I am not going to be presenting any new information with this article, but that’s not my intent. This information also won’t be news to anyone that has been shooting for awhile, and that’s perfectly fine. What I want is for those that don’t know these rules or maybe don’t even care about firearms at all, to have a chance to learn these four rules quickly as they browse the internet. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of quality videos done explaining these rules and I would encourage anyone interested in viewing these more detailed videos for themselves. The problem is that only people with an interest in firearms will seek out such information. A quick video with a minimal explanation of these rules might be brief enough to not be completely ignored with all the rest. There is detailed information in this article if someone is interested in spending more time learning, and I also want to provide links to more professionally done videos by professionals I myself have learned from.
The foundation of this art isn’t the fundamentals of shooting, they are enormously important but it’s not where anyone truly begins. First we begin with the four universal safety rules, they should be the foundation that will be part of every interaction you have with a gun. You may not like guns, you may think guns are bad, and that’s fine you are free to feel this way. That does not change that guns are by their very design powerful tools and you can still be hurt by the misuse or abuse of them. Guns are tools and when used correctly can be perfectly safe, but when abused or incorrectly tragic events can occur. Knowing how to safely handle one, regardless of how you feel about them, could be a tremendously helpful bit of knowledge. Statistically everyone is bound to encounter firearms at some point in their life, so even if you don’t like them it will do you nothing but good to at least know how to safely handle one. These are also not OSHA guidelines that, while having good intent, ruin efficiency and productivity and are therefore often ignored in favor of getting the job done. I do not enjoy dealing in absolutes in most anything, especially as I continue to learn more of what I was taught as fundamental being incorrect, but as of this writing these rules are never to be ignored or violated. If someone treats these rules flippantly or believes they are too professional or advanced to follow them, they are neither of these things and should be avoided because the rules they are violating put you at a serious risk of some unhealthy injuries.
These rules are quite simple and easy to remember, the first of which is:
- Treat every weapon as if it were loaded. This means regardless of the status of the weapon or weapons in use, whether someone told you it was empty or even if you yourself just checked to ensure it was empty, you continue to treat it as if there was a live round in the chamber. Countless Negligent Discharges (ND’s) have occurred when someone said a gun was unloaded or immediately after they say “I thought it was empty.” You should never trust anyone else telling you a gun is empty, not me, not a trusted mentor or friend, not your shooting instructor, you should not even rely on your mother’s word that the gun is empty. Even after you have visually and physically inspected the gun yourself you will continue to treat it like its loaded because we as humans all make mistakes and the end result of such a mistake can ruin lives forever. I will never take offense if I clear a weapon in front of someone before handing it to them and they clear it out as well, even though they just watched me do it. In fact I encourage it and am always happier when I see someone do it. If your mentor, shooting instructor, or even your Mom take offense to you clearing it out as well they are in the wrong. When you take possession of the tool you are taking ownership of whatever happens with that tool, so if an ND happens because your trusted gun friend told you it was clear the ND is still your fault, not theirs, and any medical or legal issues that may follow will hold you accountable.
- Never point a weapon that anything you don’t intend to shoot. Like I said these rules are pretty simple. I often hear it suggested to treat the weapon like there is a laser coming out of the muzzle and to act in a safe manner. I don’t like this because lasers are not something in common life and are still part Sci Fi for many. A firearm is a powerful tool with it’s own unique properties, just a circular saw, a blow torch, and other tools have their own unique properties. Treat a firearm like it’s a tool that launches bits of metal at dangerous velocities and if you make a mistake with it and shoot something you didn’t want to then your life is going to be forever changed and potentially ruined. This is not to scare or intimidate anyone new to firearms away, in all seriousness everyone new will be nervous and a bit scared their first few times dealing with firearms, as we are with anything new. I just want to make it distinctly clear of what can happen if these tools are abused or ignored. Saws and power tools are often treated more carefully by those new to their use because the noise and unfamiliarity with them can create a healthy appreciation for what they can do. However with these power tools their lethal range is often distinctly clear, don’t make physical contact with the scary spinning blade and you should be ok. Guns however are ranged weapons, their effective danger zone is measured in hundreds of yards, some in miles, and that brings a new level of responsibility to the table. Always know where your muzzle is pointing and never let that be something you can’t live without.
- Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire. This rule is often the most violated and there are a few reasons for that. Decades ago when revolvers and double-single-action guns were the standard it was often taught to keep the finger on the trigger. The long double-action pull of those firearms required the finger to travel a significantly farther distance and it was much harder to negligently pull/press the trigger the full distance to fire the gun. With the overwhelming majority of guns in circulation today being single-action-only or striker fired the distance required to travel is greatly reduced, making it far easier to negligently fire the gun. Our fingers also naturally curl, no one walks around with their fingers fully extended at all times, its unnatural. We also naturally grip with all fingers when picking an object up, think about how tightly newborns or even toddlers tend to grip anything they get their hands on. No one taught them how to grip things, it is programmed into our DNA to grip with all fingers, so naturally when new shooters pick up a gun their trigger finger wants to grip with the rest of the hand. It will initially take conscious effort to keep that finger off the trigger but with practice it will become a subconscious act anytime you handle something with a trigger. It’s also not enough to simply keep your finger off the trigger, because your finger can still be in the trigger guard and off the trigger. This is less than ideal because when we trip or startle or do any of a dozen different things our hands naturally tense up, just imagine what happens when carrying anything and how your body refuses to let go as you inherently tighten your grip. If your finger is already curled in the trigger guard when you tense up it will result in your hand gripping that gun with your full hand and that finger is going to tighten on the trigger with far greater strength than the spring tension of that trigger can resist. Your finger is far less likely to do this if it’s already extended out along the frame of the gun. My friend Chris Hill even takes it one step farther and teaches his students to have their fingers straight and angled up to actually be on the slide of the gun. His thought is that even if your finger is straight on the frame if you do curl your finger it’s still in line with the trigger, if your finger is angled up to the slide it’s even less likely to cause an issue.
- Know your target and what lies beyond and in front of it. The fact that bullets can pass through solid objects and continue to cause damage beyond what we can physically see is something many fail to realize. It takes much more than people realize to halt the flight of a bullet and accepting that shooting something may also mean hitting what is behind it is something that should be considered with every shot. The drywall in your home, the floorboards, your car doors are not going to completely stop a bullet from continuing on its path. I’ve also seen countless occasions at indoor ranges where shooters were taking higher angle shots on their paper targets at three and five yards while completely ignoring the fact that the bullet didn’t stop once it hit their paper and beyond their target was the range ceiling. They were oblivious to the resulting damage they were clearly causing until stopped by a range officer. Bullets do not care about what your intended target is or what you’re focused on hitting, when the gun fires the bullet is going to go on whatever trajectory applies to it. This not only means it can pass through your target and hit something beyond, but it also means it will hit anything in it’s path along the way. It is very easy to get tunnel vision and focus only on what we want to hit, however it is just as important to ensure there is nothing the bullet will hit along the way to and beyond our intended target. Height over bore also becomes a factor in this instance, but that’s another topic and the short description of it is that your sight line is slightly higher than your bullets path. Checking to make sure your muzzle and not just your sights clear any obstacle is an important thing to consider.
I ended up writing far more than I planned and it may seem a bit overwhelming to someone trying to understand these rules. The important thing is to remember the four universal rules I have in bold, the text following each is me trying to give context and detail to how these rules apply, so if you want to remember those rules without my extra information or a different variation that is perfectly fine. There are more rules and things to consider, but these four are unique because they regulate how YOU the shooter handle yourself and are not dependent upon the features of the gun being used. There are also many rules that will vary in importance and use determined by the range, organization, and legal situation you are in. All of those extra rules are going to build from these four rules, they will never replace or supersede them.
The following video is from a company I greatly respect and continue to learn from, both through their content online and as a paying student. Mickey does a tremendous job of going in depth on how to avoid self-inflicted injury and I would encourage anyone interested to check out the hundreds of hours of educational content he provides for free on his channel.
Warrior Poet Society is another incredible company that has high quality and educational content throughout their channel. Their linked video is a professionally produced and more detailed explanation of the four universal safety rules. As with Mickey’s channel, I would encourage those interested to explore the many educational videos WPS provides on their channel.
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