In the world of firearms, safety is paramount. When there is an “accident,” it is typically because someone failed to follow one of the gun safety rules. That, of course, means the shooting was not accidental, but rather unintentional. In other words, the shooting was negligent. Everyone who handles a gun should know the four cardinal rules of firearm safety. 

Rule 1: Treat All Firearms as if They Are Loaded

This mindset is foundational. It’s about respecting the inherent danger of firearms and instilling a habit of caution. Understanding that there are no accidents, only negligence, reinforces the gravity of this rule. Negligence in handling a firearm can have irreversible consequences.

The only way to truly know the status of a firearm is to check that status every time you pick it up. Remove the magazine. Open the action. Lock it to the rear. Visually and physically inspect the chamber. Treat the gun accordingly.

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Rule 2: Never Point the Firearm at Anything You’re Not Willing to Shoot

A safe direction is not a vague concept. It’s a deliberate choice. Whether you’re at the range or in your home, never point the firearm at anything you’re not willing to destroy. You should be constantly aware of your surroundings. Be alert to the direction your muzzle is pointed, practicing constant situational awareness.

Rule 3: Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until You Have Made the Decision to Shoot

This rule is about trigger discipline, a key component of responsible gun ownership. By emphasizing this principle, we aim to prevent accidental discharges. Maintaining trigger-finger discipline is imperative to safety and shooting success. Guns do not simply “go off.” They are made to fire. A very specific sequence of actions must take place, and that sequence ends with the operation of the trigger. Very rarely will a gun fire if the trigger is not pulled.

Rule 4: Know Your Target and Understand What Is Beyond It

Handling guns is pointing guns. This requires the highest concentration level because holding is synonymous with pointing. Because you don’t want to shoot or destroy anything, that gun should always point at and judiciously focus upon previously identified low-value targets for as long as it is unholstered or uncased. Whenever you see firearms mishaps, at least one safety rule has been violated. Knowing your target, what’s around and beyond it, and the unspoken rule, “Be able to hit your target,” are likely culprits. Knowing your target and understanding what is beyond it ensures that every shot fired is intentional and well-considered. 

Additional Firearm Safety Tips

In order to have a negligent discharge with injury, you will need to break two or more of these rules at the same time. Beyond the fundamental rules, responsible firearm ownership involves additional considerations. Proper gun storage, educating others about firearm safety, regular firearms maintenance and ongoing training all play roles in promoting a culture of safety. These rules, no matter how they are articulated, share the same objective: to prevent accidents and promote responsible gun ownership. Let these rules guide you, ensuring your passion for firearms is matched by your commitment to safety and responsibility.

This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Kevin Michalowski and Alan Korwin