The Four Rules of Gun Safety

When I was in the Special Forces, every time we went to the shooting range we always would start out our safety brief with the Four Rules of 4 rules of gun safetyGun Safety:

  • All guns are always loaded.
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  • Be sure of your target, what is in line with it, and what is beyond it.

It didn’t matter if it was for an hour or for all day, we would always do a safety brief with the four rules.

The Four Rules of Gun Safety are credited to Jeff Cooper.  Cooper is known for his discussion of mindset.  Both mindset for safety and the proper mindset needed for deadly force. Check out Cooper’s book “Principles Of Personal Defense.”

Even now when I go to the range with my son or with friends I insist on reading the four rules.  I even review them when I shoot by myself.  The idea is to in grain them into your thinking so that they become second nature and you follow them even when under tremendous stress.

Let’s look at each of the rules and what they mean:

All guns are always loaded

Most gun accidents are caused by thinking a weapon was empty when it wasn’t. The idea is to create safe handling practices so that even if someone mistakes a weapon for being safe (unloaded) when it isn’t; nothing bad can happen.four rules of gun safety

Even if a gun is on safe, an equipment malfunction can cause it to fire.  If you treat it as being able to go off at any time, you will not injure anyone if it goes off unexpectedly.  I have seen several times on a range when someone thought a weapon was empty and squeezed the trigger as the last step of clearing it and having an accidental discharge.  Luckily, each person had the weapon pointed in a safe direction and did not injure anyone.

We always added “Be Deadly Serious” to the end of this rule.  No fooling around or slacking off. That is when things happen.

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

If you don’t point your gun at something, you can’t shoot it, plain and simple.

In the military, we used the term of flagging someone with a weapon. By this we meant pointing, even incidentally the muzzle at someone.  You have to be always conscious of where your gun is pointing.

If you follow Rule #1, you have to be prepared for the weapon to go off at any time.  I have had rounds cook off in the barrel after firing a tremendous amount of rounds on the range.  If the weapon had not been pointed in a safe direction, it could have injured or killed someone.

Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target

Unless a weapon malfunctions, it will not fire.  If you keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to engage, most likely the gun will not go off. Many a person has shot themselves in the foot by not following this rule on drawing their pistol from a holster.

Also by keeping your trigger finger on the side of the weapon, you are creating a natural point of aim for yourself.

Be sure of your target, what is in line with it, and what is beyond it

This is even more important in home defense scenarios.  You never, ever, ever want to injure or kill someone innocently in the line of fire.  You must identify the target positively as a threat. Too many family members have been shot in their own house when they came home unexpectedly.  You must identify the target as an intruder before engaging it.

Also you have to know if someone might dodge in the line of fire or what might happen if the rounds go through the target.  Remember the words “”always be sure of your target; not just the target itself, but above, below, to the left, to the right, in front of, and behind the target.”

Training will give you the ability to know your strengths and limitations as far as accuracy.  A proper selection of ammunition will lessen the chance of overpentration.


We always added an additional line to the first rule – “Weapons are always loaded. Be deadly serious.” Owning a weapon is a right, but it comes with a need for responsibility.  If you establish the right mindset and drill it into yourself you will greatly lessen the chance that an innocent person and even yourself might be injured.

Here is a link to an excellent gun safety guide – Click here.

Let us know in the comments if you have any other gun safety rules to share.


Photo credit: Gun Shot Wounds of the Hand

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