Is that gun loaded? Why are you checking to see if it is?

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In the comments to last week’s post regarding safety rules, someone asked why checking the condition of a firearm is never listed in any rules. It seems logical enough – why not check the condition of a gun when you pick it up?

I’d like you to think about that for a minute – really think: why are you checking it?

If you plan to shoot it immediately, I can understand wanting to make certain that it was loaded. If you were going to disassemble it for cleaning, or do dryfire, or some other specific task that would require it to be sans ammunition, I understand why you’d want to verify that it was unloaded. But checking just to be checking? I’m not sure that it keeps anyone safer.

Other than those obvious examples, I can’t come up with a good reason for someone to obsess about the load condition of a gun – unless it’s because, consciously or unconsciously, they want or plan to do something unsafe.

Look at it this way: why are you verifying the condition if you’re just going to pretend it’s loaded anyhow? The answer seems to be quite obvious: because you’re not really going to treat it as though it’s loaded, and the reason you’re not going to is because, deep down, you want to do something that you know isn’t all that safe.

When I’m handed a gun, unless I’m going to do something that requires a particular state, I don’t feel a need to immediate check it. Why? Because I treat all guns to the same standard *:

Never point a gun – any gun, loaded or unloaded – at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

I’m not going to point that gun at anything I’m not willing to shoot, regardless of whether it’s loaded; I’m not going to have my finger on the trigger, either, loaded or not. I don’t make exceptions, because the Three Commandments neither contain nor allow exceptions. That is why they are superior to any form of the existing “Four Rules.”

There’s yet another dynamic at work, which I’ve observed over the years with a wide variety of people. Those who do the habitual check often display an absolutely frightening tendency: after they’ve checked the gun, they relax. Visibly. You can see the changes in their body language and facial expressions, showing that they are now at ease – and less vigilant – with that firearm.

I’ve seen this with new gun owners, and I’ve seen it with the most experienced instructors. I’ve seen it with combat vets and with gunsmiths, with gunstore jockeys and seasoned competitive shooters. People check the gun, see that it’s empty, and drop their guard. The situation is obvious to anyone who has the courage to look for the signs. You can almost hear them thinking: “don’t worry, it’s not loaded!”

(Of course, not every single person does this – but you’d be surprised, when you start looking, how large the percentage is and how it cuts across all levels of experience.)

When people are handling firearms, I want to see them completely engaged. Dropping one’s guard because the gun has been verified as empty is the genesis of negligent discharges. Never become complacent – the consequences are simply too great.

-=[ Grant ]=-

* – since this article originally appeared, I’ve modified my safety rules:

1) Always keep the muzzle pointed in a generally safe direction as much as possible.
2) Always keep your finger outside of the triggerguard except when you’re actually shooting.
3) Always remember that you’re in charge of a device that can kill you or someone else. Treat it that way.

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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