Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.
This is an interesting rule.
Most people hear target and think of the range. They are reminded of the berm behind the targets. Making sure of your targets and backstop at the range is important, but Rule Four has greater implications.
In a crisis of fear Rule Four is often abandoned. It is, however, of the utmost importance. When in desperate fear for their lives, people will shoot at noises, at moving shadows, and at anything that moves. Shooting before identifying your target is fraught with danger. As shooters, we train to make skill play a greater role in our survival, and to decrease our reliance on luck. When we shoot at shadows and noises in a crisis, we negate our hard earned skills, and take a gamble with lady luck. The gamble not only wastes precious ammo resources, decreasing one’s survival potential, but it can also destroy innocent lives.
Back in November 2005 I blogged about shooting through doors. I have met people who have killed family members by shooting through doors at unseen noises. I will never forget talking to a despondent man, an honorable man, who put a .357 magnum round through his 18 year old daughter’s heart. He shot through a door at noises in the night that he thought were threatening. It was declared an accident. He never accepted that, and neither do I. It was negligence that took his daughter’s life.
I knew a law officer who retired after thirteen years. In year twelve of his tenure on the force, he took the life of a child instead of the criminal he was pursuing. He never did reach acceptance of his error. Nobody could reach the depths of his anguish and help him escape his torment over his fatal error. He eventually took his own life.
These tragedies occur much more frequently than they should. They are often ruled accidents. I will not argue that, as I do not wish to increase the burden these unfortunate shooters must bear for the rest of their lives. We can learn from their errors though. We do not have to follow in their footsteps. Rule Four is the rule that prevents these tragedies. Incorporate it into your training. Be sure of what you shoot.
Finally, know the penetrating capabilities of your chosen weapon and ammunition. The Box o’Truth is an interesting grass roots website which explores ammunition capabilities in a no bullshit fashion. It is a simple task to do the same with one’s own defensive weapons and ammunition. Killing or injuring an innocent person with a bullet that missed a threat and penetrated a wall is another occurrence that happens. These too, are often ruled accidents, but the psychological repercussions of taking an innocent life are difficult to bear. Knowing that it could have been prevented with better choices in ammunition and firearms can be potentially devastating. Whether the law holds you responsible for your bullet’s destructive path or not, a person with a conscience will hold themselves responsible.
Identify your perceived threat and be sure you want to destroy it. The consequences of not doing so are too great.