A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rethinking Rule One

Rule One, as defined by Jeff Cooper states: "All guns are always loaded".

Jeff CooperCooper goes on to say:
"There are no exceptions. Do not pretend that this is true. Some people and organizations take this rule and weaken it; e.g. "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Unfortunately, the "as if" compromises the directness of the statement by implying that they are unloaded, but we will treat them as though they are loaded. No good! Safety rules must be worded forcefully so that they are never treated lightly or reduced to partial compliance.

All guns are always loaded. Period!

This must be your mindset. If someone hands you a firearm and says, "Don't worry, it's not loaded," you do not dare believe him. You need not be impolite, but check it yourself. Remember, there are no accidents, only negligent acts. Check it. Do not let yourself fall prey to a situation where you might feel compelled to squeal, "I didn't know it was loaded!"
Three years ago, I wrote a piece about Rule One. This evening I went over to Grant Cunningham's place to read what he had written about my blog piece on Alaina and Josh Beasley. As always, Grant made precise and salient points. Intrigued, I went on to read Grant's previous post that he referenced.

The cognitive dissonance of Rule One is indeed a flaw. Occasionally it can become a fatal flaw. Many argue strongly that the rule is "All guns are always loaded," not "Treat all guns as if they are loaded." Yet the cognitive dissonance remains, and people continue to suffer negligent discharges and tragedy. The consistent response immediately afterwards is "I didn't think it was loaded."

With each negligent discharge, others truck out the four rules in a morbid fascination over which ones were violated. I have seen this time and time again. Invariably, Rule One was violated. When a safety rule that is intended to enhance safety fails to do so, the rule merits examination. When a safety rule is worded in such a way that it might set up a person for tragedy, it demands re-evaluation, no matter who penned it.

Rule One is the catch all. It's the rule that allows others to walk away with the feeling that if they just continue to believe all guns are always loaded, they will remain safe. Yet, as Grant points out, Rule One is a trap. It's a falsehood that we all know to be false, and it leads us down the path towards violating another of the Four Rules, resulting in tragedy.

Years ago, a Master Chief taught me a different set of Four Rules. Actually he didn't teach them so much as he pounded them into my skull while chomping on a stogie. He did not like Cooper's Rule One either. The Chief couldn't, and wouldn't put his finger on it, he just called Rule One ignorant. He passed on a version of his own instead.

1. Know the condition of your weapon at all times.
2. Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
4. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.

There are those, no doubt, who will be alarmed that the Master Chief's Rule One is weak. It does require knowledge and thought. However, if we can say "Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it," then why can we not say "Know the condition of your weapon?"

I actually prefer the Master Chief's version of Rule One. Knowing the condition of your weapon means knowing whether you have a round chambered, a magazine in place, the safety engaged if the gun has one, the position of the hammer, and whether it is clean and fit to shoot. It also means knowing your weapon's location, and who may have possession of it. The Chief's version of Rule One is as much about readiness as it is about safety, and it transforms the Four Rules from static safety rules to dynamic rules to live by. It takes the rules from the realm of the range to the reality of self defense. In particular, Rule Four is transformed. Suddenly the target is no longer a paper silhouette, but a mugger, a murderer, or...... a police officer. A friend or a foe. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it. Is what lies beyond it a justifiable shooting? Prison?

I do not know if the time is right for a revision of Cooper's Rule One, but if it is ever revised I think the Chief's version is the one that is most applicable. I suspect that if the Colonel and the Chief were to sit down and hash it out, the Colonel might agree.



Blogger Bob said...

I use Grant's rules when introducing new shooters, but I find trigger discipline to be the hardest for people to adjust to. Guns are built to be comfortable with your finger on the trigger.

Is that the Col. with a Hi Power? It has an external extractor and the slide stop pin looks about the right length.

11:57 AM  
Blogger The Saj said...

I expounded on my thoughts regarding the rules a few months back...(after witnessing a negligent discharge)


11:58 AM  
Blogger Rev. Paul said...

I listened carefully each time a Master Chief spoke. They saved many a sailor's butt, including mine.

Good article; thanks.

12:05 PM  
OpenID curtislowe said...

I like the Chief's version too. It's how I teach my kids.

When we are at the range, I make them load their own mags, insert and remove their own mags, put their own safety on and off, etc. So they will know how to handle a gun, not just how to shoot one.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xaiver: I agree with your Chief's rule. . .I read Grant's postings, both of them, and I've had a ND myself some years ago. . .

Look, a gun HAS to point somewhere. . it's pointing somewhere when it's in a holster, or when I take it out of that holster and put it away, or show it to someone. . and I don't want to shoot my floor, ceiling, the wall, etc. . .even if those are supposedly "safe" directions. .

If you're going to own, (and for sure if you're going to carry) you have to THINK about what the hell you're doing. . . so yes, KNOW the condition of your weapon. . re-check whenever it leaves your hand, etc. . .

Fudgie Ghost

1:03 PM  
Blogger The Raving Prophet said...

Good conversation, and it does bring up a point I'd never really considered- Rule One, as traditionally framed, is indeed problematic. If you never treat a gun as though it is unloaded, you can forget about ever stripping it down for cleaning. Yet, relaxing the other three rules "because it's unloaded" is what gets people killed.

I quite like your Master Chief's Rule One, and for the reasons you state. If you mean to have it loaded, then be darn sure it's loaded. You don't want to be relying on an empty gun in a gunfight. If you mean to have it unloaded, then be darn sure it's unloaded. You don't want to fire off a round because of your neglect.

Your Master Chief's revision to Rule One does not allow or forgive breaking the other three rules, yet it still recognizes that a firearm may be loaded or unloaded and it is YOUR responsibility to know the exact condition of that firearm in your hand.

1:10 PM  
Blogger "Tarak" said...

What I like about the Master Cheif's version of rule one is the awareness. Treating every gun as loaded gives life to a gun that so may people turn into fear. Instead of respecting a gun, understanding a gun, they fear it. Those are the people that believe guns just "go off".

Rather, knowing the condition of any firearm you handle means you understand, respect, and control the firearm. Instead of some uncontroleable beast, you have in your hands a tool, a weapon which you command.

Whether you know your gun is loaded, unloaded, saftied, dirty, the other 3 laws still serve to protect from incidents.

However, my question becomes this: whether rule one is "every gun is loaded" or its "know the condition of your gun"- do we handle it, treat it, or regard the 3 other rules any differently?

1:25 PM  
Blogger the pawnbroker said...

i'll admit to that uneasy feeling of a lack of veracity of rule one...a lie is a lie no matter the noble intent.

but "knowing" the condition of your weapon is open to human foible...sometimes what we "think" we know turns out to be just that...a thought. "i didn't know it was loaded" becomes "damn, i just knew it wasn't loaded".

so i would prefer the terminology and the implication behind rule four: "be" sure (verify) your target and what lies beyond.

so rule one becomes "be" sure of the condition of your weapon. (verify every time you touch it).

of course that's what most of us do anyway...especially after an accidental -um, i mean negligent- discharge or two.


1:37 PM  
Anonymous Bryan Willman said...

The problem with all of these rules is that they are in manifest conflict with certain required practices.

To wit: If I unload my rifle and put it in a case, I can put it in my car, and drive it to the range. This is a required facility. But it flat out contradicts "all guns are always loaded" since it's literally illegal to carry a loaded rifle in a car. What's more, since rifle rounds penetrate cars, and the rifle cannot be in my reach (by law) it *will* point at all sorts of things I have no desire to shoot, and which I'm unsure of, since I look ahead rather than out the side or back of the car. (Which is why I unload the rifle!)

Of course, one thing Cooper's rule or other versions get at is "you are human and you will forget that you loaded the gun!!!" (Just like no matter who you are, if your finger is in the trigger guard and you are startled, you will fire the gun.)

1:47 PM  
Blogger Diogenes said...


Your piece on the Beasleys affected me greatly - largely because it was so unnecessary. The photos of their "play" gives the impression that they were too nonchalant about firearms. It also brought back to mind the one time that I recall getting very close to an ND. The circumstances still give me shudders to this day. I had picked up my 45ACP, which I assumed(!) was unloaded and racked the slide - just racked it, didn't clear the weapon. Usually I would dryfire to drop the hammer, but this time I thumbed it down. Only then did it occur to me that the slide didn't lock back. Indeed, I had just chambered a round. Fortunately, I did obey Rule 2, so the ND would have gone into the wall.

That incident was over 25 years ago, and I still shudder at the thought.

This led me in my own mind to add another rule. Not necessarily Rule 5, but Rule 1a - If I pick up a firearm without the intention of firing it, I clear it - without exception.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous ditto said...

While I agree with your post 100%, there still remains the fact that people are responsible for their actions.
No matter what "rule" you use, there will always be Negligent Discharges.
You cannot pull the bullet back into your gun.
You need to think about what you are doing and what the consequences will be.

So to quote someone famous or not "Rules are made to be broken".

2:17 PM  
Blogger Janir said...

I've always been slavishly adherent to Cooper's Rule 1, but after reading Grant Cunningham's posts and all of yours, I have to agree that the first rule sucks. It takes the thinking out of the equation and sets up the cognitive dissonance that when I look back on myself, I solve by simply noting to myself this weapon is 'safe', I've verified it there for I can do what I want/or need to do, and I stop thinking! I MUCH prefer your Master Chief's first rule and plan to modify my behaviors accordingly.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Jp said...

I like the Chief's version of Rule One, but it isn't as point blank as Cooper's. The idea behind Cooper's Rule One is that you are forced to think about a bullet being in the chamber. Just knowing the condition of the firearm doesn't put the image of a bullet in mind. "Condition" makes me think of whether or not it's clean, damaged, etc.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm not happy with either of these versions of rule 1. While I agree about Cooper's version, my response the the Chief's rule is, "even if you know your weapon is unloaded, don't you dare treat it that way".

Many experienced shooters I know have been fooled by the condition of their weapons. It happens. The goal is to make that mistake a harmless one.

As others have pointed out, most of us violate rules one and two every time we drive down the road with a rifle in the back of the truck. Perhaps we shouldn't. Maybe we ought to carry them muzzle up?

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Mr.Potato said...

No matter what. Even if I just unloaded the gun. The next time I pick up my gun I will not assume that it is unloaded. I always remove the magazine, cock the slide and make sure there is no ammo in the chamber.

My uncle a while back violated the rule. There was a burglary in his house where the young burglar kids were interrupted and flew. Everything seemed in order. He went to his bedroom where he had his gun hidden. It was there as if no one touched it. He pulled the case out to double check. Everything was there. He never had his weapon cocked and loaded. He removes the magazine and (THIS PART I DON'T UNDERSTAND!) and squeezes the trigger! The round goes through his trailer wall outside and makes a hole into his wife's car grille. She just pulled in as was getting out of the car. The shell missed her by a few feet.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I DO NOT agree that the chief's rule should replace No 1.

The Four Rules intent is not to make sure you are combat ready, which is what "know the condition of your weapon at all times" seems to be directed at.

The forbearing intent of the Four Rules is to prevent NDs and gunfire related accidents; preventing unwanted damage from a discharge.

In this role, "all guns are always loaded" suits far better because it bypasses the human element, what you think you know, what you don't know and holds all potentials to the highest maxim: if it is a gun, it is loaded. There is no room for individual interpretation.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All targets are always inappropriate and have children playing behind them. Wait, what?

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My story from forty years ago:

The first thing I did when I got home from work was to unholster my duty weapon, open the cylinder, drop six rounds into my hand, count them, put them into my coat pocket, check that I saw light through six cylinder holes, finger check each cylinder hole, close the cylinder, reholster, and put the gun on a certain shelf out of reach of my young son.

This was my never excepted routine. Never!

While getting ready for work one morning, there were only five rounds in my pocket. I was momentarily stumped how this could be. I couldn't find the sixth round anywhere.

Of course you all know where I finally found it.

My diligence was not proof against fatigue.

To this day, I have OCD about knowing the condition all guns. Take one out of the safe: clear it. Set it down and walk across the room: check it again it before handling. After cleaning, and immediately before putting it back into the safe: check it again. Hand a gun to another: check it. Receive one from another: check it even though I just witnessed them check it.

I am more comfortable with a loaded gun in hand, or on my hip, than one I *know* is unloaded.

I think the Master Chief got Rule 1 right. Your critique of Cooper's version is much appreciated.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the issue with rule one that you bring up, but the rephrasing that your master chief offered, with all due respect, I think still lends too much space for failure. "know the condition of the gun at all times" That means to trust the memory and intuition of the person handling the firearm. I guess that brings the question of what it means to "know". The poor man you posted about earlier who shot his wife probably would have said "I know this 12 gauge is empty" if you asked him then. Or the DEA agent on youtube would have said "I know this glock forty is empty because I proffeshuno' enuf fo' it."

I'm just saying this because when handling firearms, I do not trust my own memory/intuition because it has failed me before, I feel that the original rule one has always created a safe net for my actions. I always check the chamber before pulling the trigger, even if I don't even have ammo in the house and just checked it a minute ago.

I'm sure by the rewording your master chief means "know" as in "check the dang chamber" which is a lot more reliable than a misty source of "knowing"

The blog you linked to, in his post "on safety", he wrote, "in other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded, unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns!"

Wouldn't the saying "Know the condition of your gun" do the same thing? If you verified the gun is empty, the three rules wouldn't apply to it anymore?

I dunno that's just my two cents. I'm not criticizing or anything, just thought I'd murmur my questions. Thanks!


5:00 PM  
Blogger Broadsword said...

Doesn't a Master Chief outrank a Colonel? Heh.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Keith Walker said...

I still see a problem with "knowing" that your gun is unloaded. You can know that until an extremely loud noise brings you back to reality.

What about, "always verify the condition of your gun?" If one does this, then you can't say, "I thought it was unloaded."

6:05 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...


I think that perhaps you and a few others don't understand what a Master Chief means by "know."

A Master Chief never assumes anything. He either knows or doesn't know. No guessing. No assumptions. No excuses.

If a Master Chief tells you to "know" something, he means that you should personally verify it. Only then can you know. If the thing in question has the potential to change, to know means you kept it under your control while you knew so it could not change. Otherwise you must re-verify, because you do not know. That is knowing.

If I assumed a weapon was loaded when it was not, or unloaded when it was, clean when it was dirty, ready to fire when it was broken, the ass chewing would be equally as severe, because I did not know.

In the Chief's opinion, "All guns are always loaded" is an assumption, something only a recruit would say. As such, it has no place in something as serious as guns, sailing, flying, war, or any endeavor that may place lives at risk.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

"Doesn't a Master Chief outrank a Colonel? Heh."

Technically, no, but a MCPO is who a Colonel would go to for advice.

Old CPO saying..... Why does a Chief outrank a Gunny?

Chiefs, and a few POs know.....

7:28 PM  
Blogger Thernlund said...

Nice article.

Posted, in part, on wethearmed.com.



8:13 PM  
Blogger Crucis said...

I still go by the Colonel's version. I tell visitors to my house, "If you see and gun, it's loaded." And, they are. All my guns are loaded. The ones in the safe are loaded too.

Makes it easy to remember and consistent. I don't have to consider whether a gun is loaded or not. They are all loaded.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous andrew aka akodo said...

I prefer to tweak rule #3

Keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared for the gun to fire.

This works with dry firing. It makes you ask yourself "Assuming I screwed up, and the gun really is loaded, where would I send this bullet to do the least possible harm"

Same technique I used the first time I ever used a built in 'decocker', my thinking was 'let's say this device doesn't really work and instead the gun fires...where do i want the bullet to go'

Now, onto your restructing of rule #1.

I've heard that argument before, and it does have some merit.

However, I see a problem with your wording. A TON of negligent discharges happen by people who would have sworn on a stack of bibles that the weapon was unloaded. Hence they KNOW the weapon is unloaded (even when it is not)

I am inclined to suggest a wording that is more of the nature of

'acertain the condition (loaded/unloaded) of the weapon each and every time you pick it up'

Except that is a bit long and those not gunsavy or englishsavy may stumble upon what a gunner means by 'condition' and what is meant by 'acertain'

I suppose you could go with

#1 Open. See boolitz?

9:30 PM  
Blogger tom said...


You can work out your tactical practice with either of the above, or for realism, with guns that have been spiked or disabled in some fashion using MILES or whatnot, depending on your level of funding.


Pointing FUNCTIONAL firearms at humans or waving them around will get you kicked off my private range just as fast as leaving a chuck key in a mill, drill, or lathe will get you kicked out of my machine shop.

I don't like being around dangerous people.

Dangerous people in gun shops and shows have gotten hell from me too when they cover me with the muzzle of a functional or assumed to be functional firearm. Might not make me friends but I've never been accidentally ventilated either.

Grant's rules work for me. Force on Force with functional guns and ammo doesn't work for me. That's called combat, not training. Hell, it doesn't work for me with knives either.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Travlin said...

I too was troubled by the wording of Cooper's rule one. I think that civilians won't have a sailor's understanding of what a CPO means by "know". Here is my wording for rule one that I taught my kids.

Rule 1 - Always assume the gun is loaded. Check the firing chamber and magazine yourself - every time you handle it.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Brian in California said...

My question is what does knowing the condition of the weapon accomplish for anyone's safety? Whether or not I know the condition of my weapon I am still not going to break any of the other three rules. Too many times people feel free to break the other three rules when they "know" their weapon is unloaded though.
Knowing the condition of your weapon should not affect the manner in which it is handled and this is the problem with revising rule #1.
Rule number one is in place to ensure that weapons are handled the same way all the time.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

How about: A gun is always loaded, until you inspect it and verify otherwise.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous chris said...

One thing that has always bothered me about people and their use of the rules is their obsessiveness with clearing a gun...

i have watched several people drop a mag, rack a slide 4 or 5 times, and then stick their finger down in the chamber... IMO, if you are unable to visually verify that there is no round in the gun, you probably shouldnt be carrying it.

in the dark, you simply assume that the gun is loaded, there is no reason to clear it without light to visually verify the status of the chamber.

the reason that i dont like it is that it puts your grip on the gun into an awkward position and makes you more likely to drop it... well that and i dont consider it polite when people finger bang my guns.

3:52 AM  
Blogger Texasred said...

I enjoyed the article and agree with it, however the comments give me pause also. I think I will simply insert the cheifs rule in the list and have 5 rules of firearms

6:52 AM  
Blogger dropdownstairs said...

There are a lot of posts here. Here is an ill-informed and filthy comment from vile cretin who has a four letter word...KNOW
In the bible, know means to experiencially know.
Know good and evil same word as Adam knew Eve.
If you know its empty, put a zip clip through the chamber w/ slide open.
On an unrelated topic HBO 2/21 Taking Chance tinyurl.com/dxvqjj

8:44 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Frequent reader but first-time commenter here.

I read this yesterday and have been mulling over it ever since. I think Rule 1 is fine as Cooper wrote it, in conjunction with the other rules. Rule 2 isn't "Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target, unless the gun isn't loaded", it's just keep the finger off the trigger PERIOD.

The gun being unloaded doesn't toss rules 2-4 out the window, they're still fully in effect. If you wouldn't point a loaded gun at something don't point an unloaded gun at it either. If you want a cool picture of yourself pointing your gun put the camera against a safe backstop, use the timer and be mentally prepared to shoot the camera should things go pear-shaped. If you're not willing to take that last step don't take the picture.

Perhaps the only modification the rules need is to rule 3, about never pointing a gun at something you're not willing to destroy, maybe (and just maybe) it needs a caveat that it's talking about a gun that's under your direct control, i.e. not a cased or holstered gun.

9:06 AM  
OpenID flynnguy said...

I agree that all guns are always loaded isn't perfect because even to the novice gun enthusiast, there are obviously cases where it isn't loaded. In fact, I can provide an unloaded gun and when someone tries to shoot it and it doesn't fire, we can inspect it and say oh, it's unloaded, here's some ammo so we can shoot it. Plus when we clean our guns, I hope they are unloaded and that there's no ammo around, some guns even require you to unload it and pull the trigger to field strip it.

At the same time, I think 'know the condition of your gun at all times' is equally bad. I think that anyone who has had an accidental discharge was sure that their gun was empty.

What about that famous video of a DEA agent who was talking to a classroom and checked that his gun was empty... didn't he know the condition of his gun? Sure, we can argue that he didn't really 'know' his gun was unloaded because it obviously wasn't but to him, it wasn't loaded.

If you unload a gun and absolutely know it's safe, would you still point it at a loved one and pull the trigger? When you are getting your gun ready to clean and you know it's empty, would you intentionally point the muzzle at yourself before you pull the trigger? I hope not, this is how tragic accidents happen.

Now, for me, I know the gun is unloaded, I've triple checked it. I'm now ready to clean the gun, I point it in a safe direction because what if I didn't realize I was tired and didn't notice the bullet in the chamber that didn't eject when I racked the slide and just checked the magazine or what if I didn't notice the magazine had a round in it and just checked the chamber. I know I should check both but have you never made a mistake in your life? Everytime you pull the trigger, you should be thinking that the gun should go off, that will prevent you from doing something stupid like pointing it at your wife.

What about training? Well someone already brought up airsoft and I think it's a great tool. Odds are pretty good you can buy a gun that functions eerily similar to your regular firearms. (Just be 100% sure which one you pickup though) I still wouldn't point it at my wife or kids unless we all had sealed safety goggles and tripple checkedd (and by putting a magazine I just loaded with plastic bbs in the magwell as opposed to one with ammo!) Or they even sell those plastic brightly colored guns.

Why point a gun at someone/something you are not willing to destroy? I'll stick with Cooper's rule 1 and know that there are exceptions, just that the exceptions are few and far between and still no reason to ignore the other 3 rules.

And to the fellow who mentioned about the gun in the trunk, it would be illegal to have it loaded, you're taking it too literally. It's not meant as you leave a gun loaded, you still need to satisfy the legal requirements by putting your gun unloaded in the trunk and yes, it will point at several unsafe things but even if the gun were loaded, it shouldn't spontaneously go off on you. And if you take it out of your trunk, you shouldn't point it at something you don't want to destroy. It's not loaded in the absolute sense that you can never unload it, it's loaded in the sense that you should always follow the other rules while the gun is in your hands and when it's in the case, your guns should be properly maintained so that they won't discharge by themselves.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Cliff Smith said...

Don't argue with a Chief. A Chief is allways right. If the Chief is wrong remember rule one.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Peripatetic Engineer said...

Dad taught me to "handle every gun AS IF IT WERE LOADED". There was no exception. If you picked it up, you cleared the weapon, left the bolt open and still treated it like a loaded weapon.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Seth from Massachusetts said...

The version I always used is "assume every gun to be loaded until you have proven otherwise, then continue to behave as if it was loaded."

During my more than 30 years of gun handling I have witnessed several ND's, but none caused any damage or injury because the safe direction rule was being dilligently obeyed.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous wqbang said...

Cooper had a fantastic intellect. I am sure that he saw the logical error in rule number 1, but yet he persisted that all guns are always loaded. I believe Cooper intentionally developed Rule #1 with an emotional component. While logically it is flawed, it works specifically because of that emotional component.

It is also adheres to the KISS principle.

I will continue to use it. It has not failed me and it continually keeps me watching other peoples muzzles and index fingers as well as my own, because all guns are loaded.

Thanks for a thought provoking article.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I've always disliked Rule One when stated "The Cooper Way". All guns are not always loaded. Saying that they are is completely untrue. If all guns were always loaded, how in the world would we clean or inspect them? How would we safely hand a firearm to another person? As stated in your article, saying or "pretending" that all guns are always loaded is a fallacy that leads to disaster.

I've personally always preached Rule One as "Treat every weapon with the respect due a loaded gun". However, I think I like the proposed "Know the condition of your weapon" better.

I have a similar issue with Rule Two when stated "Do not point your weapon at anything you do not intend to destroy". Again, this is a falsehood. When I point my weapon at an intruder, I do not have any intention of "destroying" him. My intention is to stop the threat. When I point my weapon at a shooting plate, I don't intend to destroy the plate. I simply want to knock it over. Using the language "destroy" in Rule Two not only is incorrect, but it can lead down a dangerous path if/when you're in the courtroom for a justified shooting. When you shoot an intruder to stop the threat you're acting legally and morally. If the jury is made to think that you were shooting to "destroy" the intruder, it suggests a malice that almost certainly is not intended.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Chris who said "i have watched several people drop a mag, rack a slide 4 or 5 times, and then stick their finger down in the chamber... IMO, if you are unable to visually verify that there is no round in the gun, you probably shouldnt be carrying it."

I and most of the people that I know use this method of verifying that a gun is unloaded. In addition, this is the method that I teach to gun newbies who are interested in carrying.

I always rack three times, lock open the slide, then put my pinky inside the mag well, inside the breech, and across the face of the striker. Considering how little time and effort this takes, and how foolproof it is, I see no reason - other than perhaps laziness or over confidence - not to do it.

Two senses are better than one, and three tactile checks are better than none. Simply taking a quick glance into the chamber invites mistakes to be made. A more thorough procedure using your eyes and hands helps prevent you from going on autopilot and "knowing" that your pistol is unloaded when it's actually not.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Interestingly enough, Cooper also said that the most terrifying sound was not the roar of a lion nor the whistle of a dropping bomb, but a click when the sound of a bang was expected (The Art of the Rifle).

To aim a gun at someone and squeeze the trigger only to produce a click sound...well. This is where one can see the fatal flaw of Copper's version of Rule 1. An unloaded gun doesn't magically become loaded when needed just because Cooper said all guns are loaded.

Regardless, ya still gotta love the Colonel, eh?

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Chris,

My ND (only one, so far) happened when I was clearing a gun in the dark. We had gotten a deer right at sundown. After dressing it, it was good and dark. All the guns were loaded, and treated as such, as we rode the pickup back to the shed where we hung the deer.

At this point I wanted to unload my gun, put it in the case, and put the case in my vehicle. With a blind mag, I had to cycle the rounds through the chamber to unload it. I was using a gun I wasn't all that familiar with, and one that holds one more round than my other hunting gun. I cycled them through, and tilted the chamber towards the (distant) yard light to visually verify. It was cold, and I did not pull off my mitten and jam my pinkie into the chamber as I should have. I pointed it at the ground next to my vehicle and was very surprised when dropping the hammer made such a loud noise.

Obvious negligence, and I got off very easy. I shortcut the procedures, but there are times when one needs to unload and show clear in the dark.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Sutton said...

This makes a lot of sense. And I, too, have also benefited from the wisdom of some master and senior chiefs, so that's another mark in its favor.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous pax said...

Xav ~

Almost left this alone, but can't.

How, exactly, is "Know the condition of your weapon at all times" any different from the very worst, most ignorant, most negligent perversion of Rule One: "all guns are loaded, until you've verified that they aren't"?

Answer: It isn't. There isn't an iota of difference between them.

How does "know the condition of your weapon..." prevent anyone from pointing a gun at a loved one's head, and then saying, "We triple checked to make sure ALL of the guns were unloaded!"?

It doesn't. It can't. Because it actually formalizes the assinine cry: "But it's unloaded!"

How does "know the condition of your weapon" prevent a tragedy like this one from happening again?

It won't. In fact, it makes it more likely, not less so.

The reason the Four Rules have been the gold standard in the training industry for many years is because an awful lot of very smart people have looked at them and realized that they couldn't come up with anything better or safer to teach their students. Most instructors fully realize the heavy weight of personal responsibility they shoulder when they undertake to teach someone else how to stay safe around a deadly weapon. They're slow to touch those safety rules for a lot of very good and very intelligent reasons.

Rewrite the rules? Sure, when something better comes along.

But I do not believe that 20 minutes of thought and a knee-jerk post slapped up immediately after reading someone else's rant really meets the standard of care required here.

Me? If I were rewriting it, I'd throw out Rule One because of morons like Josh Beasely and the poor schmuck who taught him to shoot. In its place, I would slap "... EVEN IF YOU THINK IT'S UNLOADED" to the ass end of every other safety rule on the planet. Maybe that would get rid of the cognitive dissonance you write so movingly about.

But in the meanwhile, I sure as heck wouldn't go around giving people any fresh and untried variant of "it's okay to be stupid and point guns at your friends after you've checked it, or if you 'know' it's not loaded." Which is what you just did.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...


I would simply say this: when you strap on your gun in the morning to wear it through out your day, how do you know it's loaded?

Simple. You open the chamber and check it.

You can make certain a gun is unloaded in the same way. We do it everytime we start to field strip a gun or clean a gun.

There is only one way to know anything, and that is to check it yourself, with your eyes open, and your head clear. The only way you can continue to know is to keep the thing under your control at all times.

This holds true with firefighting equipment, parachutes, navigation headings, fuel cells, firearms and a host of other things crucial to survival. The Master Chief wasn't saying think the condition of your weapon. He wasn't saying assume the condition of your weapon. He said know the condition of your weapon. The only way to know is to check.

Or do you just strap on your gun each morning and assume it's loaded because Cooper says all guns are always loaded?

"But in the meanwhile, I sure as heck wouldn't go around giving people any fresh and untried variant of "it's okay to be stupid and point guns at your friends after you've checked it, or if you 'know' it's not loaded." Which is what you just did."

That is not what I just did. If you can show me where I said it is OK to point your guns at your friends, please show me. Otherwise, please do not read assumptions into my words.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous HammerBite said...

The chief's first rule is just as bad, if not worse. "Know the condition of your weapon." OK, I checked and it is unloaded. Now I am set up to ignore the other rules; they are not needed because I know the weapon is unloaded. I guess that might work until the time I am wrong.

The first rule is dangerous. Stick to the last three, with no exceptions.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Tractorshaft said...

Hi Xavier,

I say the old salty Master Chief AND Cooper were right. As intelligent methodical thinking folk using ALL of the rules we have learned can only contribute to the state of readiness we keep ourselves and gear in, safely of course..


8:37 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

You are wrong. Just because you have verified that your gun is empty does NOT mean you can violate the other three rules. I'm not sure where you got that idea, it wasn't from Master Chief Zunich. He never said or implied that. You must have assumed that yourself.

5:21 PM  
Blogger XZED said...

This post makes a great point. Rule one has been re-written for me. I will be passing it on to my gunner buddies and those that I introduce to gunning. Thanks.


11:06 PM  
Blogger Rick "9mm" Ector said...

You have definitely presented an exhaustive treatise on Gun Safety Rule Number One. Personally, I don't know if there is a major distinction between "Guns are always loaded" and "Always treat guns as if they are loaded." The end result is the same if the rule is obeyed.

I always tell my students a "bad apple" could secretly load an unloaded gun and give it to them. Thus, they should verify the status of any gun that they come into contact with. Further, you should never give someone a loaded firearm and you should never accept a gun without the action open.

We can beat this rule to death and get way too deep into semantical discourse. Bottom line: however the rule is stated, it should be obeyed 100%.

For me, it's like checking my blind side when changing lanes in a car. I "always" check to make sure it is clear. Sometimes, I think it is unnecessary, like when there is no car present. However, there are times when I think it is clear and a quick check verifies that it is not.

If you "always" exercise safety, you head off accidents.

My $0.02

8:27 AM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...

What wqbang said.

Cooper's Rule #1 isn't an attempt to describe physical reality, it's trying to instill a mindset. I think I'll stick with it...

11:25 AM  

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