Cooper’s Rules, You Can’t Break Up The Set

Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, commonly referred to as “The Colonel” or “Colonel Cooper”, was known for an impressive array of achievements. Colonel Cooper’s advocacy of the “Modern Technique” for self defense with hand guns has influenced shooting schools worldwide, even if his penchant for large caliber handguns isn’t always shared by others. Cooper’s own school, Gunsite Academy, remains a respected institution among firearms enthusiasts many of whom travel to Paulden Arizona to seek out the finest training available. Cooper was known for writing about firearms and self defense and is often quoted when the topic of firearms comes up. Perhaps his most quoted words are what, at first, appears to be a simple set of rules.

  1. All guns are always loaded.

  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.

  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

As many writers do Colonel Cooper restated those rules several times and there are subtle variations in word choice and even a slightly expanded set of rules that appear on Gunsite’s own “About Us” page. The expanded version reads:

  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.

  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. (For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1.)

  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. This is the Golden Rule.

  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.

I recently read an article in which one rule, the first one, was examined as a stand alone entity to explore it’s meaning. “All guns are always loaded” sounds extreme and the author opined that this rule be expanded to mean that they are always loaded until you personally have checked the chamber. I would state that the first rule does sound extreme and with good reason. We are dealing with deadly force here. No risk is an acceptable one when someones health and well being is concerned. There are no caveats, and there is no “unless” or “but” at the end of the rule. Rule one is extreme, and inconvenient sometimes, because the consequences of disobeying it may very well be extreme and inconvenient.

Another interesting fact to note is that the first rule is different from the others. Rules 2, 3, and 4 all dictate your actions in the physical world. “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy” dictates where you are allowed to point a firearm. “Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target” provides you with guidelines for trigger discipline by telling you when you can and cannot have your finger on the trigger. “Identify your target, and what is behind it” pairs up with the second rule and determines not only what we are shooting at but if it is safe to shoot at all. The first rule is unlike these other rules in that it establishes a mindset. “All guns are always loaded” is why we must be diligent in following the other rules.  Of course we have to watch our muzzle direction, keep our finger off the trigger, and be aware of our target and what is behind it because we are holding a loaded gun.  If we accept the first rule the other three are logical and necessary. 

Cooper’s Rules are a SET of rules. To really gain the benefit of following them we have to take them as a whole. If we follow the whole set of rules we greatly increase our safety and the safety of others.  If we break even one rule we open ourselves up to the potential for disaster.

Download PDF