Rule One declares “All guns are always loaded”.
For some, the thought that they may not be is heresy. For others, the thought that all guns are always loaded is ludicrous.
Is a pistol loaded with the magazine out and the slide locked back? Most ranges stipulate a pistol laying on a table in such a fashion, where the Range Officer can see an empty chamber, is the only one safe enough to venture down range from. Likewise, a revolver with the cylinder swung out is considered to be a safe weapon. When the Range Officer is able to see daylight through all six chambers of a revolver, is it loaded? Is a pistol that is field stripped with the slide sent off to Novaks for new sights loaded? These are extremes, but Rule One does state that All guns are always loaded.
“There are no exceptions. Do not pretend that this is true. Some people and organizations take this rule and weaken it; e.g. “Treat all guns as if they were loaded.” Unfortunately, the “as if” compromises the directness of the statement by implying that they are unloaded, but we will treat them as though they are loaded. No good! Safety rules must be worded forcefully so that they are never treated lightly or reduced to partial compliance.
All guns are always loaded. Period!
This must be your mindset. If someone hands you a firearm and says, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” you do not dare believe him. You need not be impolite, but check it yourself. Remember, there are no accidents, only negligent acts. Check it. Do not let yourself fall prey to a situation where you might feel compelled to squeal, “I didn’t know it was loaded!”
Yet even Colonel Cooper, the founder of Gunsite and the modern technique of combat handgunnery allowed himself to be photographed violating multiple rules, of which he is the author! He later expressed regret for allowing a reporter to take that photo, and said it gave him a queasy feeling each time he saw it.
So at what point do you agree that a gun is unloaded? Do you constantly check your guns again and again like an obsessive compulsive checking his zipper? Do you get upset if the mailman leaves a package containing a new Kart 1911 barrel with the muzzle pointing in the wrong direction? Everyone who is going to be around guns has to reach a point where they can agree that a gun is safe.
I recall a time when I was newly married. Several friends and I were sitting around a table discussing a friend’s new pistol. Each time one of us picked up the pistol, we press checked it, talked a bit while maintaining muzzle discipline, and put it back down. The conversation remained cheerful until my wife decided to clear the table to prepare for dinner. She had recently been taught by me to always check that chamber. She picked up that pistol, pulled back the slide, and was horrified to see a live round pop out. “It’s loaded!” she shrieked.
“Yeah honey, it’s been loaded all day.” I replied. Everyone at the table knew the pistol was loaded. Everyone had checked it for themselves as soon as they laid a hand on it. Nobody was surprised because we all expected it to be loaded. Only my wife was surprised, because she assumed it must not have been loaded after so many people had checked it. Thankfully, she checked it herself.
So, here is my way. I consider all guns to be loaded until I, myself, have personally checked them. If that gun leaves my hand, I check it again when I pick it up. If I have been holding the gun and became distracted, I check it again. If that gun has been sitting locked in my safe, I check it again when I pick it up. If that gun has been in my holster all day, I check it again when I put it away.
The proper way to check a pistol is to drop the magazine, lock back the slide, and look into the chamber. Some people, including myself, will even place a finger into that empty chamber, as the tactile sense helps cement the memory of an empty chamber in the mind. For a hand ejector type revolver, the cylinder must be swung out and each chamber inspected. On a single action revolver, the gate must be opened and the cylinder spun around. A break top revolver must have the top opened. A shotgun requires that the chamber be opened and the chamber and the magazine checked. A bolt action rifle requires the bolt to be open. An automatic rifle requires the magazine removed and the bolt to be locked back. If I am handed a weapon that I do not know how to make safe, I do not accept it, unless the person handing it to me knows nothing about the safe handling of firearms. In those circumstances, and they do occur, I figure the gun is safer in my hands than theirs.
If I have just checked a gun’s chamber, verified it to be empty, and it has not left my hands, I consider it safe. Notice…..Not unloaded, but safe. Not safe to point at anything and everything, but safe enough to dry fire. Safe enough to check the bore. Safe enough to carry out the many tasks a gun owner must sometimes perform that violate the four rules.
In the end, like Colonel Cooper says, what the gun handler wants is to never have to say “I didn’t know it was loaded.” To prevent that from occuring, you must know what you are holding. To know what you are holding, you must check the chamber yourself. Failure to do so could alter your life forever.