Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Your Sights Are On Target: Guns for Beginners

Crime scene unincorporated Wilmington (courtesy chicago.cbslocal.com)

“[The teenage son of a Will County, IL pastor] was having a sleepover with his 17-year-old cousin at the home attached to the church, when they heard a noise they believed to be someone trying to break into the church, and went to investigate with a loaded gun,” chicago.cbslocal.com reports. “As the two were running towards the church’s gym . . .

. . . the 17-year-old boy tripped on an extension cord, causing the gun to go off one time. The bullet struck the younger boy under the arm, according to Kelley.

Family members, police, and paramedics tried to save the 15-year-old, but he was pronounced dead at Riverside Hospital in Kankakee, Kelley said.

Police and prosecutors decided not to press charges against the older boy, who is the son of the church’s pastor.

The first rule of The Four Rules of Gun Safety: always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction. This incident illustrates the reason for its primacy. Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Your Sights Are On Target is something of a backup, a second failsafe. Make no mistake . . .

It’s hard to keep your finger off the trigger during a high-stress event. Doing night time force-on-force training, knowing there was a bad guy in the maze, I “registered” my handgun’s trigger. I instinctively checked to see if it was there.

So don’t think you’re immune from this issue. And do everything you can to obey it. I’ve found that putting a piece of skateboard tape on a gun’s frame where the trigger finger should be until it’s go-time helps. Even still, safe direction people. Safe direction. 

 

comments

  1. avatar BLoving says:

    Just yesterday a customer asked me what the purpose of the textured dimple on the frame of a Smith&Wesson SD9ve was for (it’s right above the trigger on either side of the frame).
    I told him it was there to remind the shooter where their finger belonged when not actually shooting.
    I love little details like that. Many pistols today have that sort of feature… but not all; it really speaks to me when a manufacturer is considerate enough to put even that small of a detail into a gun’s design.
    🤠

    1. avatar Docduracoat says:

      I Have been saying for a long time that there is a lot of room for gun manufacturers to engineer safety into guns
      A shelf or ledge to rest the trigger finger when not firing is an obvious one

      1. avatar mwood says:

        all that safety junk does is guarantee you will die

  2. avatar Kyle says:

    I have a theory that every shooter has to have a negligent/accidental discharge before those gun safety rules become “real”. Until then, the rules are just theory.

    Its sad that that is the way human nature works, but it does seem to be the case.

    and no…i am no exception. Fortunately my victim was a 36″ flat screen.

    1. avatar Drake says:

      Our brains are notoriously lazy.

      The human condition is a strange one.

    2. avatar BLAMMO says:

      Was it was during an episode of Will & Grace?

      Justified.

    3. avatar Brian C says:

      Kyle,
      I agree that a negligent discharge (at 18…now 48) brings a whole new awareness and discipline that talk and safety classes just cannot instill. Luckily I lived and learned with only the holes God gave me. Safety, mechanics, accuracy, speed…and in that order. I recently took up competitive shooting and my mind set was to go slow and work on the mechanics of the draw, make ready, holster, shoot and show safe without getting sent home or hurting myself or anyone else. After 4-5 competitions the accuracy started to improve, 4-5 visits later the speed increased…and as the story goes and 10k rounds later, I’m hooked, spend too much money on tacticool BS, the wifey isn’t sure how many guns I own 🙂

  3. avatar BLAMMO says:

    But everybody on TV and in the movies holds a gun with their finger on the trigger.

    1. avatar Dale in Kansas says:

      Actually I just rewatched Taken 3 and I’m pretty sure I saw some straight fingers when they weren’t shooting.

    2. avatar Snatchums says:

      Movies have gotten a lot better about that lately.

  4. avatar Ralph says:

    The gun was pointed in a safe direction — right up until the kid fell on it.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      Once, when I was shooting with the rabbi in the snow, I slipped and fell, gun in hand.

      I kept it pointed in a safe direction.

      It is possible. Best to keep finger off the trigger in case the worst case happens

  5. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    Keep your booger hooker off the bang switch until you’re ready to bring the heat.

    That has to be the most fun of the 4. You tell someone that, they might ignore and need to be reminded it but they won’t forget it.

    1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      i’m oft times reminded of things that i don’t forget.

  6. avatar Erik says:

    I love how “tripping over the extension could” just “caused the gun to go off…” you mean, he had his finger on the trigger, so when he tripped, he accidentally squeezed it?

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Maybe, maybe not. I have a couple of older guns that will reliably discharge when dropped.
      If he was still holding the gun when he fell and use the firearm to break his fall, it would have added quite a bit more impact. Most new firearms would not discharge, but many older ones would.

      1. avatar PATRICK says:

        I’m 53 and I have never had a gun that would discharge when dropped unless the trigger was incorrectly adjusted. On my rifles I slam the gun butt stock on the floor when tuning if it’s to light it does go off that’s my safety test . I have rifles and shotguns going back over a hundred years old. I also believe Remington getting sued for there rifles going off was the result of idiots tuning the trigger with no concept of the mechanics or gravity then mishandling the gun. The only time I have heard of a gun going off is with a revolver type pistol that’s why you carry a revolver hammer down on an empty chamber. And I have been around hundreds of guns my whole life. Remember always keep finger off trigger keep pointed in safe direction and always assume a gun is loaded. This kid had his finger on the trigger and squeezed the trigger when falling which is a natural response a heart breaking outcome of mishandling a gun that he’ll have to live with the rest of his life.

  7. avatar Shawn says:

    Thanks for the story and reminder. Although registered as “guns for beginners”, this one is for us not so new to the game also.

  8. avatar MamaLiberty says:

    A better question: What IS a “safe direction?” With people and other things moving around, especially in a stressful situation, the answer is, IT DEPENDS. It is not always possible to know where the “safe direction” actually is from moment to moment. Ever had someone dash into your path. Let alone coming across something to trip over.

    In the holster is the usually best answer to that, until you actually NEED to draw. Running with a gun drawn in a stressful situation does not seem to be a good idea at all.

    So the finger off the trigger is the true first rule. I can’t touch the trigger when my gun is holstered.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Awful hard to holster a rifle, which is what the boy was carrying.

      1. avatar MamaLiberty says:

        I didn’t see anything about him having a rifle. But, there is no more reason to RUN with a rifle than with a handgun. And if you need to move fast with a rifle, there’s always the sling option. But the finger on the trigger is still the main issue.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          From the original article: “Police said the pastor owns more than one gun, but the boys grabbed only the rifle from a closet when they heard the noise.”
          There are many good reasons to run with a rifle. Your life or someone else’s life being in imminent danger are the two primary ones.
          We don’t know that his finger was on the trigger in the first place. We don’t know the rifle, or the age of the rifle. And we don’t know if the firearm actually malfunctioned if it fell on the floor.

        2. avatar strych9 says:

          Unless of course there is a reason to be running… and yes, there are a number of those reasons.

      2. avatar Alan Esworthy says:

        A rifle, you say? You may want to correct the HANDGUN categorization of this article then.

    2. avatar Kenneth says:

      “A better question: What IS a “safe direction?””
      The ambiguity here is removed IF the rule is quoted correctly: “never let the muzzle cover anything you aren’t prepared to destroy”. The safe direction is at anything you are willing to live with putting a hole through.

  9. avatar Lost Down South says:

    YEARS ago, I had finished shooting my 1911 on a friend’s property (no benches or official firing line) and was approaching the target to check my hits. The gun “went off,” the bullet striking the ground a very short distance in front of my feet. Needless to say, I was surprised.

    Badness:
    1) I didn’t check my chamber or gun’s condition.
    2) Had a gun in my hand while down range.
    3) Finger on the trigger.

    Why I pulled the trigger I don’t know. Learned a valuable and not-expensive lesson that day. Now, years latter, you won’t even catch me with my finger on the trigger of a power tool until it’s time to go.

  10. avatar Old Region Fan says:

    And so many people on this forum made fun of Clint Smith !

  11. avatar Owen says:

    I have heard that if you do have your finger on the trigger and grasp something with the other hand you can sympathetically squeeze the trigger.

    I wonder if something like that happened when he tripped and reached out to catch himself?

  12. avatar David says:

    There’s a story by Massad Ayood at backwoodshome.com of he and John Strayer helicopter hunting hogs when they crashed. John’s Go Pro captured him keeping his finger off the trigger of his S&W 29 even when it went through the plexiglass of the cockpit and suffered damage to his hand. It can be done but probably only after much repetition. Does someone have a training tip on how to ingrain this into a new shooter in the least amount of time?

    1. avatar Defens says:

      A small drop of superglue, attaching the trigger finger to the index point on the frame.

      1. avatar Rusty Chains says:

        Tough to put it back in the holster if you do that.

        1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

          hairdryer.

  13. avatar Chevelier says:

    My question is why were they running toward what they thought was a break-in? My kids would be taught to hunker down with gun and call the cops. Let them investigate/clear the place. Grab the gun and position yourself and your buddy in a nice tight spot, don’t go running around searching for trouble. My wife and I have had this discussion before, don’t go investigating a probable break in in the house. Grab the kids and one of the guns and lock yourselves in a room and call the cops. Let them do the dangerous searching part.

    1. avatar JS says:

      And then what? They shoot through the door when it gets kicked open? Are they going to have their wits about them during an event? Law enforcement is going to take their time getting to you. Ignore us whimpering behind a hollow core door.
      To each their own, I teach my daughters to stand their ground, hit center mass and then call law enforcement.

      1. avatar Hannibal says:

        And then what? They shoot through the door when it gets kicked open?
        -You say that as if it’s not likely to work. Ever been trying to kick open the door while someone is shooting through it? Try it and see if you want to continue kicking.

        Are they going to have their wits about them during an event?
        -Apparently not, that’s the problem. Maybe if someone had taught them they would have. Maybe if someone with a little more sense and caution had been there instead of people who like to play Rambo a young man wouldn’t be dead.

        Seriously, take a moment to think about this situation as if someone’s life depends on it. What is the worst case scenario here? Do we think this is a band of terrorists who are going to break into a random church to murder everyone? No, that’s stupid. Even IF there was someone breaking in and- spoiler alert- there probably wasn’t, they’re probably not interested in killing anyone. So you know what would be smarter than moving towards a lethal confrontation? ALMOST ANYTHING. Hunkering down in a defensive position and calling the police would be vastly preferable in almost any case- but that’s not what they did. And in this case, deciding to run towards an unknown threat got a kid killed.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          “So you know what would be smarter than moving towards a lethal confrontation? ALMOST ANYTHING. ”
          My experience, and I’ve had a lot of it, would be the opposite. Giving up your freedom of movement, not restricting the opponent at all, and never assessing the threat until the last possible moment gives your opponent(s) all the advantages. You’ve given them time to plan, freedom to move, and freedom assault at will. Fantastically stupid. Almost anything would be better than that.

        2. avatar Paranoid prepper says:

          Gotta agree with jwt here. In my home, I’m intimately familiar with the terrain. I have a light, a dog, and 30 rounds of Barnes black-tips. Unless I’m facing a coordinated assault by multiple individuals with some sort of tactical training…I like my odds. So if I hear a noise that I suspect is a break in, I’m gonna go see WTF is going on.

      2. avatar Chevelier says:

        Wouldn’t my wife hunkering down in our room with my Mossberg 930 spx still be “standing her ground” but in a defensible position with only one point of entry which is being actively covered by said 12 gauge and an alert defender? In what scenario would it be better for her to go and investigate what she suspects is a break in and possibly come into contact distance with an unknown number of assailants vs. the assailants, if they want to get at her, being forced into a single entry point funnel being defended by an armed person that they can’t see? And if the cops take a while to get there, then all the better that you’re in a defensible position with a single point of entry. If someone chooses to go clear their house that’s fine but you’re going to have a hard time selling that to me as the better option, unless it were for some reason the only option.

  14. avatar former water walker says:

    Well this “accident” was entirely preventable. It really hits home as my oldest son was born 43years ago at Kankakee Riverside Hospital. One wonders what the kid thought he heard…RIP.

    1. avatar Mefunny says:

      My son was born at a hospital too…..come to think of it, so was I.😉

  15. avatar Kenneth says:

    “The first rule of The Four Rules of Gun Safety: always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.”
    That is the SECOND rule: “Never let the muzzle cover anything you aren’t prepared to destroy”
    The first rule is: “All guns are always loaded!(… all the time, unless you have just now unloaded it personally)”
    This item is about the third rule: “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target”. Besides preventing ‘accidents’, like a ND during a fall, I don’t think it’s ever taught enough that the small slice of time that it takes for the finger to enter the trigger guard is exactly the amount of time it takes to identify your target and what is behind it(the fourth rule). If this isn’t designed into the four rules, it is certainly a happy coincidence.
    It should also be noted that the rules lead into each other in a certain order, with an overlap. Thus do they re-enforce each other, and a ‘stack up’ of errors is needed to have a serious gun ‘accident’. Because of this, one should never do the “which of the four rules is the most important” dance. They are all coequals, and need each other, much like a three legged stool. The first, before a gun is even touched, the second for after it is picked up, the third for as it is due to be used, and the last for as the target is soon due to be perforated(hopefully!).

  16. avatar Docduracoat says:

    I’m with Chevalier
    The family is in a much better situation in the bedroom behind a bookshelf
    Books will stop handgun bullets
    Defensive gun trained on doorway
    Cell phone on speaker with police dispatch
    If those kids had done that, both would still be alive

  17. avatar mwood says:

    the only thing that counts in a firefight is live or die

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