The Four Safety Rules: It Wasn’t An Accident

A large display in a range building of the four firearms safety rules

If you really want the vein in my forehead to bulge out, just say something along the lines of “I didn’t know the gun was loaded,” “I thought he was a deer,” or the ever-popular “I don’t know what happened.”

I shouldn’t get so upset. After all, these things happen. You didn’t mean to shoot yourself in the leg or kill your buddy, hunting partner or kid down the street. We agree it was a tragedy but since it was accidental, nobody is really to blame, right?


I wish there was something stronger I could write than using all-capitals and three exclamation points.

We’re going to talk about gun safety so don’t you dare go turn to Ol’ JB’s Fishing Report before we finish. Everybody needs this lecture periodically and since it is the beginning of hunting season, we’re going to have the talk right now.

This became our topic after reading a recap of the hunting accidents, thankfully and atypically  non-fatal, during the 2016 season. While we freely admit our third hand information of the facts in these cases, it is apparently that somebody violated at least a couple of safety rules in every incident.

Sorry, but whenever such a firearms tragedy occurs, it is anything but an accident. It is pure negligence.

We have mentioned several times that we do not use the term, “accidental discharge” for those instances when a bullet is inadvertently fired. The correct term is “Negligent Discharge” (ND) because someone did something stupid. Strictly speaking, the event is an accident but more importantly it involves negligence and when dealing with something as serious as a firearm, we need to highlight the carelessness involved rather than shrug the whole thing off as a twist of fate or simple bad luck.

This is based on the premise that if you lay a firearm on the table, in almost no circumstances will the gun fire by itself. Guns have been stored for decades while loaded and never fired a single round. However, as soon as a human gets involved, bullets start flying. Therefore, any time a weapon fires without intention, causes property damage, unintentional injury or death, someone did something and it should be considered an ND.

Realistically, negligent discharges will happen once in a while even to the most careful gun handler because we are human. The key is to not violate the other safety rules. In fact, if you subscribe to the well-known “Four Rules of Safe Gun Handling” as developed by Col. Jeff Cooper, you must violate at least two rules in order for something horrible to occur.

Rules for safe gun handling are many. The Hunter Education course I took as a boy back during the Stone Ages had 10 safety rules. If you read a firearms owner’s manual, there will be approximately 10,000 admonishments, starting with “Don’t place gun muzzle in mouth and pull the trigger.” However, arguably the most widely taught set of rules are Cooper’s four.

These rules are simple, easy to memorize and, more importantly, easy to live by. If you make them a part of your life, the odds of a tragedy occurring are almost nil.

Rule #1: All guns are always loaded- There are no exceptions to this rule. Unless the gun is physically disassembled into its component pieces, the rule applies. If you respect the firearm as being capable of killing you or someone else at all times, it becomes exceedingly unlikely that you’ll mistakenly point the gun somewhere dangerous. If you cannot remember anything else, remember this rule as the Eleventh Commandment.

Rule #2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy- By design, guns spindle, fold and mutilate in a very quick and impressive manner. Therefore, if you aren’t willing to destroy something, don’t point the gun towards that item. This would include you, other people, inanimate objects or things you haven’t yet identified.

Rule #3: Keep you finger off the trigger until your sights are on target- If you watch a professional weapons handler operate, you will see their firearm is carried and manipulated with their trigger finger straight alongside the weapon frame until they are actually pointing at a target. Watch television or a movie sometimes and see how many times this rule is violated!

Rule #4: Be sure of your target and everything beyond- Adherence to this rule would stop virtually all hunting accidents. Last year, I passed up the greatest buck of my life (so far) because just as I was ready to shoot, he was spooked by a coyote and trotted away 40 yards to my left. Unfortunately, as the buck ran ran, behind him was a busy highway clogged with rush hour traffic less than a quarter-mile away.

I could have shot as it seems highly unlikely I would have missed the deer at that range. Even if I had shot, there were still several trees between the buck and the highway. However, I wasn’t willing to risk the consequences of putting a bullet into a vehicle or, God forbid, a passing motorist.

That defeat still stings me but I know I made the right decision. Once a bullet is fired, no amount of remorse will bring it back. You only have one chance to make sure no unintentional harm is dealt by your actions.

Just follow the rules and you’ll have no problem.


Brent Wheat
A well-known and award-winning writer/photographer/radio & television talent/speaker/web-designer/media spokesperson/shooting instructor/elected official/retired police officer/bourbon connoisseur/cigar aficionado/backpacker/hunter/fisherman/gardener/preparedness guru/musician/and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, Brent Wheat is the editor and publisher of


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