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The 4 Firearms Safety Rules

Stay safe so you don’t end up with extra holes.

There’s a lot of variations of firearm safety rules, but today we’re going off the four biggies from Colonel Jeff Cooper, the father of the Modern Technique of handgun shooting.

Colonel Jeff Cooper
Colonel Jeff Cooper

1. All guns are always loaded

The purpose of this rule is to develop safe habits.

Even if you are home and are absolutely sure your gun is unloaded, you may develop unsafe habits which creep into when you’re on the range with a loaded weapon. If you get used to swinging your gun around in your room, you might accidentally do it at the range.

Negligent Discharge
Negligent Discharge

Always check yourself to see if a firearm is really unloaded before things such as handling or transportation. 

Start by removing the magazine.

Removing the Magazine
Removing the Magazine

If you’re using a semi-auto…rack the slide and lock it back so you can visually inspect the chamber.

Checking for Empty Chamber
Checking for Empty Chamber

If it’s dark or you want to REALLY be sure…do a physical inspection of the chamber with a finger.

Physical Inspection of Chamber
Physical Inspection of Chamber

Got a revolver? It’s easy to check if it’s loaded.

Empty Revolver Chambers
Empty Revolver Chambers

Even if someone says it is empty/clear…check it yourself.

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

The muzzle is the front of the gun where the bullet exits and the keyword here is destroy. Bullets will mess up physical objects but they will truly destroy human bodies.

Common Calibers in Room
Common Calibers in Room

A great exercise is to Google “gunshot wounds” (NSFW)…I won’t post them directly here for the squeamish but it will instill an even greater sense of the possible damage bullets can do.

This rule also builds off of rule number 1. 

If the firearm can fire, assume it will fire, and make sure it goes off in a safe direction. This means no playful pointing at other people and also being careful of where the front of the gun “sweeps.”

K31 muzzles
K31 Muzzles

Pay special attention when you’re with friends at the range. If you’re shooting and someone talks to you…be super aware of where your muzzle is pointed.

3.  Keep your fingers off the trigger until your sights are on the target

Since a firearm is normally fired by pulling a trigger, this rule prevents accidental discharges from events such as being startled, stumbling, or muscle spasms. 

Even as you grip a gun but do not have the sights on target, keep your trigger finger out of the trigger guard area.

Finger Off the Trigger
Finger Off the Trigger

An easy way to spot a disciplined shooter is how they properly index their trigger finger when they are not ready to shoot.

See some of our favorite examples from movies & games.

James Bond
Finger off that trigger!

4.  Be sure of your target and what is beyond it

The first part is to positively identify your target. Then realize that, even if you are firing at the correct target, other targets may be hit.

Outdoors Range Berm
Outdoors Range Berm

You’ll need to consider this rule when choosing a home defensive weapon and ammunition combo since there are most likely family members or neighbors behind the walls and ceilings.

Additional Learning

Got all that? If you want some more reinforcement and a comprehensive video course…check out our beginner handgun course.

Pew Pew Tactical Handgun Course
Pew Pew Tactical Handgun Course

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6 Leave a Reply

  • David

    Probably the most heard phrase before a accidental firing - "Don't worry, it's unloaded."

    March 28, 2021 12:22 pm
  • Naledi

    Hi, is there any 15 or 16 shot magazine that can fit in a norinco Star 9mm pistol?

    March 4, 2020 2:08 am
  • Anthony S. Burkett

    Great list of Rules to "Live" by... but you forgot one... # 5. Know your weapon and its ammunition, their strengths and their weaknesses.. There! That about covers it, I believe any further rules are merely restatements of these 5.

    Also... as a couple of added comments... there is a correct method of clearing a weapon, it involves visually inspecting the weapon's chamber once the magazine has been removed and any resident rounds have been ejected... as well as physically inspecting the chamber's breach with the tip of your little finger to further ensure that no round remains in the breach... just be careful not to let the weapon's action close on your finger... it will hurt like hell.. :)... and finally... I know that "dry-firing" a weapon can damage the firing pin... but outside of excessive dry-firing, I believe this is a negligible concern, and if it does occur it is almost always the result of an already damaged firing pin finally failing. With this in mind it is ALWAYS a good idea to dry-fire the weapon as a final component of clearing the weapon... just remember to dry-fire with the weapon's muzzle pointed in a safe direction (soft ground in front of you preferably).... Trust me... I have good reason for this practice... and I NEVER neglect it!

    Any comments can be directed to me via my email address given.

    Thanks for reading!~

    February 26, 2018 8:19 am
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks for that, Anthony!

      February 26, 2018 10:54 am
    • Doug

      Are you by chance missing a little finger tip, Anthony?

      September 8, 2020 6:46 pm
  • Curt

    I know several people, including myself, who've been around guns for years or even decades who, after dropping or emptying the magazine and clearing the gun and after checking the chamber, still had a live round fall out from somewhere. In my case, I was being too casual and routine . The bullet probably was in the chamber when I dropped the magazine, then fell into some crevice when I checked the chamber. It fell onto the ground when I thought I had an unloaded and safe gun, and had dry-fired it (in a way that protected the firing pin). A friend of mine who has extensive experience one day made a lot of holes in walls. An airline pilot with thousands of hours of experience still goes point-by-point through checklists on every flight because lives depend on him getting everything right. With guns, we too need to follow rules every single time.

    August 5, 2017 10:05 am
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