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Muzzle down for least-risky gun-handling

At an outdoor law enforcement range in Colorado recently, a deputy sheriff who was reloading her urban rifle with the muzzle elevated discharged a round unintentionally.

The bullet arced up and off the property and plunged down at a sharp angle into a lake half a mile away — to the surprise of several fishermen who heard it whiz past. A close call, but fortunately no injuries resulted.

To firearms guru John Farnam, president of Defense Training International, the incident reinforced the wisdom of a rule he makes hard and fast in his range exercises: During all “administrative processes,” such as loading, chamber-checking, and clearing stoppages, the muzzle of your pistol, shotgun, or rifle should be kept no higher than horizontal.

“An essential companion concept, of course, is to keep your finger off the trigger until you need to shoot,” Farnam told PoliceOne.

“Some instructors do teach a ‘muzzle-up’ philosophy, but I believe it is wrong—and dangerous. Berm heights at outdoor ranges vary widely from facility to facility. Most are 10 feet or higher. Even so, sending a bullet over the berm and off property can still be easily done in many places with errant shots or with unintentional discharges from a raised barrel.”

He cites one range in Illinois that has banned law enforcement shooters because of gunfire that unintentionally flew off-property.

Off-range, handling a gun with the muzzle up has tactical shortcomings too, he says. If you’re trying to stay concealed behind cover, a raised barrel may give away your position and your intentions — important information for someone trying to shoot you.

And, he says, “muzzle up is an invitation to a disarming. Any time an adversary can get under your gun they have the strength and torque advantage in wresting it from your control.”

The bottom line, in Farnam’s expert opinion: “If you’re riding in a rubber boat, having your muzzle up might be a good idea. Otherwise, you need to become accustomed to keeping your muzzle continually at a downward angle, including when you’re carrying it with a sling on your shoulder. Bring it up to horizontal only when aiming at a target or firing. In most cases, that presents the least risk to you and others.”

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