1. Treat every Firearm as Loaded


Another incident and the MSC once again rolls out the standard press release reminding us to follow the seven basic rules of firearm safety. Number 1. Treat every Firearm as Loaded

We should all know the rules and their meaning. But apart from the initial license test – do we ever go back and examine the rules. Do we review their importance and implementation? Or do we get comfortable with the way we do things and start to develop a survivorship bias?

Survivorship bias is taking the attitude that because you haven’t had an incident up to this point, you are not going to in the future. This is often independent of the attitudes and practise in use. People will often start to reinforce bad habits – rather than best practise.

Even worse, people become flippant when dealing with firearms. They make light of safety concerns. We all know someone who responds with a comment about trigger control with ‘chill – it’s unloaded!’

Best practise is a term used a lot within the health and safety community. It is a set of principles and systems that have developed over time that form the basis of safe practice. Through using them, we reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring.

In this series of articles, we are going to break down the seven rules and throw in a couple of extra, best practise checks.


1. Treat every Firearm as Loaded

The first rule identifies the proper attitude to have towards firearms. This attitude is one of respect towards a tool, much like you should have towards a sharp knife. Like most tools, they are not inherently dangerous – it is how they are used (or misused) that causes an issue.

If a firearms user addresses the tool with a high level of awareness and respect, they have already started to create themselves an environment of safe use. It’s when people adopt a blasé or casual attitude that the potential for incidents starts to creep in.

Treating a firearm like it is loaded means you will be warier of trigger discipline. It means you will maintain muzzle control. It means you will handle the firearm will a little more care. Even if we ‘know’ it is unloaded, treating as if it is still loaded creates a buffer of safety when handling the firearm.

Checking a firearm

It also encourages a literal requirement to check the state of a firearm when handling it.

  • Pick a firearm up – check its state
  • Put a firearm down – check its state
  • Hand a firearm to someone – check its state
  • Receive a firearm from someone – check its state
  • Before shooting – check its state
  • Finished shooting (or not shooting) – check its state

It encourages you to be sure 100% of the time of the actual state of a firearm. Not in a purely intellectual (I believe it to be unloaded) way – but in a literal, physical way. Treat every Firearm as Loaded

Giving a firearm

If you want to hand someone a firearm – first show them it’s state – normally this means unloaded. Open up the action, tilt the action forward so they can see and ask for them to confirm the state of the firearm.

Even if you are just walking up to someone, it’s a courtesy to show them the state of your firearm. By checking each others firearms we double check each other and prove a backup for our own checks.

Receiving a firearm

While it is the responsibility of someone handing you a firearm to show it is clear, it is also the obligation of the receiver to check it is clear before they take it. Even to the point of rechecking once you have taken it off them. This double-checking is simply maintaining a high safety buffer. It takes minimal time and prevents incidents happening before they can even begin.

It isn’t unreasonable to expect any firearm that is being handed from one person to another to be in a state of action open. Meaning – bolt back or auction opened so that you can see down into the breech.

Developing habits

Checking at multiple points during a firearms use creates a habit. It means that you won’t develop competency in handling. Develop a habit of checking and double checking.

The state of a firearm shouldn’t be an assumption. Just because you ‘think’ it is unloaded, doesn’t mean it is. Malfunctions can lead to a misunderstanding of the state of a firearm, as can multiple people handling a firearm. Just because the last time you checked it the firearm was ok, doesn’t mean it is when you come back to it. Be safe. Be sure.

Get to the range

People like to give range officers and shooting ranges a bad time. Normally the same people who have a way to go to learn proper firearm handling basics. However, one of the best ways to be taught and practise good firearms handling techniques is to head along to your local shooting range.

Not only will you get to practise your shooting, but you will also be reminded of the fundamentals – showing your rifle as clear after a round of shooting, clearing the firearm before taking it off the range and so on. RO’s are there to keep people safe. And the standards need to be high when you have twenty or more people with firearms shooting.

Get to the range, get competing. It is simply the best and quickest way I know of to develop high safety standards around firearms.

Avoid complacency

Don’t become complacent in the checking either. It requires more than a glance to look for a bullet. Stop, open the action fully, look down into the action, into the magazine, into the chamber. In the case of a Range Officer. You may also see them physically checking with a finger. Or getting a torch out to make sure they aren’t missing anything.

This is also a great moment to check the state of the action and chamber. You should be aware of the maintenance of your firearm anyhow. Again, make sure there isn’t something sitting in there that shouldn’t be.

By treating a firearm as loaded all the time, we set a level of expectations for the handling of the firearm. A level of awareness of what is happening with the gun, where it is pointed, what is happening around it.

Firearms aren’t inherently dangerous. They are, after all, simply a mechanical device that requires a specific series of manipulations to fire. Treating every firearm as loaded becomes the first principle that the follows rules build upon.

What scares me and annoys me, is the flippant attitude of some gun handlers. ‘Don’t worry mate, it’s unloaded’ – while swinging the muzzle of the firearm around all over the place. Excusing poor trigger discipline because they proclaim it is unloaded. All part of an attitude that can start us down a path towards a firearm incident. Remember, once the bullet leaves the end of a barrel, it cant be pulled back! Treat every Firearm as Loaded