The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

If you’ve ever taken any sort of firearms training, you’ve probably heard the four rules of gun safety. Or, maybe you’ve seen them posted at your local range for all to see. To repeat the 4 rules of gun safety once again, they 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
  4. ALWAYS be aware of your target and what’s behind it

Easy to remember, right?

The problem is, if you’ve shot on a range, you’ve doubtlessly seen people act as if the rules either don’t exist or don’t apply to them. Jeff Cooper developed the 4 rules of gun safety. They should drive everything we do at the range, from the moment we enter the parking lot to the moment we put our guns back in our vehicle. It’s the polite thing to do, and more importantly, it helps us have fun and stay safe.

Prior To The Range Trip

A safe trip to the range begins at your home. Safely unload any gun that you’re not going to carry on you in a holster, and place it in either a case or a bag. Bagging an unloaded gun greatly reduces the chances of anything bad happening as you carry it to and from the range. Also, get your act together before you leave the house. Make sure you have all the other gear you need for a good day at the range, such as ammo, tape, pens, targets, and ear and eye protection. No one wants to be “that guy” at the range who is always asking to borrow one thing or another.

Arriving at the range

Check in. If it’s a range with no Range Officer, don’t immediately start hanging targets. Look around and see if there are any other people who are shooting. If there are posted range rules, read them.  You may have read them before and know them by heart, but rules can change. Keep your guns under your control or the control of a Range Officer at all times. You may be a conscientious gun owner and never bring a small, curious child to a gun range. That doesn’t mean other people are so thoughtful. Keep your guns out of their hands.

Always Keep Your Gun Safe

This means keeping your gun in a holster until it’s pointed downrange.

Most gun ranges have some sort of bench or table behind each shooting position to allow you to store your guns, ammo, range bag, and other accessories out of the way. The temptation is to take your gun out of its case behind the firing line and place it on the shooting bench. Resist that temptation. Instead, place the bag or case (with the gun still inside) on the shooting bench and open it there.

If you can’t remember which way the gun is pointed inside the bag, that’s alright. It happens to all of us. Open the bag, look inside, then orient the bag so you can pull the gun out safely without pointing your muzzle at something you don’t want to shoot. Also make sure to keep your finger off the trigger as you take the gun out of the bag. Yes, you unloaded the gun at home and it’s probably still unloaded now, but why take the chance? Let Rule #2 (“Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot”) always be your guide when it comes to handling your guns.

Know Your Limits

Don’t shoot someone else’s target. This seems like an easy thing to avoid, yet time after time, I’ll have somebody in the lane next to me either shoot beyond their limits and spray rounds all over the place, or set their target in such a way that their rounds first hit their target and then mine afterwards. If you’re shooting so quickly that you’re not certain where your rounds are hitting, you’re a danger to yourself and others. Stop before you hurt someone. Shooting fast may be fun (and it is), but shooting out of control with people around you is an invitation for disaster.

Watch where your rounds are landing. I once had a gentleman in the lane to the left of me send his round into my target. He was shooting the left side of his target at 50 yards. Once the rounds passed through the paper on his target, they hit my target posted at 100 yards. After I pointed this out to him, he was apologetic and shifted his aim. It would have been better for him to have avoided this problem in the first place.

Pay Attention

If something at the range feels wrong, then it probably is. Is the person in the lane next to you pointing a loaded gun in your direction? Ask them to stop. Better yet, have a Range Officer lay out the range rules to them one more time. Safety is never impolite, and your need to leave the range without any extra holes in you supersedes someone else’s need to play around with a gun in an unsafe manner.

Also, make sure you’re not doing the same thing to someone else. Getting kicked off the range (or worse yet, having to leave the range because you shot something you shouldn’t have) is a quick way to mess up what should have been a fun day of shooting.

While they may seem silly at times, the 4 rules of gun safety are there to keep you and those around you safe. Following the rules is always a good idea, especially since the consequence of breaking the rules could be a negligent discharge into something you really, really don’t want to poke a hole into.