Gunfighter Moment – Pat McNamara

Hypothetical question; if you and I were in a gunfight at mid-range and I had to do a rifle mag change from behind cover and then move behind you with a ‘hot’ gun, would you want my rifle to be on ‘Safe’?

There is only one correct answer. It would be negligent to move in close quarters with another with the rifle on ‘Fire’.

Therefore, when we practice mag changes, whether on a bolt lock or tac reload, we should throw the rifle on ‘Safe’.

This should be a subconscious level driven task. It should be rehearsed in training for the appropriate amount of meaningful repetitions to the point of ‘automaticity’.

When I hear guys say that it is not necessary to throw the weapon on safe during a reload, I am hearing them say “I am fucking lazy.” “I do not want to perform the proper amount of repetitions to ensure that this is an intuitive level task.”

Putting the rifle on ‘Safe’ during a reload, when done right, will not slow you down so it won’t become a disabler. This can only be an enabler.

Patrick McNamara
SGM, US Army (Ret)

Pat McNamara

Patrick McNamara spent twenty-two years in the United States Army in a myriad of special operations units. When he worked in the premier Special Missions Unit, he became an impeccable marksman, shooting with accurate, lethal results and tactical effectiveness. McNamara has trained tactical applications of shooting to people of all levels of marksmanship, from varsity level soldiers, and police officers who work the streets to civilians with little to no time behind the trigger.

His military experience quickly taught him that there is more to tactical marksmanship than merely squeezing the trigger. Utilizing his years of experience, McNamara developed a training methodology that is safe, effective and combat relevant and encourages a continuous thought process. This methodology teaches how to maintain safety at all times and choose targets that force accountability, as well as provides courses covering several categories, including individual, collective, on line and standards.

While serving as his Unit’s Marksmanship NCO, he developed his own marksmanship club with NRA, CMP, and USPSA affiliations. Mac ran monthly IPSC matches and ran semi annual military marksmanship championships to encourage marksmanship fundamentals and competitiveness throughout the Army.He retired from the Army’s premier hostage rescue unit as a Sergeant Major and is the author of T.A.P.S. (Tactical Application of Practical Shooting). He also served as the Principle of TMACS Inc.

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Bravo Company USA. Bravo Company is home of the Gunfighters, and each week they bring us a different trainer to offer some words of wisdom.

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26 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Pat McNamara”

  1. Joe says:

    And that’s all there is to say about that!

  2. The Pig says:

    Rhetorical more than hypothetical

  3. Mr.E.G. says:

    Note to self: put gun on safe for mag changes.

  4. Thomas Madere says:

    I will look into doing that with my Glock. I understand the thinking behind it but is it just a case of doing it just because a safety is available.
    As popular as the Glock and other guns with out manual safeties are what does that tell us, are they more safe than a carbine with the safety off.
    When in a holster or in my hand with my finger off the trigger my Glock is only as safe as I am. By comparison a carbine hanging by the sling with the safety off is not because the trigger is not protected like a handgun in a holster. Once I pick it up and have control of it it is no different than my Glock and I become the safety. Just my view on this issue.

    • AC says:

      I was thinking the same, but I think you put it better.

      This is largely situational. I can see situations where this is essential and I can see situations where this is not. Safety is truly the user.

    • Andrew says:

      Well said, thought on both sides definitely worth consideration.

    • Jeb says:

      Solid arguement – made me question how many of my pistols (spread over four manufacturers) have a manual safety. Answer? None. Five pistols and not one with a manual safety…or a manual safety that can be engaged with a mag change on a locked back slide. As for Mac’s advocacy of flipping the safety on a long gun, especially when in close proximity to others in a high stress condition – is right on. And as has been beaten like the proverbial horse, time it takes is insignificant when it becomes a natural part of your manual of arms. Thanks Mac and Thomas.

    • Bill says:

      It’s a different platform, but I’ve fought with both sides of this issue with LE issued Remington 870s, when topping off the magazine. The cross bolt safety in the front of the trigger guard is ergonomically useless.

    • Paul J says:

      Maybe this type of safety ll address partially the issue :

      It’ll not protect the trigger but it’s a reminder that you’ve got the finger in the trigger guard. It may not work in high stress though.

    • Drew says:

      I think it’s worth noting that your AR or shotgun does not have a positive internal safety like your glock or many other pistols (safety selector only blocks the trigger from moving, not the hammer) so I think the argument is that the pistol is safer than the rifle isn’t that far off.

      But to your point, yes, every person handling a weapon is responsible for safe employment of those weapons. But ignoring built in safeties for the argument for the Hoot argument “This here is my safety” is a little short sighted.

    • Mark says:

      If we’re going to compare rifles and handguns, compare the AR to the 1911 as opposed to the Glock.

      Why would you not have your safety engaged if you’re not actively dealing with targets?

      • Thomas Madere says:

        You can’t put a 1911 on safe with the slide locked back nor can you rack it when on safe. All 1911 reloads happen off safe at some point. What would do on a slide lock reload, drop the mag, drop the slide forward, engage the safety, put in the mag, disengage the safety and rack.

    • Matt says:

      So, since my motorcycle does not have a seatbelt, I don’t really need to use the seatbelt in my car?

      Same logic.

      Pistols and rifles are different tools, for different uses, and likely to be used in different times and ways. Long guns are much harder to wrangle and control during movement, which means more potential for bad shit to happen.

    • Airborne_fister says:

      He did say mid-range. I don’t know what mid rage is to you but to me I’m in a fire fight of 100 yrds to 50 yrds. So at that distance I’m not going to be using a pistol.

  5. RangerRed44 says:

    I have seen rifles and riflemen have negligent discharges both in the hand and dangling from a sling. It cannot be stressed enough, put that rifle on safe if you’re going to move, put your trigger finger in universal cover and point that weapon in a safe direction. Especially if moving behind friendlies. The ND’s I have seen would have been prevented had the shooter rotated that selector to safe and put his finger in universal cover. One of which hit a person but was not life threatening. Another the trigger brushed on a piece of gear and discharged.
    The odd rifleman that says he has never had an ND just hasn’t had it yet. You shoot long enough and often enough and it’s going to happen. The real problem is whether it goes in the dirt or in somebody. And we minimize those chances by using the safety and muzzle discipline.
    I guess this article hit home because I just had a class of green shooters and they’re always a little scary.

  6. I have never understood the argument against using the safety. If you’ve watched Mac or Frank Proctor work it, it costs you nothing in time. You only need to re-train yourself to ride that safety with your thumb and just implement. I’m not a rocket surgeon, and I was able to make it happen. If I can do it, anyone should be able to.

  7. Dellis says:

    Ever since I saw a Mac video and could hear his safety going on and off it drove me to practice that, every day I can.

    So in evening if watching TV and we happen to have commercials I mute the TV, sling my AR, raise up, select fire. Select safe, lower…throw in a should transition here and there and work the safe/fire switch.

    Really annoys my wife, heehee

    Great info Mac, thank you.

  8. St says:

    For those arguing against it (using the safety during all manipulations) I ask you this….

    If it doesn’t cost you anything (meaning additional time as you have trained it enough to be able to do it subconsciously) WHY wouldn’t you do it??

  9. txJM says:

    A mechanical safety is no substitute for Jeff Cooper’s rules 2 and 3. My answer to the hypothetical is: I don’t care, as long as that muzzle doesn’t cover me at any point. Safe or hot.

    • I don’t think anybody is advocating use of the safety in lieu of the cardinal rules of gun safety. Safety is like security – you have take a layered approach.

    • Terry Baldwin says:


      You might want to reconsider. Bullets ricochet, bounce and careen in unpredictable ways especially in confined spaces. Science and random chance. You might very well manage to shoot and seriously injure or kill yourself or your buddy if you have an ND. Even if the muzzle was pointed in a “safe” direction. So you probably should care if that weapon is handled AND made as safe as possible. Especially during high stress situations.


  10. Muzzle up, safety on.

    That’s the way I have ground it into my thick head.

    To the guys not putting their rifles on safe when reloading…please…stick with Call of Duty in mom’s basement.

  11. Art says:

    I think he probably knows, and has way more experience to draw on
    Beside, what are you giving up, or “saving”…chance for an opinion? Train to do it all…

  12. jk says:

    Pat is spot on with this. This isn’t a matter of opinion. When your life revolves around working and literally living with differing weapons platforms around you, it becomes very easy to adapt a lazy attitude in matters such as these. This leads to unsafe situations. I can personally attest that if you don’t operate your safety in between mag changes, transitions, cov/conceal and teammate mvmnts…that you are placing yourself and your teammates in a possibly perilous situation. When in a stressful situations you should always know the condition of your weapon platforms, and the last thing you want or need is a UD.

    I understand the difference in a secondary platform, no safety..check.. just put your finger along the trigger guard and go to the rdy pistol position if applicable.. where a sidearm is different is that when done using it, you put it back in the holster and its secure..its very, very easy to just sling the rifle and forget its condition, also the trigger of the secondary is covered in a holster while the trigger of your primary is exposed to all kinds of snags..

    If you’re a recreational shooter then I guess you can argue Pat’s points, but if you live by the gun… its your profession and there are certain basic building blocks you don’t skimp on..