Really Understanding Gun Safety

We all know the Four Rules of firearms safety. But have we thought lately about what they mean?

People who own and use guns must acknowledge that firearms are, by design, inherently dangerous! Firearm users need to not just know the Four Rules, but to understand and practice them properly.


Treat all guns as if they were loaded. When accidents occur, the shooter usually says, “Whoops, I thought the gun was unloaded.” Nobody ever says, “Well I knew the gun was loaded so I aimed at (insert expensive item here) and pulled the trigger.”

You should never do anything with a gun you think is unloaded that you would not do with a gun that you knew was loaded. In these most recent cases, the shooters pointed the guns at 1) a student and 2) their own hand. These are not things you would point a loaded gun at.


Never point your gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. Firearms should never be handled casually. You and you alone are responsible for what your gun does and where it’s pointed.

There only are two acceptable places to point a gun: at its intended target, and at the ground.


Be aware of your target and what’s beyond it. Always think, “What will I hit if I miss my target?” Ensure your target is positively identified and your line of fire is clear. If it’s not, don’t take the shot! Again, you are responsible for your gun and what you do with it. If you don’t have a clear shot, reposition yourself until you do.


Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and have decided to fire. Despite numerous BS claims to the contrary, firearms do not “go off” by themselves. It’s also an extremely rare occurrence that a firearm discharges from being dropped or due to a mechanical failure.

The #1 reason guns fire, accidentally or otherwise, is the shooter puts their finger on the trigger and presses it.

As I said before, firearms should never be handled casually. When you pick up a firearm, you should immediately assume a good grip, place your trigger finger in register up and out of the trigger guard, and control the direction of the muzzle.


Like auto accidents, gun accidents typically happen because of the following factors:


Distraction. The person gets distracted and does something incorrectly because they are not paying attention to what they are doing. Another distraction happens when the person gets interrupted in the middle of a procedure, and then tries to pick up where they left off.

Picture this: shooter is unloading his gun. He removes it from the holster and just as he’s about to take out the magazine, the phone rings. After finishing the phone call, he picks up the gun, and assumes he had already removed the magazine. You can see what’s coming.   Firearms should NEVER be handled casually. When there is a gun in your hand, it needs to have your undivided attention.


Exhaustion. Trying to handle your gun after a sixteen hour shift or when you haven’t gotten enough sleep can be dangerous. As mentioned above, the gun in your hand needs your undivided attention. If you are tired, take it slow and check your work.


Poor Procedure. I don’t think this one gets the credit it deserves. Two types of poor procedure I often see are:

– The shooter has no idea what they are doing. I am often amazed at the lack of knowledge people have about operating guns that they have owned for years. They’ve never had to unload the gun, because they have always shot it dry at the range. They don’t know how to check the chamber, lock the slide to the rear, or operate the safety/decocker properly. There’s no excuse for this. It’s like owning a car that you can start and drive but don’t know how to park.

– The shooter is rushing or hurrying the procedure, and skips a step. See “Distraction” above.

– The shooter has done the procedure so many times that they have a pre-determined result. I’ve personally seen – more than once – a person observe a round in the chamber of their gun and still press the trigger.

There is no excuse for owning a gun and not knowing how to operate it, and there is no excuse for poor gun handling. People who cannot handle firearms safely should not be handling them at all.

Firearm accidents are not “something that just happens.” They are the direct result of irresponsible and sloppy gun handling. We owe it to ourselves and the people around us to take our gun handling seriously.


It’s literally a matter of life and death.


Hat tip to DrFaulken for this excellent video:


Erik is the owner and founder of QSI. He has over 35 years of experience as a firearms instructor, including military, security, and law enforcement.