Dry fire is an integral part of training for any gun owner, but it can be dangerous if done incorrectly. Here are some tips to make the most of your dry fire sessions without putting anyone or any property at risk.
Stories of unintended discharges during dry fire practice–
Over the last few weeks, I've posted a series of stories called “When Dry Fire Isn't Dry.” The series documents instances where gun owners of different experience levels had an unintended discharge while conducting dry fire practice.
You can find links to those stories at the end of this post.
Why document the stories —
There are several reasons we decided to compile these stories.
First, we want to expose gun owners to the reality of unintended discharges during dryfire practice. Secondly, we want to highlight what went wrong and employ strategies to limit our chance of doing the same.
I've elected to use the term “unintended discharge (UD)” instead of “negligent discharge (ND)” or “accidental discharge (AD).” Why?
We are not in court, and I find little practical difference between an accidental vs. negligent discharge. In both instances, the handler of the firearm didn't intend to fire the gun. Go ahead if you feel better classifying the incidents in the stories posted in the links above as negligent instead of unintended.
Every person who shared their story knew the safety rules yet still fired unintentionally. We need to get past thinking that every person who unintentionally fires a shot never knew how to handle a firearm safely.
Of course, we should follow the universal safety rules in live or dry-fire. And, in every instance, if the person had followed the rules, we wouldn't have the stories. But knowing the rules and following the rules every time are two different things. In fact, following the rules, 90% of the time and 100% are also two different things.
3 Truths about unintended discharges —
- We need to be honest and factual about unintended discharges. First, they happen, more than anyone would like to admit.
- Secondly, unintentional discharges pay no respect to the gun owner's amount of skill or experience; unintended discharges don't just happen to newbies.
- Finally, when we analyze incidents of unintended discharges, we find multiple “systems” or rules were ignored and violated while the person followed others.
Yes, it can happen, even to you –
Any gun owner could have an unintended discharge. Even so, that doesn't mean everyone WILL have one, just that the common factors involved in unintentional discharges CAN afflict any gun owner. Rejecting this reality is a component that hinders our ability to defend against a bad outcome during dryfire. Let me explain.
The longer we do something without a negative outcome, the more we believe what we're doing is correct. This is faulty thinking. Some people do insanely reckless things with firearms and do it for years and years, without consequence. Others pick up a gun for the first time, do the same dumb stuff others do, and immediately become a statistic.
What can we do?
Tools, Processes, Systems, and Best Practices–
Systems and safety processes that govern what we do every time we pick up a gun help reduce the possibility of a negative outcome. Here are some things to consider building into your dryfire routine.
Use a BarrelBlok –
I've committed to using a BarrelBlok whenever I use a real firearm in dry fire and am not using a laser cartridge. The BarrelBlok is a simple device that renders the gun completely inert (impossible to chamber a live round). It also displays a visual reminder that you cleared the firearm it's safe for dry-fire practice.
I have tried other similar devices, but I find that the higher the burden of using the device, the less likely I'll use it every time. So, for example, if it takes me a minute to install a safety device, but I'm only going to “do a couple of draws,” I'm probably not going to use it at that moment.
One of the reasons I like the BarrelBlok is that I don't need to take the gun apart to insert or remove the device. I lock the slide open and slide it into the chamber. And to remove it, I simply reverse the process.
I can't overstate how important I think the BarrelBlok is for every gun owner who plans to dry fire. There is no way to have an unintended discharge with the device installed.
One Dry Fire Location –
Selecting a single location in the home for dry fire is a great idea.
Consider a spot like a basement room with the target on an exterior wall. In the event of an unintended discharge, your round won't travel beyond your intended target. Position your dryfire room so that no one can inadvertently walk between you and the downrange target.
Select one location that allows you to employ a system to control the environment for safe, dry fire practice. Then follow the processes each time you dry fire.
Visual indicator and reminder –
Consider doing something unique to the dry fire area to indicate you're dry firing. For example, once your gun is clear, a Barrelblok installed, and ammo is secured, put up a sign that says “DRY FIRE IN PROGRESS.” The sign lets your family know what you're doing.
Also, seeing the sign can help direct you to a state of mind to follow your safety systems and processes for dryfire. Take the sign down once you've finished dry fire so that there isn't ever a live gun in the room when the sign is up.
Safety Systems and Processes –
While the sign is a physical “tool” that can help keep you safe, it does more than that. Seeing the sign can help direct you to a state of mind to follow your safety systems and processes for dryfire. Take the sign down once you've finished dry-fire so that there isn't ever a live gun in the room when the sign is up.
Separate live ammunition –
As mentioned above, live ammunition should be removed from the room or secured when conducting dryfire.
Also, if you're going to use dummy ammunition, consider choosing brightly colored dummy rounds that are impossible to mistake for live ammunition. For example, our dummy ammo has a brightly colored polymer “bullet” and “primer” that is immediately recognizable.
Leaving the dryfire area –
Any time you exit the dryfire area, upon returning, force yourself to clear the gun once again visually. On your “DRYFIRE IN PROGRESS” sign, you could include, “HAVE YOU CLEARED YOUR GUN?”
Some instances of unintended discharges during dry fire occur like this.
Someone clears their gun for safe, dry fire practice. Then that person finishes practicing or gets called away and reloads their gun. Because they've done it a million times, they do it without logging it in their memory.
They return to finish up or continue their dry fire practice. Because the person didn't register and remember loading their gun, they jump right back into dryfire as if they never left and don't clear it.
The above-mentioned sign could include your step-by-step process of beginning dryfire. This way you can reduce the possibility of missing a step.
Remove distractions stay singularly focused-
Consider not multi-tasking while conducting dryfire. I think we would all agree that it would be unsafe to talk on the phone and watch tv while out on a live-fire range. So why is it different when we're practicing dry fire?
Divided attention is the cause of the vast majority of mistakes. When we're not concentrating, we can skip a step or not remember performing a different action. Consider not taking on the phone or conducting dry-fire while watching television. If you need to take a call while practicing, pause your practice, and when the call is over, don't just continue where you left off.
Start at the beginning of your dry fire safety process.
Also, consider not handling your firearm if you're exhausted. Just like we wouldn't handle firearms if we were intoxicated, we shouldn't even dry fire if we're tired.
Have you ever thought about the universal safety rules and how one must violate multiple rules to result in a tragedy? For example, you may not know if the gun is loaded, but if you don't point it in an unsafe direction, you're not going to hurt anyone physically.
You can point it in an unsafe direction, but the gun won't go off if your finger is off the trigger. Now I'm not suggesting we should be okay with violating “just one” rule. Instead, I am pointing out that redundancy is essential.
Consider asking them to confirm the gun is clear after you've cleared it whenever someone is nearby. If you're by yourself, consider clearing the gun, looking away, and then looking back to confirm it is actually clear. Especially for people who routinely handle guns, they can “look, but not see” the live round in the chamber.
The process I follow before dry fire is to clear the gun, insert my BarrelBlok, then holster. Then I draw and clear the gun as if I hadn't already done it.
Some other ideas —
Readers left some comments on things they do to help keep them safe during dry fire.
A couple of people recommended saying a phrase like “the gun is loaded” out loud several times whenever the gun gets loaded with live ammunition.
Another reader commented that they audibly talk themselves through the loading and unloading process.
If you want to work these ideas into your multi-step safety process, it can't hurt.
Thankfully, instances of unintended discharges during dry-fire, don't usually result in tragedy because the gun is pointed in a “safe” direction. This contrasts with unintentional discharges in administrative handling of the firearm during holstering or cleaning.
However, we need to stay vigilant.
Most people want to be safe, and still make mistakes. So we can't rely solely on our desire to be safe.
Instead, let's use the tools, processes, and best practices and remain inside those parameters while we handle the firearm in live or dry fire.
Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this one. You may do some or all of these things. Maybe you do something not mentioned. Feel free to share your processes and tools to help others avoid making mistakes.
Stories of Unintended Discharges during Dry Fire Practice —
In the first story, a person with many years of experience competitively shooting guns had a momentary lapse while conducting dryfire in his kitchen. If you haven't read that story yet, you can find it by clicking here.
The Range Safety Officer (RSO) of a gun store had an unintended discharge while periodically conducting dry fire during a slow shift working in the store. Here is a link to that story.
Our third story showed how fatigue led to inattention while conducting dry-fire. Our contributor in that incident reminded us why we should avoid sleepy dry fire practice.
The final story shows how distracted dry fire practice is dangerous. So much so that the person didn't remember loading the gun.