Joel Moysuh

What are the 4 Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety?

There’s something inside of all of us that rolls its eyes at the title above. ‘Listen,’ it says. ‘I’m an adult. I’m not about to do anything careless.’ But overlooking safety standards is the very definition of carelessness. We’ve invested our precious time learning what armorer’s tools work best for us. We know when to save money on pricey bore finishing tools and go with barrel laps instead. With all the minutia we’ve learned, we’ve got to make room for some basic safety protocols.

Rule 1: Never point your firearms at anything you do not wish to destroy.

We say anything, because with a firearm, you can destroy anything of value to you or others. While we obviously know that it’s a must to keep the barrel pointed away from everyone with a pulse, it may not be the first thing on our minds if we’re doing maintenance or a repair. Repairing the pitting in a shotgun barrel, for example, is one case in which it can be really tempting to ignore the first rule of gun safety. A good bore light and bore camera help in these situations and as ridiculous as it may seem, a hand mirror or a phone on a selfie stick can be a great way to get that extra little bit of visibility we need confirmation of how the process is going. The risk, no matter how seemingly small, just isn’t worth the reward. See more on how to examine the bore of a rifle here. There are situations where a gunsmith will have to look down a barrel, however if all the proper checks are done, it reduces that risk exponentially. Always remember to check both visually and tactilely to ensure those guns are unloaded.

Rule 2: Always treat a firearm as if it’s loaded.

You know those video games where you suddenly find your character respawning somewhere because you took a wrong turn? You were probably equipped and ready, but it’s always that one little thing you didn’t see that does you in. If you’ve cleared a firearm, it’s natural to have some peace of mind about its safety- but just like that brain-eating video game zombie that was hiding around the corner, it’s what you don’t see that can really cause problems.

If a firearm has a broken extractor, ejector, or other fouling, the chamber may not be empty- even if it appears so. To make sure that nothing has been re-fed into the chamber, always make sure that you’ve first removed the magazine and visually confirmed that the chamber is empty before clearing. And no matter how empty it looks, always assume that, just like that brain-eating zombie, a bullet can respawn somewhere that you might not be looking. It is also a good idea, while working on firearms, to not have live ammo around your workbench, just in case.

Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to fire.

Neither the safety nor the trigger guard will ever be as effective as your own mindfulness. Your number one safety is your own trigger finger. You may have cheetah-like reflexes that put any superhero to shame, but involuntary reflexes are….you know, involuntary. For example, when a person perceives a cause for warning or impact, there can be what’s called a fencing response. You can see this in contact sports when someone’s arms or legs are still flexing in the air moments after they’ve been knocked to the ground. Now, there aren’t too many professional quarterbacks or boxers out there who have their sights set on gunsmiths), but as the saying goes, expect the unexpected.

Calamities like cardiac arrest, loss of footing, a light trigger pull when you get bumped, or kids and pets having way too much fun can cause all kinds of unexpected results. Anything that can surprise you can also cause you to act defensively, and that can mean negligently discharging a weapon. If you’re not readying yourself to fire, make it as difficult as you can for your gun to negligently discharge.

In the majority of modern firearms, the only way for a gun to fire is to pull the trigger, so keeping your finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard will go a long way.

Rule 4: Always be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.

I remember seeing a post from a very unfortunate forum user who hadn’t heeded any of the rules above. He found himself with a hole in his living room wall made by the SKS he held in his very surprised and trembling hands. That magic bullet could have gone anywhere and done unspeakable damage, but luckily for him, an innocent tree in his backyard stopped the bullet and became the one and only causality of his mistake. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the living room wall in question was not intended to be his target. But collateral damage is always a possibility, and even if you’ve got the education to do physics calculations on the fly, be ready to be mistaken.

Remember, Hollywood movie magic is not real and bullets do not stop when they strike a target.

Whether it’s the body of an 800 lb. elk or an unsuspecting living room wall, a target may not be enough to stop a bullet. And just because a shooter knows what’s immediately beyond a target, it’s always a best practice to anticipate anything that could suddenly change. The world is a not steady, unmoving theatre for shooters, and until you find yourself with some time-stopping powers like in The Matrix, it never will be. Vehicles, animals, and even your fellow person can emerge unexpectedly- just like our aforementioned brain-eating video game zombie. So be mindful. It’ll make you a safer gunsmith, and a more appetizing meal prospect for brain-eating zombies.


By: Lanna Perkins, Education Writer

What are the 4 Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety?