View Full Version : Adding a "fifth" rule to firearm safety

December 7, 2011, 04:39 PM
This is reference to an incident that happened in our local Law Enforcement

Read Friendly fire: http://www.newslj.com/ You have to have a subscription for the whole article to come up.

Basicly, a supposed firearm instructor was working on a department firearm, it says doing maintance but not what the maintance was. What happened he pulled an empty magazine out of the to be worked on pistol. Then he removed a loaded magazine from his duty pistol and laid it on the table. He then mistakenly put the loaded magazine in the Maintained pistol and it discharged into the break room next door.

I added a "fifth" rule, Never clean or work on a firearm when ammunition with live ammo in the area.

Normally I don't second guess incidents if I'm not there or am not in the investigation of the incident, but this is different, my step daughter was in the room next door.

I don't know Glocks, maybe they have to have a magazine in the chamber to drop the hammer. But you still have to rack the slide to get it to chamber a round.

Anyway here is a letter I wrote asking for more firearms safety training for the safety involve. I know in the department I worked for, I'd be in quite a bit of trouble. This guy, gets nothing but a new room to work on firearms.

So opinions, does my letter cover my points on this incident?

Letter to the Editor: Ref: Gun fired in Law Center Dec. 8th 2011
I address this not to condemn anyone involved but in hopes of preventing future incidents.

I’m a retired police officer from an out of state agency. Part of my duties was a firearms instructor, and was certified by the Alaska Police Standards Council as such. A certification which is still valid as I still instruct both LEOs and Civilians in firearm use and safety.

Some points to consider: There are Four Basic Firearms Safety Rules, which if followed no accidents resulting in injury could occur.

1. All Firearms are treated as being loaded.
2. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
3. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
4. Always be aware of your target and background

However, after reading the article, I wish to add another. You never work on any firearm with ammunition in the work area.

I do believe a firearm safety training session should be provided to the officer involved. I’m basing my assessment on the News Letter General article. I wasn’t there.

Several if not all of the above four safety rules (plus my added fifth) were violated.

1. The gun was loaded. You don’t need a round in the chamber to function check a service pistol. According to the article, the officer inserted a magazine into the pistol to function check it. I don’t know what pistol was involved, some require a magazine into the pistol before it can be fired. It is not necessary that a round be chambered for the hammer to fall. I can’t understand from the article how the round got into the chamber. It has to be manually loaded by racking the slide.

2. Had the firearm been pointed in a safe direction, in this case the ceiling, it wouldn’t have endangered anyone in existing rooms (there was no indication anyone was in the adjoining room but I’m not sure if the officer knew this.) A round through the roof would create less danger to others than a round through the wall.

3. Unless the pistol was defective, it could not have fired unless the finger was on the trigger.

4. See #2

5. The rule I added, if the loaded magazine wasn’t in the area, or remained in the officer’s pistol in his duty belt it could not have been accidently inserted in the other pistol.

Again I write this not to condemn anyone, and am thankful no one was injured. I do believe a firearm safety program should be provided. I write this in hopes others, Law enforcement officers and civilians alike, take into heart the Four Rules of Firearm safety, and if you clean or work on firearms, add the fifth rule.

December 7, 2011, 04:47 PM
I suppose one day there will be rules for anything that involves common sense.

Glad your daughter is OK man.

Glenn E. Meyer
December 7, 2011, 04:55 PM
Yesterday, an employee of a LGS around here was cleaning a gun and put a round through the store wall and into the eye of someone next door. Pretty damaging from the news story on the tube.

In front of a bunch of kids too.

PS - the employee was reported to be unloading a Glock when it discharged.

December 7, 2011, 04:56 PM
I don't know Glocks, maybe they have to have a magazine in the chamber to drop the hammer.

They do not.

Whether or not the gun is known to be loaded, you still never touch the trigger unless and until you have picked out the safest place in the area for a bullet to land, and have pointed the gun in that direction. (That's what "until you are ready to shoot" and "be sure of your target" actually mean!)

If the department would frown on live rounds going into the ceiling, and if the armorer's squad mates would frown on live rounds crashing through the wall and landing in the break room, then the department needs to install a safe backstop in the gun handling area. A bucket of sand would do it, and wouldn't break the budget. If you want to be fancy, make it a Safe Directions product of some sort. Slap a target on it and remind everyone involved that they don't touch the trigger, regardless of the reason, unless the gun is pointed at a target.

Glad your daughter is okay.


December 7, 2011, 04:59 PM
I'm with you Kraig.

Even if he picked up the magazine and inserted it with the slide locked back. He would still have to release the slide stop and then pull the trigger.

Like you say, we weren't there and there are no witnesses.

However, it sounds to me like another uncleared firearm having its trigger pulled to me.

December 7, 2011, 05:05 PM
He already violated the four "basic" rules and adding another won't make much difference. In the past, I have seen 14, 11, 10, 7 and of course the four that you have listed. We teach the basic four as the more you add, the more folks tend to forget. I saw a video where Jeff Cooper stated that if you follow these four, you will never get in trouble. I thought that was questionable but you really only need one and that is muzzle control ...... ;)

We routinely review past shooting/hunting accidents, in the unpredictalbe hunting enviremoment and all were caused by not following the four basic rules.

Most of the time I'm doing gun work on my bench, there is no live ammo on my bench but fairly close by. There are times when I function check but do those with "Dummy" ammo. The rare times that live ammo is on the bench, a little bell goes off in my head and I stop to separate the two. .... ;)

Be Safe !!!

December 7, 2011, 05:10 PM

You can make 30 rules, or 100, and folks will STILL negligently discharge firearms.

It's not about the rules, it's about the discipline needed to abide by them.

December 7, 2011, 05:13 PM
Don't take for granted it would be safer to shoot into the ceiling. It might be a multi-storied building, and if older, not have concrete between the floors.

December 7, 2011, 05:19 PM
Sorry, but I give the "5th" rule a thumbs down. Here's why. I work on many of my guns. I have limited space in which to do this. I have ammo cans filled with ammo in the area in which I work on my guns. Also, when I take a loaded magazine out of a gun, I leave that magazine near by. Why not? I always check the chamber of every gun as soon as I begin to handle it and right before I put it away. And, as others have said - always have the muzzle pointing in a safe direction, always keeping your finger off the trigger unless you check the chamber. Whether the loaded magazine is one foot from the gun or 70 feet from the gun makes no difference. That's not what matters. Checking chambers OFTEN and at the appropriate times is what matters.

December 7, 2011, 05:24 PM
Strict adherence to Rule #1 makes a 5th rule unnecessary.

As a professional educator I say,,,
Keep the rules few and simple.


Brian Pfleuger
December 7, 2011, 05:30 PM
I understand your rationale and agree with the intent but I also agree with the others that if you can't follow the first four whatever comes after them will not be relevant either.

The complacency that some exhibit around such deadly devices is astounding to me. I have a Glock and it FREAKS ME OUT to pull the trigger to function check or disassemble the gun. Not "freaks me out" like I think it shouldn't be neccesary or the design is flawed but like every time I go to do it I go "WHOA! WHOA! You are about to pull the trigger on a firearm! Are you REALLY sure it's unloaded!"

I never pull the trigger without identifying the removed magazine, ejecting the round, visually verifying empty chamber with the slide locked back, dropping the slide, reopening it enough to visually verify the empty chamber AGAIN and then visually and physically checking the loaded chamber indicator.

December 7, 2011, 05:33 PM
Strict adherence to Rule #1 makes a 5th rule unnecessary.

As an aside, for me personally, if I don't obey rule one I could very likely have an AD. The reason being that all of my firearms are loaded. Yes, all of them, chambers loaded.

If anyone tries it, I guarantee you'll obey rule #1, or else you'll wish you had.

December 7, 2011, 05:35 PM
I really enjoy firearms. At the same time, they do scare me a little. I treat them gingerly and I always assume a gun is loaded, even after I have emptied it and checked it thrice. A little fear is a healthy thing. Some people will say it's just an object, nothing to fear, but I guess i just have it lodged in my subconscious. And I grew up the kid of a cop/FFL and was constantly around firearms- shot my first M60 when I was 12.

I feel the same way about cars. Well, not quite. I don't care for cars beyond their ability to get me between two points. But I do consider them exceedingly dangerous and drive as carefully as I may, to the general unhappiness of all those passing motorists. A car is a deadly, deadly weapon.

If you assume that both a car and a gun can kill you a moments notice and treat them with that respect, you'll never have a ND. Maybe an AD, not an ND. I have never had an ND and I have never had an accident on the road (I I have put 350,000+ miles combined on 4 different cars).

Rule #1 is the key.

December 7, 2011, 05:40 PM
It's not about Rule One. It's about the other three rules, which idiots throw out the window as soon as they've checked, double checked, and done whatever dance to the moon gods they think is necessary to get the gun unloaded and keep it that way.

If you throw out 75% of your multiple, redundant layers of safety, eventually you'll shoot someone or something you shouldn't have shot.

And then you'll go online and claim it was just "one moment's inattention" and "just ONE little mistake" that bit you... when in fact it was a lifetime of overconfident but stupid gunhandling that did you in.



December 7, 2011, 05:49 PM
At a LGS the owner was inspecting a customers 1911. He racked the slide several times without looking in the chamber and assumed the weapon was clear. He pulled the trigger and unleashed a 230gr FMJ into the shop wall which ricocheted off the wall and struck one of his employees in the stomach. :eek:

He has a nasty scar but he is alive. At least the owner had it pointed in a "safe" direction rather than pointed directly at him. The results may have been even worse.

December 7, 2011, 06:26 PM
I like Steve Wenger's 5th rule. http://www.spw-duf.info/safety.html

5. Maintain control of your gun.

Arizona Attorneys Michael Anthony and Robert Brown have researched civil litigation involving firearms and found that most successful lawsuits against gun owners involve incidents where someone other than the owner has accessed and misused the gun.

As a result, I have accepted their suggestion and now teach this fifth basic rule of firearms safety.

Make sure that you keep the gun within your control when you carry it. Guns in purses and other means of off-body carry are difficult to control, as are guns being shown to friends, stashed between couch cushions, placed in desk drawers, etc.

When you must store a gun that you are not carrying, take reasonable steps to limit access by unauthorized users. If you must simply disable it with a lock, a cable lock is preferable to a trigger lock - most trigger locks violate Rule Three.

A caveat to this rule concerns dropped guns. Modern handguns are designed not to fire when dropped and people have shot themselves trying to catch guns that have slipped from their hands. If you do momentarily lose control of a firearm, let it fall to the ground.

December 7, 2011, 06:31 PM
I like my rule#5 better, NEVER dry fire a gun without double checking the chamber visually at least twice. I keep ammo around my gun cleaning desk all the time, loaded magazines too so I can manually test how it cycles after a good cleaning but the double check rule (knock on wood) has not failed me yet.

Crunchy Frog
December 7, 2011, 06:49 PM
Autoloaders with a "magazine disconnect" require that a magazine be inserted before the action will operate. As a result, you'd have to insert a magazine to function check the gun or to drop the hammer or striker (assuming of course it did not have a decocker).

Some refer to this device as a "magazine safety" but this is one example of who this can make the gun less safe.

I won't mention how a lost or damaged magazine would render the operator defenseless. I suppose that is "safe" for the attacker but not so "safe" for the operator.

In the final analysis the only reliable "safety" resides between the ears of the responsible gun owner.

December 7, 2011, 07:38 PM
It's not about Rule One.

I disagree. Yep, I think you are flat-out wrong.

If you follow rule #1, the other rules must follow. MUST. FOLLOW.

If I assume the gun is loaded I will always keep it pointed in a safe direction. I will keep my finger off the trigger. I will make sure that if I do point it somewhere, I am aware of my target and my background.

Obviously, if you are a dope and do not understand what a loaded gun entails, Rule #1 is pointless. But if you are a dope, all rules are pointless. I'm not advocating dumping the other 3 rules but if you truly understand what a loaded gun can do, Rule #1 is all you need.

The other 3 rules work really well with my 10, 8 and 6 year old. If an adult needs the other 3 to understand what a gun is, you've got bigger problems.

December 7, 2011, 07:46 PM

That's the same song, second verse.

Check how many posts (in this thread and others) say something like, "Double check!!" as if the simple checking to be sure it's unloaded is all that's required before they then point the gun at something stupid and pull the trigger.

It doesn't matter how many times you've checked it, or how thoroughly: the other three rules still apply.

People treat Rule One as if it means "All guns are loaded (until you've checked the gun, then you can do something stupid with it)." That's not what it means, as a certain number of numbnuts find out all on their own every year.


December 7, 2011, 08:05 PM

I think this is one of those "failure to communicate" issues.

You are really missing my point. I am not saying that it is safe to point the gun after checking it is clear.


I don't care about other peoples posts. I assume that even after I have checked a gun it is still a potential danger, even when I KNOW it is not loaded. It is a habit. It keeps me from shooting people or things. Sometimes what you KNOW and what is ACTUAL don't happen to coincide. Years of experience have taught me to constantly question my certainties.

All guns are loaded (until you've checked the gun, then you can do something stupid with it)

This may be what other people think but it is not what the rule states. I'm a pretty technical guy. I follow rules to the letter. I do not employ my "interpretation" if I don't have to.

Always assume a gun is loaded. Pretty simple. If you do anything else, you're not following the rule. Even after checking thrice that a gun is unloaded, I follow that rule. The other rules are backup for stupid people.

Once again, I grew up with guns. I learned this lesson at the age of 9. It is sacrosanct.

Maybe you should be arguing that people that alter rule #1 are the problem?

December 7, 2011, 08:07 PM

I tried that, for years.

The rules overlap and are redundant for a reason. For whatever reason, they DO **** up Rule One on a depressingly regular basis. The least we can do is talk them into following the others.


Brian Pfleuger
December 7, 2011, 08:12 PM
I agree with SwampYankee. It's not about ignoring the other 3 if you make sure that it's really, really, really not loaded.... it's about the other 3 being AUTOMATIC if you UNDERSTAND #1.

The fact that I check, double check and then triple check that the gun is, in fact, NOT loaded, doesn't change the way I handle the gun afterwords, except to the extent that if I thought it might be loaded I wouldn't actually pull the trigger to begin disassembly, for example.

Kevin Rohrer
December 7, 2011, 08:27 PM
THere is no need for a 5th rule as 1-3 cover the problem quite well.


Spats McGee
December 7, 2011, 08:40 PM
First, I'm glad that your step daughter is OK, kraigwy.

That said, I have conflicting thoughts about a Rule #5. On the one hand, if the guy doing the work had followed Rules #1-#4, he wouldn't need Rule #5. And I agree that fewer rules are easier for most folks to follow than many. On the other, making the workshop an ammo-free zone would seem like a good idea.

December 10, 2011, 06:48 PM
Less is more. Just the Four.

The political cycle must be underway. I'm thinking in slogans.

December 10, 2011, 07:16 PM
I added a "fifth" rule, Never clean or work on a firearm when ammunition with live ammo in the area.

Why would you stop there?

No ammo in the same room where one is dry firing.

No dry firing without an adequate back stop.

Open the chamber on your shotgun before crossing a fence (when you're alone)

Don't leave a loaded firearm leaning against a tree.

Never pick up a gun without checking the chamber to verify that it's unloaded. Even if you recently did so.

etc, etc, etc.

If we wrote a new rule for all the individual circumstances that have caused gun accidents, there'd be no end to them. And if you look close enough, the BASIC rules probably already apply.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

December 10, 2011, 07:30 PM
A firearm instructor who failed to differentiate between the unloaded and the loaded magazine......

A firearm instructor who put his finger on the trigger....

... when the firearm was pointed in an unsafe direction...

Hmmm.... I don't think I need to say anymore.

There is no room for error with firearms. Rule # 5 may just be the clincher, for those who don't absolutely get the first four. Yet, someone will still ND somehow and we will be adding rule 6. /c:

BTW kraigwy - sorry I was an ass re: an earlier thread. I had a bad day, not your fault... Hope we can share conversation and hope I can learn to shoot the AR better.

December 11, 2011, 05:53 AM
I agree with Pax on this.

Rule 1 has to be violated.
The other three are the ones that shouldn't be violated, and are the ones that cause the problem.

old bear
December 11, 2011, 02:46 PM
Never clean or work on a firearm when ammunition with live ammo in the area.

May I add never dry-fire a weapon with live ammo in the same room, I learned this lesson years ago:eek:, enough said.

December 11, 2011, 03:31 PM
The absolute sanest backdrop I could ever have is in the garage which is also the only sane place for me to reload. My solution: a no-go spot for ammo, 10 feet from the reloading bench, and only dry fire my rimfire guns. The rimfire ammo could leak and find its way into the quarantine zone, but I've at least added a couple of links to the chain of mistakes I'd have to make for an ND.

All of the guns I am interested in have .22 analogues. Except the M1 Garand. Anybody got a recommendation for an 8.5 lb .22?

December 11, 2011, 05:12 PM
I have a few other rules. Most of you may laugh at them but they weren't made up for no reason.

Don't hot load your ammunition. If you want .357 performance out of your .38 special, get a .357 in the first place. If you want .44 magnum performance out of a .44 special or a .45 Colt, get a .44 magnum.

Likewise, for rifles, don't load ammunition that's only good for certain rifles. This is especially true for the old .45-70.

Don't take both a .44 and a .45 revolver to the range at the same time. The ammunition is too similiar.

Your commercial shooting range may have a nice display of disassembled handguns that will tell you why.

December 12, 2011, 06:39 PM
No Mexican carry !:D

December 12, 2011, 08:35 PM
Peetzakilla said: I agree with SwampYankee. It's not about ignoring the other 3 if you make sure that it's really, really, really not loaded.... it's about the other 3 being AUTOMATIC if you UNDERSTAND #1.

The fact that I check, double check and then triple check that the gun is, in fact, NOT loaded, doesn't change the way I handle the gun afterwords, except to the extent that if I thought it might be loaded I wouldn't actually pull the trigger to begin disassembly, for example.

This post is exactly what I was going to say. If you always obey #1, then 2, 3 and 4 are automatic.

Pvt. Pyle
December 12, 2011, 10:32 PM
Like said already, it doesnt matter what the rules say, its the discipline of the people "following" the rules that makes the biggest difference. I have everything at my desk; reloading components, live ammo, handguns in the drawer. I dont have a whole lot of experience but to date I havent even come close to anything bad happening.

My house has a crawl space, I point my revolvers at the floor when dry firing. After checking obviously. I even swing the crane open after a full revolution. I was hunting last night, and swung the crane open just to verify that it WAS loaded!

Jamie B
December 13, 2011, 07:16 AM
No need for 5, more is less.

December 13, 2011, 08:14 AM
Always handle a firearm as if it were going to go off at any moment.

Keep your finger off the trigger until the firearm is pointed at the target and you're ready to fire.

Keep the safety on until the firearm is pointed at the target and you're ready to fire.

Always handle a firearm as if it were going to go off at any moment.

Jamie B
December 27, 2011, 05:54 PM
No, these 4 from Jeff Cooper, and not re-written:

All guns are always loaded.

Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.

Identify your target, and what is behind it.

No changing of Coope's original intent are acceptable.

December 27, 2011, 07:24 PM
Not "freaks me out" like I think it shouldn't be neccesary or the design is flawed but like every time I go to do it I go "WHOA! WHOA! You are about to pull the trigger on a firearm! Are you REALLY sure it's unloaded!"
I feel the same about my Glocks whenever I clean them. Not only do I lock the slide back and check visually, I have adopted sticking my little finger into the chamber. Even after that, I'll still take it out on the deck and point it at the ground. Just goes against my grain is all, to have to pull that trigger on what looks like a ready weapon.:eek:

December 28, 2011, 07:06 AM
I had an instructor give us a 5th rule that I really liked and continue to use:
DDSS: Dont Do STUPID Stuff! You can't tell me that 99% of the people who have ND's had no idea what they were doing was STUPID! They may have ingnored that fact, but Id venture to guess they still knew!

December 28, 2011, 09:55 AM
I think we need to fight the tendency to create new rules or laws when something goes wrong. The original 4 would have prevented this, so no need for #5.

Some may disagree, but I always stress #2 (muzzle discipline) as the most important rule. That way if you make a mistake on one of the others you and the people in the immediate vicinity will be:
1) Scared
2) Angry
3) Embarassed

But more importantly:


Brian Pfleuger
December 28, 2011, 10:12 AM
I'm still convinced that they all flow from Rule #1.

After all, if the gun's not loaded, why muzzle discipline?

If the gun's not loaded, why keep your finger off the trigger?

If the gun's not loaded, there is no target or anything beyond it of which to be sure.

These things only matter if the gun is ALWAYS loaded. If the gun's NOT always loaded, all the other rules are "part-time"... only applying when the gun IS loaded. Dangerous, that would be.

If Rule #1 is applied and it's implications understood the other rules are automatic. They don't even need to exist, formally, if Rule #1 is understood. They will just "be".

Of course, they are layers of protection and we need them to exist but Rule #1 is where it's at.

Lost Sheep
December 28, 2011, 11:05 PM
(edited for brevity) What happened he pulled an empty magazine out of the to be worked on pistol.
He pulled an empty mag from the pistol. OK. That does not guarantee there was not still a round in the chamber the whole time (until the discharge).

We only assume the chamber was ever empty because the magazine was empty. Possibly the guy did, too.

Lost Sheep

December 28, 2011, 11:37 PM
I have a 14½ year old daughter that I haven't introduced to my handguns just yet. She's not that interested, but I still want to instill some basic firearm safety at some point soon. But until I'm absolutely sure I can get Rule #1 fully ingrained into this teenage girl's head, it's going to have to wait.

Unless the gun is disassembled for cleaning, it's probably loaded. As soon as I put the slide back on the frame, it's a potentially loaded gun and Rule #1 is in effect. Simple as that.

Shane Tuttle
December 29, 2011, 03:18 AM
As a side note first: Glad to hear your step-daughter wasn't harmed. The bright side is since she experienced that incident, it will further bolster her own safe practices when handling a firearm.

I personally am a staunch believer of Cooper's Four Rules. NOT the four rules with the word "treat" in it. The word "treat" gets on my last nerve in a heartbeat. I believe it's the absolute worst thing to have in Rule #1 or any for that matter.

I respectfully disagree with having a 5th rule. The other four covers it all soundly.

December 29, 2011, 12:03 PM
I too am thankful your step-daughter was not hit by the bullet.

IMO, this whole issue goes back to the #1 safety issue - The best safety is the gray thinking matter between your ears. I see the point of the OP, but IMO the incident occurred because someone failed to follow already set safety practices, policies, procedures and/or common sense.

The NRA courses teach no ammunition unless the firearm is ready to be used, no ammunition in the area if cleaning or dry firing and to always visibly check the chamber. Personally, I make sure there is no magazine in the mag well, verify an empty chamber and watch the feeding and chamber area when the action is closed.

Dry firing can help to develop better shooting form and techniques, and it has been discussed many times on TFL. One of the safety areas regarding dry firing I have stressed is that it should be done with a backstop capable of stopping a round if a discharge were to occur. Is this something your practice? Nobody wants an unintended discharge, but it would be better to shoot the freezer in the basement than to penetrate doors or walls.

December 29, 2011, 12:40 PM
Boy if I didn't open a can of worms. I wrote the letter suggesting training and hinting policy change regarding no live ammo in the area where one is working on a department firearm, not suggesting we re-write the "firearm safety rules".

The letter was also written to support a petition floating around town demanding this guy be fired. Its not his first firearm safety rule violation, including leaving a loaded shotgun at the prison after a training event.

And people wonder why I go out of state for my LEOSA yearly firearm qualification in stead of doing it locally.

Anyway, as a follow up as to what happen to the guy: He was promoted and now jokes his actions was a ploy to get a new arms room in the basement to play with department guns which he is getting.