These rules were developed by weapons authority and author Jeff Cooper, Lt. Col. USMC (ret), and are considered by many to be the simplest and most useful rules for safe firearm handling. These rules were transcribed from his book, The Art of the Rifle, Paladin Press 1997.

1. All guns are always loaded.

An unloaded gun is useless, and no one should ever assume that any piece he may see or touch is not ready to fire. Would that we would never again hear the plaintive wail, "I didn't know it was loaded!" Of course, it was loaded. That is why it exists. Treat it so!

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.

When you point a weapon, you may not always actually intend to destroy, but you must be emotionally willing to do so. The fact that the piece is not loaded does not alter this. See Rule 1.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

Guns do not "go off" by themselves. Somebody fires them. The competent shooter keeps his finger straight and outside the trigger guard until he verifies his sight picture. Violation of Rule 3 is responsible for about 80 percent of firearms mishaps.

4. Be sure of your target.

Never shoot at anything that you have not identified. Never shoot at a shadow or a sound or a silhouette or anything that you cannot see clearly. Also make sure of what is behind and beyond your target that a bullet may penetrate completely.

These are the four general rules of gun safety. They apply always: while you are on and off the range, at home, in transit, hunting, or fighting. In studying them, you will see that if they were always observed by all people at all times there could be no such thing as a "firearms accident." As to that, it may be proper to insist that there is no such thing as a firearms accident - only negligence.

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