Safety and Training

Basic Rules of Firearm Safety

revolver with trigger lock

Recently firearm safety has been a topic of much discussion across the Internet, in part due to the recent press Remington received regarding people injured when a rifle discharged while pointed in an unsafe direction. When working with or around firearms, safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Colonel Jeff Cooper first codified the “Four Rules of Firearm Safety” which are:

Rule 1 : All guns are always loaded. Rule 2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Rule 4: Be sure of your target.

These rules have been amended and modified over the years, and the principle remains the same. Let’s go over them one by one and discuss what they mean and their importance.

Rule 1: All Guns Are Always Loaded

This is probably one of the most controversial rules, as it is obvious there are times when a firearm is not loaded. Some people have modified this rule to read, “Treat all guns as if they are loaded” or even “Always know the condition of your firearm.” However you choose to word it, the principle remains the same: Treat a firearm with the respect it deserves, assuming it is loaded until proven and verified otherwise. Furthermore, always respect others around you by acknowledging that they probably do not know whether a firearm is loaded or not.

Rule 2: Never Let the Muzzle Cover Anything You Are Not Willing to Destroy

Along with Rule 3, this is one of the most important rules. Abide by this rule, and even if you ignore the other rules, the chances of something getting injured, hurt, or destroyed are much diminished.

Almost every injury or death that has ever resulted from the accidental discharge of a firearm could have been avoided if the muzzle had been pointed in a safe direction.

What is a safe direction? Generally, a firearm muzzle should be pointed towards the ground, downrange or, at a minimum, away from where people are. Some say it is safe to point a muzzle towards the sky or ceiling, such as when carrying a slung rifle or shotgun and, in general, this is true.

Always remember that what goes up always comes back down and when a firearm is discharged into the air, it is possible someone could be killed or injured or property destroyed when the projectile lands.

Rule 3: Keep Your Finger off the Trigger Until Your Sights Are on the Target

This rule, along with Rule 2, is one of the most important rules of firearm safety.

Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard. I’m going to repeat this once more: Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. Though the possibility exists, the chances of a firearm going off without the trigger being pulled are astronomically slim. The number one reason a firearm discharges is because the trigger was pulled. By following this one simple rule, you can virtually eliminate the chance your firearm will discharge when you did not intend it to.

Rule 4: Be Sure of Your Target

Many people modify this rule to read, “Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.” Why is this so important? It’s very important because you are responsible for every bullet fired by a gun you are in control of until that bullet comes to a stop.

Bullets do not always stop after they hit your target. You may be sure that your target is a deer; do you know what lies beyond the deer? Even if you land a solid hit on your target it is not only possible, it is likely, especially when hunting, that your bullet will continue down range for a considerable distance until gravity eventually pulls it down to earth.

If you are firing against an earthen berm or other backstop, you need to know it will reliably stop the rounds you fire into it. Know your firearm, know where it is aimed, know what your target is, and what lies beyond your target.

These are the four basic rules of firearm safety. This article covers basic firearm safety when working with or around firearms, and don’t forget other safety aspects such as safe and secure firearm storage.


It is your responsibility, as a gun owner, to handle firearms in a safe manner. You also need to keep your firearms stored safely and securely.

Have a safety tip? Share it in the comment section.

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