The Cornered Cat

Received an intriguing question in my email the other day. In a nutshell, my correspondent wanted to know, “How can the Four Rules apply while the gun is holstered, since many holsters seem to point the weapon in unsafe directions?”  Here is my answer.

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The Four Rules
  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
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The second of the Four Rules is the main focal point of this article: “Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.”

This rule applies every time you pick up, hold, or put down a firearm.  While you are holding the gun, you never deliberately or cluelessly let it point at stuff you don’t want holes in.

But what about muzzle direction when you are not directly holding the gun?

I am of the opinion that a gun, by itself, is an inert object. There is no rational reason to fear a loaded gun lying on the kitchen table as long as no one is touching it. 1   Gun shop customers do not need to worry about a gun of unknown state (loaded? unloaded?) which is behind a gunshop counter, no matter which direction the gun is pointed, as long as no one is touching it. An untouched firearm is only a thing. It is not a living creature with a mind or a will of its own.

The risk comes when human beings enter the picture. Because human beings are prone to accidents and mistakes, the gun must be pointed in a safe direction whenever human hands touch it. If you cannot pick a firearm up without pointing it in an unsafe direction (or if it is already pointed in an unsafe direction), you should not put your hand on it. If you cannot put a firearm down without pointing it in an unsafe direction, you should not put it down. This is necessary because the mixture of human hand and unsafe direction can cause bad stuff to happen.

With me so far?

When considering whether a holster is “safe” or “not safe,” I don’t worry much about muzzle orientation while the user’s hand is not on the gun. A gun held securely inside a trigger-covering holster, and which is not being handled by a human being, is as safe and as inert as one which is lying on the table untouched.


Any time you absolutely must come close to violating one of the Four Rules, it should be a red flag to slow down and pay special attention to all the other rules. The safety rules should be so engrained in your habits and thoughts that it should take a really conscious act of the will to do anything near the line.

But notice the italics in the paragraph above. The real danger comes when the gun is being placed into, or withdrawn from, the holster, because that is the point at which human hands get involved in the process. With some holsters, this risk can be avoided entirely. For instance, with a dropped and offset OWB holster on the point of the hip, it takes a near-determined effort of will to cover oneself with the firearm (though I’ve seen it done!). Yet this sort of rig isn’t easily concealed and thus isn’t practical for those who want to carry a concealed firearm.

The risk of pointing the gun in an unsafe direction during the process of getting the gun into or out of its holster can be greatly minimized so that it is nearly avoided. This deliberate action takes a very conscious effort of will, and should never become a matter of complacency.

One example of minimizing the risk would be the careful process of safely holstering and unholstering with a shoulder holster. Most smart folks I know who carry with one of these rigs make a conscious effort to place the left elbow high into the air while drawing with the right hand. This moves the brachial artery far away from the risk of inadvertent discharge. 2

Another example. Since I carry my IWB holster in the appendix carry position, I never reholster while sitting down. Ever. If I did so, the gun’s muzzle would be pointed directly at my femoral artery while I handled the gun — a very dangerous combination of circumstances! Even standing up, I’m always very conscious of where my trigger finger is while I am reholstering, and hold my trigger finger far outside the trigger guard at all times. And I don’t simply stand up straight. Instead, I put my right leg slightly to the rear, suck my gut in as far as it will go, and lean back slightly while reholstering. This allows me to angle the muzzle away from me during the process. Doing it this way, if a shot were to fire it would most likely strike the ground in front of me rather than hitting any of my favorite body parts. Nevertheless, I’m always very conscious of the risk while reholstering, and never reholster in a hurry.

My point here is that the combination of human hand plus loaded gun is dangerous. Every carry method you might choose will probably allow the gun to point at stuff you don’t want shot during the day, and there’s simply no way around that fact. For safety’s sake, remember that if the gun is pointed in an unsafe direction, you must never be the one doing the pointing.

If you are uncertain whether you have been using your holster safely, please be sure to read the article titled, “Safe Drawing & Reholstering Techniques.” Contact a qualified instructor to discuss any specific concerns you might have.

Stay Safe!



  1. Please note the exception! If there is a possibility of children, the criminal, or the clueless picking the gun up, it’s not safe just lying there. But as long as none of those pesky and unpredictable human beings come on the scene, the gun isn’t going to do anything on its own.
  2. It does not, however, reduce the danger to people standing behind or to the left side of the person wearing the shoulder holster. For this reason, these rigs are rarely allowed on crowded ranges — though you may be able to find an instructor willing to work with you to learn safe drawing techniques under carefully-controlled conditions.