Author Topic: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?  (Read 4053 times)

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SARGeek

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To someone new to shooting it can be confusing at times to hear people referring to the different sets of safety rules. Since this is a vital topic and since it crosses many different groups without benefit of translation I will attempt to clarify, or at least provide a bit of a translation guide. While there are special rules that apply to special activities, the most popular "General Rules" are two I will address in this article.

The differing rules are because they come from different sources, or, in some cases, are modifications of another sources' version. Because of these differing origins, some sets of rules have biases related to how that group either uses guns or teaches firearms usage. Some rules are narrow in scope, related to the specific activity in which they are applied, and others are intended as broadly applicable to the handling of all firearms.

Here are some guidelines to use when becoming familiar with a new set of rules:
  • If it doesn't make sense then you don't have all the information about the rule
  • If it seems dangerous it likely is
  • If nobody can explain why then the rule is suspect
  • Anyone disrespecting others' safety rules is losing credibility for their own. They may have reasons for preferring their rules but ridiculing those trying to be safe serves no purpose
  • Lawyers are involved, this means you need to pay close attention

Jeff Cooper, whom you will hear much about as you learn about handgun use in the modern world, Wrote in 1995: "I have been doing my best as a member of the Education and Training Committee of the National Rifle Association to standardize firearm safety rules worldwide. I have not met with any conspicuous success. Every time I point out that the four general rules of gun safety have been promulgated, observed and proven over the past three decades, I get static from employees who wish to complicate matters in order to justify their salaries. However, the four suffice. They do not need editing, amplification, or complication. Simplicity is what we need. Whether we get it or not remains to be seen." (Cooper's Commentaries, Vol 3)

As of this writing (Nov, 2012) we do not have a world standard and your humble scribe suspects that we likely never will. The four rules that Col. Cooper formulated for use at his school are as follows. (The Art of the Rifle, P. 23-24, 2002 Color edition)

1. All guns are always loaded. An unloaded gun is useless, and no one should ever assume that any piece [piece=firearm in this usage ed.] he may see or touch is not ready to fire. Would that we would never again hear the plaintive wail, "I didn't know it was loaded!" Of course, it was loaded. That is why it exists. Treat it so!

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy. When you point a weapon, you may not always actually intend to destroy, but you must be emotionally willing to do so. The fact that the piece is not loaded does not alter this. See Rule 1.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Guns do not "go off" by themselves. Somebody fires them. The competent shooter keeps his finger straight and outside the trigger guard guard until he verifies his sight picture. Violation of Rule 3 is responsible for 80% of firearms mishaps.

4. Be sure of your target. Never shoot at anything that you have not identified. Never shoot at a shadow or a sound or a silhouette or anything that you cannot see clearly. Also make sure of what is behind and beyond your target that a bullet may penetrate completely.

(End excerpt)

Col. Cooper passed on in 2006 but many use these as the gold standard for safety rules and you often hear them referred to by number here and elsewhere. His rules differ slightly from the NRA rules (which will be covered in a moment) and in the personal opinion of your scribe the reason is simply that Jeff Cooper focused on using guns, not storing them, not liability lawyers, not anything other than the proficient use of guns for the purpose intended. As such, and being a terse person in his writings, he felt no need or purpose served by adding extra rules to confuse or muddle the issue.

The National Rifle Association is probably the most widely known shooting organization in the US, if not the world. They have developed a wide ranging curriculum of courses, books, DVDs, and other media on topics related to shooting. In the course of doing so they have standardized on three rules that differ slightly for Col. Cooper's. The "NRA three" are:

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.

The NRA does not print specific expansions or qualifiers with the three rules but they do exist in practice. Obviously, a police officer carries his or her gun loaded as it is "in use" while they are carrying it. By the same token, guns being stored should be unloaded.

While they differ in detail and somewhat in scope, the two sets of rules have something in common that is very important: You have to violate more than one of them before someone would get hurt unintentionally. This layering adds a margin of safety to both sets of rules.

The fact is that no set of rules, however comprehensive, will cover every possible situation. Both sets of rules above will help greatly with gun safety if followed. Neither set can replace responsible good judgement. A gun, like any tool, is simply an extension of the will and intent of the person controlling it. No more, no less. Nothing can absolve you of your responsibility for the actions you take and that means safety is squarely in your own hands.

Since you are responsible for your conduct in regards to safety, it follows that you have all the authority you need to meet that responsibility. Never allow yourself to be bullied or persuaded into actions you feel are unsafe. If someone wishes to require you to do something you believe to be unsafe then you need to find somewhere else to shoot or someone else to shoot with.

Have fun and my best wishes for a long and safe shooting career!

SARGeek
November 2012
SARGeek

CR Williams

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2012, 05:42:21 AM »
[shameless plug] In my book I have a section that discusses the application of the Four Rules between the range and the actual fight for life.[\shameless plug]

http://www.lulu.com/shop/cr-williams/gunfighting-and-other-thoughts-about-doing-violence/ebook/product-20528723.html
Shikan haramitsu dai ko myo.

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SARGeek

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2012, 09:29:00 AM »
That's great CR!

I know there are folks out there that think there should only be rule one (the "always loaded" rule) but the fact is that many folks are no loner conversant enough with weapons of any type, including firearms, to be safe handling them. The mindset of "I am holding/handling a weapon, I must use due care and realize what this tool is intended for" isn't a natural place for many folks. Great to hear that you address this!
SARGeek

Taurian

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2012, 07:50:42 AM »
Rule #3, "ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use." could be cause for some controversy.

I keep a truck shotgun that is loaded but not chambered (Condition Three: Chamber empty, full magazine in place, hammer down). My EDC is loaded and chambered at all times and is ready for immediate use (Condition Two: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer down. DA first pull and subsequent single-action pulls, in my case). A revolver is always chambered when loaded (unless of course you carry with one chamber unloaded - as with old style single actions) so I'm assuming, by Jeff Cooper's "Carry Modes", that this would be the same as Condition Two: A round chambered, full magazine in place (all chambers loaded), hammer down.

I carry my 1911 (and variants of) in Condition One: A round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety on and then move to Condition 0 (a round chambered, full magazine in place, hammer cocked, safety off), as necessary.

A golden rule of gun safety, in my opinion, is not to engage the trigger before you engage the brain. I see this rule broken at the range many times.
What most 21st Century Americans simply do not grasp is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written to to give rights to the citizens of our then-new nation, but was instead written to tightly constrain the federal government.

SARGeek

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2012, 03:58:43 PM »
I understand Taurian and you are correct in the controversy being present. It is one of the points where the NRA rules and Cooper's rules are divergent.

The way I have always presented it to my students is that if you are carrying it for self-defense or as a "ready" firearm in a vehicle or HD situation (think the bedside carbine/shotgun) then it in use. You may not be aiming it at anything or ready to shoot anything but that firearm is in use. It helps to further explain that since it is in use, they must be cognizant of the location, condition, and load (especially in the case of shotguns) and what else is happening nearby. In other words, since it is in use it must be under active control even if it's not in your hand. So you don't walk away from an unlocked vehicle with a loaded gun inside, you know where the little ones (kids, grandkids, etc.) are in relation to the gun and so forth. Once it's in use it has to be an active part of your thinking. By that definition of "in use" I encourage students to make sure any loaded firearm they have is an active part of their thinking.

But unload it before locking it in the safe until next hunting season since it is no longer a "ready gun".

Does that make sense?
« Last Edit: December 15, 2012, 04:07:43 PM by Robert Harvey »
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CedarElm7

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2013, 11:21:08 AM »
SARGeek, I appreciate your emphasis on the terminology "in use."  This helps me mentally nail down a point I've implicitly known but previously unable to describe ... the "status" of a loaded self-defense gun that I'm not actually firing but is intentionally ready to fire.  Even though I'm not firing it as I would be if hunting or at the range, the gun is indeed loaded, ready to fire, and accessible, and should be treated precisely as if it were in my hand or holster.  It is "in use."
Brad

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NorCalChuck

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2016, 05:20:20 PM »
The big one Steve missed . . . .
The gun is always loaded.

Even when someone shows you the gun is empty you always check it yourself.
You always treat every gun as if it is loaded . . . . . No exceptions.

Here is our version in our CCW Class:
The Four Rules of Gun Safety

Rule One: The Gun is Always Loaded!
Rule Two: Never Point A Gun at Something You Are Not Prepared to Destroy!
Rule Three: Always Be Sure of Your Target and What is Behind It!
Rule Four: Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Your Sights Are On The Target!

"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

CR Williams

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2016, 05:54:33 AM »
So here's an illustration of the problem with Rule 1: I was watching the Panteo Productions video of the original Cooper introductory lectures at Gunsite last night. In the fifth segment, after he had gone over the Four Rules and spoken at length about the first, both Cooper and other instructors proceeded to run dry presses in the classroom as part of the presentation.

Now, if the gun is always loaded, you shouldn't be pressing the trigger except on the range. Right? But there they were doing just that thing they couldn't have done if they were going to rigidly follow Rule One.

Cooper actually expanded on this in his Commentaries. If more Four Rules Absolutists would read those we'd have less of a hassle doing what we have to do on occasion with firearms.
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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2016, 09:21:55 AM »
I've found that "always" and "never" are seldom "absolute". But I'm not "absolutely" certain of that!

One of my major gripes about the military was that everything was set up for the dumbest possible person, that they could understand and comply.
Nowadays regular civilian life is getting frustratingly close to that phenomenon I encountered in the military.

We, as a people, just keep lowering the bar so more can get over it.  Then we give them a trophy...metaphorically speaking.

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EDITED : to correct spelling error and add an identifier.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2016, 08:39:04 PM by oldranger53 »
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight, and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be.  One hundred percent and then some.

NorCalChuck

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2016, 02:57:24 PM »
AHH-H-H-H-h-h-h-h . . . . Ranger!
There is much truth in what you have to say.
When the bar gets to ground level where else is there to go?
"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

CR Williams

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2016, 05:21:11 AM »
When the bar gets to ground level where else is there to go?

Here, have a shovel....
Shikan haramitsu dai ko myo.

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Taurian

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2016, 06:39:11 AM »
When the bar gets to ground level where else is there to go?

Here, have a shovel....
Sadly, there is truth in what you say.
What most 21st Century Americans simply do not grasp is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written to to give rights to the citizens of our then-new nation, but was instead written to tightly constrain the federal government.

SARGeek

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2016, 03:21:12 PM »
Wow! Old thread revisited.

I've been away a while with moves and job changes and am only just now getting back to my old internet haunts. Glad to see many familiar faces here still.
SARGeek

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2016, 03:39:28 PM »
Wow! Old thread revisited.

I've been away a while with moves and job changes and am only just now getting back to my old internet haunts. Glad to see many familiar faces here still.

...And we're glad that you're back!
Steve,
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"Qui desiderat pacem, pręparet bellum."

NorCalChuck

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2016, 03:41:06 PM »
So did we all pass the test?

"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

SARGeek

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #15 on: August 30, 2016, 04:58:37 PM »
So did we all pass the test?

No test NorCalChuck. While this was always a community about learning from each other, I am not qualified to "test" any of the other members, many of whom have far more experience than I!

But I like the discussion. Helping newer folks and starting thoughtful, respectful discussion was why I wrote the OP in the first place.
SARGeek

NorCalChuck

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #16 on: August 31, 2016, 10:36:00 AM »
Darn . . . . Heck . . . . Spit . . . . .
And here I was thinking that maybe I had done good.

Don't mind me I have a tendency to get weird and talk to much every once in a while.
Probably from watching to many political speeches.
"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

Taurian

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #17 on: August 31, 2016, 01:12:23 PM »
Darn . . . . Heck . . . . Spit . . . . .
And here I was thinking that maybe I had done good.

Don't mind me I have a tendency to get weird and talk to much every once in a while.
Probably from watching to many political speeches.
Or, watching too many other Northern Californians? I do hear that NorCals are much better than SoCals - or so says my Son who lives in the Sacramento area.
What most 21st Century Americans simply do not grasp is that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were not written to to give rights to the citizens of our then-new nation, but was instead written to tightly constrain the federal government.

NorCalChuck

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #18 on: August 31, 2016, 01:52:09 PM »
There is no question about that . . . . for sure.
I have to agree with your son 120 percent.
We are living in a state that is being run from Southern California.
That area tends to have the bulk of the population and that means they get to elect folks that they think will do best by them. Thus we win some of the battles but mostly they win the war . . . . which is of course on going. Even thought we get to send them the water they drink and fill their swimming pools with.
"We will have a good government as long as those that govern are effected by those laws that they pass. When those that are passing the laws are no longer effected by those laws then they will no longer pass good laws."

M1911A1

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #19 on: August 31, 2016, 02:58:32 PM »
...We are living in a state that is being run from Southern California...

Population? Entertainment-industry money?

Used to be that the state was run from Sacramento and San Francisco (the seats of government and of old money, respectively).
Steve,
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oldranger53

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #20 on: August 31, 2016, 06:53:52 PM »
Well, I was born there and lived there about 25 years total.

I always thought that California should have been 2 separate states, Northern California and Southern California.   It would address a multitude of issues like this.

I'm thinking the main reason that people in the south didn't want that, of course, is the lack of water that the north pretty much enjoys.

Haven't been there since 1988, so current events may have changed the water issue, but I doubt it.

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Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight, and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be.  One hundred percent and then some.

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Re: Why are there so many different versions of the gun safety rules?
« Reply #21 on: August 31, 2016, 07:07:46 PM »
I, too, have always thought that California should be divided.
North of San Francisco, all the way to Oregon, should be the US state of California. Its capitol would, of course, be Sacramento.
From San Francisco down to the edge of Los Angeles should be the Mexican state of Baja California del Ultima Norte. Its capitol would be San Francisco. Or maybe Bakersfield? OK, then Fresno.
From Los Angeles down to the present Mexican border, the area should be joined to Mexico's Baja California del Norte. Los Angeles and San Diego would become a larger strip-city by joining Tijuana, since all three have a lot in common.

Trump's wall would curtail traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Steve,
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"Qui desiderat pacem, pręparet bellum."