One hundred percent of gun owners I never see at the range training with their guns and more than half of those I do see training with their guns have at least one thing in common: when they handle firearms, I see them fail to adhere to the four rules of gun safety.

The reason I continually see these safety failures by gun owners is that one cannot learn these four safety rules. Learning, as we typically understand it, is intellectual. Safety failures, however, are unconscious and based on habitual action. In order to serve you when it counts, the four rules of gun safety must become unconscious, physical habit. Developing these unconscious habits, as proven by countless examples of human performance, requires thousands of properly practiced repetitions. Thousands of repetitions.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

  1. Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded.
  2. Never point the muzzle at something you’re not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’re ready to shoot.
  4. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

From what I’ve seen and read, most gun owners do not train with their firearms every week, every month, or even every year and they seldom practice basic firearm manipulation. Most simply keep their gun in the safe or in the drawer or in the holster. Their logic is “My gun is there for when I need it.” Well, too bad competence will not be there when they need it. The average gun owner is not alone in this irresponsible approach. Even most law enforcement officers train with their guns only once or twice a year (!). With such irresponsible habits among gun owners, actual gun safety is a rarity.

Below: Distracted by the camera, rules 1 and 2 are unconsciously broken:

unsafe

Nice prom photo…except for the fact that the girl is pointing her weapon directly at her prom date’s legs. Inattention fail.

You Must Train

If you’re a gun owner, how many thousands of times have you handled firearms, starting automatically by checking and clearing the chamber (every time no matter what!), then continually keeping your muzzle pointed in a safe direction with your finger outside the trigger guard until your sights are already on your target, having already checked to be sure of what is beyond and near your target? How many thousands of times?

Until you have these thousands of repetitions of all sorts of firearm manipulations you can’t be habitually safe with a firearm. So train! Train regularly. Train continually. Train with a variety of firearm types (if possible). Train in all the things you’ll do with a firearm:

  • Draw from holster and re-holster. Unloaded. Loaded.
  • Pick up from a bench/table and rack the slide or close the action. Replace on bench/table (slide/action locked open).
  • Load magazines, tube, or cylinder with ammunition. Unload Magazines, tube, or cylinder.
  • Insert magazine. Remove magazine.
  • Rack the slide / load the chamber.
  • Eject rounds to clear the chamber (or rifle/shotgun equivalent).
  • Exchange magazines when firing to empty.
  • Draw magazine (from pocket and/or mag holder) while keeping your gun’s muzzle in a safe direction
  • Hold at (various) ready positions, press/aim, fire.
  • field strip.

…Do all these things while adhering strictly to the four rules of gun safety.

These are all common, basic manipulations every gun owner must do with a firearm and they all need to be performed in a habitually safe manner. Every time. Note that these are just firearm manipulations and do not include other likely necessary operations, like moving while drawing, moving while shooting, moving while dropping and exchanging magazines, crouching and standing while doing all of these things, etc…

My Practice Tally

I’m at the range 3-5x/week and I do dry-fire practice at home most off days. This regimen ensures that in addition to the many manipulations and operations with my guns, I get the following fundamental reps:

Manipulation X Per Week X Per Year
Safely Draw / Re-holster 90 4,500
Safely Pick Up 150 7,500
Safely Load / Unload 80 4,000
Safely Exchange Mags 80 4,000

Even with this weekly regimen it took me several months before I began to be consistent in my safe handling of firearms. I was almost always thinking about being safe, but it took quite a while for my reactions and unconscious responses to become habitually safe. Even now, when I encounter some unexpected manipulation (first time with a pistol with an odd slide lock location, etc.), I might lapse momentarily and find I have pointed the muzzle at a wall or something else I don’t want to destroy. So I practice regularly.

The four rules of gun safety are not hard. They’re not difficult to grasp or understand or put into practice, but they can’t be learned intellectually; they’re entirely dependent upon unconscious physical habit. When you don’t have those habits deeply ingrained through a great deal of continuing practice manipulating and using firearms according to those four rules, you are not safe.

Here’s a group of people breaking at least 3 of the 4 rules of gun safety:

an unsafe group

This photo is from Chariot India travel company, Notice the unconscious but deadly gun safety violations: the standing woman with her finger on the trigger, and pointed in the direction of the seated women; the seated woman pointing her pistol directly at her partner seated beside her. Via Great Ads

It’s all fun and games until your girlfriend puts her finger on the trigger:

Robertson

Here is John Luke Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame) and friends with their firearms. Notice the girl has her finger on the trigger. Also, John Luke has his muzzle dangerously in the vicinity of the girl’s head. Safety fail in a happy, distracted moment.