A New Take On The Universal Firearm Safety Rules

jacob paulsen shooting gun in firearm safety class

We've published many articles on gun safety, here is one and here is another concerning kids and guns.

In a recent meeting between Riley, Jacob, and myself, we came up with new wording for the gun safety rules that we think new and veteran shooters alike will understand better.

Mistakes with firearms happen to novice and folks who spent years using firearms. Here is a link to the first part of a series of stories of unintended shootings submitted by our readers. When Dry Fire isn't Dry—I only Killed my Refrigerator

A New Take on the Firearm Safety Rules—

The rules still pretty much mean the same thing, but they now (hopefully) say more. It was not necessarily our intent to re-write the rules, but to make them clearer and more encompassing.

The part in bold is what we came up with in the meeting, and the part underneath is my lame attempt at explaining it.

1 – Know the condition of your firearm and always treat it as a potentially dangerous tool.

We should always know the condition of our firearms. Are they loaded or not? Also, we should always treat it as a potentially dangerous tool. The moment we grow complacent is when mistakes happen. This involves having a certain amount of respect for your guns and what they are.

This also includes other guns. I once had a fifth rule that was actually ingrained in me during my stint in my Beloved Corps. That fifth rule now falls under Rule #1: Always check the condition of a firearm you're handed or are picking up.

And of course, it hopefully goes without saying that if you hand a firearm to someone except under very strict circumstances, you should open the action to check the condition, and leave it open as you hand it to them.

2 – Always be attentive when handling a firearm and know where the muzzle is pointing.

We should have a different demeanor whenever we're handling our firearms. We should always be attentive, alert, paying attention. This involves knowing where the muzzle is pointing at all times and not pointing it at something you're not ready to shoot.

3 – Keep your finger out of the trigger guard unless you are on target and prepared to fire.

Keeping your finger off the trigger isn't likely enough because you can still be off the trigger and accidentally bump it on something firing a shot off. Instead, keeping your finger outside of the trigger guard altogether is a good idea. That is, unless you're on target and prepared to fire.

4 – Identify your target, all surroundings, and be prepared for changes.

This was the trickiest of them all. The identifying your target part was the easiest section, here, but the old rule isn't in enough depth.

What we're trying to drive home with the rest of this is that you should be aware of all surroundings, to include around your target, around you, anywhere else in between and beyond. You should also be prepared for changes to happen.

An example of a change: If you're engaging an attacker, and a child appears behind the attacker or yourself. Or, you're engaging a target and another bad guy flanks you. Etc.

A Free Gun Safety Resource—

I would be remiss if I didn't let you know about our online gun safety course, that you can gain access to FOR FREE. It's titled simply Gun Safety, and it is a fantastic resource for a new gun owner, as well as someone who needs a refresher on firearm safety. No one is so good that they can't use a reminder on safe gun handling. Consider sharing the link with a friend or family member who just purchased a firearm. It's FREE and it could save them from making a life-changing mistake.

gun safety course box image


Firearms safety is important, which is why there are rules to begin with. Violate them at your own risk. Let us know what you think about this, in the comments below.

About Joshua Gillem

Josh is a lifelong practitioner and student of the gun. He grew up shooting/hunting with his dad, and was given his first gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, when just a small boy. After high school, he joined the Marines where his love for firearms blossomed as he qualified with an M16A2, an M9, and a 240G. Josh has been writing about firearms and tactics for several years, owns the blog Gunners Den, is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and believes that each individual person has the right to self-defense by any means necessary. Currently residing in gun-friendly NC, he carries a concealed gun on a daily basis, even in his own house.


  1. Bill Strout on October 19, 2020 at 4:08 am

    I am sorry but you are trying to fix something that is not broken and have made it more confusing. The rules that I follow are shorter and easier to remember. You can explain them in more detail but please don’t try to replace them.

    1 – The Gun Is Always Loaded!

    2 – Never Point The Gun At Something You Are Not Prepared To Destroy!

    3 – Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until You Are Ready To Shoot!

    4 – Always Be Sure Of Your Target And What Is Behind It!

    • Wyomickid on September 13, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      Well, the Marines always did make things more complicated than they had to :-).

      How about the 3 basi NRA Rules that we teach all students in every firearm class, regardless of type, and all begin with “ALWAYS” (makes them easy to remember).

      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.

      NRA then has 8 additional rules that follow these 3 basic rules, such as – Know your target and what is beyond, Be sure the gun is safe to operate, Use the correct ammunition for your gun, Know how to use your gun safely, Keep the gun and ammunition from unauthorized persons, etc..

  2. Cobie on December 6, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    – The Gun Is Always Loaded!

    2 – Never Point The Gun At Something You Are Not Prepared To Destroy!

    3 – Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until You Are Ready To Shoot!

    4 – Always Be Sure Of Your Target And What Is Behind It!

  3. JT on December 29, 2022 at 10:23 am

    I like them and will likely incorporated these rules in my handgun fundamentals class! The traditional rules are great, these new rules make it clearer without alot of explanation. The resistance to these is natural. Change is hard.

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