Of the four Gunsite Academy safety rules, as propounded by Col. Jeff Cooper, Rule No. 1 – All guns are always loaded – is probably the least understood. Folks who don’t understand what the colonel was getting at look at this rule and simply say that it can’t be so.
After all, we have personally unloaded a gun and, therefore, know that it isn’t loaded. Or we have taken our gun apart to clean it and, looking at the parts lying on our bench, know that it can’t possibly be loaded. So, we simply dismiss this rule or, worse yet, we modify it in some way, such as saying, "treat all guns as if they were loaded."
It is my belief that Col. Cooper was talking about what our mindset should be. After all, he was big on an armed person having a proper mindset, exemplified by his color-coded awareness chart. When I see a gun, my mind should say, “loaded.” That should be my attitude until I, personally, know that the gun is not loaded.
Following this line of reasoning, we should never take another person’s word that a gun is not loaded. I don’t care if this is at a gun shop, gun show, on the shooting range or anywhere else. I am responsible for my own safety. Therefore, I don’t take the word of a fellow shooter, a senior range officer, or Col. Cooper himself. Even if I see the other person check the gun before handing it to me, it is my job to inspect the gun and be satisfied that the gun is not loaded. If I don’t know how to safely check a particular gun, I ask the other person to show me how to do it.
Once we have checked a gun and know it is not loaded, we should have some regard for others around us who don’t know whether the gun is loaded or not. This is the reason that we don’t wave a gun around behind the shooting line, in the gun shop or elsewhere. Others don’t know and don’t care; what they do know is that you are covering them with a gun muzzle. That, in itself, is cause for concern.
There have also been cases of negligent discharges occurring after a person has checked the gun. In these cases, people have checked the chamber or cylinder without paying attention to what they are doing. They overlook the one cartridge left in the cylinder or their mind simply does not register on the cartridge that they just saw in the chamber. Regardless of what the other person has done, or not done, the gun is loaded until you have checked and re-checked it.
There are really two mindsets at work here. The first is, "I am responsible for my own safety." The second is, "A gun is loaded until I have personally determined that this is not the case." When we develop those mindsets and make them our own, we begin to understand the simple Gunsite rule: All guns are always loaded.