These are the four rules that you follow every time you handle a gun. They are based on the four rules introduced by Colonel Jeff Cooper. When someone is unintentionally hurt usually at least two of these rules have been broken.
All guns are always loaded.
Traditionally this has been the first rule but I am beginning to think that there are better ways to articulate it (An article will be coming that discusses this). In a nutshell, this rule is not true but one can easily see the safety of acting like it is. Presently, I see the following as three points as a better way of getting to this rule’s intended results.
- You are responsible for knowing the condition of your weapon at all times. (Stolen shamelessly from Pat McNamara) You are responsible, period.
- No single person can declare a firearm unloaded. (Stolen shamelessly from Rob Pincus) Getting this wrong can kill someone so get two or more sets of eyes on it before calling it unloaded.
- Never eradicate that uneasy feeling about whether you have a round in the chamber or if the safety is on. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Not long ago there was a post in a gun forum about someone who pressed a rifle’s trigger and fired a bullet less than two feet from the head of a fellow shooter. The man who pulled the trigger cried out, “It wasn’t supposed to be loaded!” He was complacent. He did not know the condition of his weapon. He declared a gun unloaded on his own.
Never point the gun at anything you do not wish to destroy including yourself.
You never know with life and death certainty that a gun won’t discharge unexpectedly. Most of the time when a gun discharges unexpectedly rule No. 3 was violated but sometimes weird things happen like a round cooking off. If you are keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction then folks will be startled but no one will be hurt.
Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until your sights are on target and you are ready to fire.
When you are keeping your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard lay your finger against the slide. Some folks advocate holding your trigger finger on the slide at an extreme upward angle. If that is comfortable and works for you then go for it. This helps with two things. First, it gives you a place where your finger should be and not just where it shouldn’t. Second, it helps prevent unintended discharges caused by the startle reflex and sympathetic muscle contractions. The startle reflex happens when you hear a loud noise or are startled in some other way. When this happens you will often reflexively clench your fists. Sympathetic muscle contractions happen when you do something with one side of your body and the other side tries to do the same thing. So if you have the gun in your weapon hand and grab onto something else with your support hand, especially if you are grabbing on hard or in an emergency, the fingers of your weapon hand may involuntarily contract too. In either of these cases, if your trigger finger is anywhere close to the trigger you are likely unintentionally fire the weapon.
Be sure of your target and know what is between your barrel and your target, beyond it, and to the left and right.
Be sure you are shooting at the right thing! Know what your target is. Is it a bad guy coming into your room to do you harm or is it your drunk and confused neighbor who has come through the front door you forgot to lock? Also be aware of your surroundings. Could someone unexpectedly run out in front of you? What will be struck if you miss your target or the bullet over-penetrates?
That is all you have to remember to stay safe. Firearms are just tools. They are machines and they only do what you tell them to. It will take a little bit of time and effort before the rules are naturally present in your mind but it won’t take much. Get some good training and then get out to the range and start shooting!