The Secret Life of Trigger Discipline

There are two golden rules for gun safety. Rule one, never point a gun at something you don’t want to destroy. Rule two: keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve decided to destroy it. “Muzzle discipline” means more than avoiding placing hapless humans in your sights. You should also refrain from potentially destroying your non-gun hand, your right foot, your neighbor’s extremities, the plexiglass range lane divider and anything else that might cause “issues.” To that end, follow the rabbi’s advice. Imagine there’s a five-foot flame coming out of the gun’s muzzle. By the same token, “trigger control” means more than keeping your finger off the go-pedal during transportation . . .

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the rabbi: draw your gun from the holster with your finger as far up on the gun barrel as possible. WAY up. And keep it there.

The rabbi reckons that placing the trigger finger as high up as possible helps maintain proper trigger discipline if and when a combat-related adrenalin dump degrades your performance.

In other words, if you’ve trained yourself to place your trigger finger at maximum height, when push comes to shove, it’ll slip down a bit and end up up parallel—but not on the trigger. If you train yourself to keep your finger parallel, it might slip down in the heat of battle and end up on the trigger.

[I cast aside my SERPA holster because unlocking the security tab put my finger too low on the gun.]

Sky high finger placement is the ticket to safety-oriented trigger control. But it’s more of a tip than a secret. The down-low is this: you have to train yourself how NOT to shoot.

Whenever I go to the American Firearms School, I see the same firing pattern. Shooters load their gun, put their finger on the trigger, bring the gun to the target, aim, fire, and keep firing until the magazine is empty. They remove their finger from the trigger AFTER they bring the gun back towards them and drop the magazine.

They’re training themselves to aim the gun with their finger on the trigger, fire more or less immediately and leave their finger on the trigger until all the bullets are gone, and some time thereafter.

Through endless repetition, their brain’s wired to aim and shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot (etc.) and catch their empty magazine in their non-gun hand. Every. Single. Time. You could even say they’re programmed to aimshootcatch.

So what if they draw their weapon in a real life combat situation and see that they SHOULDN’T shoot?

In the fraction of a second (or longer) it takes to bring a gun up to a target, the situation can suddenly change. You can recognize the target as a friendly (d’oh!). An attacker can drop their weapon. An innocent person can jump in front of your target. You can become aware of a greater threat elsewhere.

If you’ve trained yourself to aimshoot, the chances are high that you WILL shoot. Twitchy things happen when you’re in a life or death situation with your finger on the trigger of a gun. That’s just the way it is.

And as you’ve trained yourself to empty your gun whenever you shoot, guess what? You’ll empty your gun when you shoot. That’s a bad, bad thing on at least two levels.

First, you’re only legally allowed to shoot another human being until the threat of death, kidnapping and/or grievous bodily harm (against you and yours) has ceased. If you fire, say, ten bullets into an assailant after the target is neutralized (I heart euphemisms), a jury of your peers may not be your BFF.

Second, you might need some of those bullets for threat number two. Or three. Or four.

Alternatively, you can train yourself to raise your weapon to the target with your finger OFF the trigger and THEN place it on the trigger when you DECIDE to shoot. That way you give yourself the option NOT to shoot.

As part of the process, you can train yourself to raise your weapon to a target and NOT SHOOT. How many times do you see that at a gun range?

Another part of the DSS (Don’t Shoot Syllabus): fire a pre-determined number of shots, take your finger off the trigger and lower the weapon. Then fire another pre-determined number of shots. Finger off the trigger. Lower your weapon. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Better yet, have someone call it out for you, with targeting instructions.

“Two shots, upper left.”

Raise weapon. Fire. Finger off the trigger. Lower weapon.

“One shot, lower right.”

Raise weapon. Fire. Finger off the trigger. Lower weapon.

“No shots. Sight picture, upper right.”

Raise weapon. Finger remains off the trigger. Lower weapon.

Etc.

Make sure you end every string by taking your finger off the trigger. THEN bring the gun in, change magazines, re-holster, whatever.

Most shooters focus on three things: accuracy, accuracy and accuracy. Yet trigger discipline is more important. The last thing you want to do is to shoot someone who doesn’t need shooting. So the first thing you need to learn is how not to shoot.