The following article is a guest post by Javier Echevarria, from J. Barrios, Inc. (formerly Sling Systems, Inc.)
“I’ve been in SWAT for 20 years, not on the police force, but in SWAT for 20 years. You mean to tell me that I’ve been doing it wrong for all these years?” he demanded incredulously.
I felt my saliva like melted marshmallows in the back of my mouth. I forced myself to subtly check the palms of my hands, and as I knew they would be – they were moist. I wiped them on my pants hoping not to leave too big of a wet spot. I reminded myself that this was all expected. I had to remain confident if I expected these gurus of SWAT to even consider to what I had to say.
The SWAT commander I was talking to was an impressive sight. Standing lean and muscular with the right amount of gray brushed on his neatly cropped hair, he reminded of a bronze statue in motion. His range and office were as neatly kept as was his uniform. Clearly he was more comfortable telling people what to do than being told what to do.
“Lou,” I said, in the most confident tone I could muster. “If you were on a deserted island and were using banana leaves for 20 years, and I came along and offered you Charmin toilet paper, would I tell you that you were doing it wrong for these past 20 years? No, but I would suggest that there might be something better.”
“Big risk, big gain,” a whispering voice reassured me. I looked down to my bags – just in case I had to make a quick exit.
“Alright, let’s see what you’ve got,” he allowed begrudgingly.
Three and a half years ago, I first started selling slings for long guns (e.g., rifles and shotguns). When selling to law enforcement agencies, I typically met with SWAT commanders, range masters and/or armors. When I met with them, I usually asked more questions than answered questions. After meeting with several hundred agencies, I noted a few points I felt were interesting.
Most agencies, from Maui police to South Africa police and many agencies in between did not issue slings to their non-SWAT officers for their shotguns and/or rifles. A few agencies actually prohibited patrol officers from using “tactical” slings without authorization or altogether not allowing their use by patrol officers. The patrol officers that did have “tactical” slings on their patrol long guns were prior SWAT officers and/or officers who had attended special in-service tactical courses.
Beginning in 1997, I began to research what I call sling management techniques for long guns, with a special emphasis on trigger safety. I read every article, book and manual I could get my hands on regarding the management of slings for long guns. I traveled across the U.S. and spoke with every police trainer, rangemaster, armor, and SWAT personnel that wouldn’t kick me off their range or office. I then reviewed the course outlines and interviewed prior students of the specialized law enforcement tactical schools attended by most police officers. I wanted to know what information was out there regarding sling management and trigger safety.
What I found surprised me, and continues to surprise most of the people with whom I share this information. Although I haven’t yet started rattling this bit of information with the elderly ladies in the grocery market line, my family and friends would say I tell everyone. The lack of training with slings is scary, and it’s scary how the training currently offered is lacking. Industry-wide there is no standard training, guidance or protocol for the use of slings among SWAT officers, much less patrol officers, and the military or recreational hunters! Focusing more closely at a specific area of concern for trigger safety, there is but one hard and fast rule: “Keep your finger off the trigger!” Of the small percentage of agencies that actually have a sling protocol or policy, none ever address trigger safety other than to admonish officers about the “finger on the trigger” rule. Why then do accidental (now commonly called “negligent”) discharges continue to happen, even among highly trained SWAT members?
I offer the following theory: In the negligent discharge (ND) incidents I have found, the vast majority of the ND’s occurred with officers using long guns. Of those incidents, almost all were attributed to the weapon’s trigger catching on some part of the officers’ gear or accessory worn on the duty belt, tactical vest or uniform. Many ND’s are preventable when officer(s) think of the simple (but important) weapon’s trigger rule.
Think of the weapon’s trigger as having a grain, like that of a piece of wood. Going with the grain is good; conversely, going against the grain is bad. In this context, going against the grain may cause an ND. Not exactly “wax on, wax off,” but I think you get the picture.
From either a left or right-handed person’s perspective, he would be moving the weapon against the grain when he moves weapons muzzle first, regardless which angle the barrel is pointing. Rookies to veteran officers; from patrol to SWAT units: officers’ weapons have had accidental discharges not caused by them inadvertently pulling the trigger, but rather because something other than the operator’s finger caused the trigger to be activated, when they moved the trigger against its grain.
The safe manner to move a rifle and/or shotgun (or any firearm for that matter) would be to move the weapon rear stock first. This is moving with the grain of the trigger. Or if you are limited to moving your weapon muzzle first and going against the grain of the trigger for some legitimate reason (e.g., you have the weapon holstered behind your back and you are on your stomach, or simply out of personal preference you like to carry your rifles/shotguns in the guitar-carry mode), you can help avoid ND’s by remembering to keep the trigger clear of your gear and uniform by holding the trigger away from your body whenever you move the weapon muzzle first.
This rule is simple to teach and easy to remember.
Of the hundreds of officers I have shared this information with, whether it be while training them as a unit or while making an individual presentation, most individuals tend to immediately recognize the importance of this rule. Agencies and private tactical courses recognizing the importance of this information are establishing sling policies and trigger safety training in their firearms’ training programs.
These new sling policies would not only protect law enforcement agencies from potential costly monetary settlements against the agency and officer, but may spare the mental trauma officer(s) would undoubtedly suffer from being the cause of an ND, specifically attributed to a lack of trigger safety. Therefore sling management techniques are a valuable part of firearm’s training programs.