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Old March 29, 2024, 12:49 AM   #1
Mike P. Wagner
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Curious about the evolution of safety rules

When I was 8 or 9, I took the NRA rifle marksmanship course at our local Izaak Walton League (Germantown, MD) in the very early 1960s, and we were taught 3 safety rules - I can still recite them by heart.
  1. Never point a firearm at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Know your target and what’s beyond it.

I remember posters on the walls with those rules.

I didn’t shoot for a long time, and when I started again shooting again 40 years later, I heard a 4th rule, “Every gun is always loaded.”

I recently heard a 5th, I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was something about keeping ammunition and a firearm in a different place until you are ready to shoot.

I visited a website yesterday that had 7 safety rules.

Any old timers around here recall how/when the other safety rules were added?
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Old March 29, 2024, 12:55 AM   #2
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Maybe I a little confused about the wording of the 3rd rule - I see a vintage NRA poster on eBay that says “Be sure of your backstop.” I would swear we were taught, “Know your target and what’s beyond it” - but may my memory is wrong.
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Old March 29, 2024, 02:54 AM   #3
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it was mike.

and it use to be 10 then the 7 rules. i still teach them. i never shortened anything.
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Old March 29, 2024, 07:06 AM   #4
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Mike P. Wagner wrote:
Quote:
I would swear we were taught, “Know your target and what’s beyond it” - but may my memory is wrong.
Your memory is at least as good as mine. I remember it as "be sure of your target and what's beyond it" but the 'what's beyond it' part matches my memory.

But I also remember "Every gun is a loaded gun" as the first rule - with added emphasis that it is loaded until you, personally, have verified it is not - and at that point you are the only person who knows it is unloaded, so for the rest of the world it is still loaded and if you point it at anyone, that's a breach.

My recollection is also from when I was 8 or 9, and I'm 75 now, so 1) the rules were well-ingrained, and 2) my memory is not as good as it was back then.
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Old March 29, 2024, 08:21 AM   #5
stuckinthe60s
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Treat every gun as if it were loaded.
Make sure that any gun is ALWAYS pointed in a safe direction.
Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy.
Be aware of your target, and what lies beyond it.
When shooting targets, be sure that there is a backstop behind the target high enough and solid enough to stop the projectiles. The backstop should be free of hard objects to avoid ricochets.
Always ensure your gun is open and unloaded before handing it to anyone.
While hunting, always open and unload your gun before climbing under or over a fence, log, or stream.
While hunting, always be able to identify your game before you pull the trigger.
Never shoot at or over open water with anything other than a shotgun loaded with birdshot. Bullets will glance off water and fly wildly.
Alcohol and firearms do not mix.
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Old March 29, 2024, 08:23 AM   #6
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https://dnr.illinois.gov/content/dam...earmsafety.pdf
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Old March 29, 2024, 08:56 AM   #7
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Thanks stuckinthe60s! Excellent information and background.

If my arithmetic is correct I was first exposed to the safety rules in 1957.

My guess is that they did not expect children to understand and/or retain a long list, so they simplified it to four simple statements that, together, were sufficient (redundancy) to cover the basics, and taught us those.
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Old March 29, 2024, 09:12 AM   #8
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It's obvious many of the rules after the first four are in the context of hunting. Not to say they aren't important, but firearm safety has evolved to address ownership other than for hunting.

I personally like more modern versions like "know your target and what's around it", and "always know the condition (status) of your firearm".
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Old March 29, 2024, 11:43 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stuckinthe60s View Post
Treat every gun as if it were loaded.
Make sure that any gun is ALWAYS pointed in a safe direction.
Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy.
Be aware of your target, and what lies beyond it.
When shooting targets, be sure that there is a backstop behind the target high enough and solid enough to stop the projectiles. The backstop should be free of hard objects to avoid ricochets.
Always ensure your gun is open and unloaded before handing it to anyone.
While hunting, always open and unload your gun before climbing under or over a fence, log, or stream.
While hunting, always be able to identify your game before you pull the trigger.
Never shoot at or over open water with anything other than a shotgun loaded with birdshot. Bullets will glance off water and fly wildly.
Alcohol and firearms do not mix.
No finger off the trigger?

I found this is the most difficult one for old timers to follow. They always keep finger on trigger just like in the old movies.

-TL

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Old March 29, 2024, 12:55 PM   #10
Mike P. Wagner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobCat45 View Post
Mike P. Wagner wrote:


Your memory is at least as good as mine. I remember it as "be sure of your target and what's beyond it" but the 'what's beyond it' part matches my memory.
Actually, I think your version is probably correct - the “Be sure …” sparked a memory.
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Old March 29, 2024, 01:00 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tangolima View Post
No finger off the trigger?

I found this is the most difficult one for old timers to follow. They always keep finger on trigger just like in the old movies.

-TL

Sent from my SM-N960U using Tapatalk
I also find it exceedingly odd that the left out “Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.”
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Old March 29, 2024, 01:05 PM   #12
Mike P. Wagner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobCat45 View Post
Thanks stuckinthe60s! Excellent information and background.

If my arithmetic is correct I was first exposed to the safety rules in 1957.

My guess is that they did not expect children to understand and/or retain a long list, so they simplified it to four simple statements that, together, were sufficient (redundancy) to cover the basics, and taught us those.
I suspect that you are right about simplification - but I clearly recall three. I wonder if different instructors simplified the rule differently?
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Old March 29, 2024, 04:50 PM   #13
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There are basically two sets of rules. Jeff Cooper synthesized it down to four basic rules which, if followed, should prevent any personal injuries and most property damage:

Quote:
  • RULE I: ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED
  • RULE II: NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY
  • RULE III: KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET
  • RULE IV: BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET
The NRA, in its infinite wisdom, has three major rules and then a bunch of sub-rules. As an NRA instructor, I have to teach the NRA system when presenting an NRA class, but in any other context or setting I use Cooper's four rules, because pretty much anyone can remember those.

The NRA rules:

Quote:
  • ALWAYS Keep The Gun Pointed In A Safe Direction
  • ALWAYS Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Ready To Shoot
  • ALWAYS Keep The Gun Unloaded Until Ready To Use
The NRA supplemental rules:

Quote:
  • Know your target and what is beyond.
  • Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
  • Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
  • Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
  • Never use alcohol, over-the-counter drugs or prescription drugs before or while shooting.
  • Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
  • Additional Safety Precautions: Be aware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.
  • Cleaning
  • Regular cleaning is important in order for your gun to operate correctly and safely. Taking proper care of it will also maintain its value and extend its life. Your gun should be cleaned every time that it is used.

    A gun brought out of prolonged storage should also be cleaned before shooting. Accumulated moisture and dirt, or solidified grease and oil, can prevent the gun from operating properly.

    Before cleaning your gun, make absolutely sure that it is unloaded. The gun's action should be open during the cleaning process. Also, be sure that no ammunition is present in the cleaning area.
NRA Basic Pistol is a one-day class, including range time. IMHO it's not realistic to expect average people to absorb and remember all those rules and sub-rules and sub-sub-rules. Cooper was a Marine -- he knew the value of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
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Old March 29, 2024, 09:13 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stuckinthe60s View Post
it was mike.

and it use to be 10 then the 7 rules. i still teach them. i never shortened anything.
Yep. The NRA never had "4 Rules of Gun Safety". 3, 7 and 10 have been their numbers. The 4 Laws of Gun Safety was not from Cooper either. They came from Bill Nottingham, and Cooper quickly adopted them. This is from a Chapter in my Text for my CCW course. The portions in bold are the actual text from Biil as he originally wrote them.

2. Review of Weapons Safety

The 4 Laws of Gun Safety (Provided by Bill Nottingham, [email protected]) are the
most fundamental safety rules for anyone that handles a gun. There are many additional rules for
different situations, but these are ones that apply for ALL situations. The more often you handle
guns the more likely someday you will have a Negligent Discharge (ND)! It's just a matter of
when, where, and under what circumstances. If you are obeying the 4 Laws of Gun Safety when
it happens, it will be VERY scary. IF YOU'RE NOT, IT COULD BE VERY TRAGIC!
The 1st Law of Gun Safety - The Gun Is Always Loaded!
EVERY TIME you pick up or draw a gun, inspect it in a safe manner, control your muzzle, and
always treat it as a loaded gun. You should VISUALLY inspect your gun's chamber every time
you pick it up even if you just sat it down moments before. It may seem redundant but
establishing good habits may save a tragedy during a moment of "brain-fade". Remove all
ammunition and loaded magazines from the immediate area when handling any gun. Also, if
you hand someone your gun, VISUALLY show them the empty chamber and accept no less in
return! An experienced gun handler would never feel insulted.
The 2nd Law of Gun Safety - Never Point A Gun At Something You're Not Prepared To Destroy!
The best way to handle a gun is to imagine the worst case scenario: Assume your "empty" gun is
loaded and that it's going to function PERFECTLY! When you press the trigger it will FIRE!
Since you are prepared for that, you should only point the gun in a safe direction - never
allowing the muzzle to sweep you or someone else. That way, if "brain-fade" does result in a
Negligent Discharge (ND), it will be into a safe impact area and there won't be a tragedy.
The 3rd Law of Gun Safety - Always Be Sure Of Your Target And What Is Behind It!
Bullets can penetrate lots of things, many of which may surprise you. Identify your target before
firing - even before dry-firing. If you are not sure, DON'T FIRE! Just as important, make sure
there's a safe impact area behind your target. For home dry-fire practice, find and aim only at a
BULLET PROOF BACKSTOP. Even though you have checked and double-checked your gun,
you should still treat your gun as though it's loaded and functional. Plasterboard walls and outer
walls are not bulletproof. A handgun bullet can easily travel through several rooms before
stopping. Who is in these rooms? If you're not sure, and you still aimed in that direction,
SHAME ON YOU!
The 4th Law of Gun Safety - Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Your Sights Are On The
Target!

KEEP YOUR FINGER OUTSIDE THE TRIGGER GUARD! Almost all Negligent Discharges
(ND) are caused by placing the finger on the trigger when you aren't prepared to fire. A finger
on the trigger during reloading, during movement, during the draw, holstering, or while clearing
a jam have led to several Negligent Discharges (ND). It's difficult to isolate the trigger finger
from the muscles required to hold the gun firmly - they all want to contract together. It can be
especially difficult under stress and anxiety. Therefore, THE FINGER SHOULD NOT TOUCH
THE TRIGGER UNTIL THE INSTANT YOU ARE PREPARED TO FIRE! This holds true
even if you find yourself in a legitimate self-defense situation.
In conclusion, you should take personal responsibility for the safety of your guns and for those
persons you permit to handle them. Remember, even those with experience may have bad habits
that die hard! Keep guns safely out of the hands of children, people that aren't trained or
responsible, and especially THIEVES! If you enjoy your gun hobby, it's up to you to prevent a
personal tragedy - and not give others the propaganda they need to take it away. More people
would enjoy guns if properly socialized so do your part to keep it safe and fun!
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Old March 30, 2024, 01:24 AM   #15
Mike P. Wagner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkCO View Post
Yep. The NRA never had "4 Rules of Gun Safety". 3, 7 and 10 have been their numbers. The 4 Laws of Gun Safety was not from Cooper either. They came from Bill Nottingham, and Cooper quickly adopted them. This is from a Chapter in my Text for my CCW course. The portions in bold are the actual text from Biil as he originally wrote them
I am glad someone else recalls a time when the NRA had three rules. I was beginning to wonder just how bad my memory was getting.
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Old March 30, 2024, 06:51 AM   #16
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Thanks MarkCO! That's the most complete and informative explication of the matter that I've seen.

I recall #3 and #4 in reverse order but I think your information is better than my memory.
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Old March 30, 2024, 01:40 PM   #17
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In my youth, it was padded out to give the Ten Commandments of Gun Safety. I do not retain the list.
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Old March 31, 2024, 06:06 PM   #18
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In my youth I remember it as 10 rules.

Treat every gun as if it were loaded.
Make sure that any gun is ALWAYS pointed in a safe direction.
Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy.
Be aware of your target, and what lies beyond it.
When shooting targets, be sure that you have a safe backstop.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
Know how to use the gun safely.
Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
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Old April 2, 2024, 01:20 PM   #19
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What concerns me more than the evolution of "the rules" is the "de-evolution" of the rules due to people's penchant for shortening and simplifying things, which can lead to loss of critical elements of the message. Particularly if people take the "short form" rules literally.

Quote:
The 1st Law of Gun Safety - The Gun Is Always Loaded!
This is an example.
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Old April 2, 2024, 01:29 PM   #20
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de-evolution ? de-change ? dis-change ?

what did you mean by de-evolution ?
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Old April 2, 2024, 08:37 PM   #21
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Quote:
what did you mean by de-evolution ?
I meant the "dumbing down" of the message by shortening/changing the words. I meant the idea people are getting that there are ONLY 3 or 4 rules to be concerned with.

Things like that.

When you reduce a complete thought down to a buzzword or short phrase much can be lost.

"Treat every gun as if it were loaded, until you have personally checked that it is not" is NOT the same thing as "The gun is always loaded!!"

Obviously the oversimplified version is not, and cannot be true all the time. This can, in fact, lead to people scoffing at the rule (because it is not true) and not following the intent of the rule.

There is a place for loose, sloppy, condensed, casual conversation. Safety rules isn't one of those places.
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Old April 2, 2024, 11:46 PM   #22
Mike P. Wagner
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When I first heard “The gun is always loaded” rule I was in a firearm safety course with my then teenage son.

During a break, he asked if that was always true - obviously it’s not always true. I told him that the intent to the rule was to treat every gun as though it were loaded until you have verified that it is not loaded.

He asked the reasonable, “Why didn’t they say that?”

That seemed like a very reasonable response on his part.

I really hesitate to teach someone - particularly a teenage son - a statement they know not to be true as a “safety rule.”
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Old April 4, 2024, 11:19 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 44 AMP View Post
I meant the "dumbing down" of the message by shortening/changing the words. I meant the idea people are getting that there are ONLY 3 or 4 rules to be concerned with.

Things like that.

When you reduce a complete thought down to a buzzword or short phrase much can be lost.

"Treat every gun as if it were loaded, until you have personally checked that it is not" is NOT the same thing as "The gun is always loaded!!"

Obviously the oversimplified version is not, and cannot be true all the time. This can, in fact, lead to people scoffing at the rule (because it is not true) and not following the intent of the rule.

There is a place for loose, sloppy, condensed, casual conversation. Safety rules isn't one of those places.
Few years ago I went hunting with a couple friends. One was doing something with their shotgun but the barrel was pointed right at me. I stepped offline and politely mentioned to watch his muzzle direction.

His reply... "its ok, its unloaded"

Whatever it takes to get the intent across but it needs to be simple enough even the most simple person can remember.
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Old April 6, 2024, 11:07 AM   #24
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Hidden in plain sight

Right now I'm laughing so hard that typing is even more difficult than usual.

At the top of the forum page, second from the left, is a header entitled "Firearms Safety"

When clicked it goes to a page with this at the top:

---------------------------------
Jeff Cooper's Rules of Gun Safety


RULE I: ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED

RULE II: NEVER LET THE MUZZLE COVER ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO DESTROY

RULE III: KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET

RULE IV: BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET
------------------------------

with a paragraph or so of explanation about each rule.

It just happened to catch my eye. I'm certain that in years past I've clicked it and read it - and probably confused what is there with what I was taught in around 1957 or so.
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Old April 6, 2024, 12:12 PM   #25
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Ive never understood why Coopers version of the 4 rules are not simply widely accepted by all training institutions? It is easy to learn, and covers any situation and if followed I cannot see how there would ever be any injury from an accident if even possible to have one.
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