Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

NRA’s Three Rules

  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.

I occasionally take non-shooters to the range for their first experience with firearms. Over time, I’ve tended toward a similar sequence of presenting things but knowing the Bullseye community’s safety record, I decided to ask for their input as well. The following procedure benefits from the excellent suggestions of Fred, JC, Chuck, Sheral, Kent and George in the Bullseye-L email community, and from the shooters I meet on the line from whom I’ve learned many valuable and sometimes life-saving lessons.

Don’t let the number of steps in this procedure intimidate you. If you are shooting Bullseye, you probably know and do most of them already. The purpose of writing it down is to help you become conscious of these things so you can help new shooters learn them as well.

Remember, they are expecting you to keep them safe, teach them, and to help them have a fun experience. Note the order of those. It is significant.

And before getting into the steps, let me say that both the Instructor (that’s you) and the Range Safety Officer (again, that’s you) must continuously monitor the new shooter(s) until having a high degree of confidence that they are following all of the safety rules as well as the recommended handling procedures. That means you cannot do anything else — your full attention must be on the new shooters at all times. When a problem develops, as you and I know from experience that it will, the new shooters will start looking for you and, as they do, they will turn their body with that loaded gun in their hand. (See Jeff’s rule #2 and the NRA’s rule #1 — they’re about to violate it!)

With attentive individuals, I find I can usually handle two or three new shooters at one time but no more than that, and then only when they demonstrate they can understand and follow directions.

Finally and most importantly, you must be prepared to tell (command!) them to stop, and to then reach in, take the (loaded!) gun from the newbie, make it safe and then say, “This doesn’t seem to be your sport. Please sit down.” You must be prepared to do this no matter who the new shooter is. Family, title and physical size are irrelevant if someone can’t or won’t follow the safety rules.

So, here is the procedure I use. Note that, depending on the available time, we may only get to shoot one or two guns, not the complete set, but it will be in the sequence I’ve listed here. For young shooters, especially, keep the time to not much more than an hour and a (much) smaller number of different guns.

  • Before leaving for the range, clothing check. No open shoes (hot brass!). For the ladies, no exposed decoletage (exposed cleavage) — again, hot brass is the issue.
  • Safety lecture: Jeff Cooper’s four rules and the NRA’s three. I have them read all of Jeff’s four rules aloud. Then I have them read the NRA’s three rules aloud. And then I ask them to compare the two and tell me where they are different, and where they are the same. I then talk about the reasons for each rule, the common violations and what can happen, and then I have them read all the rules out loud again. For the newbie who thinks this is excessive, I add, “I’ve seen the best shooters in the world violate one or two of these through negligence, but because they were still following the rest, nobody was killed. We follow the rules or we don’t shoot.” (If a newbie doesn’t get serious and understand that this is deadly serious, he doesn’t shoot.)
  • At the range, the general rules thereof. Basically this is more safety-focused information. What is “the firing line” and what does it mean to be “hot” or “safe”. (Guns are visibly unloaded and must not be touched for any reason while the line is “safe”.)
  • And more safety: Eye and ear protection.
  • Gun handling and where to put your trigger finger 99% of the time (Jeff’s rule #3). I have a collection of pictures from magazines that show people holding guns with their trigger fingers outside of the trigger guard. This is a new idea to most non-shooters — keeping their finger off the trigger — and most newcomers need a lot of reinforcement to get used to this idea.
  • Where is the direction called “down range” that the muzzle is supposed to be pointed to at all times — that’s NRA safety rule #1 that’s not explicitly in Jeff’s list of four — and that’s why I teach both sets. (A “safe direction” is not into the concrete nor up through the roof. It is “down range” and into the berm.
  • What to do if something goes wrong: Freeze! Continue holding the gun and keep it pointed downrange. Wait for the Instructor to look and tell you what to do.
  • Instructor verifies the line is safe and is accompanied by newbie to post a target, preferably no further than 15 feet. Use a round target, not a man-shape — you want them thinking about and focused on the gun and what they are doing with their bodies and hands rather than what they are shooting at. (Leave the watermelons at home and save them for lunch or a “plinking” expedition.)
  • (Line goes hot.)
  • How to aim iron sights (explaining center, six o’clock and sub-six if appropriate to the gun they will shoot next). Also, what is “Kentucky windage”.
  • Note that, in the following, the newbie is permitted to “dry fire” each gun before trying a live round. (Where appropriate, take dry-firing plugs to facilitate this.)
  • A 22 caliber revolver is probably the best gun to begin with. It avoids the hot brass issues of automatics. Demonstrate how to load, grip — and where to put the thumbs, and then aim and fire, and finally unload. Demonstrate double action and then single action shooting. (I don’t have a 22 revolver [Oh dear, I need to buy another gun!] so I skip this and start shooters on my Ruger Mk III.)
  • Ruger Mk III (22 cal.) with iron sights operation (and how *this* gun’s sights are set up) and demonstration by Instructor. Note again where the thumbs go and why. (My 22s will make my thumb sore if I put it up behind the slide when firing. Don’t ask how I know. But I don’t know what the 1911s slide feels like, nor do I plan on finding out!)
  • Newbie loads one round, readies the weapon, aims (Instructor verifies all steps including that the newbie’s trigger finger moves onto the trigger now, not before, and that the thumbs are not directly behind the slide) and fires — newbie continues holding gun up, moves trigger finger out of the trigger guard and then puts the gun down. Newbie then loads many rounds and so forth. Finally, newbie makes the gun safe (including Empty Chamber Indicator — ECI).
  • Anything beyond this point is subject to your judgment and discretion. (Of course, so have all the steps up to this point as well. Remember, they are expecting you to keep them safe, to teach them, and to have fun — in that order.)
  • At some point and after the newcomer has shot several rounds, you may want to show them how to clear a jam or otherwise deal with some issue. This is the most likely time they will violate Jeff’s Rule #2 (and NRA #1) so BEWARE! Tell them that, before trying to clear a jam or make any adjustment, they must move their feet and body. The gun must stay pointing downrange at all times. (I imagine the muzzle to glued in that direction and I move my body around while I work on a gun to keep it that way.) Demonstrate standing at the line in firing position but then turn before attempting to manually cycle the slide. Keep the muzzle always pointed down range.
  • Newbie verifies the line is safe then puts up a new target.
  • Move up to a moderate center fire caliber such as 38 — but not a snubbie. Save that for after a 45 ACP 1911.
  • A 1911 “wad” gun (45 ACP) with red dot can be the next experience, similar to above.
  • Then, let them try a 1911 ball gun (45 ACP) with iron sights. If they fired the wad gun, you can skip most of the demonstration where it is the same but add, “You’ll need to hang onto this even more. Grip it hard.”
  • After 1911 ball and if the newbie is interested, then I’ll let them shoot a snubbie (38 or 357). Note that because of the tiny grip, I watch their preparation and firing of this gun as attentively as I did the very first one.
  • Free pistol (single shot 22, extremely light trigger) demonstration followed by newbie starts by dry-firing (typically by accident and sometimes into the bench, and sometimes more than once!) before proceeding to live ammunition.
  • At this point — and if they want to shoot more, then I let them shoot whatever they wish. But note that I’m still doing nothing but watching each of them. As the Instructor, you must remain alert for jams and unusual conditions because that is when they are most likely to violate one or more of the safety rules. The operative phrase, yelled very loudly, is “Everybody freeze”. Then I can tell them what to do and safely get to the one that needs help.
  • Time and inclination permitting, you can work in some air pistol shooting at the indoor range but, by this time, you’ll have spent half the day at the range. Some will say this is “too much” for a first time experience. You’ll need to be sensitive to your guests and not let your zeal overwhelm their stamina or interest.
  • On the drive home, I go over Jeff’s and the NRA’s rules one last time but do not point out any violations — if they happened, they know if and what they were even if you don’t. Rather, I want to leave the experience on a positive note.
  • So I ask which guns they liked best, which ones were the loudest, how did it feel and so on?
  • Then, let them talk. Just smile and nod your head. Ask the occasional question if the “conversation” falters but let them talk. This time at the range was for them. Let it be that way.
  • If they are interested, you can describe some of the different shooting sports. I typically mention the action pistol sports such as IPSC and IDPA, the Olympic-style competitions and, of course, my favorite, Bullseye which is, officially, the NRA Conventional Pistol form. You can add that there are many rifle-only sports (small bore, high power and La Palma to name but a few) as well as several sports that shoot multiple types of firearms. In that latter category, I always mention Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) because it combines not only three guns (hand guns, rifles and shotguns) but also some play-acting — a word to the wise: they wear “outfits”, not “costumes” — and social events. Understandably, CAS is very popular in the southwest but it shows up around the country and in many non-US locations as well.
  • Finally, and again if they’re so inclined, I’ll then invite them to our regular Tuesday evening Nighthawks event. We shoot a Bulleye 900 on the first and third Tuesdays, an International standard pistol 600 on the second and fourth, and an “any gun” L Match (900) on those twice-a-year fifth Tuesdays. I let them know they’re free to shoot my guns as much as they wish and, even if I’m not there, they are likely to find someone else who is just as willing to share.

Again, my thanks to Fred, JC, Chuck, Sheral, Kent and George for adding several excellent ideas.

If the newbies have a safe experience, learn about hand guns and have a good time, they’ll come back.

You’ll have made a convert.

“Keep the line safe!”

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