Staring Down the Barrel
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 THOMAS FRENCH
Detachment 26, Operational Support Airlift Command
Virginia Army National Guard
I believe you must learn lessons from certain events in your life. Life-changing situations can become blessings when viewed through the right lenses.
When I was about 4 or 5 years old, my grandfather showed me his gun collection. He worked on the railroad and gun collecting was his hobby since returning home from World War II. His collection was his prized possession. Imagine my excitement when he told me I could have a gun of my very own and gave me a .22-caliber revolver that resembled a six shooter from the Old West.
My grandfather explained how to clean and maintain the gun, as well as how to handle it safely. He warned me it was important to not pull the trigger when there were no bullets in the pistol because it could break the firing pin. My grandfather was a big man who always demanded respect but also gave me a lot of love. I looked up to him and always wanted to please him, so I obeyed his warning.
Fast forward about a decade to when I was 14 years old. It was a sunny day and I was preparing to go groundhog hunting on the farm. Hunting was a regular activity on the weekends. My friends and I would hunt until we either ran out of bullets or got hungry. Before hunting, I would always clean and oil my rifle and pistol to make sure they didn’t get rusty or malfunction. As I was about to clean my pistol, I heard one of my best friends, Kevin, walking up to my back porch.
In what can only be explained as a juvenile lack of judgment, I suddenly thought about scaring Kevin. I decided to go out onto the deck and catch him by surprise. I walked out just as Kevin was stepping onto the porch and, without explanation, pointed my pistol at him.
I still remember the stunned expression on his face when he saw the pistol aimed at him. As he looked at me, I thought, “Maybe I’ll pull the trigger just to show him the gun is unloaded.” I wanted to scare him, but I also wanted him to know I wouldn’t place him in danger. At that point, for some unknown reason, I thought about what my grandfather had told me about pulling the trigger of my pistol on an empty chamber and breaking the firing pin. In that split second, I lowered the pistol and released the trigger without pulling it.
We walked back into my house and I asked Kevin if I had scared him. He said I caught him by surprise, but he knew I was just kidding. We laughed and put on our boots and jackets and got ready to go hunting.
I grabbed my rifle, pistol and a box of .22-caliber bullets. To this day I don’t remember what Kevin saw on my face when I opened the cylinder and saw the pistol had been loaded all along. In that instant, my whole life flashed before my eyes. I thought about my friendship with Kevin and my own dreams for the future. I thought of Kevin lying on the ground dead because of my stupidity. How would I explain the accident to our parents? I even thought about going to prison for taking another person’s life due to my negligence. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget.
I sometimes think back to that day and what it was that kept me from pulling the trigger. I thank my grandfather for making the type of impression that would cause a split-second memory that prevented a tragedy. I also think of the other impressions he made on me that have guided my life in a positive way. In this case, I know it saved a life.
Unintended discharges occur on and off duty and can happen to anyone. Awareness of safety rules and compliance with appropriate procedures helps prevent mishaps. When handling weapons on the range, in combat or off duty, personnel must be aware of and use proper procedures to avoid unintended discharges and other mishaps.
The Range and Weapons Safety Toolbox is a centralized collection of online resources for managing range operations and safe weapons handling. The toolbox hosts various references and materials, including publications, training support packages, multimedia products, ammunition and explosives information, and safety messages and alerts. By using this toolbox, Soldiers and leaders can minimize risks and sustain combat readiness. Visit https://safety.army.mil/ON-DUTY/Range-and-Weapons-Safety-Toolbox for more information.
When handling a firearm, always THINK weapons safety:
- Treat every weapon as if it is loaded.
- Handle every weapon with care.
- Identify the target before you fire.
- Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
- Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.