Training advice: Understanding a safe direction

Everyone who is serious about training, whether it’s for self defense or competition shooting, recommends using dry fire as a training tool. All of those people also agree that you should only dry fire in a “safe direction” or in a “safe environment.” But what really makes a direction safe?

A lot of credit for this article needs to go to Annette Evans, who is one of the smartest people in the industry right now, and you probably haven’t heard of her. She was discussing this recently and it got me thinking about how to break it down.

With that in mind, what is a “safe direction?” Well the textbook answer is that a safe direction during dry practice or gun handling is one where, if the gun discharges, nothing is going to get shot that you don’t want to shoot, whether it’s people, pets, or property. That is a great starting place for a definition, but what if we break it down a little more?

What makes a direction “safe?” The first and most important thing a safe direction absolutely has to do is stop a bullet from hitting a person. So your “level 1” safe direction must absolutely stop that round from exiting the practice area and hitting a person. Look around your home right now. What do you have that will contain a round? A brick fireplace would do the trick. A refrigerator probably won’t, and you definitely don’t want to find out. About 10 inches worth of phone books will stop pistol rounds, but who has phone books any more? If containment of the round is our first priority, here are some things that will work:

  • Cinderblock walls
  • Proper fireplaces
  • Five gallon paint cans (ask me how I know)

Those are just examples, but going off of that you can likely establish, or build a safe direction in your home. But there are secondary effects to consider beyond just “containing” the round. Is the item that contains the round something we’re willing to damage? In the refrigerator example, while a fridge probably won’t stop a bullet, let’s say hypothetically that’s your safe direction. Do you really want to shoot the fridge if you make a mistake? Probably not. So in addition to containment we have to decide whether our backstop is something we’re willing to put a bullet in. If it’s not, then it’s not really a safe direction.

However, there’s a third consideration: what if it’s impossible to create a truly safe direction? In some of the apartments I’ve lived in, this has been absolutely the case. There was no “safe direction” possible, due to a lack of interior fixtures that could stop a bullet or that I was willing to put a bullet in. What to do in that environment?

There are a couple of options, but my personal favorite is to create a dry-fire sterile zone. When I dry fire, I take my carry gun off and lock it in the same cabinet where I store my ammo. Once that’s locked and the key is off my body, I’ll then set up my dry fire routine. As an extra layer of safety, I’ll also use very clearly marked dummy rounds. The big reason I use dummy rounds is because if there is a snap-cap in my gun’s chamber, then a live round cannot occupy that space. By creating a sterile room, I’ve created the safest possible environment in which to dry fire. I can also make the environment as safe as possible by using a SIRT pistol, which cannot fire anything at all, and is an excellent dry fire tool for Glock shooters.

Cooper’s 4 Rules are often treated like they’re specific dogma that must be followed. I honestly like to think they’re guidelines that give us an opportunity to think about them, and understand how to apply them in the real world. Because let’s face facts, if we always treated every gun like it was always loaded, we’d never dry fire.

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