by Hubert Townsend

That ad campaign whose slogan is “People do stupid things”, sure hits us all. Since the shooting sports has no tackling, checking or grabbing, its safety record is about perfect. But on the firing line people occasionally do stupid things. If there is a human involved, there will always be stupid stuff. As every teacher knows, there will always be a student who just doesn’t get the concept, misses the boat or any other number of out to lunch clichés.

Corporal X had sat through the fundamental lectures yet continued to fail when shooting the electronic rifle system. All but one of our instructors had personally worked with him to no avail. The next day, on the live fire range he failed several times.

Finally, our oldest and most experienced instructor showed me the importance of age and experience. He asked the hapless soldier to “Draw me a picture in the sand of what it looks like when you are aiming.” The corporal drew a circle (rear sight) with a line going from the bottom of the circle all the way straight through the top, poking out a bit with the middle of a silhouette on its tip.

“Corporal, why is the tip of the front sight on top of the circle instead of in the middle?”

“Because it’s easier to see that way, sergeant.”

“MMhhmmm, I think we’ve discovered the source of your problem.”

Five years later a male soldier mature enough to put his ego aside came up to me and said that he never qualified during his entire career. So I watched him closely. His first shot group was a bunch larger than the minimum standard of four cm. We tightened up his position and did some trigger control exercises that only decreased his group a small amount.

Recalling the previous “stupid stuff”, I politely asked this officer to “draw me a picture…” His picture looked like a tulip with the two leaves (front sight wings) and the front sight going straight up with the target properly centered on the tip.

“Sir, where is the circle, the rear sight, in this picture?” His astonished look and answer of “Rear sight?” gave us a major clue to his difficulties. Amazingly, his next group, while now using the aiming fundamentals, resulted in an outstanding group that would be in the top 10 percentile for smallness. As us enlisted know, stupidity knows no rank or age.

But my favorite human moment on the firing line was at the Fort Dix pistol range. Along with the usual safety briefing, the range officer had stated that no cell phones were allowed on the firing line. When I asked why, I was gruffly told “No cell phones allowed.”

Later on I caught him alone and asked “Sir, I don’t even have a cell phone, but what is the deal with no cells phones allowed up there?”

He looked around to see if anyone was listening and then told me the story behind the new regulation. The soldiers were all lined up in front of their target lanes with their pistols loaded, a round in the chamber and pointed downrange waiting for their targets to pop up and shoot. One of the soldier’s cell phones began ringing. She kept the pistol’s muzzle parallel to the ground and pointed in the targets’ direction, but when bringing the phone up to her ear had unthinkingly turned herself, along with the pistol, 90 degrees like most people do when answering a cell in the company of others. EEyyaaaahh!!! -phone in one ear and loaded pistol aimed right down the firing line. Technology strikes again.

Fortunately, one has to violate all two of the fundamental safety rules to hurt someone; muzzle always pointed in a safe direction and finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

That old rock and roller Frank Zappa was correct in saying “There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe. And it has a longer shelf life.” So, we firearms instructors will always remain vigilant in our duties, but our shared human condition does make such a serious job so much more fun. Doggone it. How can I work “Stupid is as stupid does” into this column? Stupid me.

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