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The Four Fundamental Rules of Gun Safety

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

diagram of the four rules of gun safety
An Illustrated Version of the Four Fundamental Rules of Gun Safety.

You are responsible for every round that comes out of your gun, accidental or intentional. One momentary lack of attention can have life altering repercussions. Drilling gun safety rules into your head is the best way to instill safe gun handling practices into your subconscious and reduce the likelihood of a mistake.

Most gun owners will immediately wince when they see it, but consider this clip that came from the making of the movie Bad Boys. It is easy to see how accidents happen when people don’t follow gun safety rules.

It’s edited to add some stylized drama to it but the point is made. Smith was absolutely in the right to place his hand on the firearm of the production assistant in order to lower it.

Firearm safety should be a paramount concern for anyone who owns or handles firearms. Whether a novice or an experienced shooter, there are a set of universally recognized safety rules that must be followed that are crucial to preventing accidents and ensuring the well-being of yourself and those around you. The four fundamental rules of firearm safety should be kept and be ingrained in the mind of every responsible gun owner.

The Four Fundamental Rules of Gun Safety

1. Treat Every Firearm as if it was Loaded

It may be obvious but it cannot be stressed enough: Always assume that any firearm you encounter is loaded, regardless of where they came from or regardless of their actual condition.

Let’s go back to the clip. We have a group of people who surround a bunch of firearms on a table with one casually and suddenly being picked up by a production assistant. The firearm is being pointed at the group carelessly, who don’t seem to notice, with only Smith realizing the issue and quickly lowering the production assistant’s firearm down in an attempt to stop him from going further.

Whether you’re picking up a gun for the first time or receiving one from someone else, treat it with the utmost care and respect. The very first thing you do when you pick up a gun, or are handed a gun, is to make sure the firearm is unloaded.

2. Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Ready to Shoot

Your finger should never touch the trigger until you have made the conscious decision to aim and shoot.

Resting your finger alongside the frame or receiver, known as “indexing,” is a crucial practice. By doing so you prevent unintended firing due to sudden surprises. Maintaining trigger discipline at all times reinforces your control over the firearm in question, minimizing the chance of accidents.

hand holding a yellow plastic gun demonstrating trigger control
An Example of Indexing.

3. Always Keep the Muzzle Pointed in a Safe Direction

The direction in which you point the muzzle of a firearm is pivotal in order to ensure the safety of those around you.

A safe direction is one that minimizes the potential for injury or damage should an accidental discharge happen.

Commonly also stated as “Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.”

The direction in which you point the muzzle of a firearm is pivotal to ensuring safety. A safe direction is one that minimizes the potential for injury or damage should an accidental discharge happen.

One of the biggest issues with the production assistant in that clip we shared is that he carelessly picks up the gun and has the muzzle pointed at the group. That production assistant does not know the history of that firearm. He has no idea if it is currently loaded, and even if he was sure, should never point it at another person. Something could have gone wrong; someone could have gotten hurt because he did not have respect for the firearm he held in his hand.

We won't name names, but with events that have occurred on other Hollywood productions featuring firearms, we now know an accidental discharge could and does happen.

Regardless of whether the gun is loaded or not, always point firearms in a safe direction, ensuring that you never point it at anything you do not intend to shoot. Following this fundamental rule mitigates the risk of accidental discharge, a risk which could lead to severe injury and even death.

4. Be Aware of Your Target and What’s Beyond It

When handling firearms, always be aware of your target and what lies beyond it. Before even considering firing, always identify your target and consider your target’s surrounding area.

Bullets can penetrate multiple walls, travel great distances and cause unintended harm or damage to property. This rule highlights how important proper backstops are and the need to know what your target is.

gun range outside
A Gun Range Which Is Usually Equipped With Proper Backstops To Prevent Bullets Penetrating Beyond Their Intended Target.

Adhering to the four basic rules of firearm safety is a fundamental responsibility of firearm ownership. By treating every firearm as if it is always loaded, keeping your finger off the trigger until it is ready to be fired, always pointing the muzzle in a safe direction and being aware of your target and its surroundings, you can significantly minimize the risk of accidents. Firearm safety is a commitment that comes with firearm ownership and demands constant vigilance in order to protect lives and preserve the integrity of responsible shooting practices. Before you fo to the gun range, make sure you know the basic shooting range etiquette.

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