Safety and Training

All Guns are NOT Loaded

Man firing a gun out of a car window at a knife wielding attacker

If you have heard them once, you have heard them 1000 times: the Three Rules of Gun Safety. In fact, originally there were 10. Written by Col. Cooper, their numbers have been reduced over the years for ease of remembering them. But, confusingly, a quick look online and you will find lots more than three rules and a quite a few variations of them to boot.

Man firing a gun out of a car window at a knife wielding attacker
Force-on-force training with real firearms can only be done after all parties redundantly confirm the gun is unloaded and the gun handler does not have immediate access to ammunition where the gun could be loaded.

One pet peeve of mine is the rule that states, “All guns are loaded.” The concept is that you should treat an unloaded gun the same way that you treat a loaded gun. And you should—but not in all cases! It’s amazing to see the large number of accidental shootings with “unloaded” guns by owners who thought they could be reckless with what they thought was an unloaded gun.

While the intent is good, the problem with the rule, as written, is that it is demonstratively false. As an example, my defense guns are loaded, but the guns in my storage safe are, in fact, not loaded. I will, however, treat them as if they were loaded when I remove them and first handle them.

Taking that into account, and with a goal to make the rule more sensible, many shooters and instructors have adapted the rule to read, “Treat all guns as if they are loaded.” While that makes it more appropriate than the original connotation, I can’t dry fire or clean my guns if I treat them as if they are loaded.

The version of the rule that I like the best is “Treat all guns as if they are loaded, unless redundantly proven otherwise, and done for a specific purpose.” Finally! That one works for all occasions.

Shooters should treat guns as if they were loaded, meaning, don’t put your finger on the trigger, and don’t point them at anything that you are not willing to destroy. When it comes to a specific purpose, such as dry firing, cleaning a pistol, or storage, here’s the procedure for unloading:

  1. Remove the magazine, and then rack the slide to empty the chamber.
  2. Confirm the firearm is unloaded. This is done by looking at the chamber to visually confirm that it is empty.
    1. To be redundant, double check with a finger that the magazine is removed.
    2. Look at the chamber again to confirm it is empty.
    3. Put a finger in the chamber to confirm that it’s empty yet again.

Only then can you point it in a safe direction and pull the trigger if needed or dry fire and clean it.

Accidents happen because of an assumption that a gun was unloaded, and a shooter was too lazy to confirm whether it was loaded. Follow the adapted rule and you will always be safe.

Do you have a personal mantra about handling firearms, treating all guns of they were loaded etc? Share your personal mantra or assessment of the author’s message in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (26)

  1. Yes to of that. However, firearms do not discharge unless the trigger is pulled. The redundant clearing drill you mention is excessive, therefore perfect.

  2. The point of this article is to clarify a commonly used statement, but then ends with what I hold to be the greatest piece of misinformation spread about guns. Why do people who talk about safety still use the term “accident”? It is not an accident if you pull the trigger and the gun fires. Accident implies that there were no reasonable actions that could have been taken to prevent this from occuring. Accident is the term used when people try to absolve themselves of responsibility for what happened. Call it “unintentionally” if you want to be nice. I call it negligent, because it makes me truely aware that my actions have consequences. Whether it’s me or someone else holding my gun I never relinquish the responsibility of everything that happens with that gun. To me responsible ownership begins when you do away with accepting anything is an accident.

    1. Correct, Jeff, an “accident” is tripping while carrying a firearm. Tripping while having your finger on the trigger and shooting the firearm is not an “accident”!

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