All Guns are Always Loaded

If you’ve been shooting for any length of time at all, you’ve doubtless had the Four Safety Rules drummed into your head over and over. And rule number one is simple: All guns are always loaded.

By which we mean, of course, that we should always treat all guns as though they’re loaded until we personally have verified that they aren’t, and that we should check them again if they’re out of our direct control and observation for even a second.

I’ve noticed a trend that some people seem to think their level of experience with guns exempts them from these safety rules. I’ve come across two examples in the past day of why this is not so, and I’d like to look at them from the standpoint of how we can be safer with our guns and prevent needless, stupid tragedies.

First, from Fort Hood, TX, comes a report of a soldier who was reportedly trying to scare a friend – to cure his hiccups, of all things. He allegedly did so by pointing a pistol, which he said he thought was loaded with “dummy rounds” (I presume the newspaper means Simunitions or similar), at his head and pulling the trigger. Unfortunately for both soldiers, the gun was loaded with live ammunition, the friend no longer has the hiccups because he’s dead, and the shooter is facing manslaughter charges.

What went wrong here? Apart from the obvious violation of Safety Rule #1, the newspaper article reports that both men had been drinking before the incident. Although I disagree with the laws of some states that prohibit carrying concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol – after all, you’re just as likely to need to defend yourself there as anyplace else – this is a good example of why handling guns when you’ve been consuming alcohol might not be the best idea unless a self-defense situation forces you to.

The second incident of the day comes from The Truth About Guns, which reports on an individual who unleashed a negligent discharge during a CCW class, after making a big deal about how he was such an experienced shooter that the safety rules don’t apply to him and he shouldn’t have to listen to the class about them. He then compounded the mistake by ignoring the RSO’s instructions for several tense moments, after which the gun was made safe and he was ejected from the course.

Lessons learned? Dangerous behavior is dangerous whether you’re inexperienced and thereby ignorant of good safety practices or whether you’re experienced and arrogant. The reason why we always treat all guns as loaded is because then we won’t be surprised the one time a gun we think is unloaded turns out not to be. That’s why, even if I see someone clear a handgun and lock the slide back before handing it to me, I’ll check it again myself – with eyes and a finger in the chamber – to make sure. I won’t even consciously muzzle someone with a blue gun, because safety is all about good habits.

Being safe with guns isn’t particularly difficult, I think. Safety just requires mindfulness and the routine of ALWAYS treating the weapons we handle in a way that’s safe. ALWAYS treat all guns as loaded, and you won’t be surprised when they aren’t. It may feel stupid, particularly with a blue gun or one you know is unloaded. But you know what? I’d much rather feel stupid for pretending a blue gun is loaded than feel stupid because I’m explaining to the police how I accidentally shot someone when I knew better.

Photo credit: stock.xchng


  1. I think you are right. The more experienced people get with guns, the more they think that safety is boring and that they don’t need it as much. I think the other is true. The more we use guns and the better we get the more important safety is.

    When we first start shooting the gun is never loaded except when we are shooting and there is generally someone there to remind us and help us with safety. As we progress we start reloading with a round still in the camber, we start holstering and drawing a live weapon, then we start moving around and shooting, then we start shooting around things. Then we start learning other things like how to handle someone in our line of fire or pulling someone to safety while we are firing. From there we even go into team tactics where lots of people are moving around and shooting guns at the same time in the same space.

    As we get more and more familiar with guns and our skills improves and we do more things, we need to focus more on safety, not less.

    • I think this is true – when something is familiar, it’s easier to go on autopilot and not be as mindful as we might otherwise be. I remember getting a strange look at a training class once when I suddenly took two giant steps back from someone who was muzzling me with a blue gun, and I’ve gotten funny looks for moving a friend’s children’s toy guns so they weren’t pointing at people. I’d rather deal with strange looks than tragedy any day of the week, though.

  2. “we should always treat all guns as though they’re loaded until we personally have verified that they aren’t, and that we should check them again if they’re out of our direct control and observation for even a second.

    One thing I emphasize to students, and practice myself religiously… The gun is ALWAYS treated as loaded, even when I have checked and rechecked. And the other two rules STILL apply, regardless. “Knowing” the gun is unloaded never gives me license to point it at anyone.

    The reason for this, aside from the obvious, is the fact that we are training our “muscle memory” by adhering to the rules ALL the time. The better we can do that, the less chance of a momentary lapse becoming dangerous or even fatal.

    For example, even when I have a gun disassembled on the table, if the muzzle covers me or another person I THINK ABOUT IT… I am always AWARE of where that muzzle is pointing, no matter the circumstance. That doesn’t mean someone needs to be paranoid or fearful, just aware. All the time, every time.

    Same with putting the finger on the trigger. Every time, all the time. Aware…

    • Agreed – about the only time I relax (a little) about where a muzzle is pointing is when I’ve field-stripped a gun for cleaning and the barrel and firing pin are physically separated from one another. And even then, all ammo gets removed from the room before cleaning a gun. And even then, I try not to muzzle anyone…

      It’s sort of an extension of our Condition Yellow mindset – not paranoia, but constant awareness and attentiveness. That single moment of inattention is, far too often, the antecedent to a tragedy.

  3. I hound my students all the time not to become complacent. It’s just too easy for something to “accidentally” happen. I give them examples of police officers who shoot themselves after working with guns day in and day out…when you become familiar with something, it’s easy to “forget” how dangerous it can be.

    I admit it – I judge people. If I don’t like they way they handle a gun, such as clearing it before handing it over or checking it after I’ve cleared it, I’m never going to the range with them. This includes friends and family members.

    • Yup, me too. I have a good friend I don’t shoot with anymore because of the way he’s handled guns when I was around.

      Safety is just too important to take for granted.

  4. Jessica says:

    Just a note, when referring to “dummy rounds” they’re referring to snap caps, or blanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: