Rule 1 – All guns are always loaded.
This rule has probably generated the most dissension among gun owners than anything else, including the “9mm versus .45ACP” debate. Some don’t even include it as a rule, arguing that, if the other rules are followed, it becomes moot.
However, it can be argued that unloaded guns cause more “accidental” shootings than anything else in the shooting world. Of course, what really happened is that guns that were assumed to be unloaded did what loaded guns are designed to do when the trigger is pulled. And, since no care was taken about which direction the gun was pointed, the result, many times, is tragic.
A loaded gun is a deadly weapon. To treat it as anything else is negligent and foolish.
But the argument is made that not all guns are loaded. Examples would include guns at a “cold” range, such as at a competition. In this case, guns are only loaded once the competitor is on the firing line, and then only at the direction of the Range Officer or Safety Officer.
The point of this rule, though, is to prevent the negligent discharge of a gun that was assumed to be unloaded, but really wasn’t. As with many things, Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper said it best in his final version of Rule 1:
All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
If we treat all guns as if they are loaded, then we won’t point them at anything we don’t want to destroy, and we won’t put our fingers on the trigger until we are ready to shoot.
It’s a mindset that we have to develop, that is part of the overall safety mindset – that our gun is a powerful tool, which we must control and direct at all times.
Certainly one of the scariest and most frustrating experiences is to be around someone who has no concept of gun safety, and insists on waving it around or putting their fingers on the trigger. I have no qualms about asking someone politely to treat the gun as if it were loaded, and please stop that. It is usually at a gun show or gun store. If they get upset about my request, I take myself and my business elsewhere.
Of course, at a range or in my home is another issue. I try to be as nice as I can, but nothing pulls the barium rods out of my nuclear asshole reactor quicker.
Once, when my son was perhaps 8 or 9 years old, we were getting the BB guns out for a shooting session. We put on our safety glasses, and I took down the trusty Red Ryder Range Model Lever Action Carbine (without a compass in the stock, or this thing that tells time), and I tilted it back and forth to make sure there were no BBs in the action.
I handed it to my son, and asked, “Is that loaded?”
Wrong answer. The guns went back up, to be brought out another day.
He’s never forgotten that lesson. And he knows every gun is loaded, even if there might not be any ammunition in it.