JRMC General Surgeon, Michelle Eckert, knows a lot about guns. As a target shooter and gun owner, she spends as much time as possible sharpening her shooting skills. As a general surgeon on the JRMC Medical Staff, she sees the unfortunate results of careless gun handling.
“When I’m on call in the emergency room, I see a fair number of accidental gunshot wounds,” said Dr. Eckert, “and I would much rather try to prevent them than treat them.” With hunting season in full force, Dr. Eckert offered a list of 10 important reminders about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from making a deadly mistake.
1. Be familiar with your weapon and have the right ammunition. “If you don’t know how to handle a weapon, get educated,” said Dr. Eckert. “You should know where the trigger and safety are and not get them confused. By the same token, the wrong ammo can cause injury. A shotgun barrel blowing apart in your face can be disastrous.”
2. Treat every gun as if it is loaded. “Always check the status even if someone tells you it is unloaded or you ‘always’ have it unloaded. A clip could be empty but a bullet could still be in the chamber.”
3. Keep your weapon cleaned and in good condition. “A dirty weapon can jam or misfire causing injury,” according to Dr. Eckert. “If your barrel is clogged with mud, you’ll be lucky if you lose only the gun.”
4. ALWAYS make sure the weapon is unloaded prior to cleaning (see rule number 2). “This is probably the number one rule violation that we see in the ED,” said Dr. Eckert. “We hear it all the time – ‘I was cleaning my gun and it went off.'”
5. Always point the gun in a safe direction. “When handling a gun, always point it away from anything you don’t want to shoot.” Dr. Eckert said. “Do this when loading and unloading. The muzzle should always be away from your body and anyone else’s. Remember that when a gun is pointed at some point on your body, accidental discharge to that area (head, foot, etc) can lead to permanent loss of that body part.”
6. Don’t rely on the safety mechanism. “These can fail. Nothing is 100% idiot proof.”
7. Keep your finger off the trigger. If your finger is not on the trigger, accidental firing is less likely to happen. “Pulling the gun out of a holster or waistband with your finger on the trigger has resulted in many self inflicted gunshot wounds below the waist,” said Dr. Eckert.
8. Eye and ear protection are a must. “You don’t want to ‘shoot your eye out’ or live with being deaf later in life.”
9. Know your target and make sure it is appropriate. See clearly what you are shooting at; know what is between you and it and also what is beyond it. Hard targets and even water can cause ricochet and self-injury. “Imagine shooting at hard steel and the bullet comes back to you, striking you and killing you. Imagine shooting a target, the bullet going through it and striking someone on the other side and killing them. Neither is a good situation.”
10. Never operate firearms and use alcohol or drugs that may impair reasonable thinking. “This should go without saying, but I see this all the time,” Dr. Eckert said. “Just don’t drink and shoot.”
“The tips I’ve listed here seem like common sense but they are violated all the time,” said Dr. Eckert. “As a result, I see people who now need to be treated for an accidental gunshot wound. In the movies, a person gets shot, they go to the ER; they get bandaged up, they live and go home. That’s not always the case in real life. In real life, people die. Saving the accidental-gunshot-wound patient starts with education. Following some simple rules could save your life and others.”