Rethinking Rule One
Cooper 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.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.
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!"
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.
Labels: Gun Safety