Reexamining Cooper's Four Rules of Gun Safety - Part II
by Kirk Lawson

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[Cardinal Directions Compass Rose]

In reexamining Colonel Cooper's Four Rules of Gun Safety, Part I, we looked at the statement "All guns are always loaded" and some of the confusion which may arise from the statement for people not immersed in the firearms community. In Part II, we will look at his second rule.

Jeff Cooper's second rule is, "Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)"

Once again, this rule makes sense to those of us in the firearms community. Even if the gun were to discharge for some reason, if the gun is not pointed at something (someone?) you are willing to destroy forever, then ultimately there is no serious harm. In the firearm community, this is often called "muzzle discipline" and is sometimes restated as "always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction."

Yet, once again, this can cause seeming contradictions and lacks nuance. In Part I, we talked about how we cannot "treat a gun as if it is [actually] loaded" if we are doing dry fire practice, for instance. Most people who do dry fire practice will do so in some place other than at a range with a nice backstop. Some will pick a photograph or painting on the wall, an object in the room such as a candle or light bulb, or even use their television to "click" at actors across the screen (the "bad guy" in the drama we can assume). I've met few people who would be OK with putting holes in the walls of their house, paintings, photographs, or their TV. Yet this practice is safe. Again, it is safe because we modified Rule 1. We aren't truly treating the gun as if it is loaded and we certainly are pointing the gun at things we do not want to destroy.

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[I'm pretty sure I DO want to shoot him]

Then there is the issue of missing nuance. When I teach, I use a variation of the statement, "always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction." But I will ask the students, what is a "safe direction?" The first answer is always, "at the ground." That makes sense, of course. If the gun is discharged, it will go more-or-less "safely" into the dirt, right? But what if the person with the gun is standing on concrete? The bullet will doubtless ricochet and the concrete will spall. Is there a safer direction? What if the person with the gun is standing on the second floor of a building? There may be people on the first floor. Is pointing the gun down actually the safest direction? The ceiling? The side walls? Good heavens, if a person is in a hotel room there may be no "safe direction" available at all. I heard one instructor recently modify this rule to be, "always keep the gun pointed in the relative safest direction available at the time." While I do not use this particular verbiage, I do encourage students to consider what is a "safe direction" when they are handling a gun. Perhaps we should modify Colonel Cooper's Rule 2 to be, instead, "Always keep the gun pointed in the safest direction you can."