Question about gun etiquette
January 30, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

This question is for people who are familiar with gun culture & etiquette, and concerns having one's holstered gun pointing at other people.

So I was at a gathering at a friend's house, and we were sitting on couches around a table. The host always open-carries a pistol on his hip. Whenever he gets up and bends over to get a snack off the table, his holstered gun is pointing at me; I'm looking right at the gun barrel a couple of feet away.

I'm sure that the chance of it randomly going off while holstered and shooting me in the face are basically nil, so I'm not that concerned and I don't say anything -- but it made me uncomfortable. Several days later, I'm still thinking about it.

I'm not a gun person, so my question is: among "gun people," is this considered a breach of safety or even just etiquette? Is it rude? Would gun afficianados say "yeah, not cool," or would they laugh in my face?

(When I say "gun people," I'm thinking about the type of people who take firearm safety seriously, not people who leave their guns lying around in the nursery or something. This is in the USA, if that makes a difference.)
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a concealed carry permit since I was 21 and own several guns, and I take gun safety very seriously. I suppose that makes me one of the "gun people".

Despite the rule that "ALL GUNS ARE LOADED", the situation you describe is not a breach of safety or etiquette. The rule of "don't point at anything you don't intend to shoot" applies to guns in the hand, not in a waist holster, in a gun rack, or in a display case at a gun shop. The gun is not "pointed" at you. (same for a horizontal shoulder holster)

Ask your friend to take you shooting sometime.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:38 PM on January 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am not a gun person but I know gun people and have shot guns with them, and when I didn't know any better people got SERIOUSLY bent out of shape when I pointed the gun in their direction (not acting like I was shooting, know, it was in my hand) and it wasn't loaded, so I'd say it's pretty bad gun etiquette. (on preview I guess I'm wrong but I'd like to think people err on the side of making everyone comfortable so....)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:47 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You never, ever point a gun at anything you aren't prepared to shoot. This is the first thing I was taught.

That said, I wouldn't consider this situation to be a breach of that rule; at that moment, the gun is positioned in such a way that its barrel happens to be pointing towards you, it's not being pointed at you intentionally. That isn't to say you don't have the right to be bothered by it, but what I'm saying is that it probably wouldn't get anywhere to appeal to that. I think it's one of those things where some people would think it's bad gun etiquette and some would not.

What you can do is say, "Hey man, this is maybe just my own personal whatever but when you're bent over to get something off the table, the barrel of the gun is pointed at me and it kind of makes me uncomfortable. I'm not afraid it's going to go off or anything, but it just kind of sets off something in my lizard brain, or whatever. Just try to be aware of it, I guess, if you don't mind? Cool."

From there it's up to him what he does.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:51 PM on January 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm not a "gun person" but I hang out with a few. Some wouldn't care because the gun was holstered. Others would be livid at the lack of concern on the host's part.
posted by lekvar at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A gun in the holster is like a razor stored in a drawer. It's asleep, and guns are deep sleepers that don't wake up by themselves. The bullets in there are no more likely to go off in the holstered gun than if they were still in the box on a shelf. Sleeping guns are like tranquilized bears. It's not the teeth, it's the bite, you know?

I'm with Famous Monster on this-- no harm in saying something; just please try to make it clear that you're not trying to tell the guy how to be or do anything in his own home, you're asking him to be considerate of your feelings.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:00 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with what has been said above; if the gun is holstered like this, the fact that it points your way once in a while if the host leans over the wrong way isn't necessarily a breach of etiquette. Then again, even among "gun people" I don't think it's terribly common for someone to open-carry a holstered gun in their own home. I'm all for Famous Monster's suggestion, especially if you frame it in a "I may be being weird about this, but this makes me uncomfortable..." sort of way. You can be all for gun rights etc. etc., but if you're doing something that makes your friends uncomfortable and they ask you to stop (and it doesn't take much effort to stop doing what you're doing), then that request should at least merit serious consideration.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:08 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My uncle was a cop his entire career... Vice in NYC in the '60s and early '70s, parole officer in New Bedford after that. He'd occasionally stop by my folks place in RI when business brought him to Fall River or Westport.

I remember this even as a really little kid - first thing he'd do when entering the house was remove his pistol, holster and all, and put it on top of the fridge. Every. Single. Time.

He had a safe in his bedroom, and locked it in there when he came home and changed into his civvies. That's the way the pros do it, because that barrel should never be pointed at anything but the ground.

If you don't want the gun pointed at your face, I don't think it's a breach of ettiquette to ask him not to, even by accident.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [38 favorites]

Yes, carrying a firearm in one's own home in the invited company of friends is a serious etiquette and sanity breach.
posted by cmoj at 4:32 PM on January 30, 2013 [42 favorites]

>The host always open-carries a pistol on his hip.

I think the host is a fetishist dork.

I've known gun nuts since I was a teenager, and I've known them to have a gun in their hand when they answered the door, and to have them ready at hand almost anywhere in the house, but I've never known one to carry a holstered pistol while they were in the house, entertaining guests.
posted by the Real Dan at 4:32 PM on January 30, 2013 [20 favorites]

I frequently carry a gun in a holster for long hours while I work. When I noticed that as I bent over I was, essentially aiming at my colleague, I adjusted my holster. I wear a chest holster, though, so it was easy to change the angle of the gun. Granted I carry a revolver that basically always has a "round in the chamber" but I wouldn't want ANY gun to be pointed at anyone inadvertently. The guy might well laugh at you, it's not really considered a breach of etiquette, but I think it's a bad way to carry your gun. I would mention it to him and pay close attention to how he reacts. Responsible gun owners wouldn't shame you for pointing out that their gun is aimed at your face.
posted by stinker at 4:37 PM on January 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Mod note: Question is not "What do you think of my friend?" Please try to stick to the question being asked.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:42 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

My view is that you are totally within your rights to request better muzzle control, eg discretely saying something friendly like "hey John - when you bend over in that direction, I end up staring down the barrel of that gun, and that's a view I'd rather not be getting."

The gun owner is not within his rights to take offense at this, or to try to make out that the problem is you.
Where I'm from I'd also think this goes double if the gun owner is also your host, ie should be concerned with the comfort of a guest.

Some people would do a mental eye-roll, and I'd think less of them for it, but if a request like that isn't handled graciously, it reflects badly on the owner, not you.
posted by anonymisc at 5:04 PM on January 30, 2013

My dad was a competitive shooter, and I never saw him with a gun in a holster at our house (or indeed anyone else's, back home in Montana.) Personally, I think it's a bit weird, but when he bends over, his butt's pointed at you, too, so, same diff. I guess you can say something, or else stand up, and move to another seat when he does this.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2013

Speaking as someone who has carried a gun at times, I think FAMOUS MONSTER's advice is sound and that you are well within your rights to say something about your own personal safety level. Guns in a holster are safer than guns in hands, yes, but the first rule of gun safety is that a gun is never 100% safe.

If the guy gets offended at your request, that is maybe a bigger issue for your friendship, but you are basically always allowed to say "what you're doing makes me feel a little unsafe".
posted by gauche at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gracious hosts accommodate their guests. Yours is a reasonable concern. Take him aside and let him know how you feel.
posted by Pudhoho at 5:26 PM on January 30, 2013

Mod note: Answer the OPs question absolutely DO NOT turn this thread into any sort of debates on guns. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:26 PM on January 30, 2013

I'm not a gun person, so my question is: among "gun people," is this considered a breach of safety or even just etiquette? Is it rude? Would gun afficianados say "yeah, not cool," or would they laugh in my face?

Concur with Slap*Happy 100%. My father was in similar work. His gun came off his hip and went straight to the top of the fridge as soon as he walked in the door. At night when my folks went to bed, it went from the fridge to a shelf in the very top of his closet. Lather, rinse, repeat.

He and his co-workers - all highly trained professionals - would have thought you were out of your mind to wear your weapon around the house. And around guests? That would have been even more bizarre. Because...why? A potential firefight in the kitchen during dessert?
posted by jquinby at 6:11 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm going to concur with jquinby, the only situation in which I would consider it reasonable to open-carry a gun around your own house is if you're in an extremely targeted position... Like, if you're a Mexican federal drug enforcement police officer, the narcos know who you are, and you live with your family in a middle class neighborhood of Matamoros. Or if you're a cop that has been directly responsible for putting away Hells Angels/Rock Machine biker gang members, testified against them and you have an active threat against your life.
posted by thewalrus at 6:52 PM on January 30, 2013

Ok, i am pretty serious about guns and count myself part of gun culture. I have even carried one on my hip before-while in hunting camp mostly because i just got used to it being there and stopped thinking about it and also this was right on the border in AZ in 2005 and things could get...interesting, in the chinese curse sense of the word. Most of the group I was with also carried sidearms the whole trip, and I am sure there times the holstered guns were pointing at people. That kind of gun pointing is not a breach of safety rules. The gun is NOT going to go off in a holster, that is pretty much the purpose of a holster. Most often when a gun is holstered it is pointing at some part of the person carrying its anatomy. Right now I have a couple of guns in my bedroom for the express purpose of home defense and several more in my basement in storage. My office is on the first floor and pretty much both sets of guns point at the room I am in currently. I am not worried about them being pointed at me in that circumstance nor in the one you mention.

Carrying a gun around the house during a get together is kinda weird, but it is HIS house and you are a guest. It is not up to you to cry foul at how he runs or lives in his house. It isn't bad etiquette to bring up it makes you uncomfortable either, once, but if he says tough or such it is up to you decide if you want to come over anymore, not up to you to tell him how to live in his house. If he does it in public or in your house it is a different story altogether.

Now, if he is constantly touching the gun, or waving it around or shoving it in peoples faces intentionally, that is kind crossing the line also and a pretty naked act of aggression, and he should be called on it. But just having the gun on him in his home is unusual but not a real problem. Lot of people I know who have a concealed carry license pretty much do this all the time and no harm ever comes of it.
posted by bartonlong at 6:54 PM on January 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I spent my first 25 years around gun people - not in the sense of particularly obsessed hobbyists, but people who kept firearms as a matter of course, hunted regularly, etc. I think if I were in camp somewhere wild in a context where it'd feel like a safety/readiness measure, I wouldn't think twice about it, but otherwise I'd say the breach of gun etiquette on a practical level is routinely carrying inside the home during a casual social gathering, and I think every sensible gun owner I know would concur. You might not get very far bringing it up, but that's a party I usually leave, personally.
posted by brennen at 7:14 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Answer the question using WORDS and SENTENCES and direct answers towards the OP only please. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:26 PM on January 30, 2013

Also note that a gun can and has gone off in a holster, with lethal consequences. You're not unreasonable in your concern.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:31 PM on January 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

Those aren't really "guns going off in holsters" by themselves though. Those were caused by people pulling / holstering the gun, and it is a relatively common incident to shoot oneself in the leg or foot during these actions. There are bad holsters which are known to cause this problem too. If the host is constantly touching or readjusting the gun, then yes that person is likely to have a negligent discharge and the OP would be wise to avoid being near that person and their gun.
posted by meowzilla at 8:03 PM on January 30, 2013

I'm pro-gun but I'm also adamant about gun safety (and extremely risk averse in general) so the situation described would be totally unacceptable to me.

I truly believe that you should never point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot, and you should always treat a gun as if it were loaded even if you were "100% sure" that it wasn't. To me, this goes for everything. If you have a gun in a rack or in a case or wherever, it shouldn't be pointed at anybody. I don't care if it is in a holster or not, we've got a situation where a loaded gun is periodically inadvertently being pointed at someone's face. That's a dealbreaker for me.

Sure, it will probably never go off, but it's still a completely unnecessary risk. Hypothetically speaking, what if you had a loaded gun in a case that was pointed towards a doorway. It's even less likely to go off, but why would you ever do that? And if you wouldn't do that, then why carry it around the house in a holster where you can get bumped, fall, snag it on something, whatever.

I'm all in favor of a person's right to carry, but to me, you have to balance the inherent risk involved in carrying it on your person vs the upside. However unlikely it is to go off, it has to be riskier than whatever benefit there is to having it on your person (compared to on a shelf or in a drawer or by the side of the couch (assuming you're all adults)).

I would explain to your host you're uncomfortable with the way the barrel gets pointed in directions that aren't straight down and ask them to please put it down while you're around.
posted by cali59 at 8:43 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Dude - muzzle discipline! - That thing is/was pointed right at my face." Choose whether to say this publicly or privately. I'd do it right in the moment it happens, but that's me. If it is pointed at you, it can kill you, if it is not, it can't.
CCW Permit holder in NY State
posted by Sk4n at 9:53 PM on January 30, 2013

Congratulations, you have stumbled on a fairly contentious point of etiquette within gun culture.

The "holstered muzzle sweep" is the source of lots of argument on gun forums, if you want to do some of your own research. (Caution very deep rabbit hole.)

tl;dr version: The consensus among the sort of people I'd want to hang out with seems to be that you shouldn't ever muzzle sweep even if it's holstered.

But: There is a sort of minority position, which is not completely devoid of merit, which says that if the gun is secured in the holster and the gun is either not charged (no round in chamber) or the safety is on and the holster completely covers the trigger, then this is a sufficient level of safety to relax the muzzle-sweep rule. There are a number of holster designs that basically make muzzle sweeping everyone around you unavoidable: waist pack or purse holsters, some pocket holsters (when seated), front of body IWBs (again when seated), military/police-style drop leg holsters (when seated; I assume this is what your friend has) horizontal shoulder rigs, etc. They are generally used for concealed carry, so as a practical matter you have no idea how often someone might be pointing a gun at you this way. The danger, in this line of argument, arises not so much from the direction the gun is pointing when it is sitting at rest in the holster, but rather what the muzzle will sweep if you go to draw it -- because that's when there's a realistic chance of a discharge.

The reason I find this argument not completely devoid of merit is because the Don't Ever Muzzle Sweep rule (Golden Rule of Gun Safety #2, incidentally) has to have some sort of practical limit to it. Even if you're carrying in a very traditional, muzzle-down, police style holster and are standing upright, if you're on the second floor of a building you are technically muzzle sweeping everyone on the first floor (unless you're supremely confident in the construction of the floor and its ability to stop a round). But most people don't consider that a significant risk.

So anyway, there are people who come down on both sides of the issue, including people who flat-out don't pocket carry or use holster designs that result in them muzzle sweeping anyone around them when they're sitting down. I think that's a reasonable position to take. However, provided the holster is a well-designed one (positive retention, completely covering the trigger, safety or hammer strap or Israeli Draw in use), then you are probably at a safety factor that's right up there with lighting strikes in terms of having an accidental discharge while the gun is holstered. The question of how you'd draw it without muzzle sweeping from that position is very different and much trickier.

As a social matter, whether I told the guy with the holster to stop muzzle sweeping me would probably depend on my thoughts on the holster and also the person in general; I'm more likely to give him a pass if I think he's actually through this stuff through than if I think he's just a tactidork showing off his steel penis.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:02 PM on January 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

There are a variety of "gun cultures" in the U.S., from collectors to hunters to fetishists, and that's why you're getting different sorts of answers here about etiquette. I am familiar with the law-enforcement culture, where a firearm is a work tool that comes home at night -- and is put away in a safe place upon entering. One would not wear or display one's sidearm in a social setting any more than one would wave a jackhammer or a scalpel around at a dinner party. As you have figured out, the situation you describe is objectively a breach of safety across all cultures, but is not a breach of etiquette in the gun culture your friend belongs to, or aspires to belong to. (The problem being, of course, that you are not a member of that culture.)
posted by turducken at 10:18 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look, the gun is always pointed at *something* -- mostly the floor, or the couch, but still.

I carry inside waistband, so if I were to perform the same maneuver I'd also sweep you but you won't notice.

I know of one case where a handgun fired while inside a holster and not being fiddled with -- and it was a handloaded round. Extremely rare, so I wouldn't worry. But, none of us like being swept, so I would definitely raise the issue if I were you.

So basically I agree with Kadin2048 except... "steel penis"? Really?
posted by wrm at 1:26 AM on January 31, 2013

Further anecdata: I grew up surrounded by people who carried weapons, and I can't think of a single time this happened. General protocol was that you strap the thing onto your belt or into an inside coat pocket as you leave the house, and then you remove it and put it somewhere out of the way when you walk back in through the door. Even if you live in the craziest NRA-envisioned dystopia imaginable, where armed thugs are likely to burst through your door at a moment's notice, I can't see any possible benefit from carrying it around the house with you rather than keeping it on top of the fridge. You're well within your rights to talk to this guy about it.
posted by Mayor West at 5:51 AM on January 31, 2013

Etiquette-wise, I think this would be similar to having a host who always wore a helmet at home. Like, do you expect the ceiling to cave in and, if so, why are you inviting friends over? Part of making other people comfortable in your home is being comfortable there yourself.

You could also ask him for assurance that he is religious about having the safety on.
posted by Skwirl at 6:33 AM on January 31, 2013

I guess the first thing someone could do in the 20+ comments that have already been posted is let you know there are a few things he can do to reduce the chances of an unintended discharge of his weapon:

1. Carry an unloaded firearm and ammunition, as opposed to a loaded firearm.
1b. Carry a firearm that has no round in the chamber.
2. Carry a firearm with the safety on.
3. Carry a firearm in a holster with a trigger lock.

Thanks, Kadin for pointing these out.

The idea behind all of these gun safety ideas is that you should employ many to ensure that if one fails, an unintended discharge of the firearm still does not occur. And then, the golden rule of never let the business end aim at something you are not willing to destroy kicks in because you still need to assume that an unintended discharge could occur at any time.

All of these things make carrying a firearm 24/7 ... annoying. Which is why many people who take gun safety quite seriously don't. Because it's a hassle.

Ask yourself what steps is this firearm owner taking and if he's willing to ignore safety rules with firearms because they're annoying. That will let you know if you should ever be within shooting distance of him again.

As others have mentioned, confronting him about this issue and seeing his reaction will give you a pretty good idea as to how he views firearm safety as a whole.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:09 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did some reading up on one of Slap*Happy's links above. The third link, "lethal consequences" covers a story of a woman shot when she supposedly gave a hug from behind to an armed off-duty cop. Evidently that was the sanitized-for-media version of events. Some followup stories are suggesting that the woman was drunk, on her knees, and "performing an erotic dance" in front of the armed man. Not gonna speculate here about what exactly went on, but in addition to a holstered gun, there was drunken shenanigans afoot. That rather takes the blame off the holster.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:57 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

No, it's just an illustration of the Bad Things that can happen, even with a holstered weapon... the weapon can fall from the holster and discharge. Someone could snag it when hugging or dancing with you. A home-loaded or factory defective round could be dangerously touchy. The leather or fabric of a poorly designed holster could crumple into the trigger guard when moving around. These are all real-life incidents you can read about with a few seconds googling. A holster is a useful tool in securing a weapon, but it is not infallible, and subject to bad design or manufacture, misuse and mishap, just like anything else. Asking the host to put his firearm in a safe, accessible location while you are a guest is not rude.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:55 AM on February 12, 2013

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