in a FOF training class, the redundant searches should have caught it before he was allowed into the training area.

    This is exactly why safety rules must be enforced and anyone who points a weapon, real or not, at someone else during training when not appropriate should be stopped.

    By KennyT on Feb 16, 2013

  23. I prefer to indulge in a “make ready” procedure before demo with any ‘gun-like’ device. While we take pains to secure live defensive devices away from simulations, during class room and range demos, that’s not always possible. The pattern of accidents are typically – instructor stows training gun and re-arms, gets asked question and does “one more demo.” That’s why I practice a turn to a safe direction, check the condition of the defensive device, then do the demo if possible. It’s one more step but it may prevent an avoidable issue.

    By Rich on Feb 20, 2013

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