Rules to remember

Alan blasphemies by questioning the word of Jeff Cooper. Sebastian follows up with similar thoughts.

The NRA put some thought into this topic many, many years ago and came up with three fundamental rules instead of Coopers four:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Notice the rules are all expressed as things you must do.

The Cooper rules are a mixture of things that must and must not be done. This is not good. If you were told to not imagine pink elephants what is the first thing that enters your mind? Yeah, images of pink elephants.

The most frequent questions people have above rules are:

  1. What about carrying your gun or in the nightstand while sleeping?
  2. Does rule 3 mean I have to keep it unloaded until I am preparing to shoot a bad buy?

The answer is the gun is “in use” when you put it in the holster on your hip or in the nightstand. Hence, the gun may be loaded while you are carrying it.

I hate to be divisive but I’ve long been of the belief that the NRA rules are much better than the Cooper set. It is because of this I have used them as the basis for the Boomershoot rules for many years.


10 thoughts on “Rules to remember

  1. I do not unload carry guns when I put them back in the safe. It is a stretch to say I am still using that gun, because there is generally some other gun that has become the home defense gun at that point. Considering both the extra risk in manipulating a loaded gun, and the risk of bullet setback from repeatedly loading and unloading the same bullet, I believe the risk of loading and unloading is slightly greater than the risk of storing a loaded gun. Neither set of risks is high enough to worry much about.

    I do unload recreational guns before storing them, and if I do something to a carry gun that requires unloading it, I don’t load it again until next time I use it.

  2. This is yet another reason I suspect — reluctantly — that the NRA has passed their prime.

    Of what use is an unloaded gun?

    Of what sense, therefor, is a safety rule that does not keep one mindful of and watchful for the gun’s most dangerous state? The imperative to unload the gun smacks all over the place of compromise with hoplophobes. (Almost wrote hoplophones and am wondering if that might actually be more appropriate.)


  3. +1 on the whole “what use is an unloaded gun?” argument. I’ll unload a gun when the law or good manners requires (transport or cold ranges) or when I’m selling it.

  4. While many seem to argue that guns should ALWAYS be loaded, including in a safe I would like to point out that placing ammunition into a safe is an EXTREMELY stupid thing to do.

    Most gun safes will keep the temperature during a fire to a level where damage to a firearm will not likely occur, however it can still get hot enough that digital media can be damaged for example. (That’s why they have media insulators for this purpose.) If the primer cooks off and it can, instead of the round exploding (as in loose ammunition) you have provided a directed pressure vessel. If it’s a rifle, there is a possibility depending on the type and size of the safe of it actually fully penetrating the wall. In either case this is going to result in damage to the property within the safe. Didn’t you buy the safe to protect the property in case of fire or theft? Why would you place something in there which in the event of one of those instances can render the safe useless? If a round cooks off in the magazine you’ve just destroyed the firearm.

    So let me ask this: What good is a loaded gun in a safe? If you’re having to get into your safe in an emergency you’ve already made a serious mistake. If you want to be able to load up have a rack next to the safe stored with loaded mags. Further pulling rifles in and out of safes while loaded can be extremely dangerous and I will be the first to nominate you for a Darwin award.

    Any firearm going into a safe can NOT be classified as “in use”, it’s a pain loading and unloading a defensive shotgun, but if you’re putting it in the safe, odds are the fight is going to occur on your way there. I sleep with my 45, the wife with her SP, and the AR by my night stand. When we leave the 45 is on the hip, the other AR is cleared and moved into the safe. I’m not running to the safe in an emergency, so why are you?

    If you really insist on it, I would suggest using a safe that doesn’t contain items important to you and also modify the interior to store muzzle down,

    That said, always double check your firearms as you pull them out. You never know, maybe you unloaded in a hurry and forgot to check one (guilty after last Boomershoot). Thought I had cleared it on the line (berm), got it home and put it away to go grab a bite to eat. Pulled it out next week to clean it, checked the chamber and out came the round. My habit it to clear going into the case, clear coming out of the case, and clear/load a snap cap drop the hammer and place in the safe. (Storing with full tension on the hammer is bad for the spring.) I also as above clear it again coming out of the safe and again before I put it in the case. I don’t know how that one was missed, but it’s further proof of why the rules are so damn important. Coming out the rifles are loaded even though they shouldn’t be.

    As a note: I prefer the NRA rules for the reasons Joe states, however I do still give Jeff’s Rule #1 to new shooters. It helps reinforce the reasoning behind the NRA rule #1 and their adherence to follow it.


  5. A not-too-well-known point about Cooper’s 4 rules – they were written to be used IN A GUN FIGHT. We use them on the range (and elsewhere) because they work. (Source: Clint Smith, Thunder Ranch, May, 2006. Clint said that he painted the original signboard for Col. Cooper when he worked at Gunsite back in the 70’s)

    With that lens in place, the 4 rules make more sense.

    That’s also probably why the NRA third rule is “Always keep the gun unloaded until READY TO USE”. A gun that you have for personal protection better be ready to use all the time, unless your world is populated with criminals who always give you 30 seconds notice that they will attack…..

  6. We might do better talking about highway safety, since your chances of injury or death in a vehicle accident are about 25 times greater.

    When I was a kid we kept our rifles where ever we happened to set them. Usually it was in the corner of the living room or a bedroom. Same for the cartridges our mom bought for us. When I spent some time in rural Alaska, most homes had guns and ammunition piled helter skelter, along with all the other household goods and necessities.

    Better yet we should be concerned about safety from government intrusion into our lives. Maybe we should come up with three or four rules to address that, what?

    “Every politician is always loaded
    Never allow a politician authority over anything you’re not willing to destroy
    Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the politician
    Know your politician and who or what is behind the fucking bastard”


    “Always point a politician in a safe direction (away from socialism or anything that resembles it in any way)
    Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire
    Alway keep yopur politicians unloaded and as powerless and impotent as possible (preferably very, very afraid) until you’re ready to use them to kill some jihadists.”

    All that said; I use the NRA rules when teaching new shooters, and add the Cooper fourth rule, which is a reiteration of NRA rule One. I think it helps the customer think about it more in relation to shooting scenarios. Too often I’ve noticed that people can memorize the rules and have them down pat, only to find out that they haven’t taken them to the level of understanding that leads to actual practice. I guess that could be called the “public education level” of learning– you can recite strings of words with essentially no personal understanding. I anticipate this and attempt to explain the difference between memorizing syllable strings (like a recording device) and adopting their actual meaning in practice.

  7. My rules when teaching new shooters are:

    Treat every gun as if loaded till you’ve verified it’s not
    Keep it pointed in a safe direction.
    Keep your booger hook of the bang switch till you’re ready to fire

    The NRA’s rules work at the range, the above work everywhere: the range, home, hunting, etc…

  8. While I can’t argue with the other two, I have to take exception to this one:

    3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

    It can far too easily give rise to the thought process of “I haven’t been using this one, and I always keep them unloaded if I’m not using them, so it must be unloaded.” It does not account for the possibility that someone else has loaded it when you weren’t using it. It does not account for the possibility that you forgot to unload it the last time you used it. Essentially, it assumes that the gun was unloaded when you pick it up and simply admonishes you to not load it until you’re ready to use it.

    Cooper’s Rule 1, in its various forms (“all guns are always loaded”, “always assume all guns are loaded”, etc.), on the other hand, reinforces the idea that you should assume it is loaded until you yourself have proven otherwise, and that if there is any room for doubt, you should check it again. It fosters an assumption and attitude that contributes to safety, and allows no room for dangerous mistaken assumptions. If it errs at all, it is on the side of caution, which is absolutely the best way to go when dealing with something like a firearm.

  9. Whether you use Cooper’s four rules, the NRA’s three rules, Alan’s two rules, or some other set of rules, I’ve always believed that the underlying idea is to be multiple steps away from a catastrophe. By this I mean that we should always be more than one mistake away from accidentally killing or seriously injuring someone, including ourselves. Preferably we should be three or more mistakes away.

    If my only rule is to keep the gun unloaded, but I freely play with the trigger and don’t worry about where I point it, all I have to do is accidentally leave a round in there one time for a serious accident to occur. Likewise, if my only rule is never to pull the trigger until I am ready to shoot, but again, I don’t worry about keeping the gun unloaded or who the barrel is pointing at, there’s a possibility that at some point the trigger will get snagged with tragic consequences.

    But if I make sure the gun is always unloaded when not in use (checking it each time I pick it up), AND I never point it at anything I’m not willing to shoot, AND I keep my finger off the trigger, AND I use keep the safety on when not firing, then I have to make a lot of simultaneous mistakes for something tragic to occur, which is VERY unlikely to happen.

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