All guns are always loaded

But some guns are loaded-loaded. One of the interesting side effects of working in the firearms industry and constantly being around guns is how Rule 1 (all guns are always loaded) gets treated in different situations. For example, in my immediate area right now there is one loaded gun (my carry gun) and 12 guns that I know for a fact aren’t loaded. Now, does that mean I’m going to pick up those unloaded guns and not check them first to make sure they’re unloaded? Of course not.

This can actually lead to an important discussion of the four rules though. Yes, we want to treat all guns like they’re always loaded, but we also have to acknowledge that some guns really aren’t loaded. I know that the gun I’m dry firing with isn’t loaded, just like you know that the gun in your safe isn’t loaded. But we preserve the intent of the first rule by visually and manually guaranteeing that any gun we handle is unloaded. Here’s an example from real life – I’m dry firing a gun in the office. I get done, and I pass it to Shelley for her to dry fire. Once she gets it, the first thing she does is press check it to make sure it’s not loaded.

Interestingly, it would appear that the original intent behind rule 1 was to actually keep your gun loaded at all times to discourage casual gun handling. That seems pretty extreme, but then again the only time I unload my carry guns is to dry fire with them, so in many ways it makes sense. Ultimately, dogmatically shouting “ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED” or “RULE 1” doesn’t do us any good, and neither does having a casual attitude towards loaded guns. If I could re-write Rule 1, I’d want it to say “treat all guns like they’re loaded until you’ve visually and physically verified they aren’t.” But that’s kind of wordy and doesn’t fit on a 3×5 card as easily as “All guns are always loaded.”


  1. Good stuff. Here’s another little piece of wisdom I picked up along the road long ago and far away…Don’t decide to “dry” fire practice with an “unloaded” gun if you’ve been drinking.

  2. I very much prefer rule 1 as being “always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction”. Clear, concise, and doesn’t take any explaining. You can have a loaded gun and still point it at someone or something. Still pretty unnerving to have someone point a gun at you even if the bolt or slide is open!

  3. my rule #1 is treat all guns as loaded until verified (ie- you check for yourself).

  4. Like Dan my instructor team and I always teach the NRA version – Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This covers all states of “loaded-ness”

  5. All my guns are always loaded and everybody in my family knows it. Taking my kid to Hunter’s Ed was a real eye opener for him. Lots of the kids around him didn’t really believe that rule. He sure does.

    Best part about hunter’s ed? He asked me about the no guns signs at school. I said that they actually meant to say no bad people. He giggled and giggled and giggled.

  6. Yesterday, I opened the safe and pulled out Kimber Officer’s model. By force of habit, I racked the slide ….. SURPRISE! …. out popped a round. I had left the weapon loaded when I stored it. A very chastening reminder .

  7. This is why I prefer the NRA 3 safety rules over Coopers rules. The NRA rules are valid for all firearms:

    1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
    2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
    3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

  8. I think a better way to say it is this: We follow the other three rules regardless of what state we think the gun is in at a given moment. There is not a separate standard for guns we think are unloaded. Dry fire has to be conducted in such a way that if it “goes wet,” no one dies.

  9. Laughingdog –

    The NRA rules work better for a sporting gun than a defensive one.

    Because once I load a defensive weapon, it should STAY loaded until I NEED it unloaded, to reduce the opportunities for an Unintended Loud Noise caused by Unnecessary Administrative Handling. When I take off my carry pistol, it gets put away loaded. When I pick it up to put it on, I check to make sure it is still loaded.

    And when I pull a non-carry gun out, I assume IT is loaded, too, even though THOSE guns do not get put away loaded. Even the muzzle loaders get rammed to make sure they are cleared before I go any farther with them.

    Because “unloaded” guns very often ARE NOT — the Ammo Fairy is real, and that bitch HATES YOU. {grin} (Seriously, I have run across guns in people’s homes that were loaded and leaning in a corner or the back of a closet for DECADES, that everyone thought were unloaded.)

    Note that the three NRA rules only cover TWO of the FOUR points of the old Jeff Cooper “rules”:

    NRA Rule 1 — Covered by Cooper (“Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”)

    NRA Rule 2 — Covered by Cooper (“Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to fire.”)

    NRA Rule 3 — WEAKER than Cooper’s “rule” (“All guns are always loaded.”) If you treat every gun as “loaded”, it ENHANCES safety, even if the gun is unloaded. If you “know” the gun is “unloaded” because you aren’t ready to use it, you are far more likely to surpise yourself (results hopefully limited to your embarassment, minor hearing damage, and the cost of paint and spackle).

    NOT COVERED BY NRA’s 3 rules, but covered by Cooper — “Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.” (Kind of covered by NRA rule 1, but not really — the NRA rule doesn’t explicitly point out that bullets travel THROUGH and PAST targets.)

    Cooper didn’t draft his rules in a vacuum — he STARTED with the NRA rules as a base, and developed his four rules to cover what he saw as chinks in the NRA rules. Nor were they supposed to be taken as literal truth, they are a memory device to remind you to not do stupid stuff.

  10. Simply add “Assume…” to the beginning of the rule, and all is well.

    (Until some internet tough guy takes umbrage with assumptions…)

  11. Rule #1 is Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. That way, loaded or not, fired or not, no harm, no foul. May have to change undies, but no one/thing gets killed/damaged. “All guns are always loaded” is an accident waiting to happen because we all KNOW that all guns are not always loaded. Playing the mental gymnastics game of loaded/unloaded will sooner or later catch you when you “know it’s not loaded” when it *really is*. There are two kinds of gun handlers: those who have had an ND and those who will. Proper muzzle discipline takes care of the ‘oops’ times.

    All the above being said, we should always consider all guns as being loaded, which still points back to Rule #1.

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