Reexamining Cooper's Four Rules of Gun Safety - Part IV
by Kirk Lawson
unload revolver.png

[Unload that gun!]

In Parts I-III, we looked at some issues with the first three rules of Gun Safety as described by the esteemed Colonel Jeff Cooper.

Instead of using this last article in the series to review his 4th rule, I'm going to look at the National Rifle Association's rules. In particular, we'll look at NRA rule number 3.

NRA's rules number 1 and 2 are, "ALWAYS Keep The Gun Pointed In A Safe Direction," and "ALWAYS Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Ready To Shoot," mirroring Cooper's rules 2 and 3, which we have already looked at.

The NRA's third rule is, "ALWAYS Keep The Gun Unloaded Until Ready To Use."

An important part of the NRA Instructor training is "role playing" teaching classes. All Instructor Candidates participate, playing the parts of either Teacher or Student. This helps candidates gain insight and practice. In my role of "student," I made sure to ask the "instructor" questions which I believed were possible from a prospective new shooter but which would also challenge the instructor candidate such as "my dad taught me to hold the pistol in one hand with my off-hand facing up and cupping the handle, why is your way better?" My fellow instructor candidates learned to expect these oddball questions and had one ready for me when it was my turn to practice "teaching" the NRA 3 Rules of Gun Safety. "If the rule is to keep the gun unloaded until ready to shoot, am I supposed to keep my self defense gun unloaded?" I hadn't expected this particular question and didn't want to let the practice "session" veer off from the rules of safety so I dodged it by replying, "Great question. We'll get into it more in the Concealed Carry class but suffice it to say that the answer revolves around what counts as 'ready to use'."

I wasn't lying and my friend who gleefully chucked this gotcha question at me was oddly prescient. Since that time, I've heard the question repeated in earnest more than once. The answer still revolves around "what does 'ready to use' mean?" If the gun is a hunting gun, a target gun, a competition shooter, or even just a "range toy," then keep it unloaded when in storage or transport. Only load it when you are ready to use it in the field or on the range. However, if the gun is intended for self defense, then it may be called upon at any time with no notice. You may not have time to charge an empty chamber from the magazine, never mind load it from an unloaded state. In that case, yes, the gun must be loaded except when being cleaned and maintained. Therefore extra care needs to be exercised in handling and storage. If it is a bed-side or home-defense gun, special care should be taken to ensure that is no possibility of unauthorized access to the gun. This probably means, "don't put it in your sock drawer." It might mean buying a bed-side quick access safe. Special care should also be exercised in handling the gun. Remember Rule Number 1, "Treat every gun as if it is loaded until you check it for yourself?" You KNOW that this gun is loaded. Follow those three prior safety rules with the religious vigor of someone who suffers OCD. You should always do that anyway, but you know that this gun is "ready to go." Additionally, avoid unnecessary handling of the gun. If you do not need to handle it then don't. As I recently told a little girl, the gun does not have legs; it won't jump up on its own. If the gun is not being handled, then there can be no mishaps associated with mishandling. This goes double for a "carry" gun. Do not handle the gun unnecessarily or remove it from its holster unless required.

Remember, the gun is "ready to use" because it needs to be.