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I teach a lot of newbies how to shoot a gun. So should you. Taking a noob to the gun range is the best – if not the only – way to “convert” an anti. Once they get to grips, literally, with the idea that guns aren’t inherently dangerous, they can begin to understand why their fellow Americans cherish their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Of course, gun are dangerous. What would be the point if they weren’t? And they’re most dangerous in the hands of a newbie. To defend yourself against getting shot by an anti – the most ironic fate I can imagine – you need to avoid confusing them. And I’m here to say four safety rules is three too many . . .

In the video above, Hipster Chick (HC) struggles to remember the four gun safety rules she supposedly learned the previous week. “The gun is always loaded,” she begins. She remembers the importance of trigger finger discipline. And . . . that’s it. fxhummel1 prompts the next one: “always be sure of your target and what’s behind it.” The other woman in the vid provides the fourth: “Don’t let your muzzle cross anything you’re not willing to destroy.”

Oh dear.

First of all, people best remember things in threes (e.g., in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). Second, people best remember things that are easy to remember (i.e., phrases using rhymes or short words or phrases with clear meanings). Hence HC’s ability remember “the gun is always loaded.” Hence her inability to remember only two of the four safety rules, and “don’t let your muzzle cross anything you’re not willing to destroy.”

Which is THE gun safety rule. If your newbie obeys this rule you will not be shot. Nor, it should be said, will anyone else. OK, the gun novice needs to know that a safe-seeming direction may not be safe (“always know your target and what’s beyond it”). But they’re not out plinking in the woods by their lonesome. They’re with you at a gun range or safe shooting area.

I can’t stress this enough. The ONLY rule that a newbie really, truly, deeply and completely needs to know for their initial training is the muzzle crossing thing. Yes but – using the words “muzzles” and “destruction” ain’t gonna cut it with someone who barely knows what a gun’s “muzzle” is and thinks of “shooting” things rather than “destroying” them. And doesn’t want to “destroy” anything. (Yet.)

You need to tell them “always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.”

Before I take a new shooter to the range, I lay it out: “There’s one rule you need to know to be safe with a gun. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Do not aim it at yourself, me or anyone else. If you point the gun in a safe direction, nothing bad can happen. Do you understand?” I make sure they do.

I repeat the rule before I get the gun out. When I do: “This gun is pointed in a safe direction: downrange. You must keep this gun pointed in a safe direction at all times. No matter what. Do you understand?” THEN I tell them to keep their finger off the go-pedal “until I tell you to put your finger on the trigger.”

I ask the newb to repeat the One Safety Rule to Rule Them All before they hold the gun. I put the firearm in their hand facing downrange (obvs.) “Keep your finger off the trigger until I tell you. Is the gun pointed in a safe direction? Will you keep the gun pointed in a safe direction? No matter what?”

And then I begin the lesson, including fxhummel1’s most excellent instruction on an aggressive, recoil-taming stance. Assuming the novice shooter observes muzzle discipline, I stress trigger discipline. If the student violates muzzle discipline at any point, I jump in (sometimes literally) and correct them, taking a break from training to do so.

If you and your student leave their first range session with the same number of holes you came in with, the instruction was a success. If they’ve learned the importance of muzzle discipline they will know enough gun safety not to do something stupid and they’ll know that shooting a gun can be safe. Which is an enormous first step towards acquiring an appreciation of firearms freedom.

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  1. I’d have to disagree.

    ALL the rules are necessary. If a shooter doesn’t follow all of them , I don’t take them to the range.Reason being that someone new to guns won’t know what a “safe direction” really means. They aim a gun in the air and whoopsie, hit the bang switch. Safe direction, right?

    Not as far as the farmer a mile downrange over the berm is concerned.

    All four rules are equally important. If a person cannot recall all of them, they shouldn’t be shooting.As the many cases of negligent LEOs prove, firearms are a horrible thing to trust to a duffer.

    • I have to agree with your statement and add on here.

      The 4 rules are brilliantly designed. Break 1, and things may still be ok (not that you ever should). When you break 2 or, that’s when you’re screwed.

      • If you have a table, you can make it simple by having them keep the gun pointed down range, even when they set it down. At the very least I would want them to keep their finger of the trigger until they are ready to fire as well, perhaps as a step towards getting all 4 rules memorized. The reality of a gun going off in your hand helps give context to the rules, which for me has always helped retention.

  2. The whole point of having the four rules is that you need to break more than one of them at the same time to add unintended holes to anybody’s anatomy. With one rule you’re guaranteeing a single point of failure, and sooner or later there’ll be a great weeping and a gnashing of teeth because somebody didn’t keep their booger hook off the bang switch, didn’t properly identify their target, etc.

    • I dunno, I like the idea of telling a NEW shooter(AKA, someone who does not even own a firearm, that you are teaching) “Don’t point your gun at anything you don’t want a hole in.” Start there. If they kill someone by accident, they already broke that first rule. After that rule has sank in properly, and they want to continue, you go into all guns are always loaded. Make sure that sinks in, Then booger hook off the bang switch. Just following those three at first WHEN AT A RANGE will keep them safe. After they are comfortable AT THE RANGE, teach them rule 4 Know your target and what is beyond.

    • Well you also have four rules because you are required to break them some times.
      Every firearm should be treated as if it is loaded.
      Not always. Once you safety check it, you can do those things you do with unloaded guns: clean them, dry practice, hand it to someone etc.
      Keep finger off the trigger until sights are on the target and you are ready to fire.
      This one is a good rule and should rarely if ever be broken. I think rather than emphasize muzzle discipline, I would teach this rule as the most important safety rule. Again, however, it is not followed during dry practice or checking trigger break.
      Know what your target is and what is beyond it.
      This rule is broken every time there is a DGU.
      Never point the gun in the direction of something you are not willing to kill or destroy.
      Oh please. This is the most important? Every gun in the world right now is pointed at something. Most of those things are valuable. Ever seen the Flash Bang Bra Holster? If your wife or girlfriend is riding shotgun with you concealing her P380 in that rig then it is pointed at you. I was in a gun shop one day and as I walked down the counter I noticed all the muzzles pointed at the customers. I stood in front of a Kahr PM9 and asked to see it. The clerk reached under the glass case and picked up the gun, as it was pointed at my crotch. He safety checked it and laid it on the counter for me. I picked it up and inspected it. I noticed he was dancing side to side every time I flipped the gun around to view its features. I realized what was happening and felt a bit embarrassed. I put the gun down and left the store. Thinking back on it now, I think it is ridiculous to believe that you can sell and show guns in a crowded shop and not have it point at someone. My finger was off the trigger (my biggest rule) and he had just verified it was unloaded. Why is it o.k. for him to sweep me and the room with it but I can’t inspect thoroughly a weapon that I am not familiar with and might potentially purchase if given a chance to do so?

      • If not potentially dangerous, pointing guns at people is just plain rude. If you aren’t going out of your way to not do it then start.

  3. I usually let new shooters know that if they point a gun at me during our range session, I will assume that they want to be in a gunbattle and I will respond accordingly.

    Never had a problem once that sinks in.

  4. All four rules are important. But one is more important than the rest. And with all the adrenalin and fear (and adrenalin) a new shooter experiences on their first range trip, I say focus on one THEN INTRODUCE THE OTHERS. As I said in my post.

    • I’m with Farago on this one. Obviously all the rules are important, but so is giving them a safe environment to learn them all. Freaking them out and overloading them is a surefire way to make sure they NEVER touch a gun again.

    • I don’t disagree with the thought, I disagree with the rule. I’ve done the same thing. But I lean toward, actually using your terms: Keep your booger hook off the bang switch. And actually using those EXACT words makes sure it sticks. I’ve just found that with the adrenaline and fear (and adrenaline) it’s easier for newbies to remember that one than to maintain constant muzzle discipline.

      Now, if they DO sweep me or someone else I don’t stay quiet about it….

      • I agree with the one rule, and believe trigger discipline is the one rule to make most important. 100% of NDs are from pulling the trigger…. If you have a new shooter, who may be jittery or downright scared, teaching them that the gun will not go off until you pull the trigger helps put them in control. The rest are all important, hugely so, but baby steps.

      • Gawd I hate that terminology. I’ll place it up there with, “Don’t shit in the coffee pot” or “Here, hold my beer and watch this!” Nothing like continuing to promote the image of gun enthusiast as redneck hillbilly.

    • I pretty much do the same as you. Keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction and keeping their finger off the trigger until they’re ready to shoot are the most important rules at the range, IMO.

      Later I throw in “all guns are always loaded” and “know your target and what’s beyond it.”

      I explain the necessity and reason behind all the rules a clear, succinct manner too and I always correct them if I see them about to break one of them.

    • How about a cars vs. gun control analogy?

      When someone first started teaching you to drive di they take a lot of time teaching you ALL of the rules of the road? Did they insist that you memorize the little pamphlet from the DMV before you got behind the wheel? No, me either. You’ve got to start with the basics, something they can understand and remember, that under tightly controlled circumstances will allow them to practice in relative safety. From that point you can start building on their knowledge base and adding more complexities.

      The very worst way to teach anyone anything is to make the entry point so onerous and complex and time consuming that they decide they can never do it before you even give them a chance to try.

      • “… to make the entry point so onerous and complex and time consuming that they decide they can never do it before you even give them a chance to try.”

        Wait, are we talking about the real objective of most gun control laws?

    • I believe “trigger discipline” is the most important based on, if that is the only one followed, then the other three don’t matter as much as far as life being in jeopardy. The muzzle thing makes instructors nervous, understandably, but in reality, the gun won’t fire until the trigger breaks.
      Trigger finger discipline is also the easiest to be 100% sure of. During the course of a day, the muzzle sweeps many things. Even when trying hard not to point it in an unsafe direction, we live in a 360 degree world. Really, only on the range can you be 100% in compliance. The Trigger finger rule can be practiced 100% of the time in 100% of the places. It can be learned to the point of being habitual while the other rules take more thought to attempt to achieve.

    • Even if newbie has them down cold in the classroom, what does it matter. In all likely hood their first time on the range they might be close to operating in the black; you’ll be lucky if they remember one. Which one would you prefer?

      • Habits don’t require memory. They need to be comfortable handling a loaded gun and if they are worried about external, environmental variables then they will get sweaty palms and probably will never have fun shooting.
        They need to learn the habit of not letting anything enter the trigger guard. How to pick up, draw, aim, put down, holster, inspect, unload a firearm without getting a finger or anything near the trigger, should be the first rule “mastered”. Mastered means that it is done unconsciously.

    • …and some doggerel a limerick never hurt anyone:

      The Old Lady Who Knew Every Gun Is Always Loaded:

      There was an old lady from Riga
      Who knew to not finger the Triggah
      Till she’s ready to shoot,
      Never swept us, to boot
      Knew her target, what’s behind it, go figgah.

  5. Having the gun pointing in a safe direction isn’t enough. People have been shot and killed by ricochets, which cannot occur if people obey Cooper’s third rule.

    According to our lord and savior Jeff Cooper, the third rule, the Golden Rule, was KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER.

    And even that isn’t enough. There is a certain degree of redundant safety at work by applying the Four Rules. If a newbie can’t remember the four, he or she has a bad instructor.

    • 100% agree.

      I spent two summers teaching teenage Boy Scouts to shoot rifle and shotgun for merit badges, competition, and as an elective activity. . “Always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction” and “Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot” were paramount. So also is knowing your target and what is beyond.

      Whether the Jeff Cooper or NRA or BSA (Boy Scouts of America) version, they are all essential safety rules. Still, muzzle discipline and trigger finger discipline are tops. Anyone, adult or child, who could not follow the rules was summarily ejected from the range. Children were allowed to return the next day with the concurrence of myself and their scoutmaster. Once the matter was settled, there was no more said of it other than to always maintain awareness.

      I’m not comfortable with a shooter if they cannot maintain muzzle or trigger finger discipline.

    • I’m in agreement w/ Robert on this one. Depending on the situation I think it’s okay to have the four rules on a weighted scale of sorts. For instance, when going to the range, everyone is pretty sure of their target and what’s behind it. I drill the “muzzle in safe direction” and “trigger discipline” rules into my new shooters first and foremost. Invariably what I see at the range is new shooters running their mouths and pointing the gun in the direction they are looking – wherever that may be. I always tell anyone I take to pretend that the end of the gun has a string tied to it that is connected to the target. Seems like it helps them visualize which direction gun should be pointing. None of this is ideal of course. I would prefer newbies be able to recite the four rules like a drill Sargent. Reality doesn’t always work that way though.
      All of that said – I do take the extra step of making anyone that hasn’t shot before – participate in a mock firing line practice with an air pistol before we go.

    • “According to our lord and savior Jeff Cooper, the third rule, the Golden Rule, was KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER.”

      I wish Hollywood would teach this. I cringe every time I see a movie poster or video of poor gun handling and think, “there goes another wasted chance to teach by example.”

  6. I understand where you’re coming from RF, I’ve trained a few new shooters, I’m just glad to see your one rule isn’t “don’t be a dumbass”.

  7. To me, finger and muzzle discipline are mandatory. Someone could still get injured even if the gun wasn’t muzzling someone (ricochet etc). Finger AND Muzzle control, no exceptions.

  8. At a minimum you need to teach 2: Safe direction & finger off trigger. People are so used to wrapping their hand around an object they’re holding, they need to understand to fight against that learned behavior when holding a gun.

    I agree that the other 2 rules are critical to gun owners, but less so for newbies you’re taking to the range.

  9. IMHO, if Saint Jeff could have distilled the Holy Four to less than that, he would have. I acknowledge your point, but also acknowledge several counters already posted … and add one of my own.

    In order to get the firearm pointed in a safe direction, you have to handle it; i.e., pick it up, grip it, etc. I teach all my students that Rule One was paramount and that, on picking up a firearm – while keeping one’s finger off the trigger and pointing it in a safe direction, while not covering anyone with the muzzle, you always safely verified the load status first.

    My point here is that all four rules are inextricably intertwined, and of equal importance. I further assert that anyone who cannot remember those rules as a system is not ready to handle a firearm around me or mine.

    Just my $0.02, adjusted for bias.

  10. I disagree. A gun can be pointed at anything and not be a danger. THE golden rule is “Keep your finger off the trigger”. The gun will never fire unless you pull the trigger, except one in need of repair, or a caracal.

    • Also, remember the post failure to fire waiting time.
      This is rare, and rarely will an unsafe muzzle direction occur in this small amount of time, but it’s possible.

      Sometimes an unexpected *click* results in the immediate pointing of the muzzle all over the place while trying to figure out what went wrong.

  11. Nice article, and you address an important topic. I’ve been through this several times, and begin with the four rules as is common. Personally, I’ve found that people get the “keep it pointed in a safe direction” rule intuitively. May just be the newbies I’ve taken to the range. But when each one picked up a gun for the first time, the finger went straight to the trigger. At which time I called a stop, and harped on that, with constant attention to that when on the range.

    I was watching world war Z with my younger daughter and her friend [who I introduced to shooting. Bonus: the friend’s mom went one day, too, and is now taking the NRA basic pistol and personal protection course]. Remember the scene in which the virologist fell while getting off the plane and shot himself dead? Both the girls said, “keep your booger hook off the bang switch, fool!” Gratification. Much gratification.

    Edit: see similar thoughts have popped up while I was writing that.

    • “May just be the newbies I’ve taken to the range. But when each one picked up a gun for the first time, the finger went straight to the trigger. At which time I called a stop, and harped on that, with constant attention to that when on the range.”

      No your newbies are completely normal. It is natural for all your fingers to move together when gripping something. Too Natural, unfortunately.

      You need to teach them a trick that helps them remember where their trigger finger is. When I am teaching newbies, I put the gun (unloaded with the slide open) on the table pointed downrange, then I tell the newb to pick it up. Invariably they will struggle a bit to wrap their hand around the grip without putting their trigger finger inside the trigger guard. When I see them starting to grip it wrong, I stop them, “Stop. Put it back down.” Then I say, “Here is a trick that makes that much easier. As your hand is approaching the gun, point your trigger finger at the place on the side of the gun where you want it to be when you’re holding it, and touch the gun first at that place with your trigger finger. Then continue moving your hand closer and put your other fingers around the grip. Then pick it up, all the time keeping the tip of your trigger finger touching the gun on the side there.” As I am saying this, I’m doing it slowly so they can see what I mean.

      Then I tell them, “OK. Now you pick up the gun the way I just showed you.” And I talk them through it as they are doing it. We practice that a couple times. After doing this, I never have another problem with them picking up the gun with poor trigger discipline.

      Of course, we still have problems with them not moving their trigger finger off the trigger when they have finished shooting. That habit is much harder to teach, because excitement and adrenalin are involved.

  12. New shooters should always start off with extensive dry firing, up to two weeks before going to the range for live fire, and upon arrival at the range there should be a session of dry fire before live fire.

    • I disagree. Way to bore the tarnations out of them. And way to ruin many guns unless you force them to use snap caps, which makes it all the more tedious. Almost have to, anyways, with many guns that lock back after last round, especially if there is a mag disconnect safety (then you don’t dry fire without the mag in).

      In Boy Scouts the way we approached it was simple. Learn the four rules that any half brain zombie could memorize. Learn how to properly hold and handle the gun (the Boy Scout thing about saying thank you to signal the other can let go), and learn field strip. Took 20 minutes. Then we got to shoot. If we have to dry fire, no one would want to do it.

      Frankly, I NEVER dry fire any gun. Not necessary. If it benefits you and you do not damage your gun thereby, go ahead. But it isn’t necessary for most people.

    • Sure, if that person is determined to be a shooter and wants to develop the best technique possible, but for conversion purposes the joy of holding explosions in the hand is the selling point.

  13. I always teach newbies the Four Rules, in order.

    That being said, I insist on one thing, and never admit to another thing.

    The one thing I insist on is, keep each rule SHORT! When you want them to recite, have them recite SHORT rules! No “unless” or “except”.

    1) The gun is always loaded.
    2) Always point it in a safe direction.
    3) Keep your finger off the trigger.
    4) Be sure of the target and what’s behind it.

    No addenda, codicils, exceptions, what have you. Discuss them, but the newbies don’t “recite” the extras. When I make a newbie “recite,” it has to be word-for-word, on the nose. Not out of order and not with bizarre phrasing, like what fxhummel1 allows in the video.

    The one thing I never admit to a newbie (any newbies out there, STOP READING!) is this:

    The least important rule is rule one.

    <<>> HERESY!!!

    The reason it’s the least important rule is, ironically, that it’s the MOST important rule. The reason you follow rules two through four is BECAUSE of rule one; but rule one, by itself, doesn’t tell you how to act. Rules two through four tell you how to act. Rule one is a preamble that has no practical effect on personal behavior.

    Imagine only one rule: the gun is always loaded.
    A. So what. What does that mean I should do?
    B. Since it’s always loaded, does that mean I don’t need to buy ammunition? (You wish.)

    Imagine only rules two through four.
    Point in a safe direction. Got it.
    Finger off trigger. Got it.
    Be sure of the target and what’s behind it. Got it.

    Rule one gives rise to the other three, but only rules two through four give any practical advice.

    That being said, my own personal favorite Heinlein quote (from “Red Planet”, if I recall) is “If you took all the people that have been killed by ‘unloaded’ weapons and laid them end to end, it would make quite a spread.” I always use that line to explain rule one.

    • I give rule one last, with the explanation that the “always loaded” rule means that the first three rules apply at all times, even when you think the gun is unloaded.

      Same concept, different wording. Works for me.

      • That’s pretty much the way I think of it. If I’m trying to deliver the rules in the way that’s most likely to stick in someone’s mind, I mix them up and put the first one last, for the reason you both described.

  14. If I can only have one rule it would be All guns are always loaded. I have been shooting, transporting and cleaning guns for 55 years and have seen more than one accidental discharge from assuming a gun is unloaded. If someone checks a gun and hands it to me I recheck it. When I clean a gun I still treat it as if loaded even when it is broken down.

    From 1/20/14 The Dallas Morning News.

    Steve Fromholz was killed last month in a hunting accident. “Ariste says Fromholz, who lives in the area, and his girlfriend were going to hunt feral hogs. A rifle was in a case but unzipped at the bottom. The gun was being transferred from one vehicle to another.
    Ariste says Fromholz grabbed the handle, the gun partly fell, hit the ground and discharged.

  15. Fuxelhammer or whatever his name is ain’t bad as an instructor.

    As for the rules, I’m kinda fond of the NRA’s 3 rules.

    Everybody’s got their own. Not sure why there’s a need for all that.

    For the IL CCW, their rules of safety were clearly written by someone getting paid by the word. LOL.


    • John, I also prefer the NRA’s Three Basic Safety Rules. Cooper’s Fourth Rule, while certainly critical, is more about shooting than handling a firearm.

  16. This is almost exactly what I did when teaching my kids to shoot, only I started with the trigger as rule #1 and muzzle discipline as #2. I figure if you don’t pull the trigger, nothing happens, so that’s the single most important thing for them to know.

    #1: Trigger=bang, bullet puts a hole in something. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to put a hole in something.
    #2: If it goes bang, where’s the bullet going to go? Don’t point the gun at anything that shouldn’t have a hole in it.

    Dirt simple, 100% obvious cause and effect. They got it instantly, and with those two rules in mind, I proceeded to show them how to hold and manipulate the gun safely. Later on in the range session (or on the following weekend), I brought up the always-loaded concept and the what’s-beyond-your-target concept; those were easily remembered too, because they logically flow from the first two.

  17. Embarrassing, I know, but the first time I took out my own pistol to the range, I did a slight, downward sweep of half the range with my empty pistol while leaving my stall to refill my mags. Finger/trigger discipline was never a problem for me (I even do it when I carry my dog’s retractable leash), but I forgot to lock the slide back and keep it pointed to the floor the best I could.

    My friend screamed at me that if my empty pistol were a laser, I would have cut half the range’s legs off. Haven’t forgotten that since, nor will I.

  18. I get what Robert is pointing out and want to echo a couple others-

    The simpler and more “positive” Ie DO THIS, as opposed to DONT DO THIS, the better.
    Three things seem to be about as much as most people can remember,
    is what you hear in USN training, in corporate sales, and it seems to be true at the range-

    Muzzle SAFE
    Trigger SAFE
    Background SAFE

    So my way of remembering #1 is thats always how it is-
    its an existential view of all guns, not somnething I have to remind myself of, situationally-
    but how “they always are loaded”
    handing at the gun show, at counter of LGS, taking out of home safe, putting in the car, taking out of the case, at the range, in between while on the lane counter, taking home, cleaning at the kitchen table…etc.

    Any and all guns, paintball, bb, handgun, shotgun, etc. THEY ARE ALWAYS LOADED.

  19. Maybe I’m completely off base, but she seems a bit more uncomfortable with the gun than someone I’d want to be training live fire draw exercises. It seems like quite a bit of unloaded or snap cap draw along with regular range time gun handling would be the safer route.

  20. As far as verbal recall, I wouldn’t trust some adult to read aloud See Spot Run who was unable to remember the 4 rules. My 7 yr old cousin memorized them after being told once. It isn’t that hard. So my conclusion must be either incredible stupidity, or incredible not caring. Either one, I don’t want to be around.

    As far as physically keeping the discipline, in traditional booth style, or bench shooting, easy enough to always point guns downrange. But I find you have to tell them down range, and explain that doesn’t mean at the ground, or up high, but forward.

    In any other shooting enviroment, I find people, even though they know the rules, easily muzzle sweep people. Learning to rack a slide, etc. But trigger discipline is easy enough to practice and even get to the point of doing it by second nature.

    It is really the first rule in general (treat every gun as if it is loaded) that, since it implies an attitude not an action, I find least relevant for a newbie…more relevant when, e.g., going to clean a gun and remembering to clear it safely.

    And at the range, knowing what is beyond one’s target, while still a good idea, is largely irrelevant. But hunting? I almost would say that is the first rule while hunting

  21. Loaded, muzzle, trigger, target…

    If you’re old enough to ride a bike (let alone drive a car) you can handle the four rules under proper supervision- I don’t know if I agree with this article.

    I have a pic of my seven yr old daughter at five yrs old with her first BB gun, muzzle in the air (safe direction) and finger off the trigger.

    My five yr old managed the four rules just fine, folks.

  22. After teaching several hundred kids basic shooting, I came to realize that the time prior to range time was critical. Watch instructors and their student prep. Very few spend time BEFORE SHOOTING with anyone talking about the thing that makes the gun go bang…ammo, no less firearm safety. Quiet calm one on one time is needed. Like tossing a kid into a pool without dry land instruction or skydiving without some talkie time. Learning especially by children is an additive process. Hell with anyone child or adult. They are building mental images of the activity. Then putting together a movie. IMHO that is why the Eddie Eagle rules are so effective with small kids. The rules are part of a sequence. Each one building on the prior one. Visualize it. Stop…don’t touch…leave the area….tell an adult. Repetition. It becomes an earworm.

    So I suggest that firearm instruction proceed along similar lines. Prior to anyone getting up on the range with live ammo, there should be this “movie” in their heads. It should take them thru the approach, the handling and the firing of the weapon. No reason not to spend time building up the visual components. Having them run thru it multiple times. Then the real life experience should be compared to what they have learned. Building blocks, sequence, repetition. How many times have you seen the dad with the kids up on the range with guys on the next point blasting away with deer guns and German 88s? The kids are bewildered, hell I’ve seen some look downright terrified. They can’t hear the dad, there are explosions going on and supposedly important info is being transferred?

    The safety aspect should be part of each of the building blocks. It should flow throughout the sequence and be repeated EVERY time the shooter performs. An earworm, a mantra. Everyone here understands the pinky finger in the chamber thingy. Why? Hopefully because most of us learned it as a primitive behavior when handling guns. Pick up gun, stick pinky in chamber. Its part of that movie we have in our heads. We can probably run thru a day at the range in our heads. Every aspect of it. Ideally the student should be able to visualize all the aspects of range time from getting out of the car to packing up to leave. BEFORE hitting the range. My 2centavos….

  23. “Self-Defense Tip: Teach One Rule to Rule Them All”

    And that rule is shoot the bad guy if it is legally justifiable.

      • Actually, there is a very good chance that an armed bad guy will shoot you during a gun fight. Fortunately, most wounds are not fatal (because you should be moving and they are most certainly moving — trying to dodge your bullets!) and they almost never take you out of the fight. Even if you take a hit, keep going and make sure you end it on your terms.

        If it is your time, it is your time. You might as well go down fighting to defend yourself, your family, and your community. And hopefully take at least one bad guy down with you. Very few of us would have to do this to virtually eliminate violent criminals.

        • Whether you hit or miss the bad guy/s, if he/they stop attacking and/or run away, or you escape, that means you go home unscathed, you win.

          However, if you get shot and so does he/they, that’s a draw, assuming y’all survive, if you get shot and he/they do not, you lose.

          I’ll take not getting shot and going home unscathed, FTW.

  24. I learned to shoot before the “Iconic Jeff Cooper” was iconic. So maybe I approach teaching differently.

    Handling firearms and firing them are two different things. Emphasize safe handling first, and safe shooting second.

    Show whoever how to safely handle and safely operate the firearms.

    Once they’ve got that down, then go on to safe shooting–loading, aiming, making sure of what’s around and beyond the target, that kind of stuff. Practice util they do that pretty good.

    Then shoot and practice shooting.

    Oh, and always keep your firearm loaded. Jacking around with an empty gun (or cap pistol, bb gun, airsoft, etc.) builds habits that will kill someone.

    Oh, and one other thing. The way you hold your gun, stand, etc., is not the “perfect” or “only” way. Everybody is built differently, and may find themselves in different situations.

    My way might not be the right way–I constantly learn more and better–so do what you think best.

  25. With new shooters I am VERY, very careful to very calmly and patiently teach them always, always, always keep their finger OFF the trigger, at all times, in all circumstances, unless and until they are absolutely, positively ready to shoot the firearm. I follow that by teaching them NEVER ever, every point a gun at anything they are not willing to kill or destroy. I use the word “kill” to instill a proper and healthy seriousness about what they are doing. And then I teach them the gun is ALWAYS loaded. No matter how many times they have checked it and no matter who told them it is NOT loaded, they must always assume it is loaded. And then we cover always being aware of what is beyond the target they are shooting at.

    All four rules are important, but if you violate the first, the rest don’t matter.

    • “All four rules are important, but if you violate the first, the rest don’t matter”

      Indeed, the first rule is about starting out with the proper mindset when handling a weapon, if don’t do that, you’ve already failed.

    • While I completely understand the need to teach trigger discipline (and the other two rules), teaching muzzle control first is a fail safe. If a new shooter fails to control their trigger finger they won’t shoot anyone if the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.

      As y’all have no doubt seen, people fail at trigger discipline ALL THE TIME. I don’t have time to look up the link, but there was a study that put experienced shooters in simulated SD scenarios. Well over half of the shooters checked the trigger with their trigger finger.

      I’ve seen very few shooters with perfect trigger discipline. But I have seen lots who keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. It’s not either or, as I wrote in the post above. But it is one before the other in terms of training newbies. IMHO.

  26. One rule my butt! If a noob can only remember a single rule, the moron has no business handling a weapon.

    Would you teach a student driver with only one rule? You’d be a fool to try.

    Four rules are not too much to commit to memory before being permitted to approach a firearm.

    • A student driver won’t remember a whole lot of what’s taught them until they begin driving. It’s the hands on the wheel that truly starts the learning process. How and what they’re taught while actually driving will sink in better.

  27. I would have to agree with RF on this one. Most new shooters are going to be very nervous on their first time out especially if they’ve leaned toward all the hype the anti-s keep spilling. One rule to remember at a time is a whole lot easier to learn and besides an instructor is out there with them and should know the other rules and insure the ‘student’ doesn’t break them.

  28. I’m often shocked by otherwise intelligent people who can’t grasp these rules. Gently hand them a firearm, their finger goes right to the trigger. Caution them about it and they sweep the room while apologizing. Some of these people are downright brilliant in other areas of their lives, but they somehow don’t grasp these things that many 5 year olds understand. Just bewildering.

  29. I combine two rules into one before I let them touch the gun. I stress the same rule as Robert and another one by saying “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, no matter if you think it is loaded or unloaded”. There I just got two for one. Next I teach them how to pick up the gun and demonstrate first by showing them how to grip the gun and pick it up off the table or from the holster with my finger on the slide or frame. Then I say keep your finger there until you are on target and ready to shoot and have them shoot. When they are read to holster or put gun back on the table I instruct them to put their finger back along the frame first. Now have I have covered three rules and not had them memorize anything. Instead they have learned that this is just how you handle a gun. Finally after they have been shooting a bit or at the end of the session I just point out that they have been aiming at the target and what was behind it. You should never aim at something that you don’t know what it is or what is behind it. I usually give an example of turkey hunters shooting into a bush at the sound of a turkey and killing a hunter. That has happened around here and gets the point across.

    I am demonstrating the four rules and teaching them as we go instead of having them memorize something and trying to follow it. After it is all over I can review the four rules and how they applied and how the person followed them during the shooting session. This has worked much better for me than covering it all up front.

    If you have someone who is really nervous about handling a gun you can have them pick up the gun pretend to shoot and put the gun back down with a blue gun first. You can then go to a gun with snap caps next and finally live fire to ease them into it.

    Incremental steps are always better than just dumping everything on someone at once. This goes for the four rules and the mechanics of shooting.

  30. RF and the article is talking about “NEW SHOOTERS”

    I would like to point out that few people do anything for the first time and do it correctly — everyone learns at a different pace. I have taught everyone from Boy Scouts to 70yr old grandmother — everyone is different.

    Sometime the gun community jumps on their high horse a bit to fast. Sometimes patience is better especially with kids.

    These people are nervous, excited, terrified, many have never seen or handled a gun of any type before not even a water gun and all they know is what they have been told by TV, Hollywood or the Jackass friend who simply wants to scare them.

    I like to break it down for them. I say the rule, then I have them repeat it back to me. I ask them what does it mean, they explain. Then I give them and empty gun and let them practice loading and dry firing. I watch and correct until they can do everything when dry firing. If I have the space I use an airsoft gun. THEN and only then do I give them a real loaded gun. I have had no close calls or ND in any of my classes that now space over 150 people.

    Tell them, have them repeat it. Show them, have them repeat it while dry firing, then allow them to do it for real. This is how reinforcement works.

  31. I think treat all guns as if they are loaded is more important than any other rule. Never point your gun somewhere unsafe and keep your finger off the trigger don’t carry much weight or risk if in your mind you assume the gun isn’t loaded.

    How many times have you seen somebody breaking one of the latter three rules and when called out they will claim as defense that the gun isn’t loaded? Too many times. That’s why the gun is always loaded, assuming it’s not loaded is off the table as an excuse to break the other rules.

  32. I tend to emphasize finger-off-the-trigger for new shooters. Here’s why:

    Most of the time that I’m teaching newbies how to shoot we go to an outdoor range. I like the range because it’s rigidly structured and there are other people shooting, and I find these things help people get over their nervousness.

    A side effect of going to the range is that all the guesswork is taken out of the “know your target” rule. Muzzle discipline is also not much of a problem; I take care of setting up my firearms on the bench, then walk the new shooter how the safeties work and how to load and drop a magazine and how to chamber a round, all the while demonstrating how to do so with the muzzle down range. I’ll then have them try it out (with cleared gun and empty magazine). I don’t see many problems with muzzle discipline.

    The one thing everyone screws up is putting their finger on the trigger or into the trigger guard before they’re on target. Poor trigger discipline is so pervasive in popular culture that it tends to be a pre-ingrained bad habit most people seem to have. As such, I tend to call constant attention to that rule, repeat it multiple times, and I still have to correct almost everyone once or twice. I also end the range trip by telling the new shooters to watch for bad trigger discipline when they watch TV and movies–it makes for a fun “secret club” kind of activity to keep the range day memories alive. 🙂

  33. I have been emphasizing trigger finger safety when I teach new shooters. After reading this thread, I think I’m going to change my approach. There are good arguments all over this thread and I can see where each side is coming from. I don’t think these various approaches are wrong (with a couple exceptions) but I think there are advantages to other approaches that are worth changing up my technique. I do not agree that we should only teach “one rule to rule them all”. That gives up the redundant checks behind the four rules of gun safety in favor of being easy to remember. I don’t think that trade off is worth it.

    However, my rule #1 is going to be muzzle control instead of trigger control. I am now convinced that its easier for new shooters to exercise muzzle discipline than it is trigger discipline. Its easy to put your finger on the trigger. Hell, the gun is designed to make it easy for you to put your finger on the trigger. It’s going to happen. So I’m going to do my best to insure that another rule is already in place before the inevitable trigger finger rule violation. So thank you, Robert, for helping me improve my teaching.

    From rlc2, I’m going to start using the short & sweet approach as an easy way to remember the rules. “Barrel SAFE, Trigger SAFE, Target SAFE”. My safety instruction won’t stop there, naturally, but that’s an easy phrase to say, repeat and remember.

    From Speleofool, I’m definitely going to steal that idea about looking for fingers on the triggers in Hollywood’s products. That’s a great way to get students to internalize the rule and reinforce it once they leave the range.

    From Sam Spade and Tommy Knocker, I’m going to take his suggestion and follow the routine of 1) Tell Them, 2) Show Them, 3) Make Them for each step (holding, loading, dry fire, live fire). Let them concentrate & learn one thing at a time.

    Great discussion. Thanks.

  34. Two rules:
    1. Always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
    2. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

    Break one of those and we’re probably all still ok. Break both and someone’s having a real bad day.

    Any more rules are largely superfluous, outside of inspecting or cleaning a firearm.
    1. Remove or empty the magazine
    2. Clear the weapon
    3. Clear the weapon again

    That’s how I roll.

  35. I teach kids – on a regular basis. Trap, skeet, sporting clays, rifle, and pistol. I’ve got those cool papers that say I’m certified in a lot of different things.

    BUT – I teach kids as young as 6 and 7 the three rules that I was taught.

    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 and the action open until ready to shoot.

    As long as those rules are followed, an accident CAN NOT happen.

    They are taught what the muzzle is, but using the words “…gun pointed…” works just as well. Keeping your finger off the trigger is demonstrated and they are further taught to keep their finger out of the trigger guard. If a kid breaks a rule, he gets one warning – just one – then his/her parents need to come pick up the kid after I explain the problem to them.

    If after leaving my class, the kids forget 2 of the 3, I’m ok with that (and I would guess most won’t forget).

    Obviously rule 3 does not always apply in a self-defense firearm.

    If you want to go all-out with the ten commandments (which is too hard to learn), you will see that pretty much all 10 are covered with the three above. I do teach the 10, but I make them memorize the above 3. We also make them memorize that the safety is a mechanical device and can fail, we explain that “unauthorized” persons are not allowed access to guns and what “unauthorized” means, and proper storage. Again, if they forget all of this other stuff, see rules 1-3 above.

    I also challenge them to bring me one picture of careless gun handling. It’s certainly not hard to find in magazines/newspapers/internet. That gets them involved in noticing what others do, and makes them more self-aware. My kids (students) “police” themselves, and are first to point out an unsafe situation. These kids are no different than any other kids – some have never touched a firearm prior to my class and some parents don’t believe in even having a firearm in the house. Those parents are smart enough to realize that even if they don’t have firearms, a kid could come into contact with someone that does.

    The funny thing is, my kids point out safety violations to me at the range all the time. At that age, they understand, and they understand the importance of following the rules. It’s sad that adults can’t seem to figure this out – it’s not the kids on the many ranges I visit not following the rules, it’s the adults…


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