Do You Want to Be Safe Around Guns?

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By Brett H

Do You Want to Be Safe Around Guns? Most Certainly You Do, So Read this Article
(The Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety)

By some accounts there are supposedly over 300 million firearms privately owned in the United States. In the year 2016, consumers purchased approximately 25 million new firearms. What does this mean to you? There are guns, lots, and lots of guns, in America. It is a fact, whether you like it or not. By the end of 2014, there were approximately 319 million Americans. What these statistics most likely mean is there is a good chance there are almost as many guns or more in America than people.[1]

There are approximately 70 thousand firearms related injuries per year in the U.S. approximately 23 per every hundred thousand Americans. Accidental death due to firearms per year in the U.S. is approximately 500 people per year.[2] All of these accidents are avoidable with proper knowledge and behavior.

Since you are now informed of the numbers, you have probably deduced that whether you want to or not, chances are that in your life you will encounter a firearm. It can be at a friend’s or neighbor’s home. It can occur in a vehicle that you are traveling in. By the way, handling guns in a vehicle unless necessitated by your profession or imminent attack from a violent criminal actor is a bad idea. It is an especially bad idea if you have not received thorough training in the activity. Back to guns and their prevalence. Whether you like them or hate them. Whether you seek the contact or not. If you live in the United States, you will probably encounter guns in your life time. Make sure that you do not become a statistic, specifically a casualty of negligence. Know the rules. Live by them and ensure your safety.

There are Four Rules for Firearms Safety. The Rules are often referred to as the Cardinal Rules. Once you know the rules, and obediently follow the rules and politely but firmly insist that those around you also follow the rules, firearms related injuries and accidental deaths can be prevented. Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper first developed these rules for ease of use at his world famous Gunsite Ranch. While the exact wording presented here is slightly different from Colonel Cooper’s, I believe the intent is the same. I also believe in giving credit to where it is due. Thank you Colonel Cooper.

1st Rule: Treat all firearms as if they are loaded. Many people have been shot with a gun through negligence. When the post event questioning begins, the shooter quite often states, “I thought the gun was unloaded.” Not an acceptable answer. Treat the gun with the utmost respect. If a task that does not include shooting (like cleaning the firearm) is to be performed, make sure the gun is unloaded properly. The proper sequence to do this is to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and keep your finger off the trigger aligned high and along the frame during the entire process. Next, if possible remove the source of ammunition from the firearm. Then open the action and remove any remaining ammunition. Lastly carefully visually (by looking) and physically (by feeling) inspect the action to ensure no ammunition remains. Respect the power of the firearm, respect yourself and most of all respect all other people who may be around you.

2nd Rule: Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction or never allow the muzzle to point at anything you are not willing to shoot. Often this rule is referred to as Muzzle Management. The concept here is simple, the muzzle is the business end, projectiles capable of causing death or serious physical injury come out of the muzzle at high velocity. There is no way to pull back a bullet or undo any damage caused by it. Once the bullet is fired, its effects will likely be permanent. A safe direction is easy to define. That is a direction that if the gun were to discharge no threat to human life or minimal property damage would occur. Be aware of what direction the muzzle is pointing toward and make sure that is an appropriate direction. You respect yourself by not muzzling any part of your body. You respect others by never muzzling them. If there is no safe direction, keep the gun pointed in the safest direction possible!

Note: Sometimes in the professional development of military personnel, law enforcement officers and skilled defensive practitioners force on force training most occur to refine the necessary skills for survival in a violent encounter. The Cardinal Rules still apply. However, training devices simulating guns (“blue” guns), roped guns (action barred from ammunition being present by means of a highly visible cord), or firearms specifically set up for a “Simunition” type projectile accordingly marked as such and with the appropriate three levels of safety checks are how these activities are to be carefully managed. Only trained personnel with the appropriate certification and experience should engage in this type of activity. This type of activity must ensure that no ammunition is present in the training area.

3rd Rule: Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. Often this rule is referred to as Trigger Finger Discipline. If your gun is not oriented on the target and if you have not made a conscious decision to fire, your finger does not belong on the trigger. Only when your firearm is oriented to the target and you have made a conscious decision to fire may you place your trigger finger on the trigger. Most triggers are light and short in travel. That means the amount of force necessary and the distance to move the trigger to cause the gun to fire is not much. Many triggers can be pressed and cause the gun to fire with less than five to six pounds of pressure and well less than one inch of movement. Adherence to this rule is critical.

4th Rule: Be certain of your target, its surroundings, and its back drop. In the United States, you are morally, financially, and legally responsible for every bullet that you fire. This is true whether you intentionally or unintentionally discharge the firearm. It is imperative that you positively identify your target and determine that is acceptable to shoot it before aligning your firearm toward it. Many a tragedy have been caused by some half-awake startled person firing at a bump in the dark only later to learn that the bump in the dark was a dear loved one not expected to be present. Make sure that you do not behave that way in a moment of fear. Life and property in the line of fire must be given due regard. Bullets can travel long distances and penetrate many objects. Objects behind the target deserve the same respect and consideration that things in front of the target warrant. If it is potentially unsafe to discharge the firearm at a potential target do not take the shot! Costly financial liability is a potential consequence as well as possibly being faced with serious criminal charges. Careless behavior can cost you greatly, up to and including your liberty.

Many organizations and instructors use these rules. Many organizations and instructors have modified these rules. The NRA uses Three Firearm Safety Rules for most of their civilian programs. The NRA Law Enforcement Activities Division uses Four Rules. The number of rules and the specific wording is not what is important. Behavior, specifically that which is according to the activity is what is important. Safety is the goal and safe behavior when handling and using firearms is the desired performance outcome. Green Ops prefers the Four presented in this article due to mindset applicability for defensive practitioners.

Safety when handling firearms is paramount! There is zero tolerance for reckless behavior when using firearms. In fact, it can be a matter of life and death. The rules must be obeyed, or risk of death or serious bodily injury becomes imminent. It takes three things to be present for a firearm to discharge: a firearm, ammunition, and people. Whenever all three of those things are present we are engaged in a potentially dangerous activity. Ensure that you are not the cause of tragedy, grief, and misery. Make sure you know and understand the rules of safe gun handling. Always practice them and insist that those around you do likewise. Always live by these powerful rules when using firearms! It is for you own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you.

Care is the required standard. So, please be careful and live obediently by the rules. Treat firearms, other people, and yourself with respect. If you do this, firearms can be a rewarding leisure pursuit with positive and appreciated social contact, or a source of security for yourself and your loved ones.

Have you considered getting professional firearms training? Everyone should, especially if they use or have access to firearms. Sometimes reading the rules is just not enough. There is importance nuance left uncovered by the written word. To fully live the rules, it behooves individuals to experience them in a controlled professional setting. For serious defensive purposes, we highly recommend Tactical Defense Institute. John Benner and his staff deliver the goods! We also encourage people to seek out and spend some time with Tom Givens of Rangemaster acclaim, Tom and his wife Lynn will make you better. If you are just starting out, check out your local NRA certified instructor, they can help you begin your journey safely. The Green Ops Team is always humbled when you choose to spend your time and hard-earned money when you choose to train with us. Get to the range. We hope to see you there. Get serious and exercise the proper care. Train hard and be safe!


[1] The Washington Post Oct 5th, 2015, “There Are Now More Guns Than People in the United States”, by Christopher Ingraham

[2] CDC Mortality and Injury Statistics

Michael Green