Even though I’ve been a full-time industry professional for over twenty years, few people realize that I came to firearms later in life. Believe it or not, the first time I ever actually ever fired a firearm was after I received my law degree (33 years ago). Of course, that meant that my enthusiasm (and buying habits) roared like a wildfire, and I caught up fast. Way back 22 years ago, I was simply excited at the idea of working for some firearms industry companies, just because of the free stuff and good deals I might get. Since then, it turns out that I’m like most other firearms industry businesses in that our passion fuels a business success that happens to actually pay the family bills.
I mention my late-in-life arrival to the enthusiasm because one thing is fresh in my memory: the initial training. And based on all the training I got starting a few decades ago, and the folks I’ve helped to train over the years, there’s one thing everybody has trouble with at first. Those who never get decent training and who fail to practice continue to have trouble with it. And today, I place the game squarely in one place: Hollywood.
I’m talking about the natural instinct of every inexperienced shooter to violate “rule number 3.” Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. (AKA: “Keep your booger picker off the bang switch.”)
I doubt any beginner shooter ever made it through the first range day without a few shouts of: “finger!”, “trigger!” or “index!” But thankfully, after years and years of gun handling, we all naturally adopt the proper form, and rest our straightened finger alongside the frame, away from the trigger.
Usually, I’ll blame government for most of society’s ills, but this month is a big exception. Movies and TV have a profound influence on viewers. And consider how much gun handling the average viewer sees by age 5, 10, 20, or 50. With about 2000 hours per year watching TV and movies, maybe 2% of that (40 hours) involves characters carrying handling, or shooting guns. (Yes, I’m making up statistics, so if you don’t like them, make up your own and play along to see if we reach the same conclusions).
So, a 15 year old kid on his first range day might have spent 600 hours observing firearm usage. That is a powerful learning tool, and can create ingrained instincts even before the kid first picks up a gun under Dad’s supervision. (I prefer this happy range-day scenario to the 15-year-old gang-banger alternative, but the numbers are the same).
Given that, who is surprised when the first-time shooter does just what he’s seen all his heroes, and all their villainous adversaries, do during his hundreds of hours of “classroom” training provided by Hollywood USA? That trigger finger rests in the same place as that of James Bond’s, TV’s top cops, the baddest, bad-ass villains, and anyone else on the screen with a gun: right on the trigger!
And it takes lots of training to undo that bad habit.
I remember how fun it was watching movies with Karmen after her first-ever gun training ten years ago. “Trigger finger!” she’ll shout at James Bond or some gangster every time the Hollywood safety blunder appears. The worst are the action comedies, as compared to some of the fine war movies produced by Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which are the rare exceptions that demonstrate authentic gun handling, usually safe.
The Hollywood Body Count
Movies and TV are filled with the scene of the body under a sheet, being wheeled away on a gurney to the coroner’s van, with shocked and grief-stricken bystanders. Yet this is a real-life occurrence that Hollywood must share the blame for.
The greatest cause of fatal accidents is dangerous, foolish or unlucky behavior that no one (including our industry) should be blamed for. There are about 600 accidental deaths from firearms each year in the US (search “WISQARS” for the federal data). I’m sure each of those deaths occurred because of a violation of at least one of the “4 Rules”, and most deaths were from violations of several at the same time.
So, if we had to guess, what fraction of the deaths happened because someone had their finger on the trigger at the wrong time? Granted, essentially all had to have their finger on the trigger, but we need to exclude those who “thought the gun was unloaded” or “were cleaning their gun” (i.e. screwing around and acting like an idiot). Perhaps some serious research without an axe to grind has studied all the accidents. Maybe 90 percent of those 600 deaths were from other causes, and not from some hunter, gangbanger, cop, or plinker holding the gun with a finger on the rigger, then tripping or startling, and shooting someone accidentally. Perhaps 99% of accidental gun deaths are from other causes than the trigger finger violation. But whether it’s 6 or 60 killed each year because of a misplaced trigger finger, I’m willing to bet that a good fraction of those would have been prevented without the flood of images imprinting on every brain the dangerous instinct that fingers rest on triggers.
Is Hollywood responsible for 3 deaths a year? a dozen? It’s impossible to guess, but generations of dangerous Hollywood images are undoubtedly responsible for significant loss of innocent life, with innumerably more who are injured or maimed needlessly for the same reason.
What’s Their Excuse?
Some time ago, I asked a Hollywood type why they don’t just show good gun handling skills. Are they idiots? Do they like gun accidents? The answer was that: “It makes it exciting.” I don’t buy it. I accept that they must have pistols make clicking sounds every time they are raised to point threateningly, and cops to rack their shotgun slides every time they are about to enter a building (even as they enter each new door in the building). This is silliness, and inauthentic, but it makes things exciting. Like how Hollywood tires squeal when the character’s in a bit of a hurry, even though in real life, tires basically never squeal, even under urgent acceleration.
Why We Should Go After Hollywood
OK, maybe the numbers are small, and difficult to prove. But Hollywood has often been hostile to our industry, and to our rights. They certainly aren’t donating heavily to the candidates who support our rights. If there’s an agenda about gun rights in a film, it’s unlikely to be on our side.
I admit, sometimes I like a good fight, and maybe that’s why I’m a lawyer. I also like to see the misguided and arrogant brought down to size. So besides saving some lives, there’s another good reason to go after the Hollywood gun safety lunacy: embarrass them, and make them toe the line. If our industry took charge of the issue, and offered press releases to explain how the superstars were actually acting like fools and idiots, they might be embarrassed into behaving, and they might have a little more respect for our industry if they knew they would be held accountable. The individual actors might want to avoid the embarrassment of being a newbie who knows less about guns than some 12-year-old girls (the ad campaigns write themselves). The studios might actually seek some expertise, to make sure they got it right. The ASPCA gets its free advertisement: “No Animals Were Harmed®” at the end of every movie. Why shouldn’t we see: “NSSF-certified for safe gun handling™” at the end of action films?
It would make us look like the good guys for a change, and make them accountable to us. Incidentally, I’d be fine with unsafe handling being shown, as long as there were consequences. It need not go as far as the scene in Pulp Fiction in which John Travolta accidentally shot someone while handling a gun very carelessly. It could be a cop partner shouting at his rookie buddy to get his finger off the trigger, or a negligent discharge, or disciplinary consequences.
The campaign probably won’t take much. All it might take is one billboard in Hollywood showing two images: A cute 12-year-old girl with a properly-held shotgun and competition ribbons alongside Matt Damon looking tough while holding a gun (unsafely) with the caption: “She knows to keep her finger off the trigger, why doesn’t he?” Whatever group posted the billboard would be the safety good guy, Hollywood might start to be more careful about dangerous images (or even just arousing the ire of gun rights organizations). It might even happen that some of the stars might want to learn about shooting, so they don’t look like idiots on screen. And this would make them far less likely to support anti-gun politics.
If you like my idea of Hollywood stars and studies worried about what we think of them, send me any pictures you find of bad Hollywood gun handling. If not, send me any questions on more serious topics you’d like to see covered here. We’ll get back to business next month.