Firearm Safety

I’m starting this blog with the firearm safety rules because it is the most important part of owning firearms.

Safety often gets overlooked, even by shooters that have “been around guns” all of their lives.  Some shooters even seem to think that they are exempt from the rules because they have been “doing it this way for years” and luckily haven’t had an accident.

The safety rules also get overlooked by new gun owners and shooters also and that should be a concern of all gun owners. We must teach the “next generation” of gun owners how to safely handle firearms, even if they aren’t our own sons or daughters.  There are more new gun owners now than ever before. One reason the rules get overlooked by new shooters is simply because no one is teaching them how important the rules are. In some cases, even people that know better are steering them into buying the latest gadget and gizmo instead of pushing fundamentals of firearm safety and then the fundamentals of shooting before silly gadgets and other gear.

When was the last time you went to buy a gun and the salesman asked you if you knew what the 4 rules were? Were you pointing the gun at other patrons of the store or gun show while checking out that new hand cannon? Was the sale stopped for your own safety or the safety of everyone in the room?

I recently saw a “firearms instructor” (so he had just informed a licensed gun dealer friend of mine at the same show) pick up an AR platform rifle at a crowded gun show. He failed to open the bolt and verify that it was unloaded and then he proceeded to shoulder the rifle and point it into the crowd with his finger on the trigger. Luckily for all of us it was actually unloaded and he was quickly warned by the Sheriff (who also heard what a top notch instructor he was) to stop pointing guns at people or he would be getting some steel bracelets. The man left the show a little embarrassed and we are all alive today. That just goes to show you, even some people that should know better don’t make the rules a habit.

The four rules of gun safety were put together by Col. Jeff Cooper, creator of The Modern Technique of handgun shooting, and founder of Gunsite.  Gunsite is the original and most famous firearms training facility and most of the “top tier shooting schools” are from the lineage, one way or another.  Gunsite was originally called The American Pistol Institute but changed its name after adding shotgun and carbine classes.

The 4 rules apply to all firearms at all times. The rules are redundant to stop accidents. If you forget one rule, the others can prevent a tragedy.  The rules cannot be ignored, ever! The rules must be obeyed all of the time, NO EXCEPTIONS.

So let’s get started with the rules that MUST be followed and a brief explanation of each.

Do you notice how there really aren’t that many to follow? So if you are smart enough to read this there is no excuse not to follow them. I think so, and it’s my blog.

The Four Firearms Safety Rules:

1. Every gun is always loaded

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy

3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Know what your target is (identify it) AND know what is beyond it.

Explanations, on how to apply each rule and common mistakes.

1. Every gun is always loaded, means that you must treat every gun as if it were loaded ALL the time.

If you gun is taken apart for repairs or cleaning, guess what?  It is still "loaded". Don’t point it at yourself or anyone else. You wouldn’t load it and point it at yourself or your friend otherwise, so DON’T do it when you are “sure it is unloaded” because it is not and your friend will thank you later. GOT IT?

Dry fire practice:  When you dry fire you must physically and visually inspect the firearm to verify that it is unloaded at least TWICE. Then, guess what! The gun is still treated as if it were loaded. Then how do you dry fire practice? You must designate an area with a safe backstop, as if you were really shooting. You need something that stop a bullet. Use a bookshelf, a fireplace etc. Announce out loud to yourself that you are dry firing. Then when you are finished practicing, announce out loud again, that you are done dry firing.

A staggering number of firearms accidents are recorded every year when people were 100% “sure that the gun was unloaded” but it really wasn’t and now someone is dead. Don’t be the statistical idiot.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy, means that you NEVER point the gun at anything unless you want to destroy it, even if you are sure that is unloaded… back to rule one again. See how this works?

There are countless accidents each year from firearms.  An accidental discharge (firing the gun when you really didn’t mean to) might result in a loss of life. Failure to keep the muzzle in a safe direction at all times can result in DEATH.

This applies whenever you are handling your firearm, even taking it out of the case or safe. It applies in hunting, target practice, and specifically when shooting in self defense. When you are using a gun to defend yourself there will not always be a clearly defined firing line. Innocent people may be running around near the threat, or adjacent to you, so you must always keep the muzzle under control and in a safe direction, regardless of the situation.

I’m going to expand on this for self defense and Concealed Carry since its popularity has driven gun sales off the charts:

Concealed Carry holders must practice holstering and drawing their carry gun (unloaded) to create good habits and instinctively remember this rule. It is a common mistake to make when learning to handle a gun or just starting to carry a gun. You will most likely shoot yourself in the leg only ONE time, before realizing the value of this rule. Of course if you have accidentally killed yourself, then you will never realize the importance of this rule and the media will blame the gun. (look up Glock accidental discharges, its always the gun, never the person)

Draw Stroke:

Learning the draw stroke is actually fairly easy. Start out SLOWLY and take it step by step. It’s like learning to walk before you run. Have someone watch you draw with an unloaded gun and verify that you are doing it correctly. If you don’t have anyone to watch you, video record yourself and watch for mistakes. Look for things like letting the muzzle cover any portion of your body, finger getting on the trigger. A laser sight can be very helpful if you can fix it in the “on” position for practicing your draw stroke. The laser will show you your muzzle control mistakes quickly.

Holstering the gun:

You must practice holstering the gun also. Holstering the gun after a self defense shooting will be nerve racking to say the least. The adrenaline is rushing through your body. You are elated to be alive and concerned because you just used a gun on another human being, perhaps killing them in order to preserve your own life. You’ve called the police, witnesses are hysterical, you are thinking back to your CCW class… “What do I do with my gun? Oh, put it away so that responding officers know that I’m the good guy…”  You must take your time, keep the MUZZLE POINTED AWAY FROM YOUR BODY (and your finger off the trigger, over to rule 3) and holster the gun.

Keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction means if the gun were to go off at any time that no one would be injured, nothing would be destroyed.

3. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target. This is the one that seem to need the most attention, so forgive the caps… KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER!  PUT YOUR FINGER ON THE FRAME OF THE GUN ABOVE THE TRIGGER GUARD UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ALIGNED ON THE TARGET AND YOU ARE READY TO DESTROY IT. You cannot put your finger on the trigger just because your gun is pointed “down range” or “in a safe direction.” Your sights must be on target first, then you can press the trigger.

  • Once your sights come off the target, your finger comes off the trigger.
  • Only when your sights are on the target can your finger can move to the trigger.
  • Once your sights come off the target, your finger comes off the trigger.
  • Only when your sights are on the target can your finger can move to the trigger.
  • Once your sights come off the target, your finger comes off the trigger.

Make it a habit.

This applies everywhere, all the time. It applies at the shooting range and when shooting in self defense.

This is the most abused rule. It obviously “sets the gun off” so therefore this rule needs to be reinforced when you are training and at any time that you handle a gun.

Guns don’t just go off by accident. Guns require human intervention. Firearms only go off “on accident” when people make mistakes and make them go off.  Guns cannot operate without humans, not even the scary black rifles with high capacity magazines.

By systematically keeping your finger OFF the trigger whenever handling the firearm and any time that the sights are not on target, your brain (the only real gun safety) will remember to keep that finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. A large number of firearms accidents are caused by breaking this rule every year.

4. Know what your target is, identify it, AND know what is beyond it.  This applies to all shooting, self defense high stress situations, target shooting, plinking, and hunting and even dry firing.

In self defense situations you must identify a threat before you can legally use force to stop a threat. You cannot shoot at a noise or a shadow, or something that has not yet become a threat.

In practice you must know what is beyond your old soda cans on the hill before blasting away.

Even if you must use a gun to defend yourself, you must know what is beyond the bad guy before you shoot. The Oregon mall shooting at Clackamas Town Center always comes to mind when I explain this rule. Did you know that during the Oregon mall shooting Concealed Carry Permit holder Nick Meli had his gun drawn on the mall shooter Jacob Roberts?

According to Meli:

“As I was going down to pull, I saw someone in the back of the Charlotte move, and I knew if I fired and missed, I could hit them,” he said.

“Meli took cover inside a nearby store.  He never pulled the trigger.  He stands by that decision.”

He followed the safety rules even under stress. You must be disciplined enough to do the same, especially when the chips are down and the adrenaline is flowing.

When hunting you must know what is beyond that deer or turkey that you have in your sights. Is that really a deer or turkey? Is it the neighbor's horse? Don’t laugh, it happens. Here in Missouri, and in all other states there are always hunting accidents because hunters failed to clearly identify the game animal. It usually results in accidentally shooting a different animal, or perhaps shooting another hunter that was behind the game.

Those are the 4 rules and some common mistakes, not all of the mistakes but common mistakes that we see regularly and or read about in the news.

Practice the 4 rules and make them a habit.

EDC Firearms Training