Do you have a “safe space?” No, I am not referring to a place in your university where you can hug a teddy bear because someone in class dared to express an opinion contrary to your delicate worldview (sadly, that is a thing). Rather, do you have a designated “safe space” in your home where all administrative gun handling is done? Now, this is a real safe space to be concerned with.
While the most important aspect of firearms safety is to apply diligently and stick to the four rules of gun safety, there is a clear trend: handling guns casually in public places leads to unintended loud noises more commonly than when handling guns in a dedicated workspace, free from distractions. It is not terribly uncommon to hear about people putting holes in themselves, or others, when showing friends their gun at the barbeque, in the car, or a shop, or, worse yet, in a bar. Yes, imagine that.
An overriding principle of firearms safety should be this: don’t administratively handle weapons in public places. Distraction is a hazard when handling a gun, and people in the environment always prove distracting. Likewise, the environment itself can pose complications to gun handling; vehicles provide tight quarters to move, and handling unholstered guns in a car is always a potential for a negligent discharge. If you must disarm and re-arm occasionally in a vehicle, consider using a holster that can come off and back on the belt with the gun inside of it to facilitate this more safely.
Handle Guns Only in a Specific Location
A good way to minimize the possibility of negligence is to commit to handling a gun administratively only in a specific location of the home. This particular space should be free of distraction and offer a safe backstop to point the gun. Loading, unloading, cleaning, and perhaps your dry fire practice can all be conducted in this space. However, having a separate “space” within this space to put ammo during dry fire is needed to ensure that no live ammunition makes it into the gun while doing this practice.
Free of distraction means that other people should not be around when you do this administrative handling. Also, don’t have television or other electronic distractions running. Watching reruns of Baywatch while loading or handling your gun is not a good way to maintain focus on the task at hand.
A key element of the safe space is that it can absorb bullets should you have an accident. Any time the gun is pointed in a direction while out of the holster, it should be pointed at a safe backstop in this space. For example, a wall in the basement with a subterranean foundation behind it is safe. A wall that bullets can penetrate is not safe, so putting a specific bullet absorber, like a piece of steel or heavy appliance against that wall that the gun will be pointed at, may be the only option.
Whether dry firing, administratively loading, unloading, or pressing the trigger on the empty gun to disassemble it, do so only while pointing at this safe backstop. When handling a gun administratively for any reason, you need to make sure it is unloaded, but you must also ensure that the round will only go directly into a safe backstop if the gun fires.
Mindset Benefits of the Safe Space
The obvious mitigation of danger when pressing the trigger only into a safe backstop is self-evident, but another safety benefit of using only the designated safe space is not as obvious; by conditioning yourself to handle the gun only in the safe space, you condition yourself to not administratively handle guns while elsewhere in the home, or out in public.
There is a tendency among many people to remove the gun from the holster, for whatever unacceptable reason, in various locations. I have seen security footage of people taking guns out of the holster when in elevators, store dressing rooms, gun stores (a good way to get kicked out of a gun store), department stores, restaurants, and in all sorts of other inappropriate locations to do so.
Even in the home, there is no reason to administratively or casually handle the weapon outside of the safe space. In most residential homes in North America, a handgun bullet can easily transverse several interior walls. Bullets will also typically fly right through exterior walls and will go through the floor or ceiling and jeopardize whoever is above or below you. The only thing in most homes that can be counted on to stop bullets is a subterranean wall or a specifically built backstop. Therefore, condition yourself only to handle the gun while pointed towards that safe backstop, and do not manipulate the gun anywhere else in the home.
The reason we own, maintain, and carry firearms is to protect innocent human life. The reason the firearm is effective is that it can inflict significant trauma very quickly. If not handled safely, it is possible to inflict such trauma on yourself or an innocent person, the worst possible outcome. Carrying guns is not for the lackadaisical; you need to maintain safety at all times. A key element for doing so is to establish a designated safe space for all administrative gun handling.