The 4 Safety Rules


March 21, 2005, 07:03 AM
I was reading the thread "I have a problem with weapon mounted lights" and he gave a list of the 4 safety rules with a weapon.


Are there different variations of these rules because I wasn't taught these exactly?

Rule #1: Consider all guns to be loaded.
Rule #2: Never point the gun at anything you don't want to die.
Rule #3: The same as his........
Rule #4: Look past your target and know what’s around it.

Thanx all for your help

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El Tejon
March 21, 2005, 07:20 AM
Think they are in the THR library thingie.

March 21, 2005, 07:27 AM
This is a good posting. It is important to repeat "The four rules" frequently, not just refer to them. It amazes me that gun shops, ranges and any firearm related event doesn't have these posted in excess. The more you see something the more likely you are to remember it.

I just attended a state certification program and over a 45 hour period including live fire, the "rules" were never directly mentioned or posted. Let's start spreading the word folks.

March 21, 2005, 07:45 AM
Everyone was taught differently, for example I was taught them this way

1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded
2. Never point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot
3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until your ready to fire
4. Keep your weapon on safe until your ready to fire

March 21, 2005, 08:14 AM

Parts 1 & 2

March 21, 2005, 08:28 AM
Depends upon where one is and the circumstances.

I've had loaded shotguns, submachineguns, rifles, 120 mm tank barrels, etc. pointed at me one time or another. Most of it happened in an airport in the USA or a street in Europe. The tank was at the visitor's gate at Ft. Knox.

Cops hold people at gunpoint all the time.

Members of military patrols sweep each other.

It happens.

March 21, 2005, 08:34 AM
Anybody else think of the Ramones' "Commando" when someone starts talking about the four rules? :neener: ". . . eat Kosher salami!"

Zach S
March 21, 2005, 08:43 AM
Rules one through three are normally pretty much the same from what I've seen. I've seen several different rule fours. The only one that sticks out in my mind at the moment is "keep all firearms unloaded when not in use." Kinda contradicts rule one IMO, which is why it sticks out in my mind...

March 21, 2005, 11:49 AM
Rule Number 5

Learn How To Spell

March 21, 2005, 12:24 PM
"keep all firearms unloaded when not in use." This is NRA #3 - and is stated with IMO no thought of CCW in mind. Probably it is regarded as a ''safer'' recommendation. If NRA actively promoted ''keep gun ready at all times'' - which would be a CCW oriented statement - chances are someone somewhere would screw up and then try to sue them!

For most of us I think Jeff Cooper's are the best - or derivatives thereof. In my own personal opinion #2 is the paramount rule of all - and I'd place it as #1 ... if all else fails this rule on its own can prevent tragedy. Rule #4 is a useful addition, in particular with respect to hunters ... as well as ''street gunfight'' scenarios. All too often folks forget, there is no calling a bullet back - and it has to stop, somewhere. It is I guess an extension actually of rule #2.

If more shooters followed these (so simple) rules - there would never really be any excuse for ND's and ''accidental'' shootings. I try to drum them into shooters at every opportunity. Could be my own butt that gets saved!!

March 21, 2005, 01:36 PM
"If more shooters followed these (so simple) rules - there would never really be any excuse for ND's and ''accidental'' shootings."

Isn't that the truth. Here in the worker's utopia called California, we have to pass a "safety test" before being allowed to purchase a handgun. Don't ask. Anyway, usually the gun store clerk has people study the little handbook for a few minutes and then take the test. Few fail.

When the gun-grabbers found out how simple the test is, they complained that it didn't require any special knowledge; it was just common sense. Duh.


March 21, 2005, 01:52 PM

"Cops hold people at gunpoint all the time."

And when I do I am ready to shoot. If not I will not aim in on my target. I am also aware of my "backstop" and surroundings.

Once more for clarity, if a Cop holds you at gun point, be certain that the decision to shoot has already been made. I am only waiting for the "substantial action" on your part to justify my actions.

Regardless of the exact wording, the rules remain solid. I have also heard several variations. Maybe we should muck it all up and make it five, six or seven rules.

Then again, maybe not.

March 21, 2005, 01:55 PM
I don't like the "treat guns *as if* they were loaded," for the same reason he doesn't.
It implies that they aren't loaded.
But that's just me...and him.
I, for one, would rather treat every gun like it was loaded and therefor be programmed to treat it as such, than to check the gun, and treat it as if it were unloaded and risk getting used to it...because I handle empty guns a lot more than I do loaded ones.

March 21, 2005, 08:40 PM
Why I like the four rules.

a) There are only four to remember (not 10, or 12 or more). Kids can remember 4 rules, and explain them back to you.
b) In order for something REALLY bad to happen you have to violate 2 of the rules. You can be a C student, get three out of four (75%) right, and still nothing really bad will happen. Something bad could still happen, but not the worst possible.

Just my $.02

March 21, 2005, 09:01 PM
To follow what P95Carry said: The NRA espouses 3 rules:
1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction,
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire,
3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready for use.

They usually include "Know your target and beyond" and "treat guns as if they were loaded" in any discussion, but they hammer on their three rules the same way Cooper fans hammer on his 4 rules.

It's my impression that one difference is due to NRA bureaucrats thinking that "All guns are always loaded" could be interpreted as a directive to keep all one's guns Loaded. It's also my impression that the same possible misinterpretation is behind the alternative "treat all guns as if they are loaded" wording.

NRA's 1 and 2 are more or less equivalent to Cooper's 2 and 3, except that the NRA likes to use positive concepts ("Always ...") instead of negative ("Never ..."). Those two rules, however expressed, are the essence of safe gun handling.

As far as NRA rule number 3, they define "in use" for a carry or home defense weapon as "all the time", so it should be kept loaded all the time.

I tend to reel off Cooper's rules by habit, but NRA prefers to teach their rules in their classes, and I can equally well see them as valid.

March 22, 2005, 09:42 AM
I think these rules need some rewording to eliminate the ambiguity.

Rule One should be: Always check to see if the gun is loaded and unload if it you are not about to shoot it.

Rule Two should be: Never point a loaded gun in at any thing you are not prepared to destroy.

Rule Three should be: Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.

Rule Four should be: Be certain of your target and what is behind it.

This way it is clear that you can safely handle an unloaded gun and use it in realistic training scenarios, as well as clean it, and dry fire it.

Control Group
March 22, 2005, 11:06 AM
Sorry, LoadedDrum, but I have to disagree. Rule #2, in my mind, is the absolutely paramount one: never point a gun at something you're not willing to destroy. It's the one that's absolute fail-safe if everything else goes wrong. The whole point of the rules is to provide redundancy, because people make mistakes - how many stories have we all heard about people who "knew" the gun was unloaded, then proceeded to put a round through a wall, a refrigerator, a car, a door, a floor, etc.?

When I dry fire practice, I aim the muzzle at a target on the wall. It's not something I want to destroy, but it's something I'm willing to destroy. The point is, rule #2 is the backstop for all the others. Even if things go horribly awry, and a round is chambered when you think it isn't, and somehow the hammer falls, even then nothing seriously bad happens.

As far as cleaning the gun, in my mind, if the gun is in pieces on the table in front of me, the four rules don't apply to it (though I habitually don't look down the barrel from the muzzle end, even so). As soon as it's been put together, though, the muzzle gets pointed away from me and anyone else who might be nearby.

You mention training scenarios, and I'm not qualified to comment, since I'm not a LEO, nor have I ever been in the military. But I admit I'd be surprised to find out that training scenarios are routinely conducted with real guns aimed at real people - does this actually happen? (Note, training guns that are only capable of firing paint or dye rounds are not "real" guns)

Anyway, I understand where you're coming from, that guns aren't magical, and if there's no round chambered or if the trigger isn't pulled, nothing can happen. But the rules aren't there because guns are magical, unpredictable things, they're there because humans are error-prone, unpredictable things. Think of it as risk mitigation. Sure, the percent chance that I'm wrong about there being a round in the chamber when I've just reassembled the gun is miniscule. But the consequence of being wrong could be ending someone's life. Never pointing the muzzle at anything I'm not willing to destroy is an easy way to mitigate that risk.

It's also valuable in terms of habit. If you habitually follow the rules, even when you negligently break one of them, odds are good that you're following the others, and nothing seriously bad happens.

This is the same way I always check my blind spot when I'm changing lanes, even when I know there's nobody there (I'm alone on the freeway, and have been for miles). It's good habit. And it potentially saved my life once: I was exiting the freeway, signalling to get off, and I checked my blind spot before entering the ramp. Good thing, too, since some [EXPLETIVE DELETED] was tearing along up the emergency lane, and would have rammed me. That one instance justifies all the blind spot checking I've done, and all the blind spot checking I ever will do. Just like all the years of carefully not pointing an empty, uncocked gun at things will pay off that one time it's not empty and it's not uncocked.

March 22, 2005, 11:14 AM
1. All lawyers and members of state and national legislatures are always loaded!
(This is a pretty safe bet - think of Ted Kennedy...)
2. Never point lawyers and members of state and national legislatures at anyting you don't want to ruin for everybody!
3. Keep your lawyers and members of state and national legislatures out of your wallet until your desired action is complete!
4. Know your lawyers and members of state and national legislatures , and what's sufficiently embarrasing to them that threatening to divulge it will wreck their re-election campaigns, thereby keeping them "on the reservation", so to speak!

March 22, 2005, 11:18 AM

March 22, 2005, 11:26 AM
Control Group - I am with you all the way - and then some!!

I have stated many times - Rule #2 is the final butt saver of all. If it and only it were followed 100% then no one gets hurt. I am interested too to hear what you say re blind spot checking - very similar drill. You ''knew it was clear'' (you think!) - but ''let's check one more time''. This has also saved MY butt more than once. I am a biker and employ this religiously.

This same approach to firearms means that I personally HAVE to treat any and every gun as loaded - even when just shown clear. Seems anal to some but to me - it is mandatory. My only 2 ND's were pretty much zero risk - and taught me to further enhance following of rule #1 in one case (where rule #2 meant only loss of face - metaphorically!) - and in the other case (standing at low ready in a compo' shoot) - to properly follow rule #3! Divot in ground in front - and disqualification from that stage! :p

March 22, 2005, 11:32 AM
Seriously - my understanding from Col. Cooper and others is that Condition ONE, "Cocked and locked", is the safest way to carry a 1911, - even safer than hammer down on an empty chamber. Given that, someone explain to me HOW to carry a 1911 in a "fanny pack", sit in the passenger seat of a vehicle, and NOT point a loaded and cocked pistol at the driver?

March 22, 2005, 11:40 AM
Rich - two factors here as I see it. First - in such a carry condition myself - I would (and have) made sure that gun cannot sweep anyone (in vehicle) - by judicious rearrangment - even then of course any fanny pack carry will be sweeping in theory much of the time we are out and about.

The second and major thing IMO is that the gun is not in hand. I personally do not like horizontal shoulder rigs - just makes me uncomfortable - and on draw, the gun has to be handled during which time sweep can IMO be potentially hazardous.

Let's say ''static sweep'' is undesirable - to me very undesirable. But ''active sweep'' - the sweeping with loaded firearm in hand (or ''unloaded'' come to that) is where rule #2 is paramount.

Condition #1 is a special case - and folks view it in different ways.

March 22, 2005, 03:55 PM
As an NRA certified instructor, I have to teach the rules the NRA provides:

NRA Website Rules (

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

I must, when I agreed to become an instructor, teach these rules at a minimum. However, I can (and have) expanded on these rules to include Cooper's 4 rules and some of the variations included above.

In general, I stay with the NRA's rules for youngsters and beginners until they are mentally prepared to decide for themselves what series of rules they want to use.

For anyone else, I say, "pick the set of rules that applies best to you and your situation, and stick with them"



March 22, 2005, 06:18 PM
"keep all firearms unloaded when not in use."
This is NRA #3 - and is stated with IMO no thought of CCW in mind.

nice, that was my question, and answer.
also thinking of the at-home defense piece.

March 22, 2005, 06:21 PM
A CCW weapon on your hip is in a lot more use than those in your safe.
Same as a shotgun next to your bed compared to those in your safe.

March 22, 2005, 07:20 PM
Rules as I remember them from Boy Scout camp, 30+/- years ago:

1. Always treat all firearms as loaded.
2. Always know the muzzle of the firearm you are holding is pointing in a safe direction.
3. Keep the breach open and the chamber empty until ready to shoot.
4. Know you target and what is behind it, for the entire range of the round you are firing.

The above were taught by the “smack” method, so I’m pretty sure I’m remembering something close to what the rules really were.

I think the wording of #2 is a little better then “Never point a gun at any thing you don’t want to shoot.” First, the muzzle is always pointed at SOMETHING; I don’t want to shoot the sky or the ground, but that’s where I keep the muzzle pointed almost all of the time. I believe a rule that has you doing something is better then one telling you not to do something, like good football coaches will tell their players to “protect the ball”, and won’t say “don’t fumble.” A rule to “KNOW it’s pointed in a safe direction” puts the responsibility on me not only to do the safe thing, but know I’m doing the safe thing.

#3 was a good rule for a bunch of pre-teens and teenagers with kerchief around their necks, but of course the new “keep you finger out of the trigger guard until the target is in the sights” rule is much better for all shooters and all situations. (Anyone know when this rule came about, and who first had the good idea for it?)

For # 4, we knew the range of our single shot .22 rifles when fired into the earth berm at the end of the range was less then ½ an inch. It was drilled (smacked) into our heads that even a rim fire short round will travel almost a mile with lethal velocity through air.

As always, just my opinions.

March 23, 2005, 07:05 AM
Following rule #2 as some of you prefer means you can never shoulder your long gun in a urban area because there is always something with in range, making any direction unsafe. Do you always know what is on the other side of the wall, not just what was there ten minutes ago, but IS there NOW? It means if you are in a second floor apartment, do not take the gun out of the case because you cannot even point it at the floor. There is NO COMPLETELY SAFE DIRECTION in some places unless you have a bullet trap handy. While some of you are sure your muzzle is covering something you can live with destroying are you sure of what is behind that object(rule 4)? In some places you can never be sure, ever. That is why following my version of rule one and every one's rule three is necessary.

Sure rule 2 as some of you have stated is an extra layer of protection but it is not possible TO TRULY FOLLOW in some areas. If you cannot follow #1 (my version of it) and #3 do not pick up the gun.

March 23, 2005, 10:18 AM
There are a number of versions of the 4 (or 3) rules. They pretty much all cover the same principles.


[pet peeve rant mode on]

What I don't get are the people who reject wording Rule 1 as "Always treat every gun as though it is loaded" because the "as though" or "as if" phrase supposedly implies that guns aren't loaded and woos you into handling them unsafely. The same people usually insist on using Cooper's Rule 1, "All guns are always loaded."

To this, I can only say, "Huh?"

"Always treat every gun as though it is loaded." It's a simple, clear, straightforward directive. It tells you what to do (treat guns as though they are loaded), what to do it to (every gun), and when to do it (always).

Yes, it does by its wording acknowledge the very real possibility that some guns may not actually be loaded. But there is no exemption or exception, no clause that says it's ok to handle unloaded guns differently. In fact it does exactly the opposite. It clearly says that "every gun" (meaning every gun, loaded, unloaded, or unknown) should be treated as though it is loaded.

Cooper's Rule 1, on the other hand, is simply a statement. And a patently untrue one at that. It does not give you any directions, does not tell you what to do. It just makes the (false) statement that "All guns are always loaded." Great, so what do I do about it? And if the gun's not actually loaded, can I ignore Cooper's Rule 1, since it's no longer true?

I realize what Cooper was trying to imply with his Rule 1, (which, if I'm not mistaken, was to always treat every gun as though it is loaded, no?) but I'd prefer to have my safety rules be self explanatory, have the gist clearly spelled out in plain English, rather than to expect someone to magically infer the meaning from a cryptic statement. Call me crazy, but I think that's just easier for beginners / new shooters.

[rant finished]

So, now that I've disagreed with the Colonel, I'll be donning my flame-proof jumpsuit and barricading myself inside my home.

But first, let me leave you with the version of the 4 Rules that I use and teach. The NRA rules are great, but don't take into account self defense / CCW so well. I prefer something a little more universal.

Rule 1 - Always treat every gun as though it is loaded.
Always, always, always, whether the gun us loaded, unloaded, or unknown, treat it like it's loaded. It's impossible to have a "oops, I didn't think it was loaded" type of accident if you always expect it to be loaded, and treat it accordingly.

Rule 2 - Do not point a gun at something that you are not prepared to destroy.
The rule formerly known as "always point the gun in a safe direction." Wherever you point the gun (including during handling, dry firing, administrative functions, etc), have the expectation that it could go off at any time, destroying whatever is in line with the muzzle.

I don't use the "safe direction" wording because if you ever have to use a gun in self defense, you will have to point it at another person, and that is most definitely not "safe" for one of you. Which one of you depends on how "prepared" you are to destroy another human being. When your sights are on target is no time to second guess the decision. You must be completely prepared, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to pull the trigger when you have to.

To me, Rule 2 is not just about safe gun handling. If you are going to use a gun for self defense, get training, and lots of it.

Rule 3 - Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard untill you are actually firing at your target.
I say "outside the trigger guard" rather than just "off the trigger" as you can have your finger off the trigger but still in the trigger guard, and that's not safe IMO. I also don't say to keep your finger straight, as that precludes certain weapon retention techniques. Finally, I say "untill you are actually firing at your target" rather than "untill your sights are aligned on the target" so as not to preclude techniques like firing from retention or extreme close quarters point shooting. (another inflamatory topic - please note that I'm not advocating point shooting at distances longer than about 1 yard.)

Rule 4 - Always be sure of your target and what is beyond.
Always clearly identify your target before you shoot at it. No shooting at a sound or shadow that you think is a burglar. No shooting at a russle in a bush that you think is a deer. Make sure that you have a good backstop behind whatever you are shooting at.

In a self defense situation, you don't always have the luxury of choosing a good backstop. Obviously, if your attacker is direcly in front of a crowd of nuns and orphans, you shouldn't shoot. But a single layer of drywall between your apartment and the next becomes a bit more of a grey area. You should only be firing at an attacker if to fail do do so would cause you be killed or severly injured. In that case, the chances of overpentrating and possibly hitting your neighbor becomes a regrettable, but acceptable, risk.

Also, in addition to being aware of what is beyond your target physically, in a self defense scenario, you should be aware of everything beyond the moment that you pull the trigger. What are the terminal ballistics of you SD ammo like? What will the legal repercussions be? What sort of psychological and emotional effects might you have? You must be absolutely sure at the moment that you pull the trigger that doing so is the right thing to do, and be prepared for the consequences.

Rule 4 is unique in that breaking only half of it can lead to tragedy. You can obey the first 3 Rules, clearly identify you target, and still accidentally kill someone behind your target. The first 3 Rules provide some redundancy for one another, but Rule 4 depends on your good judgment. For that it deserves a little extra thought and attention.

Thus ends my dissertation on the 4 Rules. Hopefully someone will get something out of it. Other than a reason to flame me for disagreeing with Jeff Cooper. :p

March 23, 2005, 10:48 AM
Not to beat a dead horse, but I prefer the rules as they are stated by the GunSite folks. I think the NRA version does not adequately cover CCW and other situations, such as a loaded nightstand gun.

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