The Cornered Cat
Dry Fire and Rule One

Came across this again: someone complaining about the universal rules of gun safety.

Here’s what he wrote:

“There are no absolutes, even the ‘4 Rules’. One of them that a majority of gun owners break is, ‘Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.’ I break it everytime I break down a firearm that requires me to dry-fire the weapon. Or for that matter if I’m doing work on a gun and I need to function check it. One of the major function checks is to make sure the trigger actually works and resets. I can point it in the safest of directions but I’m still in a residential area and I never intend to destroy what’s at the business end of my muzzle.”

While at first glance it may seem that this is a sensible objection, it’s mostly a simple misunderstanding of a single word. When you look more closely at that one word, the objection vanishes.

The key here is in the definition of the word willing.

Willing does not always mean eager. Many times, it just means to thoughtfully consent. Inside the context of the Four Rules, being willing to do something means that you knowingly, fully accept the risk of doing it and — after thinking about it! — you agree that you can comfortably live with the results of taking that risk should something go wrong.

To illustrate how this plays out, I absolutely never want to shoot a loaded gun inside my own home. That would be noisy and messy. But even though it’s not something I’m eager to do, after thinking about it carefully, it turns out that I amĀ willing to do exactly that under some conditions.

For me, I have decided that I will freely accept the results of shooting a loaded gun inside my house in only two contexts:

  • If I will die, or if someone I love will die, if I don’t fire, I am willing to accept the consequences of deliberately firing the gun inside my house, even if it means the intruder might die. Would not want to do that and am absolutely not eager to do anything like it, but I am willing to accept that much potential cost in exchange for the benefit of staying alive and keeping my family alive.


  • If I know I have an absolutely solid, will-definitely-stop-a-bullet safe backstop, I am willing to accept the consequences of unintentionally shooting a live round at that safe backstop. I’m not eager to deal with the hassle of cleaning up the mess or explaining it to my family. But I am willing to accept that much cost — which would be only minor property damage and nothing more — in exchange for the convenience benefit of handling firearms at home.

As I’ve said before, there are certainly ways to stay within the 4 Rules when you dry fire. So whenever I handle a gun at home, regardless of how often or how well I’ve checked the chamber, I still do the following:

  1. I still treat even the “unloaded” gun with the same cautious respect I’d give it if I knew for sure it was loaded and would fire if I pulled the trigger (Rule 1).
  2. With the gun in my hand, I remain strongly aware of where the muzzle points and do not point it at anything I’m not willing to accept the consequences of shooting (Rule 2).
  3. If I need to dry fire or disassemble the gun, I still refuse to touch the trigger until I’ve consciously picked out a safe place for the bullet to land (Rule 3).
  4. And when I look for that safe place for the bullet to go, I choose only one that I know for sure would actively stop a bullet of the most powerful round my gun is able to fire (Rule 4).

Stay safe!

One Response to Dry Fire and Rule One

  1. George says:

    I’ve sometimes replaced “willing to destroy” with “can pay to replace.”

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