Firearm Safety

At Citizens Safety Academy, safety is always our top priority. We start every class with a detailed safety briefing. There are two main versions of the universal rules of firearm safety: the version taught by the National Rifle Association, and the version derived from the NRA rules  by Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of the legendary Gunsite Academy in Arizona . (We’ve modified his version slightly, the original can be found here.) There is some debate over which version is better, but they are both effective. And as we explain in our classes, they really aren’t as different as people think. Click the rules below for more information on the safety rules and their application.


This is the primary rule of gun safety. Always keep the gun pointed in a direction where no unintended injury or damage could ever possibly occur if it were to fire. That safe direction often changes, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. People handling firearms must stay constantly aware of their surroundings and know where their muzzle is pointed at all times.

When holding (but not firing) a gun, always rest your finger up high alongside the frame and well outside the trigger guard. Never, ever pick up a firearm with your finger on the trigger or casually rest your finger on the trigger while you aren’t shooting. Until you are ready to fire, do not touch the trigger at all. Distractions can easily cause people to move their trigger finger towards the trigger without realizing it, so you must be constantly aware of where your trigger finger is and what it’s doing.

When a firearm is not being used, it should always be stored and secured beyond the reach of unauthorized or untrained people. Stored firearms should be unloaded (or “cleared”). Clearing a firearm requires specific steps undertaken in a specific order. We teach and constantly review proper clearing techniques in all of our classes. If you encounter a firearm and don’t know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), do not attempt to clear it. Instead, leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.


Never assume a gun is unloaded, even if someone tells you it is. Instead, always safely and carefully verify the condition of any firearm you handle. We can never ignore the safety rules, even if we believe a gun is empty. By assuming every gun is loaded, we are less likely to let down our guard and become complacent with safety. We must always employ the same high safety standards, regardless of the firearm’s condition.

This rule essentially mirrors NRA Rule #1, but stated more bluntly. Do you want to destroy your coffee table? Your dog? Your friend? Your spouse? If not, don’t point a gun at it/him/her. It’s really that simple. Always be conscious of where your muzzle is pointed, and be absolutely obsessive about making sure it never, ever points at anything or anyone you wouldn’t want to shoot. Keep in mind that this applies not only to guns in your hands, but also to any gun under your control (like a gun in a bag or a holster).

This rule is virtually identical to NRA Rule #2. When you are shooting, your finger is on the trigger. At ALL other times, your finger is off the trigger, out of the trigger guard, and resting up high along the frame or slide (as high as your trigger finger can physically reach). Just keep saying to yourself, “On target: on trigger… Off target: off trigger.” As soon as your muzzle moves off the target, your trigger finger should be straight along the frame, nowhere near the trigger or the trigger guard.

Keep in mind that bullets can pass through things and continue moving. Pistol bullets can travel up to a mile, and rifle bullets can travel much farther. Therefore, it is critical to always confirm not only what and where your target is but also what is around and behind it. While this is not covered in the NRA’s three fundamental safety protocols, it is the very first precaution on the NRA’s list of secondary rules.

In all of our classes, we explain and demonstrate why these rules are critical to safe gun-handling. Please see our CSA Policies for more information. If you ever have questions about firearm safety, please contact us. As firearms instructors, safety is one of our favorite subjects and perhaps the most important topic we could ever address.