Rule #3: The Golden Rule

They're called the rules of gun safety, not the suggestions, not the guidelines.

posted on December 9, 2022
Sheriff Jim Wilson

Several years ago, Col. Jeff Cooper came up with four simple gun safety rules that are especially important to the armed citizen. Rule #3 states, “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.” We call that the Golden Rule because it will prevent most negligent discharges.

Years ago, when I first heard of this safety rule, I really thought it would slow me down at a time when being slow might cost me my life, so I began to experiment with the idea and found that such was simply not the case: In the time it takes a shooter to get on target, there is plenty of time to get on the trigger. 

Nowadays, most of us who teach defensive shooting carry this rule a step further. We suggest that, until the sights are on the target, the shooter should not even have his finger inside the trigger guard. Instead, the trigger finger should be straight and aligned along the pistol frame as far above the trigger guard as possible. Again, we have found that this does not hinder the ability to quickly address the target. When we get off the target our finger goes straight again.

An actual fight is a dynamic event. There may be a struggle before it is necessary to shoot. One may have to run, one may fall down and have to get up, may have to open doors or close them. Any number of physically active things are possible for the armed citizen to have to deal with. If the person is engaged in these activities while his finger is on the trigger, an unintentional discharge is very possible. In fact, it is highly likely.

I once worked with a police officer who went to the aid of another officer who was being beaten. For whatever reason, my friend had his revolver out and beat the bad guy over the head with it.  When he did that his finger engaged the trigger and a shot was fired. The bullet went across the street and hit two innocent bystanders. Fortunately neither one was killed. Adherence to Rule #3 would have prevented that.

It is also important to keep the finger off the trigger and straight while re-holstering. In addition, we never get in a hurry while re-holstering. We make sure that all safeties, if there are any, are engaged and we re-holster slowly.

Rule #3 is an important habit to develop simply because it goes a long way towards preventing negligent discharges and unintentional injuries. 


French police chose Speer
French police chose Speer

French Police Select Speer Ammunition

124 grain Gold Dot rounds to become the standard round pour la gendarmerie.

First Look: Meopta RDS Electronic Sight

A slide-mounted optic using the Vortex/Burris/Docter mount footprint.

What Does "Mindset" Actually Mean? (Part 1)

We hear that term quite often in the self defense world, but what does it really mean?

More Than Just A Gun Bucket: How to Choose A Good Holster

Could your holster choice really be more important than your gun?

The Gas Pedal Drill

Training yourself to shoot better is the result of developing a higher skill level upon which you may rely. The higher your skill level, the greater your odds of performing well when they are called upon. Greater skill is born from greater control; the greater the control, the better the performance.

First Look: New Products from Gemtech

Including the company's first-ever AR-15 pattern upper receiver.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.