It is rare that I find a TTP that did not have a solid reason and a lot of thought behind it when it was adopted.
One of the few TTPs I have ever found that has absolutely no basis in actual need is the almost compulsive instinct of some units, firearms instructors and ranges to force the weapon user to press the trigger after removing the magazine, clearing the chamber and visually inspecting it.
We set the stage for a tragedy every time we make a shooter press the trigger to “render the weapon safe.”
As a law enforcement manager and during my time as a Private Military Contractor (PMC), I investigated about 15 unintentional discharges of firearms by professional gun handlers and private gun owners. Some of these involved injury to a person, and the rest resulted in property damage of one level or another (usually a hole in the clearing barrel or floorboard of a vehicle).
Of these cases, I can remember only a few that were not the result of the weapon operator pressing the trigger to “render the gun safe” after improperly applying the weapon unloading procedure. In each of these cases, the operator had either been taught by their range staff to press the trigger after unloading the weapon, or their weapons policy required it.
Yes, I know the weapon would not have discharged had they followed the proper unloading sequence.
I am also keenly aware that in the cases resulting in injury, had the weapon been aimed into a safe backstop or the muzzle not been covering a person, no injuries would have resulted. I also know, however, that the weapon would not have discharged had they not pressed the trigger. I also know that, while you can’t unload the weapon without manipulating the bolt/slide to the rear, you can safely unload a weapon without pressing the trigger.
As best I can find in my research, this compulsion to drop the hammer to render a weapon safe in the modern LE and civilian communities can be traced back to U.S. Military arms room procedures. In an (in my opinion misguided) effort to ensure every weapon entering a military arms room is completely empty, troops have for many decades been required to press the trigger on weapons prior to turning them in.
As the modern competition revolution began in the 1960s, the majority of participants were military veterans. One of the rules instituted early on was the mandate to drop the hammer on the weapon to show the range officer it was indeed unloaded. This rule has survived unquestioned by perpetuation through range officer training programs, and it remains a cardinal rule in the competition community.
Over the years, as law enforcement instructors who also shot competitively began designing the TTPs for semiautomatic handguns during the great pistol transition of the 1980s, this particular range practice seeped into real-world weapons handling. While some competition TTPs translate well to the street, in my opinion this one did not.
On the square range, the consequences of the weapon discharging during this process are some embarrassment, killing the dirt backstop, and perhaps a DQ from the match.
In the real world, the consequences of an unintentional discharge during unloading can range from the best case of a hole in the clearing barrel and loss of a couple days’ pay or your job, to shooting the Chief’s favorite display case or ventilating a coworker.
The risk of injury and damage is simply not sufficiently offset by the small perceived safety margin gained by dropping the hammer on an unloaded weapon.
ENTER THE GLOCK
This poor TTP gained even more momentum in the Glock revolution, after word of mouth and ill-informed trainers spread the word that the Glock’s trigger had to be “at rest” to be safe and to “save the springs” (as best I can find, Glock has never issued any such guidance—ever).
While the Glock’s trigger does indeed need to be pressed prior to field stripping, I think this should only be done in a safe direction with a safe backstop, and only after the entire unloading and buddy check procedure has been executed. I too was taught this procedure when I first transitioned to the Glock in about 1995. Having learned the four firearms safety rules at the knee of my father when I was about six, I thought it was wrong for professional gunhandlers to be using this TTP.
Additionally, we have all heard the stories about the guy who shoots himself in the support hand while preparing to field strip a Glock. One of these occurred on my couch in 1994, when a close friend sitting only three feet from me shot himself in the hand while field stripping his pistol. Not only did he permanently ruin his left hand, he also ruined my new couch. A good buddy check and safe backstop would have prevented this pointless accident.
My opinion that this TTP is misguided was reinforced when I began looking for it, and noticed how quickly it became a rote action whenever people unloaded their weapon. I observed—and to this day continue to see—that many users press the trigger in the unloading sequence casually, without buddy-checking the weapon and stopping to look and think.
I know you have seen it too: the guy who unloads on the line, pushes the weapon out in front of him and presses the trigger while looking over his shoulder to tell some stupid joke. With the exception of field stripping a Glock, I feel that pressing the trigger should only be done when we intend to make a loud noise and put a hole in something or have followed a strict safety protocol prior to dry-fire practice.
I have also seen this TTP cost three solid cops, two security professionals and two PMCs their careers. All of these involved unloading a pistol or carbine at the clearing barrel, allowing a distraction during the unloading procedure, then pressing a shot into the ten-ring of the barrel, or in one case, into the pavement about a foot away from his beat partner.
In each of these cases, the users had been trained to press the trigger to unload the gun. With the exception of the assclown in the parking lot, had they unloaded and then showed clear to a buddy, but not pressed the trigger, it would have been a slightly embarrassing reminder to pay attention.
Each incident turned into an internal affairs investigation followed by a termination. I believe these mens’ firearms instructors set them up to fail from the beginning.
The purposes of this article are to get you to think objectively and, if you currently teach this “press the trigger to make it safe” procedure, to consider changing the policy/training to replace the trigger press with a buddy check.
As instructors, we owe it to our trainees and our mission to look objectively at everything we teach, including the mundane tasks that become so ingrained that our troops do them without conscious thought.
With deliberation and some retraining, we can set our teams up for success, and ensure that only the dirtbags and rascally paper targets get ventilated.