Somehow, I managed to make it to my 30's before I heard of Colonel Jeff Cooper's safety rules. That included enlistments in the 6th Marines Infantry, the 19th SFGA and the Army 18th Engineers as a medic. So, I had spent a fair amount of time carrying around things that go bang for Uncle Sam with no mention of these four pillars of gun safety.
To be honest, my first reaction was they just didn't make sense as rules for combatives. They sounded more like range rules some lawyer dreamed up.
But in the 1990's Jeff Cooper had a following Jim Jones or David Koresh would've killed for. Okay, poor choice of words.
The point being, no one messed with Jeff. Especially not aspiring young handgun instructors trying to develop a reputation for themselves. So like everybody else, I toed the line. (Yep, it's "toed". Look it up.)
Cooper earned the respect he got. He had a knack for observing and analyzing things that were previously undefined and giving them a new context.
One of the things he tackled was creating a set of rules that would help keep people safe when guns are being handled. And his rules do that.
But... There's more to it than that.
Two Kinds of Danger. Two Kinds of Safety.
There's the potential danger you can pose to yourself and others in how you handle a gun. But let's not forget the reason we carry a handgun is to protect ourselves from the potential dangers posed by others.
Cooper's rules come up short for that.
Heresy, you say? Let's go through each of Cooper's safety rules, taking his verbiage at face value, and see how they measure up against both safety concerns. Then I'll share our adaptation of each rule.
Cooper's Rule #1 - All guns are loaded.
That may have been an appropriate assumption if you’re going to a Leatherslap competition in 1959. But it's not exactly the mindset you need when training for the street in 2020.
On the range, it's safe to treat every gun is if it's loaded. Because if you're wrong, the worst thing that happens is you get a click instead of a bang. But targets don't carry knives or shoot back. On the street, that "click" is going to sound a hell of a lot louder than the bang you were expecting.
Making the wrong assumption on the street could get you killed.
No Solder or Marine would head onto a battlefield and no cop would go out on duty assuming their gun was loaded. The same applies to concealed carrying civilians.
If anything, we take extra time when doing an administrative load. The first load of the day is our opportunity to double-check everything. We confirm a round is chambered, the slide is completely forward and in battery, we give the mag a quick tug to make sure it's properly seated.
Our rule #1 - Confirm the status of your gun is appropriate for your intended use.
Cooper's Rule #2 - Never point your gun at anything you don't intend to destroy.
This one is sure to stir up a hornet's nest.
Once again, the concept is great for a range rule, but far too absolute for the street.
It is not unreasonable to imagine a situation where the lesser of two evils could be to sweep your muzzle past an innocent to stop a greater threat.
Frankly, this rule has been taken to ridiculous extremes.
I was in the infantry. We spent 40 hours a week pointing guns at each other.We called it practice.
How about gun stores, where people handle guns like grocery store produce. No thought off muzzle discipline, and no big concern.
And what about parades and ceremonies where real guns are used to pay tribute.
I actually heard an NRA Regional Training Counselor say that we shouldn't even point Blue Guns at each other.
Then will somebody please tell me; why the hell God made Blue Guns in the first place? I mean the dinosaurs are gone, but Blue Guns are still here.
We don't encourage it. We look for every opportunity to avoid it. We never take it lightly. But we don't categorically reject it either.
Instead of teaching people to never even consider the possibility, and then possibly finding themselves in a situation they haven't been trained to handle, we should make it a part of our training, to ensure it's managed properly.
Our Rule #2 - Never point your gun at anything you can't justify putting at risk.
Cooper's Rule #3 - Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
I actually heard Col. Cooper contradict himself on this. He stood in front of a class and said "As I start to raise my gun, I move my finger to the trigger, so I can break the shot as soon as I get on target.", which makes total sense.
We do everything we can to shave fractions of a second off our draws and hundredths off our splits. Why would we train combative students to wait until they have a proper sight picture before moving their finger to the trigger, when doing so will just upset that sight picture and cost more time readjusting.
In another article, we'll discuss the Tactical Safe position for your trigger finger
Our Rule #3 - Keep your finger off the trigger until your gun is deliberately oriented to where you should do so.
Cooper's Rule #4 - Be sure of your target and beyond.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that if you are ever forced to shoot, you will, in all likelihood, have to deal with friendlies either between, around or behind you and/or your attacker.
We've got to train not to miss. That may sound like a platitude, but it's not. It's an approach to how we practice and how we apply situational awareness.
We've got to consider penetration. Again, something that should be a part of our training but is rarely considered.
And we've got to not only be aware of where we're shooting, but also where we are drawing fire to.
We try to ingrain these things into our students by adding to Col. Cooper's original verbiage.
Our Rule #4 - Be aware of what's at and around you and your target, beyond you and your target and between you and your target.
You see, the safety rules shouldn't be thought of as something we use when we're training. They're an integral part of our training. They're not just safety rules. They're shooting rules.
Some may say I'm splitting hairs over verbiage. And I'm not saying Colonel Cooper wasn't aware of the things I've spoken of. I don't know. I never had a chance to sit down and talk with the man.
But decades after he codified his rules, no one has officially addressed the tactical safety risks associated with combatives training.
Ahh. The "Big Boy" Rules
Instead, there's this underground code (most likely controlled by the Illuminati or the Freemasons) called Big Boy rules.
This is when instructors, who know the secret handshake, are sure they're not going to show up on Instagram or YouTube come clean about these rules that break the other rules.
That's when you hear them talk about press checks, keeping pressure on the trigger, unavoidable flagging, over penetration and the like.
So we've got one set of rules we talk about in the open and another set that contradict them. It's time to forget about political correctness and potential liability.
This isn't soccer camp. We're talking about armed combatives for the street. It can be a dangerous exercise. But so can skydiving, dirt-biking, rock climbing and a hundred other things.
One of the problems is injuries from handguns are a political hot potato.
If Alex Honnold wants to climb all 3,600 feet of El Cap without a rope, they invite him to give a TED Talk.
But if a handgun instructor suggests that one way to retain control of your weapon is to grab the front half of their slide, asteroids laced with some damned fried chicken virus start raining down on elementary schools in minority neighborhoods.
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Let's be thoughtful. By all means, let's be administratively safe. But let's also keep our training fun, interesting and meaningful by exploring all aspects of training for reality.
Nothing I've said here is meant to be critical of Col. Cooper. He was a fellow Marine and it was his perceptiveness that prompted my own thoughts on the matter. While I stand by my arguments, I acknowledge that we've come to these improvements by standing on his shoulders.
Semper Fi, Jarhead.