Strict observance of these four rules is all that is required to ensure 100% safety in the handling of small arms. They are presented here as written by Colonel Jeff Cooper, who first promulgated them. I have added links to Xavier’s blog for you to follow for additional explanation, as well as my own [commentary].
RULE 1: ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED
The only exception to this occurs when one has a weapon in his hands and he has personally unloaded it for checking. As soon as he puts it down, Rule 1 applies again.
[This can be done to the point it would appear to be an absurd ritual, but you should never, ever, EVER feel embarrassed to check a weapon. A group of men passing a pistol around in a circle to ooooh and aaaah, for example, should all perform a press-check to ensure the condition of the weapon. Even if you saw the empty chamber when the next man checked it, check it yourself. Get your pinky in there if you can’t see it well. Nobody was ever shot by an empty gun. “I thought it wasn’t loaded” doesn’t bring your brother back from beyond the grave.] More Information
RULE 2: NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO DESTROY.
You may not wish to destroy it, but you must be clear in your mind that you are quite ready to if you let that muzzle cover the target. To allow a firearm to point at another human being is a deadly threat, and should always be treated as such.
[If you have a malfunction on my shooting range. If you have finished shooting. If there are no cartridges, there is no magazine, and there is no bolt, and there is a big STICK poking through the empty receiver. UNDER. NO. CIRCUMSTANCE. should you allow the muzzle of a weapon in your hands to point at another person. Never, never, not once, ever. The only instance in which a shooting *may* be called accidental is when a weapon will actually fire by itself. That is not an accidental shooting, it is a criminally negligent gun owner who did not fix his piece. Keeping even an unsafe weapon pointed in a safe direction means it will not shoot anyone.] More Information
RULE 3 KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER TIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET
This we call the Golden Rule because its violation is responsible for about 80 percent of the firearms disasters we read about.
[This will be especially important in class due to the large number of weapons with which you will not be familiar. Some will have triggers so hard to pull they will barely fire when you want them to. Some will have triggers so light and crisp, you will be surprised when the weapon fires. You do not know which will be which, so keep your booger-hook off the bang switch until you are ready to make it go BOOM! I was at a shooting range with a new shooter once, and they were not familiar with a handgun they were holding. It had a light trigger, and was loaded. They turned to speak to me and fortunately Rule 2 was being observed. Without even being aware they did it, this person pulled the trigger and put a round of hot screaming death down range. DO NOT learn this lesson the hard way. Rule 2 and 3 apply simultaneously. Part of the fun of shooting guns is not catching a bad case of dead, or a $20,000 hospital bill. Let’s all have fun, shall we?] More Information (with video)
RULE 4 BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET
You never shoot at anything until you have positively identified it. You never fire at a shadow, or a sound, or a suspected presence. You shoot only when you know absolutely what you are shooting at and what is beyond it.
[Our class may be on land where there are neighbors, however distant they will be. We will be shooting weapons with capability to be lethal well over a mile away, out of sight, over the horizon. We will also, it is hoped, be shooting at something safe to shoot, with nothing terribly important behind it. Still, you are expected to know that you never shoot water (it will ricochet at a narrow angle) or ANYTHING with even the slightest possibility of having a person or valuable property behind it.] More Information
Failure to observe these rules will get you evicted from the party. If a Range Officer sees any person breaking the rules once, they will be warned and lectured. Depending on the violation, the lecture may seem like an up-close and personal bawling out from a Drill Instructor to a recruit. It is not to hurt your feelings, it is for the safety of your fellow shooters. Second violations will result in a time-out and a lecture. Third violations will get you asked to leave the firing line immediately, not to return for the duration of the day. Go inside and eat, go home and sulk, or fall behind and watch, but you will not be shooting after your third violation.
These rules are easy to violate unintentionally unless you are mentally prepared not to do so. So think about them whenever you see or think about a gun.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN ACCIDENTAL SHOOTING. IT WAS ONLY CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE.
This post is was originally created to limit the length of the main Schutzenfest 2009 post. The Schutzenfest came and went, and nobody got killed, and great fun was had by all. I edited this page afterwards, to leave it as a reference for new shooters who may be attending my classes. If you wish to attend class under my instruction, you are required to read these rules and understand them. Ask me or any other competent gun owner if you have any questions about them, BEFORE the class.