The Four Rules....


Rob Pincus
March 11, 2004, 11:34 PM
I posted this a few moments ago at Tactical Forums in response to a thread which started about firearms safety issues in response to a recent tragedy:

With all due respect... Denny and I had this conversation earlier while discussing recent incidents and I've been saying it for years, but let me say it "publicly" here first:

Pat is right that negligence reflects on all of us and quoting rules that are not realistic and then standing on a soapbox when a tragedy occurs could well fall into that category.

Rant On:

The four rules are BULL????. "We" as trainers neglect them constantly. Now that I've got your attention, ;et me say that I admit there may be some of you who actually obey them 100% of the time, but I highly doubt it. Every instructor I've ever seen (including myself) violates these rules... examples:
1."Okay, this gun is unloaded" (show it to students or AI's, everyone agrees...) and we now proceed to violate rule #1. Note that rule #1 does NOT say "All guns are always loaded, unless we agree that they are not."
2. "Finger straight... until sights are on target": yeah, right. For those of you still preaching front sight focus before any shot is fired, you still have "speed rock" or other retention or extreme close quarters shooting positions.
3. "...anything you are not willing to destroy.":
a. Aside from those times in example one after you have violated Rule #1, they are undoubtedly many times when we "paint" our muzzle during every course, and that we allow our students to do so without correction, that we are not "willing" to destroy.
b. ever pick up an "unloaded" gun at a gun shop or gun show and point it at the table, etc....?? oops.

Is this Nit Picky? Am I playing semantic games? I say, "No" .. not at all. This is about integrity folks. Posting those rules all over your range and then proceeding to give any demonstration with an "unloaded" gun is the same as saying grace while your eating dinner with a hooker and asking her to pass the god damned salt... BS posturing. The other examples are just as valid, though perhaps less substantive or common.

Am I pissed? yeah. You noticed.

Maybe the good people in this thread, whom I respect regardless of their stance on "the" 4 rules, do abide by them every second they are on the range, but I doubt it. Sacrilege? I'm sorry. I haven't been in a course with most of you, but I've been in a lot of courses where these rules were announced and then violated habitually. I've been told that we need to stand by them for liability reasons, "even though...". I've read them on business cards of guys who I wouldn't want on the range with me, let alone setting examples for others to follow.

I've been asked by a few people why "the rules" aren't posted at Valhalla. Simple: We are not hypocrits. The rules at Valhalla, and on any range I'm running, stress redundancy in the system without being hypocritical:

1. No one person can declare a weapon "unloaded."
2. Keep all weapons pointed in a safe direction when they are unholstered.
3. Keep your trigger finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot and remove it after you have completed your string of fire.

That's it. No unrealistic expectations or demands. Note that we can declare a weapon "unloaded" after inspection and proceed to do a demonstraion or pose for a picture. Note that these are range rules, and don't have words like "never" or "always." Note also that being "ready to shoot" includes identifying your target and either it's ability to stop the round or your knowledge of the background OR your disregard of it (ie- in certain self defense situations). At no time do we allow a violation of these rules, however slight, to go uncorrected. Could an accident still happen? Absolutely. But, at least I can sleep at night knowing that the rules I support are realistic and I don't violate them during the course of teaching a class, demonstrating a techinque or checking out a gun at the local gun shop.

Rant Off.


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March 12, 2004, 08:44 AM
I like your rules. Been gittin' a mite testy about some folks' "online adherence" to "The Four Rules" myself, lately...

I still say, try decaf. Might change your life.



March 12, 2004, 09:08 AM
I can see where you are coming from, I recently joined a pistol club, and during induction I had a guy helping me, and he found the only thing I did wrong was point the barrel about 15 degrees left or right of dead-on down range when I was reloading or doing something with the gun. I don't think that is really being unsafe, as it still goes downrange. After our session, I saw the main instructor helping a regular with his new gun. He was fiddling and the barrel was wiggling around more than mine did.

Also, if "All guns are loaded", how in heck can you do dry-fire practice if you're supposed to treat all guns as if they are loaded?

March 12, 2004, 09:17 AM
Sir, I like your your rules.

Good points, great post!

March 12, 2004, 09:19 AM
I concur Rob, and well said.

Fudgie Ghost
March 12, 2004, 10:12 AM
I've always felt that rule #1 means ". . . until you have verified yourself that it isn't." Obviously if you have visually verified that a gun is unloaded----it is! I think the point of this rule is what you are saying--don't take anybody's word for the fact that the gun is unloaded--check it yourself.

I do think your amended rules capture the spirit of what gun safety is about.

March 12, 2004, 10:18 AM
Jayson Williams might also add "don't pick up a gun after you've been drinking."

March 12, 2004, 10:34 AM
Seems to fit me better than "The 4"

But "The 4" is better for kids and newbies.


George Hill
March 12, 2004, 11:06 AM

The 4 Rules of Firearms Safety:

1. Handle all firearms as if they were loaded.

2. Never point the gun at anything you're not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you have made the decision to fire the weapon.

4. Know your target, and know what is beyond the target.

March 12, 2004, 12:09 PM
I like "All guns are ALWAYS loaded."

I'm paranoid about guns. Best way to stay safe.:D

March 12, 2004, 12:13 PM
See here ( for the consequences of ignoring them...

:fire: :cuss: :banghead:

March 12, 2004, 12:26 PM
Your point is well taken, Rob. (try decaf ;) ) The Four Rules or FOUR RULES (c) Jeff Cooper :) are a mnemonic device, nothing more, like a is for apple, b is for ball, c is for cat, etc. ... and should not be given the gravity of Holy Scripture as some of the glassy-eyed continually do when anything involves His Holiness JC (Jeff Cooper). My father taught us to never point a gun at anything before we could hardly read, yet still we violate it as you say. The idea is to not shoot something you don't want to and obviously the shooting at Prescott was moronic but it was probably bound to happen sooner or later. No verbal worship of any kind will replace due care by the individual. Unfortunately, common sense is not often encountered today so we rely on mnemonics. :uhoh:

March 12, 2004, 12:43 PM
We are all human .. ergo we are all fallible. It is true, I doubt there is one among us who can honestly claim to be 100% all the time ... maybe 99% but not 100%.

Let's consider the rules tho as we know them. I am fully in agreement that a gun is ALWAYS loaded ... that is the only way to go. Consider tho the interelation between the rules. For a disaster to happen .. it would seem for the most part that more than one rule needs broken concurrently.

It is this which saves our butts if we do lapse on one because the following of the others gives a measure of safeguard.

IMO .. and mine only .... I consider rule #2 is the ultimate ''catch all'' ... it is the one I keep foremost in mind ..... if the others fail for some reason, strict adherance to #2 avoids total disaster .. egg on face and embarrassment maybe but no one dies ... and nothing important gets broken.

I would suggest following ALL rules ALL of the time but think about it .. if only #2 was followed 100%, there would be no tragedies ..... IMO.

March 12, 2004, 01:58 PM
Given the Mason ( Incident, perhaps there should be a fifth rule?

"Don't keep a fake/empty/blank gun in the same pocket as a loaded one".

Although the guy in question propably needs some more rules as well, like:

"Don't store drain cleaner in lemonade bottles, on the same shelf as your actual lemonade"

"Don't hunt for gas-leaks with a lighted candle"

"Grizzly bears are not 'cuddley""

Or maybe just "Don't be a :cuss: idiot!"

(Actually, that might be too complex to follow. Perhaps just "Don'!" would be best).

March 12, 2004, 05:06 PM
I'm sorry, Rob, I gotta disagree. The classic 4 rules cover the bases, and if followed religiously then accidents will not happen. And "religiously" does not necessarily mean 100-percent. It simply means a serious personal committment to their implementation.

As for your rules, I have to question what you mean by 'No one person can declare a weapon "unloaded."' Are you saying if 10 guys vote and the majority say the gun is unloaded then it's unloaded? That sounds like a good recipe for a hole in the foot, or worse.

If someone hands me a pistol, it's loaded until I check it. Even after I determine the pistol to be unloaded, I will not point it at anyone (or anything inappropriate), and will keep my finger off the trigger unless I intend to dry-fire the pistol in a safe direction. Note the interplay of the 4 classic rules. I think that is how they are intended to work.

Oh yeah, I don't ever want to be around someone shooting who thinks these rules are only for "kids and newbies."

March 12, 2004, 05:23 PM
The 4 rules seemed common sense before they were actually spelled out to me.

Every gun was handed over with the action or cylinder open.

You didn't point guns at people, pets or anything you care about.

If someone hands you a gun check it even if you just saw them do it.

Never shoot at anything without knowing your backstop

Finger off the trigger.

I obey these rules religiously. I see folks all the time who do not have the uncommon sense to obey any or all.

The reason I don't do IDPA or IPSC is because of yahoos that put themselves and others at risk and aren't corrected by the range masters.

Are any of us perfect? Probably not. But it is something to strive for.

El Tejon
March 12, 2004, 09:11 PM
:rolleyes: WARNING: THR is now subject to a new virus, even more potent that Iwannacoolgun virus. It is the: Iwannadisagreewiththeorthodoxyandbecomenoticed virus.

So if a majority vote and "unload" a weapon, it is O.K.? If a majority vote that 2+2=5, then it is correct?

And we allow muzzles to cover fleshy parts when holstered or slung?

Forgive me but I remain unconvinced, but I am Old Skul. I'm wearing the tie to prove it.:D

Denny Hansen
March 12, 2004, 09:26 PM
What Rob meant by no one person can declare a gun unloaded has nothing to do with a vote/majority. A person makes sure the weapon is clear, hands it to another for inspection, and that person hands it to at least a third. This way several persons have determined it is unloaded.

And, while I see where Rob is coming from and respect his opinion, I respectfully disagree with him. I live by the four rules and think they cover everything. If it's done religioulsy, the rules can almost be picked up and ingrained by osmosis. I have four photos of my grandson, taken weeks apart with a toy gun. In each and every one he is holding his "pistol" at the low ready--and his little finger is straight along the trigger guard.

On the other hand, we have printed photos in S.W.A.T. which clears shows a finger on the trigger and pointng at the camera. This is done after double and triple-checking to make sure the weapon is "safe." I believe this is the type of common violation Rob is possible referring to. And so, while I said above I live by the four rules, I have been guilty of breaking them as well.

I suppose it comes down to the mindset, situation and the manner in which it is done.

Just my .02.


March 12, 2004, 09:37 PM
Rob ~

You demo with real guns instead of dummy guns?? Really? :what:

Okay, that smartalecky comment aside, even Cooper pointed out that the Four Rules were supposed to be so ingrained that it would take a conscious act of the will to break one of them. In other words, they aren't the inflexible mantra many have made them to be; they are the safeguard of careful thought in weapons handling.


People who do stupid things with hazardous materials often die. -- Jim Davidson

El Tejon
March 12, 2004, 10:11 PM
Denny, ah, I see (said the blind man). Still disagree. Like that matters for squat.:D

March 13, 2004, 04:01 AM
(Disclaimer: I feel a bit silly critiquing someone who has several orders of magnitude more experience around firearms than I do.)

I'm reminded of a USENET quote after the Columbia disaster (badwords filtered):
"Not making ????-ups on the ground, is not an option. Humans ???? up, period. Human institutions ???? up. Human processes intended to prevent ????-ups, ???? up. This cannot be avoided no matter how much time and resources you expend in the effort, though NASA and the rest of the space industry certainly try." -- John Schilling (claimed member of the NRA, ACLU, SAS, LP), 2003-02-04, on rec.arts.sf.written

Rule 1 is an attempt to shield people from that reality. Once someone says "this gun's not loaded", everyone involved has gone off the reservation. That declaration encourages violation of other rules. The entire process is a transformation - a deadly weapon becoming a prop. Guns may be the most dangerous class of deadly weapons that are routinely transformed in this way.

How would the above rule modifications have prevented the gunsite-student accident? I doubt a weakening of rule 1 to prevent hypocracy would have made them more serious about verifying the condition of firearm(s) they were dry firing.

"Even if a gun is unloaded, never fire at any living creature you couldn't legally kill."

That rule doesn't cover dry firing an "unloaded" gun at a wall, though it may kill your neighbor. Nevertheless, if followed, it would have prevented this tragedy (preacherman's post above) and many others. (There are numerous examples of "accidents" involving children and darwin-award suicides, most of which happen after a violation of the above dry fire rule.)

Then there are always loaded chamber indicators... :cool:

Rob Pincus
March 15, 2004, 02:20 PM
Thanks to everyone who took the time to think about the issues and comment substantively (most everyone here.. which was nice).

Yes, I was fired up last week when I wrote that. As Preacherman guessed, it was in relation to the incident at Gunsite. It was overly strong. I did not in any way mean to represent that my rules are the ultimate answer of that Valhalla is the best/safest place to train in the world... although some have accused me of a publicity stunt.


There may not have been any rule that could have prevented what happened, but maybe.. just maybe.. if Guy A had gone over to Guy B's side of the room and they both checked their weapons to be sure that they were unloaded, somone would've noticed the round in the chamber.... My concern is that they both knew that they were breaking "the" rules and therefore no rules were in effect. In their mantra, there existed no procedure to keep them safe outside of those (if followed to the letter: excellent) rules.

I acknowledge that the rules (as commandments not to be further interpreted) are broken daily (cleaning, being stupid, taking pictures, whatever...) and because of that I have to search for better rules or procedures. That's my thought process here. Thanks for participating.

Be Careful.

Carlos Cabeza
March 15, 2004, 02:31 PM
Safety is a mindset that can be applied to many activities and/ or objects. Having a set of "rules" only exists to reinforce that state of mind.

March 15, 2004, 02:55 PM

Maybe I'm missing something, but it appears as if you have just rewritten the first three rules and dropped the fourth. I see no appreciable difference at all, with the obvious exception of the dropped rule. I think the four rules were intended to be applied along with a generous helping of common sense. If taken literally to their absolute extremes, weapons handling would obviously be impossible as you would need a clearing barrel for a holster...and one that you would be willing to destroy at that. :D I just don't see the need to change the rules though. I certainly don't advocate dropping rule 4. Let's step through them one by one.

1. No one person can declare a weapon "unloaded."

Requires too much thought. The original is much more simple, although I see your point as it relates to the Gunsite incident.

2. Keep all weapons pointed in a safe direction when they are unholstered.

Looks like a clear explanation of the more traditional rule 2.

3. Keep your trigger finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot and remove it after you have completed your string of fire.

Again, clear explanation of the original.

4. ???

Bad idea to leave this one out.

Again, maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that you've gone to an awful lot of trouble just to eliminate rule 4. :confused:

El Tejon
March 15, 2004, 10:02 PM
fix, ah, come on: It's different, that's the point of all I wannacool_____!:D

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