The Golden Rule of Gun Handling: What Beginners and Experts Need to Know and Do

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Keep your finger off the trigger till the sights are on the target.
This precept we must emphasize as well as we are able.
If you think that we are kidding, or we just need you to bark at,
A leg shot isn’t funny on the operating table.” *

Like many things that sound simple, the “Golden Rule of Gun Handling” – keeping your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target – is more complicated than it sounds. It is easy to put your finger on the trigger inadvertently. Keeping your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target is hard and requires your conscious effort.

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Any visit to a public shooting range will reveal numerous gun owners who have their fingers on the triggers when they are not shooting. They know the Golden Rule. They can recite the Golden Rule – while simultaneously and unconsciously having their fingers on the triggers. When you show them photos of themselves with their fingers on the triggers, they all say the same thing: “I had no idea!” The challenge for all of us is to become conscious of where the trigger finger is at all times. A yoga instructor calls this “mindfulness”.

The first part is (relatively) easy: putting your finger on the trigger when actually firing a shot. After you fire the shot, though, it gets tricky. As soon as the shooting stops and the sights come down off the target – even by an inch – your finger must go straight alongside the frame of the pistol.

Here’s how to train yourself to do it right, every time. It is called the “Up-Down Drill”. First, unload your pistol. (Step One: Remove the magazine. Step Two: Remove the round from the chamber. Don’t reverse these steps or an unexpected loud noise and possible injury or death could happen!) Second, unload your pistol again – that is, unload your pistol again. Really!

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OK, now find a Safe Direction** in your house. Start with your pistol in “Ready” position (see photos) with your finger off the trigger. Raise it up and align the sights with the target. (Tape a target onto your Safe Direction.) When the sights come onto the target, put your finger on the trigger. Now lower the gun back down to Ready position. The instant the sights come off the target your finger comes off the trigger.

Do that 1000 times. Seriously. 1000 times. Break it into ten sets of 100. After 1000 repetitions, it should be difficult – hopefully, impossible – to do it wrong.

One last thing: The Golden Rule (finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target) applies whether or not your gun is loaded. It is considered a terrible faux pas to say those awful words “It’s OK; it’s not loaded.” Those are the words of a fool. Resolve never to say them. It does not matter if the gun is loaded or unloaded; it is never OK to break The Golden Rule.

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Go ye forth now, and be a practitioner and an apostle of the Golden Rule of Gun Handling.

*Jeff Cooper (1920-2006) was the founder of The American Pistol Institute (“Gunsite”) and is acknowledged as “The Father of Modern Pistolcraft.”

**A Safe Direction is something that (1) stops bullets and (2) won’t be a big problem to fix or replace if you shoot it. Unless they are made of brick or block, the walls in your house won’t stop bullets – anybody or anything on the other side will get shot. Your mattress won’t stop bullets. Your refrigerator will stop bullets, but is expensive to replace. Consider filling a banker’s box or two with old books/magazines/newspapers or sandbags (bags and sand sold separately at Home Depot). Bucket or jugs filled with water will stop bullets, but then you risk soaking your carpet.

Photos by Andrew Siminski

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