Last time I wrote about shooting I covered a few things about ear protection. Earlier, I covered lead exposure. The same care should be taken to protect our eyes when we shoot, but I wonder how many people even give it much thought.
Most of the training materials I’ve seen indicate that regular glasses or sun glasses provide minimal protection, but nobody much explains what “minimal” means, or the possible consequences for taking that level of safety as “good enough” for granted. I can think of a number of situations where they would offer little or no protection at all.
Let’s take the most obvious first. The gun generates an amazing cloud of particles with each round fired. Much of that is composed of hot gasses, of one kind or another, and some lead particles. The amount will depend a lot on whether or not there is lead in your primers, and if you shoot jacketed rounds or bare lead. It will also depend on how often you clean your guns, of course. A coating of lead on the bore will result in much more lead particles tossed into the air around you.
Your regular glasses would likely deflect particles launched directly at the lens, but if you look at that cloud in the picture that would seem to be minimal protection indeed. Air currents and your own movement will bring far more of those particles into close contact with your face with each shot, including your very moist and vulnerable eyes. If you can SMELL the residue in the air, meaning the particles entered your noses, why would we think they couldn’t get around that small lens over your eyes? If someone else fired a gun close to you, a great many of those particles would be sprayed right on you. Do you shoot black powder or extra hot loads? Do you shoot indoors for hours at a time? Just think of the air quality and ask yourself if you want any of that in your eyes.
Then there is the chance that something more substantial than smoke particles will be discharged from the gun. Hot brass from semi-automatics is the most common. A direct hit to your sunglasses might destroy them, and might injure your eyes in the process. A squib load that isn’t noticed might actually cause the gun to blow apart, to one degree or another, and your hands would not likely be the only casualty.
So, it is important to protect your eyes as much as your ears. The best eye protection would be obtained from actual safety glasses that wrap around the eye and have some sort of filter to keep out larger particles. Yes, they might be a little uncomfortable, but would offer the best protection and are not really expensive. Those with sensitive eyes, or who wear contact lenses, would benefit greatly from such glasses.
Next would be the ordinary safety glasses. The larger the lens, the better. They are not expensive at all, and even come in multi packs for close to a dollar each. Definitely a good idea to buy in bulk if you take others out to the range, especially youngsters.
If you wear prescription glasses, you need something different. Finding safety glasses that can be put on over the prescription lenses is not difficult, though they may cost a bit more. Read the description carefully before you buy or order them, since you probably do not want any that actually magnify. Those would be good for crafts and hobbies, of course, but probably not for shooting.
Last, but not least, is a repeat of some of the cautions mentioned in the lead article. It is very important that you don’t rub your eyes while shooting. You will have residue on your hands, of course, but don’t forget the film of particles and oil that land on your face. You reach under your glasses and rub your eyes… even if you close your eyes, you’ve now got a lot of that stuff IN your eyes as soon as you open them.
Eye care supplies that need to be in your range bag along with the glasses:
Artificial tears. More than one of the small bottles is a very good idea. Can be used to flush the eye if contaminated with something that burns or stings. These drops can’t hurt, even if you have a major problem and are waiting for the EMT.
Baby wipes. Perfect to wipe down your hands and face any time, but especially if you do get something in your eye or feel the need to scratch! Several damp washcloths in separate plastic bags are even better, but not as handy. Both would be ideal.
Wipe your hands carefully and discard the wipe or change cloths, then wipe your face starting with your closed eyes. Wipe from the center outward, and move the wipe or cloth to a clean section before you repeat that motion. Then you can use the same or a new wipe to clean the rest of your face. I usually only do this when I’m done shooting, but would do it any time if I felt something in my eye and needed to use drops to clear it.
When you get home, use a wash cloth and plenty of tepid water along with a mild soap to wash your hands and then your face – along with any other exposed skin. Put your clothing into the laundry and, if possible, take a shower and wash your hair. Use lukewarm water until after you’ve rinsed at least once. Hot water will drive the lead and other particles into the skin and hair.
Be very sure that you follow this method carefully for children or anyone who has been shooting with you, or even just standing nearby – teaching them not to touch their faces or eyes with contaminated hands, as well as the necessary steps to clean up. It’s all part of learning to use a gun well, safely and responsibly.
Yes, it sounds like quite a production. And it can be, but if you are careful to follow the procedure each time, it will become easier and faster. Only you can decide if your health and eyesight are worth the effort.