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 The Four Rules, courtesy

The four rules of gun safety are there for a reason and are ingrained into the minds of every responsible gun owner from day one. Always assume the gun is loaded. Never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. And always be aware of your target and what’s beyond it. A story out of Florida tells the tale of a group of friends who are now short a member because one of them decided to break all four of the rules at once . . .

You can imagine the scene. You buy a new handgun, and you want to show it off to your friends so you bring it out for a night of dry fire practice. You pass it around (making sure it’s unloaded), and then when everyone is done you put it on the table and continue with the night’s festivities. If this were at my house, the gun would remain unloaded at all times (unless on my body), but in this case the owner of the handgun decided to load it up and leave it on the table. You can see where this is going . . .

BOCA RATON, Fla. — A 22-year-old man died Sunday after being shot in the chest with a gun his girlfriend was playing with.

CBS 12 reported that a friend brought a pistol over to Justin Holt’s apartment and his girlfriend and friends practiced dry shooting it. One friend reloaded the gun and put it on the counter, according to police.

Later, Holt’s girfriend, Erin Steele, picked it up, pointed it at him and fired it, hitting him in the chest, according to the report.

Holt was taken to a local hospital where he soon died, police said.

The four rules exist for a reason, and incidents like this one are reminders to us all to follow them more closely.

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  1. In my house the gun would be in hands, holster or safe unless I had it disassembled on the workbench.

    Leaving a gun out is inviting Murphy into your home.

  2. How exactly was rule 4 broken? Rules 1, 2, and 3 are obvious but it sounds like Holt was the target.
    ‘Later, Holt’s girfriend, Erin Steele, picked it up, pointed it at him and fired it, hitting him in the chest, according to the report.’

    • I only see 2: assume it’s loaded, don’t point it at something you like (and we’re assuming she didn’t want to shoot him).

      Since she was dry-firing, it was okay to have her finger on the trigger. And if he was her “target” for the dry fire, then she was aware of him.

      I suspect they also violated the missing rule: don’t mix guns and alcohol/drugs.

      • no,the point of safety is you never point it at anything you wouldn’t want to shoot were it loaded. they were playing like it was a toy. no respect for the weapon, the other person, or the reality of what could happen. NEVER point a gun, loaded or not, at anything you wouldn’t be willing to shoot for real.

  3. Or the simpler three….

    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.

    So easy, a three year old can get it, unlike the Cooper Four.

    • Unloaded guns cause a dangerous mindset. They instill complacency which leads to negligence. Almost every negligent discharge occurred because a gun was assumed to be unloaded

      • I’d change the 3rd rule to “ALWAYS check to see if the firearm in loaded.”

        Anytime I handle my firearms, that’s the first thing I do- even if I’m moving them from the safe to a case for transport to the range.

        • Pull gun from safe
          Check the chamber
          Hand gun to father
          Take gun back from father (it never left my sight)
          Check the chamber

      • With all due respect, I am a certified instructor and I’ve been around firearms for over 30 years. I’ve also served in the military and instructed there as well, in addition to teaching civilians. I’ve taught children, women, men, young, and old. The NRA rules are more succinct and easier to recall than the Cooper 4. I’ve tried teaching the Cooper 4, it’s a struggle without constant repetition. I can get new shooters reciting the NRA 3 in less than an hour or two, mostly because the three are more easily remembered due to the word choices.

        If you want to get into the logic and pissing match side of it, every gun isn’t always loaded. It’s illogical to treat every gun that way. More to the point, keeping it pointed in a safe direction and finger off the trigger, removes any possibility of a negligent discharge. As another point, even in the NRA instruction, there is a significant focus on visually inspecting that a gun is unloaded before handling. But, seeing as you don’t know that, it’s unlikely you’ve taken an NRA course or at the very least, forgotten everything from one.

        • CK, the “all guns are loaded” rule means that you can never dry fire or clean a gun, so it makes no sense. Cooper himself admitted that the rule was a misstatement — he was trying to describe a mind-set, not an actual condition — so he changed the rule, but by then his zombie minions had memorized the rule and couldn’t remember a different one.

          I tell my students that they must treat every gun as a loaded gun, unless and until they personally make it safe. I tell them that they have to do so every time they pick up a gun, put it down, hand it to someone else or receive it from someone else. That much they can understand and appreciate.

        • Nothing you’ve said is a rebuttal to my statement, not that I was trying to start a debate (and certainly not a “pissing match”). Firearm safety rules are not about rote memorization, they are about instilling the proper mindset regarding firearms handling. No person has ever said, “Well, yeah, I knew it was loaded,” following a negligent discharge. Complacency kills.

          BTW, saying “with all due respect” pretty much guarantees what follows to be disrespectful or condescending.

        • The “Treat all guns as loaded” rule is like a summary of all safe firearms handling. It encompass the keep finger off trigger, and pointing it in a safe direction and being aware of your target. It is not a stupid rule.

          Prime example is my own father. He regularly assumes that his [insert gun here] is unloaded. Because of this, he regularly erratically handles the firearm, often times passing/pointing the muzzle at my chest and face as he mindlessly swings it around. He regularly ignores the safety on his rifles at all times. He shrugs it off every time I remind him to treat it as loaded. He has “forgotten” that [insert gun here] is loaded multiple times. His dexterity with manipulation and knowledge of problem solving in regards to firearms are minimal.

          Don’t get me wrong, I love my Dad, but if he continues to ignore my reminders and unsafely handle firearms, I may have to make the hard choice of not shooting with him anymore.

        • Easier to remember for newbies, maybe. But they prohibit keeping a loaded gun in a quick access safe, unless you want to parse what “Keep your gun unloaded until ready to use” is supposed to mean.

        • Whiskey, this is the only issue I see with the NRA 3 rules. In every NRA course I have taken, including the pistol instructors course, the meaning of “in use” is left vague, somewhat intentionally I suspect. It is left up to the individual to decide if a gun kept loaded in a quick access safe is currently “in use”. I think Cooper’s first rule, when taken as intended to “treat all guns as if they are loaded” covers a multitude of situations.

        • Sorry Henry, I’ve been accused of being argumentative or disrespectful because of my brevity in responses. My intent was to not be disrespectful, nor did I use “but” or any other qualifiers to negate my initial sentence.

          No, unloaded guns don’t cause a complacent mindset. Yes, I refuted what you said by stating my qualifications. I have not had a ND myself or with any of my students. That experience specifically refuted your claim of “Unloaded guns cause a dangerous mindset. They instill complacency which leads to negligence.” Furthermore, I specifically refuted your statement by explaining how the 3 rules specifically removed all possibility of a ND. While most accidents are ND, indeed negligent, there are a rare few AD (accidental) and caused by faulty equipment (hammer follow, etc).

        • Not true. Most of my guns are unloaded. But I’ll still rack the slide or bolt every time I pick them up (even if I just placed it on the table in front of me a few seconds earlier), I’ll still keep my finger away from the trigger, and I’ll still keep them pointed in a safe direction.

    • My 5 yr old cousin knows the Cooper 4. He went out BB gun shooting and I ask him what were the safety rules. He didn’t know, so I told him. 3 months later, saw him again, and I asked him. He forgot the first! But proudly quoted 2-4. And if those were all he remembered, he would be much better off than many young adults I have met!

      I learned after only one incident, never show off even an unloaded gun in any group of people at a party. I brought out my guns to show to an older friend who asked, after I had been at the range that day. Others asked to see them. And then got offended when I insisted on showing them it was clear and that they did not muzzle sweep everyone in the room. They couldn’t grasp why I would care when I knew they were unloaded. So I ended up packing them quickly and saying “I knew they were unloaded, you only knew that I said they were”

      • When I put a gun on my hip or inside my belt, for carry, it’s ready to use. If it’s in a quick access safe, it’s ready to use, just not on my person. Otherwise, like you, if it’s not in use it’s unloaded and locked up.

    • The NRA’s 3 Rules are very apropos for, say, bullseye shooters. For defensive/tactical settings, not so much.

  4. It pisses me off that Gun Safety is not taught in public schools. I was taught when I was in school and it always stayed with me. If Obama wants to truly reduce accidental gun deaths all he has to do is make schools teach gun safety. I know the NRA and NSSF would love to help. Probably for FREE. I just can’t rap my head around teaching middle school students about safe sex practices and not teaching them about safe firearm practices. Am I the only one that thinks this is beyond common sense????

    • The NRA offers quite a bit of assistance in that direction, but some schools refuse to avail themselves of it. They’d rather put kids in danger than temper their zealotry.

      • “Pro Gun” or “Anti Gun” should have nothing to do with teaching children firearm safety. If you are so Anti Gun that you don’t want your child attending a firearm safety class that your right. But don’t cry on my shoulder when your child accidentally shoots him/her self. It reminds me of a conversation I had at church with parents of a pregnant teen. They made sure their child did not attend sex education classes and never talked to her about the consciences of sex. They thought I would be sympathetic, but I responded what did you think was going to happen?

    • It makes a LOT of sense. Unfortunately it’s usually not done, to the detriment of many.

      BTW, Obama doesn’t want to truly reduce accidental gun deaths. He wants to reduce guns.

    • When people think of handling guns, they think of shooting people, dead children, horrible life changing events.
      When people think of schools, they think of wonderful, pure, positive institutions where children can happily explore the world and frolic in meadows.

      They don’t want to introduce the former to the latter. Yes, education on gun safety is very useful and takes very little of time, and it should be provided, but “innocent children” taught to hold “people killing machines” – oh no!

  5. 1. Be able to recite all four rules in your sleep.
    2. If you can’t, then stay away from all firearms.

    I get that everyone there was a jackwagon who played along and assumed the risk. Still, she was reckless, not just negligent, in firing that gun, and deserves to go to prison for many years. Too bad, so sad.

    • I hate gun laws, but maybe they should add a couple of true or false questions to the 4473 form. Such as the four golden rules. Like I said I hate gun laws, but if you can’t figure out the answers to the 4 golden rules you really don’t need a gun.

      • Owning a gun is your right, training and knowledge is your responsibility.

        The government shouldn’t qualify who should or should not own a gun. That’s like saying people have to know how to be PC before exercising their right to free speech, or people need to know all the religions before exercising their religion of choice. You know, for the kids….

    • Agreed.
      Also, there are people who focus on reciting the rules (see many posts above), when the focus should be on following the rules.
      I’ve seen people at competitions (IDPA, USPSA, 3-Gun) sweep the crowd–sometimes with a loaded gun–because they weren’t following the rules, even though they knew the rules.

      Rule 0 of gun handling should be: maintain your mental focus.

    • Outside of the rules in competition or the rules that a private range, what are the other rules? How many more are needed?

      I’m not being a trying to be dick, I’m asking a serious question.

  6. “All guns are always loaded”
    Yea…except when there not.
    We all know what that actually means, but that’s still an odd way to say it.

    • I think it’s a very powerful way of saying it. My 8 year old entirely grasps its meaning.

      When I tell him that many people have been shot dead with an unloaded gun, he gets it 100%.

      Maybe those whose brains get tied up in knots over that “paradox” don’t have sufficient mental dexterity to safely handle guns.

  7. First screw up, “you want to show it off to your friends”. Never a good idea unless your friends are avid gun owners/users.

    A gun isn’t a new smartphone folks, keep it AWAY from friends that aren’t gun savy.

  8. I worry about habitual dry fire’ers. Their instinct to to pull the trigger when handling a firearm. You must make it habit to clear the firearm, and make sure ammo is out of sight during practice. Especially if practicing fire / reload / fire.

    • Yep. I know I was getting complacent when I used to keep my pistol empty and dry fire often. I did make sure to check the chamber every time I picked it up, even if I had just set it down. But we all know that someone who makes sure “every time” still slips up occasionally. Thankfully I never had an ND and have given up habitual dry firing.

      Safety isn’t about what you can get away with right now so much as it is about habits you will follow automatically.

      As far as the four rules go, they are half about demonstrating to those around you that t the firearm cannot fire (finger off the trigger or actin open), or if it does fire that it will not hit a person (pointed in a safe direction, down range or down, etc…). If a gun store clerk brings a pistol out with the action open, closes the action and hands it to me, I will still check the chamber.

      If there were a fifth rule, in my book, it would be “do not handle a firearm needlessly.”

    • Actually, no. I dry fire between an hour and 2 hours a day. I shoot in USPSA, 3 Gun, and IDPA (among others). I’ve not had a ND yet, nor has any of the other shooters that do the same or similar dry fire regimen. A lot of the great competition shooters dry fire many hours in the week. Part of the USC (Unload, Show Clear) is ingrained in any shooter’s mind if they’ve been doing matches for any significant amount of time. Most that I know use SnapCaps or similar, removing all live ammunition from the dry fire area.

  9. Very stupid behavior. If I ended up hanging around friends like this, I’d rather be alone. More to the point, If I had freinds like that, I wouldn’t even want them to know about my guns for chances are that if somebody doesn’t get killed, people like this might steal them and they’d end up being used in a crime later on. Then again, the owner in this situation doesn’t have any common sense, so thios kind of end result could be expected.

  10. Now his mom can’t say “I told you she was no good!” But then again, I read a study that says that men routinely marry women that are like their mother. So maybe it was bound to happen sooner or later.

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