The 4 Rules of Gun Safety
Updated: Jun 6
I know. Anytime there is something that says 'rules' a number of people tune out. Like when your mom yelled at you, "No running with scissors!"
These rules, however, are the foundation of how you will be handling your firearms in the future. They are so important, that we will treat them like rituals rather than rules.
The Four Cardinal Rules of Gun Safety
#1: All guns are always loaded.
Always. Even if you just checked and ensured it was empty. You treat guns as if they are loaded. All. The. Time. How many times have we heard the excuse, "But I didn't know it was loaded!" This is the cornerstone of the most important ritual you will learn with gun handling. A very common mistake people make is forgetting that the chamber can be loaded even when you remove the magazine. You will treat them as if they are always loaded -- even when no one else is looking. It's that foundational.
#2: Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
Sometimes this rule is said along the lines of "Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy or buy." The muzzle is the end of the barrel where the bullet exits. If you had a laser pointer coming out of the barrel, you could actually see where the muzzle is pointing and see where a bullet would impact. This is huge. It is a major point of contention when around others. If you accidentally point your gun at another person, you have potentially put them at risk of death or serious injury. It's dangerous and offensive. I've seen fistfights erupt over a person "muzzling" another. If you cannot follow this rule, you will be asked to leave classes, be kicked off of ranges, and become known as someone who is 'unsafe'.
#3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
Some instructors say this is an easy rule to follow, but it can be difficult for many people. Many firearms are so ergonomically efficient that your index finger naturally fits inside the trigger guard when you grasp the gun. To guard against this, we train to keep our trigger finger straight along side the frame all the time until you are on target and have actively decided to fire. Sometimes you will hear this as you've "decided to engage".
#4: Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
This is actually two concepts: you have to be able to identify your target and you have to be aware of what your bullet can hit if you miss the target. In our context of defensive firearms use, we have to discern that our target is a threat. And then we have to have the situational awareness to know who is moving around that target. The violation of Rule #4 has had heartbreaking consequences when family members are shot in the dark or an innocent child is hit by an errant shot directed at a bad guy.
These are the Foundation of Firearms Etiquette
These rules comprise a foundational aspect of firearms etiquette you will encounter every time you handle firearms whether you are shooting, inspecting your friend's new pistol, or visiting a gun store. It's like handing someone a knife or scissors. It's good manners to hand it to them handle first, right?
Same with firearms. The way I handle firearms says a lot about my concern for you and the level of my experience. Conversely, the way someone else handles firearms in my presence says a lot about them as well.
I'd like to think that it goes without saying, but don't handle -- or be around someone else handling - firearms when using alcohol or other recreational/prescription substances.
When invited to pick up a firearm or when handed a firearm:
The first thing I do is point the muzzle away from anyone. Down, to the side, up. Whichever direction is safest. You'll need to remember who or what might be on the other side of the wall if you are inside. One way to be safe is to only point the muzzle at something which could stop a bullet;
Then I extract the magazine;
Open the chamber;
Lock the slide back;
Visually and physically check to make sure there is no cartridges (bullets) in the firearm;
Then I can inspect the gun and compliment the proud owner on their firearm.
Then, when I hand it back I:
Continue to point the muzzle in a safe direction;
Extract the magazine if I've reinserted it;
Open the chamber;
Lock the slide back;
Visually and physically check to make sure it is empty;
Hand it back grip first, barrel pointing away from the recipient. Note that I'm handing it back with the slide still locked back. Or with the bolt open. Or with the revolver cylinder open. Whatever the firearm's action, it's open.
There are reasons to go through this extensive ritual:
Like a pilot, you are going through your actions in a systematic fashion so you do not inadvertently leave out a critical step. You go through the steps the same way every time.
This ritualistic gun handling ensures the other person that you are competent and safe.
Be a responsible gun owner and ingrain these rules into your behavior when handling firearms. You will see this material again.