Image by Oleg Volk. Used with permission.

by Richard Douglas

Uncle Ben put it best:

With great power, comes great responsibility.

A firearm gives you a great deal of power and thus, responsibility. This means, as soon as you place a finger on any firearm, it’s your duty to treat that power responsibly.

The question is:

How do you become a responsible gun user (or someone that uses their firearm safely)?

The first step is to follow the 4 universal gun safety rules. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a revolver or a .338 Lapua Rifle equipped with a long range scope these rules should be followed at ALL times when handling a firearm.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Rule #1: Treat EVERY firearm as if it were loaded

Years ago, a DEA agent was giving a presentation on gun safety. He took out his Glock .40, claimed the gun was unloaded and had his partner verify that it was indeed, not loaded.  What happened next will live forever in Internet fame:

He then proceeded to explain why he’s the “only one in the room special enough — that I know of — to carry this Glock 40”.

Special…  or maybe he said “professional.” 

Here’s where it gets real interesting…

Mr. Special Professional then rested his finger on the trigger of his “unloaded” gun and…BANG! He shoots himself in the foot. (If you watch the video, you’ll realize the officer broke rules 1-3, which we’ll cover later on).

The takeaway?

Always — and I mean ALWAYS — check your firearm (or any firearm given to you) to see if it’s unloaded. Here’s how you check your weapon:

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Visually (and physically if necessary) check the chamber.

The second step is crucial. A common mistake people do is they’ll remove the magazine and think the firearm is now unloaded.

The problem?

Semi-auto firearms may have one round loaded in the chamber, which won’t eject when you remove the magazine/clip. So make sure to clear out the chamber.  That way, everyone is safe…including yourself.


Rule #2: Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction

Think of your muzzle (front of the gun where the bullet exits) as a laser.

Anything that it points at is in danger. This rule builds off gun safety rule #1. Always assume the firearm is loaded, and make sure it fires in a safe direction. This means to NEVER playfully point a firearm at other people. Here’s an example:

No matter what you’re doing with the firearm — whether you’re cleaning, attaching accessories, unloading, or showing it to a friend — NEVER point the muzzle in a direction you’re not willing to destroy. You might be wondering:

What’s a safe direction?

A shooting exhibiting good firearm safety.  Image by Oleg Volk. Used with permission.

It depends.  Basically anywhere that reduces the possibility of harming an innocent life should the gun discharge. This includes:

  • The sky
  • The ground
  • Your attacker (just be aware of his surrounding just in case you miss)

But even those locations could be dangerous. If the ground is hard (like concrete), the bullet could ricochet. The same applies to pointing towards the sky: a bullet fired into the air will eventually return and someone could get hurt.

Nonetheless, keeping the gun safely pointed downward or upward is going to be the safest bet. 


Rule #3: Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot

This is the only video you need to watch to start implementing this rule:

To summarize what happened:

They decide to give a handgun to Fassbach, a guy that has ZERO training with firearms. Seeing the zombies coming closer, he panics and tries to run back, but slips and shoots himself in the head.


Because he had his finger on the trigger. Don’t make the same mistake as Fassbach. Even if your gun’s safety is on, never place your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

Image by Oleg Volk. Used with permission.

Instead, place your trigger finger along the frame of the firearm (see photo of female shooter above). That way a negligent discharge will not happen. 

Here’s a real-world incident involving a (now former) FBI agent.

I’ll have to admit:  For me and other people, it is almost like the trigger is a magnet for trigger fingers.  But keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve decided to shoot.

It’ll become second nature after you’ve ingrained this important safety technique.


Rule #4: Be sure of your target and what is behind it

Believe it or not:

A .22 bullet can travel over a mile and a .270 Win bullet can reach out as far as three miles. In other words, if you miss a shot, the bullet can travel a great deal of distance before crashing to the earth.

So make sure you’re aware of what is behind your target just in case you miss. But what about our John Wick shooters that don’t miss a single shot?

Doesn’t matter. Bullets penetrate — especially in home defense situations. That said, here are a few tips that’ll help prevent stray bullets:

  1. Chest Area: If you’re shooting at a human, aim for the chest/torso area. Why? Because it’s the largest area and consequently the easiest to hit — in comparison to a leg, arm or even head.
  2. Move: If their are potentially people behind your target, move to a side where there aren’t any.
  3. Train like crazy: Constantly perform firearm training. But don’t train mindlessly. Instead, train smart. How? By training under simulated combat stress. This will help your body ‘desensitize’ to stress and as a result, you’ll be able to properly react in an emergency situation.

I’d like to add that this rule also applies to staple guns, especially when affixing targets to cardboard backers.  Legend has it that the FBI quit using staple guns at the FBI Academy because of too many lost-time injuries. 

And that’s all there is to the 4 essential gun safety rules. Sure, there are more rules out there, but these are the 4 rules that really matter. That said, I’d like to turn it over to you…


Which Gun Safety Rules Will You Implement?

Hopefully all of them to ensure you and those around you remain safe.

Are you new to guns?  Ask questions of more experienced gun owners.  Usually you will find gun owners are a friendly lot.  Especially if you demonstrate adherence to these four safety rules. 

Do you have another important tip to share?  I can think of at least one other basic safety rule that I didn’t mention but is good to follow.  Do you know what it might be?

Either way, let me know what you think in the comments down below.


Author Bio:

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large gun publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP and more. In his free time, he reviews various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.

One thought on “LEARN ‘EM, LOVE ‘EM, LIVE ‘EM: Four Basic Firearm Safety Rules”
  1. #5, keep firearm unloaded until you are ready to shoot, especially at a range with others around. If your firearm is your self-defense piece, keep it loaded but KNOW it IS loaded and treat it as such.

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