One of the safety rules we focus on in every firearms class and safety briefing is keeping your finger off the trigger and outstretched along the side of the gun until you are ready to shoot. It’s a good rule. It’s important. And it’s a safety issue that instructors and range safety officers look for — and correct — continually. If people obeyed this rule, there would most certainly be fewer negligent discharges. Even more than that, maybe there would be fewer negligent discharges if people really thought about this rule.

I think most of us get the first part of the rule (“keep your trigger finger away from the trigger and outside the trigger guard”). We do not want to press that trigger inadvertently if we are ever startled or if we are experiencing sympathetic movement (such as squeezing a door handle with the non-shooting hand while simultaneously and unconsciously squeezing the trigger).

But have you thought about the second part (“until you are ready to shoot”)? What does that mean, exactly? When are you ready to shoot? Thanks to my friend and mentor George Harris of International Firearms Consultants, LLC, I have thought much more deeply about this rule. He brought up a significant addendum to this all-too-familiar rule: that you must have intent and justification before you shoot.

Consider the applications of this on the shooting range. My intent to press the trigger is to practice and train, perhaps to become faster, more accurate, more efficient and more effective. My justification is that this will help me improve my skills and abilities and hopefully drill these actions more deeply into my brain with frequent and realistic training.

Now, think about how this translates into a defensive situation. My intent to press the trigger is to stop the threat, and my justification is that I am defending and protecting life. If we have this locked into our brains now, we can be better prepared mentally if we are ever involved in a life-threatening event at the hands of another person. We can also be better prepared legally to answer for our actions.

Keep in mind those two important words: “intent” and “justification.” Remember that every time you press the trigger, you must have a clearly formulated, planned purpose and a proper, acceptable reason for doing so.