Keep That Finger off That Trigger!

As firearm users we should all know the three NRA rules of gun handling and the Cooper rules. For those of you who need a brush up or need to learn them, let’s review.

The NRA Rules:

Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

The Cooper Rules:

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

Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
Identify your target, and what is behind it.

Derivations of and expansions on these rules have happened over the years and the common thread between all of them that we’re focusing on here is “thou shall keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and your sights are on target.” When expectations are concerning this important rule. For me, when I discuss the rule, I cover the following by saying:

What I mean by keep your finger off the trigger, I specifically mean not on the trigger, outside of the trigger guard and finger indexed on the frame or receiver of the firearm. If I see your finger on the trigger guard, I will tell you to keep your finger off the trigger. Anything but seeing your finger “indexed” I’m going to consider “on the trigger.”

I was recently discussing this with another firearms instructor, who has his own in-depth thesis that he wants to write on the subject, and something we agreed on 100% was the complete importance of pointing out that the finger shall be indexed to be considered “off the trigger”.

In the text of my book Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use I explain the no booger hooker on the bang switch concept in this manner:

The excessive and redundant pointing out where the trigger finger is supposed to go when dealing with people new to firearms came at the cost of some hard knocks when working as a part time range safety officer (RSO) at a public commercial range. While an RSO I had the opportunity to cut my teeth on teaching concepts in short informal bursts, but I also had the chance to experience some serious “pucker factor” scenarios.

In one of the notable hairy situations, I had to navigate, I was working with a gentleman that needed assistance with going over how to load a rental firearm. He said he had experience shooting in the past, which has little bearing on how anyone should approach someone handling a firearm. Whenever I approached a customer that needed aid or the range deemed needed aid, I would go over a quick and dirty of the three always rules. After my explanations, I taught the individual how the firearm functioned. I received an affirmative that this individual understood what we went over, asked him to show me with an unloaded firearm, and then to proceed with live fire shooting. He did a fantastic job following my directives and his practice run was without incident. I always stress that our brains are the “master safety” when it comes to firearms. The man loaded the firearm and then a moment later “bang!” Just like that…he loaded the pistol, and it went off.

If you’re a customer that ever wondered why an RSO might be acting like a helicopter parent, lording over your shoulder while they evaluate your abilities during the first few shots, this is why. If you’re an instructor that may be apprehensive to get right on top of a student or client, this is why you need to be.

The customer was shocked, turned towards me, and I instructed him to place the firearm on the shooting bench pointed down range, I was poised ready to take it from him if he failed to comply. I recovered the pistol from the bench, dropped the magazine and obsessively compulsively ejected the live round by racking the slide several times, placed the cleared gun back on the bench, action open and facing up.

The man then pulled out of his index finger what appeared to be a wire from a wire wheel and said “This is why the gun went off, this thing stuck me in the finger…” I cut him off and curtly explained “The gun went off because you had your finger on the trigger before you were ready to shoot.” The wire that stuck him in the finger, which came from who knows where, caused him to flinch and so he pulled the trigger in the process. To say his finger was not
on the trigger would be less than truthful. He did try to double down and say “But, this thing…” and I shut that down as politely and professionally as possible. The fact remains that the individual broke one of the important safety rules.

When the firearm went off there was also a “ping” that followed. The ping was the bullet
hitting a metal support stanchion that was situated down range in an area not in front of one of the shooting lanes. Luckily, no damage or injury was caused by this action of negligence, and no ricochets came back at anyone.

If you’re a newbie, take this information, process it, and really think about what it means. Be
sure to seek materials such as books, articles and videos from reputable sources, and do take training from highly rated instructors. Also keep an open mind when working with someone that is teaching you. Especially if you feel crowded on a firing line, incidents like this are one of the many reasons instructors will be right on top of you, in case they must step in.

For your instructors out there, make sure you are explicit with whoever you are working with. Even if you are in an informal setting and not a certified instructor…lots of people
are taking friends and family to the range to learn how to shoot these days. Instill good habits into whomever you teach to handle firearms, and do follow some sort of guide or book to aid you in imparting this knowledge in proper gun handling and concealment. Be sure to keep yourself close enough so you can immediately grab any firearm from whoever is shooting with you if needed.

This story is a near-miss which could have resulted in bad consequences. If we wanted to take a
National Travel Safety Board aviation incident report approach to this, we could go on for thousands of words and many pages. However, the takeaway for all firearm users in this quick talk format is to engrain in your mind that you shall not put your finger on that trigger until ready to shoot. Specifically, this means keeping your index or trigger finger glued to the frame or receiver of the firearm above the trigger and trigger guard. Not across the
trigger guard. Not hovering out in space off the frame yet still away from the trigger. Keep it planted firmly on the frame. Imprint this action into your muscle memory by always doing this.

Stay safe out there and think before you do!

John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of “Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use” and USCCA certified instructor, NRA certified pistol, rifle, and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws.

You can find him on the web at
on Twitter at @johnpetrolino,
and on Instagram @jpetrolinoiii