The 4 Gun Safety Rules and Why They’re Effective

Though everything you need to know about firearm safety can’t be completely boiled down into just a few rules, following the 4 universal gun safety rules will go a long way in keeping you and those around you safe.

These firearm safety rules were first popularized by Jeff Cooper over fifty years ago. Variations of them are still espoused by gun safety experts and organizations around the United States because there’s no more straightforward way to keep shooters safe.

Following the 4 rules covered below should help you to avoid the vast majority of firearm-related accidents.

1) Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.

Treating all guns as if they are always loaded ensures that you handle guns with care at all times. In particular, it forces you always to follow all other gun safety rules.

Everyone from brand new shooters to seasoned gun owners are capable of forgetting a firearm is loaded. Often this happens as a result of removing the magazine but failing to eject the round in the chamber.

Sometimes, people even mistakenly load guns with a magazine that they think is empty.

While you should always try to stay on top of whether your gun is loaded or not, following this first rule and the subsequent rules should help you to avoid any accidents if you make a mistake.

2) Never aim the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.

If I could only give one sentence worth of advice on gun safety, it would be this rule. Never aim your firearm at anything that you’re not willing to destroy.

By also following rule 1, you should never aim a firearm at anything you don’t want to be destroyed even when you think it’s unloaded.

At the gun range, this means always keeping your muzzle aimed downrange.

When hunting, this means carrying your firearm with the muzzle pointing in a safe direction. When choosing how to carry a loaded gun, you should also be mindful of where you might aim it if you were to trip or fall.

It’s super unlikely that a well-maintained firearm will fire without pulling the trigger, but this rule protects against freak accidents or poor trigger discipline.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made a decision to shoot.

Speaking of trigger discipline, it’s the 3rd rule.

You should keep your finger off and away from the trigger until your ready to shoot. This usually means resting your trigger finger above and away from the trigger, outside of the trigger guard.

The picture below shows an example of good trigger discipline while holding one of my favorite pistols.

P320 RX Pistol Good Trigger Discipline

Though you should never break rule 2, following rule 3 helps keep you safe in the event that you did. With that being said, do NOT break any of these rules.

4) Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Rule number 4 is a two-parter.

First, you should identify your target and be 100% sure it is what you’re trying to shoot.

As I’ve mentioned when discussing hunting safety, it seems there is at least one accident every year where someone is shot who was thought to be a deer or other animal. These unfortunate events are a result of hunters breaking the first part of rule 4.

In addition to properly identifying your target, you should also be sure that there are no people or things you do not want to destroy near your target. This includes in front of or behind your target, which brings us to the second part of this rule.

It’s also important to know what’s behind your target and to have a good backstop.

Bullets can travel thousands of yards, so you need to be sure you have a good backstop beyond your target in the event you miss or the bullet penetrates through your target.

When shooting at outdoor gun ranges, this means not taking any shots that could potentially go over the backstop.


Wrapping Up

Each of the 4 universal gun rules work together to keep you safe from the vast majority of firearm accidents. You should always follow every rule on this list, but if you forget to follow one, there’s a good chance the others will prevent accidents.