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Third Rule of Gun Safety Distilled: Only Place Your Finger on the Trigger When You Are Ready To Shoot

Continuing with my opinions (as a as a civilian gun owner without any law enforcement or military background) on the fundamentals of safe gun handling, I figured it was time to cover the third rule.

Like the first and second, the third rule is generally presented using absolutes in one of two ways. The first way is phrased as the only time a finger should be placed on a trigger is when one is ready to shoot. The other way is basically the same but uses negative phrasing to the effect of: never place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot. In the same fashion as the previous rules, I have a slight problem with the absolutism of the third 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 #3: Only place your finger on the trigger when you are ready to shoot.

I remember nodding my head in agreement when I first heard this rule. I recall thinking it made perfect sense. There should be no other reason to place a finger on a trigger. Right?

These questions might lead one to believe that it is only applicable when the gun it is unholstered (or not slung) and in our hands. But, then it can’t be an absolute right?

Wrong. Like the previous safe gun handling rules, context matters.

It may not seem like context matters initially. But there are plenty of contexts in which one will put their finger on the trigger and squeeze. Don’t believe me? Here are a few:

  1. Dry fire practice,
  2. performing a function check,
  3. or de-cocking a revolver.

I’m sure there are others I can’t think of at the moment. The point is there are other situations in which a finger will touch a trigger and press it other than just shooting a gun.

The important take-a-way from this rule is that the act of placing a finger on the trigger should be conscious, deliberate, and intentional. This means that what the trigger finger does unconsciously, habitually, and unintentionally should be to rest anywhere other than on the trigger. In fact, the most widely preferred and accepted resting place for the trigger finger is indexed straight along the side of the gun and is referred to as trigger discipline.

It takes time to develop good trigger discipline. After all, guns were designed to take advantage of human intuition for operation. This means that people without trigger discipline will instinctively grab a gun and place their index finger in the trigger guard and rest it on the trigger. On top of the design, sprinkle a dab of bad trigger discipline portrayed in just about every TV show and movie where a character handles a gun and we have the perfect recipe for a negligent discharge by anyone who doesn’t have or practice strict trigger finger discipline.

While it can take time to develop good trigger discipline, it’s not hard. One just needs to be deliberate and purposeful with their gun handling. The more one practices good trigger disciple the sooner it becomes engrained as a habit. However, it’s also important not get complacent.

Practicing strict trigger finger discipline in conjunction with confirming the condition of the gun (first rule) and maintaining muzzle awareness (second rule) is the trifecta that essentially eliminates any chance of a negligent discharge and allows us to safely perform just about any task with a firearm. The only task that still requires a bit more rigor is safely shooting the firearm, which I will cover in the next and last post of this gun safety distilled series.

If I were to write my own version of the third rule of safe gun handling, I would write it like this: Practice strict trigger finger discipline.

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