I Shot Myself in the Leg
It is my sincere hope that the readers of this article know the most basic gun safety rules. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction at all times, keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot, keep the gun unloaded until you're ready to shoot, know your target and what's beyond it, treat every gun as if it's loaded, don't point the gun at something you're not willing to shoot, wear eye and ear protection any time you're shooting, only use the correct ammunition for your gun, and never mix guns and alcohol or drugs. The purpose of this article is not to rehash these very important safety rules, but to bring to light a few rules I learned by trial and error.
When you acquire a gun that is not brand-new, learn as much as you can about it. If it was used occasionally during hunting season and leisure target practice, a thorough cleaning should be all that is necessary. If, however, it was used in competition or more rigorous activities than just leisure shooting for several years, you should take the firearm to a gun smith to have it thoroughly checked out. This is especially true if the previous owner had a known history of gunsmithing (either amateur or professional) and customizing his or her firearms.
When you are preparing to take your recently-acquired firearm shooting, make sure you buy equipment that coincides appropriately with the firearm. You need to check any holster, trigger grip, scope, or any other accessory to make sure it does not interfere with the firearm in normal, safe operation.
For some people, these two ideas might be second-nature. For others, the rules I am recommending may never occur to them. I learned these lessons through a difficult and painful experience. My wife's grandfather left behind a fine collection of firearms, ranging from a very old muzzleloader and a 19th-century Sharps to a scoped .30-06 and a modern shotgun. The estate included a Colt M1911. My wife's parents loaned to me the M1911 until I could buy my own handgun. I had been to a competition for the International Defensive Pistol Association, where I used a handgun belonging to a friend on my first visit. For my second visit, I would be firing the Colt. My father-in-law and I had fired the gun at the range a few times, so I felt comfortable firing it. I bought a concealable holster and prepared to compete for the second time.
When it was my turn to shoot in the first round, I approached the firing line. The range officer told me to make ready. I placed a magazine in the firearm and slid the action to load a round into the chamber. I then ejected the clip to replace that first round. Clip in left hand and gun in right, I placed the firearm into the holster and pushed it into place. My wife's grandfather had fired that particular gun in competition so often that he had added one thing to it for comfort, a trigger shoe. I had bought a fairly cheap holster that had a piece of hard plastic that snugged into and held onto the trigger guard. The plastic of the holster pushed against the trigger shoe. My wife's grandfather had won several regional competitions during his life and had even tried out for the US Olympic team. All of those rounds through that firearm caused the sear to wear down, preventing the safety from functioning properly. Therefore, when I pushed the firearm into place and the plastic of the holster pressed against the trigger shoe, I heard the gunshot and felt a bee sting. At least that's what a .45 caliber bullet traveling through my calf muscle felt like. My fellow competitors were incredible on that day. Most were either active or retired military, so they knew exactly how to respond to a gunshot wound. In very short order I was laid down in the back of a person's SUV while we waited for the ambulance. My competitors bandaged my leg and treated me for shock. When State Police officers arrived, they pushed the unloaded firearm into the holster as I had done and diagnosed immediately what had happened. They told me they would hold onto my firearm until I was ready to collect it, but it was ruled completely accidental and I would face no charges.
I was quite lucky on that day. The round traveled through only my calf muscle. It missed my knee, my ankle and my foot by in some cases less than a fraction of an inch. The round must have cauterized the wound, because I lost almost no blood. On my way to the range, I had stopped at Wal-Mart just to make sure I had enough ammo for the competition. I bought a box of hollow-point rounds, but that was not the first ammo I had chosen to use. The bullet that went through my leg was a full metal jacket, round-nosed bullet that caused very little damage compared to what could have happened with a hollow-point round. Most of our telephone conversations that day began with some form of the phrase "Yancy's ok, but..."
After I recovered, I visited the local State Police office. The person with whom I spoke discussed with me the issue of the trigger shoe. He also told me he had disassembled the gun and saw that the sear was quite worn. He told me I needed to get those problems resolved as soon as possible, before I fired any more rounds through the gun. I thanked him and took the firearm directly from his office to the gun smith.
My father-in-law took the entire collection to a gunsmith after my experience. That Colt is now back in the gun safe that houses the rest of the collection and I am the proud owner of a Ruger P345. Before settling on that firearm, I studied the safety features of the top three models of firearm I wanted to buy. When I was ready to buy a holster for that firearm, I chose a model that secured the firearm in place with a method other than a rigid piece of plastic reaching into the trigger guard. During college I taught shotgun safety, reloading, and shooting at Philmont Scout Ranch. If I ever teach any form of firearm course again, I will certainly find a way to point to my scars and teach the lessons they carry.
Yancy Sanchez is a technical writer and blogs actively @http://www.blogofatalltaleteller.blogspot.com