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Why Train?

October 28, 2014 Comments (6) advice, safety

You Can’t Learn the 4 Rules of Gun Safety

Gun safety fails

One hundred percent of gun owners I never see at the range training with their guns and more than half of those I do see training with their guns have at least one thing in common: when they handle firearms, I see them fail to adhere to the four rules of gun safety.

The reason I continually see these safety failures by gun owners is that one cannot learn these four safety rules. Learning, as we typically understand it, is intellectual. Safety failures, however, are unconscious and based on habitual action. In order to serve you when it counts, the four rules of gun safety must become unconscious, physical habit. Developing these unconscious habits, as proven by countless examples of human performance, requires thousands of properly practiced repetitions. Thousands of repetitions.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

  1. Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded.
  2. Never point the muzzle at something you’re not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’re ready to shoot.
  4. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

From what I’ve seen and read, most gun owners do not train with their firearms every week, every month, or even every year and they seldom practice basic firearm manipulation. Most simply keep their gun in the safe or in the drawer or in the holster. Their logic is “My gun is there for when I need it.” Well, too bad competence will not be there when they need it. The average gun owner is not alone in this irresponsible approach. Even most law enforcement officers train with their guns only once or twice a year (!). With such irresponsible habits among gun owners, actual gun safety is a rarity.

Below: Distracted by the camera, rules 1 and 2 are unconsciously broken:


Nice prom photo…except for the fact that the girl is pointing her weapon directly at her prom date’s legs. Inattention fail.

You Must Train

If you’re a gun owner, how many thousands of times have you handled firearms, starting automatically by checking and clearing the chamber (every time no matter what!), then continually keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction with your finger outside the trigger guard until your sights are already on your target, having already checked to be sure of what is beyond and near your target? How many thousands of times?

Until you have these thousands of repetitions of all sorts of firearm manipulations you can’t be habitually safe with a firearm. So train! Train regularly. Train continually. Train with a variety of firearm types (if possible). Train in all the things you’ll do with a firearm:

  • Draw from holster and re-holster. Unloaded. Loaded.
  • Pick up from a bench/table and rack the slide or close the action. Replace on bench/table (slide/action locked open).
  • Load magazines, tube, or cylinder with ammunition. Unload Magazines, tube, or cylinder.
  • Insert magazine. Remove magazine.
  • Rack the slide / load the chamber.
  • Eject rounds to clear the chamber (or rifle/shotgun equivalent).
  • Exchange magazines when firing to empty.
  • Draw magazine (from pocket and/or mag holder)
  • Hold at (various) ready positions, press/aim, fire.
  • field strip.

…Do all these things while adhering strictly to the four rules of gun safety.

These are all common, basic manipulations every gun owner must do with a firearm and they all need to be performed in a habitually safe manner. Every time. Note that these are just firearm manipulations and do not include other likely necessary operations, like moving while drawing, moving while shooting, moving while dropping and exchanging magazines, crouching and standing while doing all of these things, etc…

My Practice Tally

I’m at the range 3-5x/week and I do dry-fire practice at home most off days. This regimen ensures that in addition to the many manipulations and operations with my guns, I get the following fundamental reps:

Manipulation X Per Week X Per Year
Safely Draw / Re-holster 60 3,000
Safely Pick Up 150 7,500
Safely Load / Unload 80 4,000
Safely Exchange Mags 80 4,000

Even with this weekly regimen it took me several months before I began to be consistent in my safe handling of firearms. I was almost always thinking about being safe, but it took quite a while for my reactions and unconscious responses to become habitually safe. Even now, when I encounter some unexpected manipulation (first time with a pistol with an odd slide lock location, etc.), I might lapse momentarily and find I have pointed the muzzle at a wall or something else I don’t want to destroy. So I practice regularly.

The four rules of gun safety are not hard. They’re not difficult to grasp or understand or put into practice, but they can’t be learned intellectually; they’re entirely dependent upon unconscious physical habit. When you don’t have those habits deeply ingrained through a great deal of continuing practice manipulating and using firearms according to those four rules, you are not safe.

Here’s a group of people breaking at least 3 of the 4 rules of gun safety:

Gun safety fails

This photo is from Chariot India travel company, Notice the unconscious but deadly gun safety violations: the standing woman with her finger on the trigger, and pointed in the direction of the seated women; the seated woman pointing her pistol directly at her partner seated beside her. Via Great Ads

It’s all fun and games until your girlfriend puts her finger on the trigger:

Safety fail

Here is John Luke Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and friends with their firearms. Notice the girl has her finger on the trigger. Also, John Luke has his muzzle dangerously in the vicinity of the girl’s head. Safety fail in a happy, distracted moment.

6 Responses to You Can’t Learn the 4 Rules of Gun Safety

  1. Otacon says:

    First the one picture that you call the girl pointing the weapon at her brother. That picture is actually in the news right now and is a huge story. The two are actually boyfriend and girlfriend. They were going to homecoming on that night and decided to take some interesting photos beforehand. What they are holding are airsoft guns not real weapons even though you would still treat them as such. And minus the fact that the guns will not hurt them just for the pictures sake they posed like that. Their fingers are still off the triggers at all times. The reason its a big story now though is because they posted the picture on facebook before going to their homecoming. Now people started talking about the photo the next week and freaked out about it. The school has since suspended them and is soon to have a hearing to expel the two about the photo which had nothing to do with the school nor was it at the school. Now yes she may be pointing it at his leg but you also have to remember two things. They are airsoft guns for one and two they arent trained with weapons to go have fun airsofting on the weekends. The rest of the pictures bring out a valid point that not many of gun owners dont pay attention to the rules of gun safety. Most gun owners dont even get trained in how to handle weapons and it makes those of us that do know our rules and follow them look bad. I hope this helps in making people away. Also I would change the title that people cant learn the safety rules because a good portion can they just dont. Just saying.

    • Ninja-Don says:

      Airsoft guns are NOT toys and in my family and my Airsoft team are treated as real weapons at all time. They do hurt when you get shot and can do serious damage if hit in the eyes, or facial area.
      So saying they are not real weapons is false. They are real as you are going to get to a fire arm and should be treated as such.
      All the other stuff about the school and whatnot is a bunch of bull@#!t and I wouldn’t want my kids going to that school anyway… now if they posted the pictures prior to going to homecoming and said something stupid in the post, like they were bringing them with them…. well then I see how the school could freak out…. but if the pictures came out after the homecoming event… then that school is all “F”‘ed up.

  2. Ed says:

    I feel as though “keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire.” should also be stated in this article. Safeties off safe (although shouldn’t be a problem if you are following the other weapon handling rules), contribute to the majority of the negligent discharges that happen. Also, you don’t need to go to the range to practice safe handling habits, you can practice that in the comfort of your own home with a properly cleared weapon or a plastic dummy. As far as remembering safe weapon handling procedures, it becomes second nature; and if it hasn’t, you shouldn’t be handling a weapon independently yet. It is definitely not one of those things that you just forget how to do.

    • johnny c says:

      The reason the safety tidbit isn’t mentioned is because not all firearms have safeties, Glock, Springfield Armory’s XD, some of the M&P to name a few.

    • JIm says:

      The only problem with the “keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire” is a lot of the newer smaller pistols have no manual safety. So with all guns the best safety in not have your finger on the trigger until ready to fire.

  3. David says:

    Ed, my S & W Model 19 revolver does not have a safety. Neither does my new S & W Shield. Or my Browning BT 99 trapgun. I was taught to never, ever, ever place any faith in any type of mechanical safety. Use a safety when when appropriate, yes, of course. Scrupulous and constant aherance to the Big 4 safety rules, yes, absolutely! Always and 100% of the time.

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