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Anyone who’s ever been to a shooting range and is even remotely concerned about returning home afterwards has at least one horror story. In a recent post at, Karl Rehn points out what he calls an inconvenient truth: “Every gun owner believes that his or her gun handling is safe, regardless of how good or bad that gun handling is. This is an example of illusory superiority‑a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others. It’s also known as the Lake Wobegon effect, because none of us believe we are below average.” Click here to check out his nicely illustrated examples. They may remind you of someone you know. Maybe someone you’ve seen in the mirror. [h/t Tyler Kee]

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    • And especially people on the internet, especially people who self-identify as “expert”. It’s possible that they are expert at whatever, but it’s also possible that they’re in that part of the knowledge curve where they know a little bit but not enough to know they really don’t know very much.

  1. Was the yellow chamber added to the image or is that a yellow barrel plug?

    A barrel plug is a plastic device often used for training which replaces the barrel making the fire arm un-fire-able.

    If it is a barrel plug, I’d like to know the context of the photo.

    It’s possible that this was someone training people not to point guns at their feet be demonstrating how easy it is to with, using an inert gun.

    This might not be the case, but I prefer to understand as much as possible before jumping to conclusions.

    • If you’ll click on the link you’ll see this disclaimer by the author under the first pic:

      Note: all the photos taken to show these examples were done using a handgun with a training barrel or other non-firearm props, to ensure that no gun safety rules were broken.

  2. The yellow is a training barrel replacement. It is a hunk of plastic with the barrel shape so you CANNOT fire the gun. It was used for these staged pictures to illustrate what we see while teaching out at the range all the time. This is spelled out in the first line of the article directly under the first photo.

  3. “This is an example of illusory superiority‑a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others.”

    I grew up in a northern Chicago suburb. There was a large shopping mall called Old Orchard which always seemed to have some sort of strange energy in the parking lot causing customers to drive like morons. Seriously, decades later that parking is still the most dangerous risky place I have ever driven in. Anyways, I think those suburbs were filled with bored rich mothers desperate-housewives types, raising spoiled kids, who lived in a state of denial about their driving (and often people) skills.

    • Every time I’m in Chicago it seems like 85% of the vehicles on the street have some kind of damage from being side swiped. Is there a city wide demolition derby going on or are drivers really just that bad in the city?

    • Never been there but Chicago may be where the theme song for illusory superiority was produced. Be sure to knock out a couple of stanzas whenever you witness a muzzle astray.

  4. So here is a question. If I’m going to certain ranges, with only one rifle, and a lot of range gear to handle, I typically take my rifle out of its case and utilize the sling in order to get everything to the bench in one trip. Typically with most slings (traditional slings, not fancy tactical ones) the rifle is pointed up. This is a common way to carry a rifle, especially if you are shlepping around in the woods trying to find something fleshy and delicious to shoot. So, is this a safe way to carry a rifle, even though it is pointed in a direction where we do not know where the bullet will land?

    • We require vertical, muzzle-up carry at Black’s Creek Range, but that may be due to local conditions: The range is out in the boonies, it has a roof over the shooting benches (that would slow down the bullet a bit), and the shooting line floor is concrete. We think it is safer to have a bullet travel upwards through the roof, and come back to earth with only a gravity assist, rather than have one ricochet off the cement floor directly into a range user. Vertical, muzzle-up carry also reduces the chance of sweeping the muzzle past the whole firing line when you transition from the case to the forward position (pointing at the targets). We require every shooter to step back behind a yellow line, away from the shooting benches and the firearms on the benches, when we call cease-fire and send people downrange to post/mark targets. We will have you leave the range if you cannot understand that requirement.

      We further require an empty chamber flag to be placed in the chamber of EVERY firearm not contained in a case. We provide the flags at the range for those who do not have one (we make them out of heavy-duty weed trimmer line with a piece of yellow duct tape as the flag – cheap to make, they fit every chamber from .17 cal. up, and you haven’t lost much if someone takes one home).

      Other ranges will vary on the requirement, based on their local conditions. Admittedly, none of this is a guarantee that someone won’t do something stupid, but we have (knock on wood) so far never had a negligent discharge that resulted in someone being shot.

  5. Excellent article! I’m going to print out the complete set of photos with the article to add to my teaching/coaching notebook.

  6. Last nights episode of The Big Bang Theory had Leonard shoot his little toe (he was given a band aid) because he didn’t follow the safety rules. I hit pause when the range sign came up, and dumb ass Leonard broke most of the rules.

    • I watched that scene, and noticed that Penny picked up the gun and racked the slide, THEN inserted the magazine and handed it to Leonard, who then managed to shoot himself with a gun that had an empty chamber.
      Do these people not have a firearms consultant available?


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