First Rule of Gun Safety Distilled: Treat Every Firearm Like It’s Loaded

Never assume the condition of a firearm, always confirm it.

Getting acquainted with the rules of guns safety is arguably the most important and the first thing any new gun owner or anyone thinking about becoming a gun owner must do. Depending on the source the rules maybe worded a little differently and the number of rules may vary, but even so all reputable sources present gun safety with the four foundational rules. If these are four foundational principles are actively practiced at all times, then the chances of a negligent discharge are essentially negligible. But, what does it mean to actively practice these rules? This post attempts to distill the first rule by examining how I personally practice this rule.

Before we dive in, lets start with a review of the foundational rules of gun safe gun handling:

  1. Treat every firearm like it is loaded
  2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
  3. Only place your finger on the trigger when you are ready to shoot
  4. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it

With that out of the way, let’s look at rule #1: Treat every firearm like it is loaded.

Does this rule mean, that I should treat a firearm like it’s loaded all the time? Even when I know the firearm isn’t loaded? Well then, how and where should I dry fire or dry practice?

Those are all questions that I had as I started learning the rules before becoming a gun owner. However, shortly after becoming a gun owner I realized that the rule isn’t an absolute verbatim inflexible rule. Rather it’s a general principle. If it was an absolute, then one would never be able to dry fire any firearms for any reason unless safely pointing the gun down range at a target or perhaps at a bullet trap. And if that was the case, then how could anyone function check the firearm after performing any sort of maintenance or perform any dry practice training at home?

So, what does the general principle of treating every firearm like it is loaded mean in practice? For me, it means to never assume a firearm is or isn’t loaded. That translates to a habit that I’ve engrained so deeply that it is now an instinct. That habit is every time I take direct control of a firearm I confirm that it is in the condition I expect it to be in. And I do mean every time.

For example, at night when I am ready to go to bed and I remove my EDC pistol and place it in the safe, I place it in the same spot in exactly the same condition it was carried in. That condition is known as condition zero where a round is chambered, full magazine is in place, hammer cocked and safety is off. This is the typical condition a striker fired pistol without an external active safety is carried. Once it is in the safe, the safe is locked, and I walk away for some shut eye, then I am no longer in direct control of the firearm. While it is unlikely that the condition of the gun will change when I am ready to pick it up and holster it the following morning, I still confirm the condition I expect it to be in. The ever so slight possibility that my wife may have opened the safe and for some reason picked up the pistol and changed the condition it was in always exists. Even if it didn’t I would still confirm the condition of the pistol as I take direct control of it again because it is an instinctual response.

Confirming that a firearm is in condition zero will vary from firearm to fire arm. Not to mention that the conditions are also slightly different for different firearms. But for the sake of this post, confirming that the EDC pistol is still in condition one consists performing a press check to verify a round is chambered, removing the magazine to ensure it is full, and then reinserting the magazine. Once the condition is confirmed, then I proceed to holster it. If I confirm the condition of the firearm is something other than I expected, then I take the necessary corrective action to achieve the expected condition and proceed to do what I need to do with that firearm.

If I were taking direct control of a gun that I expect to be unloaded, I do the same thing. I confirm that it is in fact unloaded. For example, if I was taking control of the Desert Eagle which is typically left unloaded in the gun safe, then I would remove the magazine (if one was inserted) verify that it was empty, then lock back the slide and confirm the chamber was empty by visually and physically inspecting it.

This habit goes with me to shooting ranges, matches, and the gun store. And I do it every time I take control of firearm. Even at when the firearm is being handed to me by somebody who just confirmed the condition of the firearm. I’ve been asked by other gun owners if I’m ever afraid of offending the person who just confirmed the condition of the firearm they are handing me by double checking their confirmation. My answer is always the same. No. I don’t worry about it. Probably because I wouldn’t be offended if I handed a firearm to somebody else and that person reconfirmed the condition.

Sure, this habit may seem a little excessive. But the truth is that it takes almost zero time and effort to confirm the condition of a firearm. Remember that most negligent discharges happen because the person handling the firearm assumed they knew the condition the firearm was in, or so I’ve been told. I haven’t actually done any sort of research or analysis in negligent discharges, but seems logical to me that one way to reduce the chance of a negligent discharge is to never assume the condition of a fire that was previously out of one’s direct control.

If I were to write my own version of the first rule of safe gun handling, I would write it like this: Never assume the condition of a firearm, always confirm it.


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