I feel that this is one subject that gets lip service all the time, but rarely people take it seriously or understand it in a real-world setting. In this article we will review the 4 fundamental firearms safety rules and attempt to explain how they apply in the real world and not just at the range. The late Jeff Cooper spent years trying to get this point across. Obviously, there is nothing here that hasn’t been covered somewhere but this is our take on it.

I see many instructors gloss over these rules as if they are just a formality for liability reasons. What they are really doing is a great disservice to their students. At Delaware Tactical we take 30 to 45 minutes to go through these rules as they apply to carrying a firearm. Yes, 30 to 45 minutes!! If our students leave having learned nothing other than how to be responsibly armed, we have won!

Let’s get one thing out of the way, these are NOT range rules. However, they do apply there as well. So, let’s dive into this!

1. Treat all firearms as if they are always loaded. If everyone followed this rule, we would have no need for the other three. People tend to treat an unloaded firearm kind of flip, like it is no threat at all. One of the main points of treating them all as if they are loaded is to build good habits and avoid a crucial mistake that could cost a life. Just walk into a gun store and watch how people handle weapons that they assume are unloaded. They wave them around like they are magic wands and occasionally you will see someone even look down the barrel. This rule should apply any time you are handling a firearm. Anytime, anywhere and in any situation, whether it be the range or on the street defending yourself.

2. Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to destroy.  I’m not sure which rule is broken more often, two or three, but it’s a close race.  We have zero tolerance to breaking this rule in our classes. If you point your muzzle at anyone, at any time, you will be removed from the class. 

Now lets be realistic, the muzzle is always pointed somewhere and we don’t intend to destroy that either. That is why we like to say “the least risk location” when we explain this rule. If you can make it bleed and do not intend to then you are wrong. Period, no exceptions. Then we take property damage and rank it. For example, the bottom plate of a wall where it meets the floor may capture a ND (negligent discharge) that would be much better than the side wall where the round could leave the building. If you follow these rules there should be no such thing as an AD (accidental discharge).

That being said, I see a few issues with how this rule is mishandled by instructors and students alike.

People unaware of where the muzzle is while they handle the firearm (situational awareness). You should be situationally away at all times except in the safety of your own home. If I had a dollar for every time, I told someone about their muzzle discipline and got the response, “it’s not loaded” I would be well off. This drives me nuts! NO!! you are not allowed to swing that thing around like it’s a sparkler. You must always know where the muzzle is pointed at all times. When picking it up, carrying it, manipulating it, shooting it, and cleaning it.

Instructors that tell their students to keep the weapon pointed down range.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I’m just glad some people kept it pointed down range. These people cause a lot of stress and they are usually people that have handled firearms for a long time and they think, “I’M GOOD, I know what I am doing”. These people are extremely hard to teach or coach and definitely did not bring the number one item to class – an open mind to learn! These are also probably the ones that shoot themselves with an empty firearm when cleaning it.

The youtube and faceweb heros with their tacticool range theatrics.  To me, teaching good muzzle direction techniques is important. We teach a high ready hunt position with the arms not breaking 90 degrees for the most part, a temple index for vehicles and rapid movement, straight down, low ready at the base of the threat or threat area, and on target. When you see these tactical geniuses shoot their course of fire and then rip the gun back in some compressed ready position and start scanning with all the theatrics they can muster it is WRONG! Don’t get me wrong, a compressed ready has a context. But not standing there with it while you scan or just stand. Translate that to the real world. What are you pointing the firearm at? You are in the public. People make up the public and you are pointing the firearm at something random and you don’t even know you are pointing it at. Moving around in compressed ready is a violation of this rule unless that context dictates you compress the gun for structure or distance. But that’s a whole other article. You should have enough muzzle discipline to walk through a crowd of people 360 degrees around you and not flag a single person as well as holstering and drawing the firearm.

They seem to exclude themselves in this rule – This is akin to not having situational awareness. People point their firearms at themselves frequently and would argue that they did not. When holstering the firearm, they will point it at their leg, hip or sweep their hand on the way into the holster. When they draw and collect the firearm, out in front rather than close to their body high in the chest where they should and run their hand right in front of the muzzle and not even realize it. When you kneel or are in a sitting position watch how people draw and sweep right across their femoral artery like it isn’t a problem at all. Imagine being seated and a threat is presented. As you are getting up you are trying to draw and get the weapon on the threat. I wonder how many fingers would be on the trigger already while the firearm is crossing their leg. Once slight tension in the grip and you could send a round through your own leg. I always ask how many carry a tourniquet when they carry a firearm and its rarely a yes.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot,  If you ask a group of students, when do you put your finger on the trigger? The unanimous response will be, “when you are ready to shoot!”. But isn’t there more to this? I think so. 

I teach that there are criteria for ready to shoot:

–  The weapon must be oriented to the target.
–  I’d like to see my sights lined up, but this is also contextual and they come mounted lined up on the slide.
–  The target is legal and available – This is important whether you are on the range or not. 
–  You have made the moral and conscious decision to press the trigger.
– And your finger comes off the trigger before you leave the threat/target.

Moving around with your finger on the trigger is a recipe for disaster. We teach when off the trigger you should use a high index point like the ejection port.

4. Know your intended target and what is beyond it.  This rule proves that these are not range rules. How many times have you ever questioned your cardboard target or the bullet trap or berm? This has to do with you and if you need to draw your weapon and engage a threat. In the public when a firearm comes out, people start to move. These people may not see your weapon out and may cross in front of you. You have to always be aware of this. Always assume your round will pass through your threat (some people would hate to think they might miss) and where would your round go? This also answers that ridiculous question “What round or weapon should I use to protect my house that wont over penetrate?” The answer… “THEY ALL CAN!” it’s not about the round, it is about the plan, the angle of fire, how you engage the threat and more.

This article just scratches the surface of what we review and teach in our classes. The world is not a flat, bowling alley range. It is a 720-degree world and you are the hub. Learn how to handle your firearm in that environment. Always compare what you do on a flat range to how it would work or look in the real world.

Scott Taylor
Delaware Tactical