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The Rule that Rules all Rules

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A chalkboard with the words 'know the rules'

Gun safety rules are important, but when it comes down to it, is there one rule to rule them all?

We’ve all been to classes and we’ve all heard the “Safety Rules”.

If it’s an NRA class, these are given as the “Three Rules for Safe Gun Handling” [1]:

  • Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot;
  • Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

If it’s some other class, such as a USCCA class, likely we’ve heard and been required to recite, some version of the Jeff Cooper “Universal” rules [2]. As far as I can tell, these are his original rules:

  • Assume all guns are always loaded;
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target;
  • Always be sure of your target.

Also, internationally renowned trainer Rob Pincus penned these rules for his advanced classes:

  • Keep your finger somewhere other than the trigger until you are ready to shoot;
  • Keep your firearm pointed in a generally safe direction;
  • “Big-Picture Rule”: You are responsible for your firearm. If it is used negligently or maliciously, you or someone else could be hurt or killed.

So, what is the point of these various Safety Rules? Is it that they be taken seriously and followed? Well, yes. When followed conscientiously, these rules will pretty much always protect us from having the gun discharge when not intended. This of course means that they apply equally to things that represent real firearms – SIRT pistols, Airsoft pistols, Blue Guns, etc, and when conducting training exercises such as dry-firing.

We all have our ‘favorite’ set that makes most sense to us. The NRA rules for example are logical and have overlapping redundancy. They are also particularly good for beginners. The Cooper rules are individual key points that highlight important risk behaviors, but require some thought to ‘join them up’ into consistent safe behavior. They are also frequently paraphrased, which leads to inconsistency and dilutes their importance (how do the ones quoted compare with your recollection of them?). The Pincus rules seem more ‘grown up’ and give more discretion to the firearm owner to adapt them to their environment, but they do demand more thought to apply them appropriately and responsibly.

* POP QUIZ * what do these three rule sets have in common?

To coin the vernacular, “Keep yer booger hook off the bang switch.” Each of these rule sets has a rule about what to do with your trigger finger, and when you ought to do it. The point being, if your finger is *not* on the trigger, you aren’t going to fire the gun, regardless of anything else. It’s also worth thinking about the importance of this. The three quoted rule sets are pretty diverse, but each has a rule that *directly* addresses placement of the trigger finger when not actually firing.

I invite you to think about things you’ve seen on the range:

  • One point if you’ve seen people picking a gun up with their finger already on the trigger – a bonus point if it’s loaded with a round in the chamber.
  • One point if you’ve seen people racking the slide with their finger on the trigger.
  • One point if you’ve seen people cocking the hammer with a finger on the trigger.
  • One point if you’ve seen ‘”tap, rack” or “emergency reload” with a finger on the trigger.
  • One point if you’ve seen people holstering their gun with a finger still in the trigger guard.
  • One point if you’ve seen all five, and extra credit for commenting below with another example.

You get the point. Guns are designed ergonomically to invite a finger on the trigger, but administrative gun handling with a finger there is inviting a negligent discharge [3]. We are responsible for what happens with our firearm(s). We have the right to keep and bear arms, but with that comes the responsibility to do so safely, and to set a safe example to other gun owners, and gun-sceptics.

So, how do we train our hands to do this correctly? Well, if you have a Glock, it’s pretty easy – send your finger to the little take-down nub on the frame above and just forward of the trigger guard. If you do *not* have a Glock then get yourself some 1/4-inch dots from Staples or elsewhere [4] and put one or two where the index finger of your shooting hand should be placed on the frame. Pretty soon, your finger will look for that position automatically [5]. You will help this by gripping the gun properly.

Three sets of rules, each with one common theme:
Your finger will ‘look for the trigger’ because the gun is designed for that. As responsibly-armed Americans, we know to keep our finger off the trigger until we have actively decided to shoot.

Thank you all for your time, we look forward to your comments

ScotShot Scott

[1] I really like to teach the NRA rules to beginner classes: “What’s the first word in all of these rules?” ALWAYS. “How often is ‘always’ the first word in all of these rules?” ALWAYS. “Why is ‘always’ always the first word in all of these rules?” Because we ALWAYS follow them.
[2] Jeff Cooper is credited with laying the foundation of modern-day handgun technique. There is a fascinating article about him, and a summary of his many contributions, here:
[3] Note the word “negligent”, not “accidental”.
[4] Put two or three on top of one another to get something that works for you.
[5] I got this hint from a student, whose name I have sadly subsequently forgotten. Please, come forward and claim your gift.

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An example not listed – IDPA shooter transitioning from right side of a Bianchi barricade to the left pulled the gun towards them and pointed it up in the air at the same time, while still having their finger on the trigger. Yes, the fired a round almost directly upwards. Yes they were DQ’d from the match.

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