Safety Rules In Depth – Rule 3

Is that what how they taught you?


RULE 3 – Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target.

This would seem as straightforward a gun rule as one could imagine. Since the way to make a gun fire is to pull the trigger, if you don’t want to shoot something, don’t touch the trigger.

Sadly, even a casual search of news reports and videos on Youtube show this to be the most violated safety rule of all.*

“But Rooster,” you say, “we see it all the time. What about when someone drops a gun, and it goes off?” After all, in movies or on TV, if you drop a gun, it goes off. If you drop a machine gun, it fires until the clip magazine is exhausted.



Fortunately, that image is a load of steaming dung, straight from my old horse Bo.

The design of modern guns has advanced to the point where the only way to get them to fire is to pull the trigger. They won’t fire if you drop them, or hit them, or kick them. They don’t “go off.”

Yes, you will read in news reports that a dropped gun fired – Google it yourself – but when you read those reports, you find one of two things present. First, the gun involved is some kind of older gun, like a derringer or Colt SAA. Yes, older guns like the Colt Single Action Army will fire if the hammer is struck from the outside. Even some older 1911’s will fire, unless the firing pin has been replaced with a lighter version.

The second possibility is the person involved is lying or has no idea what they are talking about. That”s because the trigger was pulled. Period.


It follows then that the way to prevent guns from firing except when you want them to fire is not to pull the trigger. For the shooter, this means keeping your finger off the trigger until you are sure the gun is pointed at what you wish to shoot.

Now, since positive reinforcement is much better at altering behavior than negative reinforcement, let’s turn that around.

RULE 3 – When the gun is aimed at the intended target, then it’s safe to put your finger on the trigger.

Until then, put your finger on the frame alongside the trigger. For instance, find a spot like the front of the trigger guard, or the slide lock, as a tactile reference, like this:

Rule 3 – using the trigger guard or slide stop as tactile references

Or, you can find other tactile references. Then, train yourself to use them.

What about resting your finger lightly on the trigger, like Jack Bauer, until you’re ready to shoot?

Sadly, when we humans are startled, we experience a flinch reflex, and we will pull the trigger. And the gun will fire. (And we will tell the newspaper reporter “The gun just went off.” And they will know we are lying. And they will print it any way.)

So, train yourself to keep your finger off the trigger, and index your finger somewhere else. And practice it.


And, for heaven’s sake, ignore the people in the movies or on TV.



* tied with Rule 1 and Rule 2.