Gun Safety – 4 Rules That Can Save Your Life

By Phillip Marais

Let’s face it, guns are fun. It’s what brought many of us to guns in the first place. Even some of the guys that bought guns for the sole purpose of self-defence will admit that they enjoy a range visit.

There is something immensely satisfying about hitting the tiniest of targets, a challenging distance away, by doing something from way over here. All the effort of practice and training culminating in that one successful shot.

Whether you hunt, participate in action pistol shooting, three-gun, long-range shooting or just go the range for recreation, enjoyment is an element of it. And very often, some adrenaline too.

Accidents are not fun.

Nearly all of us can recite the four rules of gun safety by heart. If you can’t, I’d be very surprised but here they are again, as per Col. Jeff Cooper, and slightly paraphrased:

  1. Treat all guns as if they are loaded;
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire;
  3. Never let you muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

The rules are somewhat supportive of each other, in that if you screw up one, adherence to the others should prevent tragedy.

Lip service to these rules is easy. And unfortunately, far too common.

Being involved in sport shooting as safety officer and doing my bit in training new joiners to the sport, I have had my fair share of encounters with those less-inclined to abide by these rules. Mostly, thank heavens, inadvertently and not intentionally.

Gun safety is no joke. Accidents, by their very nature, happen before you can react to them and with firearms the results are often devastating.

I have two personal anecdotes to share:

I was awoken one night by a fairly strange but loud noise in the house, followed immediately by the sound of glass breaking. The conclusion to be drawn from this was easy: There is somebody in my house that shouldn’t be. Tiptoeing with my firearm at the ready to see what the commotion is, I pray like crazy that whatever it was has left so that I am not forced into a situation where shooting is necessary. Opening the door with my left hand, fully expecting to encounter an armed individual on the other side, I am suddenly aware that I subconsciously kept my finger off the trigger, and kept the muzzle in such a direction as to not cover my left hand as I open the door. I was glad for the safety issues ingrained through sport shooting. Oh, the noise was a painting that fell onto the wine rack, breaking a bottle in the process. Not shooting necessary, to my everlasting relief.

Recently I was on a somewhat challenging hunt, which culminated in fairly frustrating circumstances that changed very suddenly from “voorsit” to a shot on a blesbuck at roughly 30 meters, shooting offhand. The incredibly quick change of circumstances, the need to adapt and the stakes of not wanting to wound an animal resulted in a noticeable adrenaline dump. As always I wanted to slit the throat as quickly as possible, and yet through the adrenaline I stopped, breathed, unloaded the rifle and checked that the chamber is cleared. While doing this I realised how easy it would have been to forego this step and proceed to the downed animal first. (This is not advice, I realise that if a follow-up shot was needed as I approached the animal I would have been caught on the back-foot. I’m merely sharing the experience.)

I’m sharing this as I realise that while on the range, in ideal, relaxed circumstances, it may be very easy to follow the four rules of gun safety.

While dealing with the effects of tunnel vision and adrenaline, or being distracted by your mates as you get onto the back of the bakkie, or excited at the magnificent shot you just made, it may not be as easy to follow. It needs to be at the forefront of your mind, the entire time.

There is no way to achieve this other than by absolute disciplined practice. Check what you are doing whenever you handle a firearm. Even when cleaning it, you are sure it is unloaded, but where is your trigger finger? Along the side, outside the trigger guard, or does it slip habitually to the trigger? Where do you point the muzzle? Are you fiddling with your “unloaded” handgun behind the shooting line while your mate is shooting? It may seem innocent, but accidents can be final.

Nobody is going to look at you funny if you’re the one in the shooting party that brings everybody back to reality and insisting on checking that chambers are empty and that guns are handled safely. And if they do, they can get stuffed.

The old saying: “Die duiwel laai daai ding” is not to shift blame; it’s an indication of how easy it is to forget that you, yourself, loaded the gun.

Very recently we read of a tragic incident in the Eastern Cape whereby a hunting rifle was apparently dropped, shooting and killing a lady in the company.

Do not become a statistic. Do not become someone that has to live with their conscience for the rest of their lives, knowing that they could have done more to prevent tragedy.

Live the four rules, without exception.

Phillip is a forum moderator, sport shooter and general know-it-all. Coming from a legal background, he fancies himself knowledgeable on gun rights. He detests generalisations, and thinks that Glock is better than CZ

3 thoughts on “Gun Safety – 4 Rules That Can Save Your Life

  1. I grew up with “The Devil loads the gun.”

    The meaning was simple – never trust it to be unloaded, even if you think you unloaded it yourself. The rules flow naturally from there.


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