Four Firearms Safety Rules

There are four firearms safety rules almost universally accepted by training operations, law enforcement agencies, and any other entities that are involved with the handling and use of firearms. The origination of these four rules is attributed to Jeff Cooper, the “father” of most of the handgun manipulation techniques that are in use today.  These rules would apply to any firearms, not just handguns.

The four firearms safety rules are as follows:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cross anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire.
  4. Be sure of your target and beyond.


The numbers assigned to each rule are an important part of the rules.  In some cases, you might hear a person refer simply to a violation of rule 2 or rule 3.  That is why it is important to learn the rules in order and with the numbers assigned to each.

This discussion of the rules should include some explanation of the rules and some of the variations. Occasionally, you will see variations such as the following for number one:

  1. Treat all guns as if they are loaded.

We feel that the rule is much more emphatic if stated in the original format.  The original statement of the rule, “All guns are always loaded,” does not lend itself to any “relaxation” of the rule.

Rule number two: “ Do not let the muzzle cross anything you are not willing to destroy” is pretty self-explanatory.  If the muzzle is pointed at anything that is of value, be it a human, a pet, a body part, or an inanimate object, it will cause death, damage, or great bodily harm if the gun were to be discharged.

Rule number three: “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire” is perhaps the most often violated rule.  If individuals are not trained in this manner, they can often be seen picking up guns with the finger immediately going into the trigger guard.  The finger should be completely out of the trigger guard and placed along the frame rail of the firearm.  Even if the finger is off the trigger but left along the edge of the trigger guard, sympathetic muscle movement can cause the finger to retract on to the trigger, with the results being a negligent discharge.

Rule four: “Be sure of your target and beyond” is a rule with two parts.  The first part refers to the target. The second is the area behind and beyond the target.  If there is not a proper backstop or clear area behind the target, the bullet can miss, or pass through, the target and cause damage in unintended areas and to bystanders.

Some firearms trainers add another rule, which is “keep control of your gun”.  The NRA adds a rule that states that you should keep the gun unloaded until it is to be used.  These additional rules are all good to practice, but if you observe the four basic rules, you will be able to experience a lifetime of the enjoyment of the safe use of firearms.

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