Of the four universally accepted rules of firearm safety, most instructors word the first as, “Treat all guns as if they are loaded.” While I find this correct logic, I prefer to word it as, “All guns are loaded.”
Most people divide firearms into 2 separate categories: loaded ones that deserve much respect and must be handled carefully, and unloaded ones that may be treated carelessly. Rule one admonishes us all that the second category of firearms does not exist. All must be handled carefully. Many people, when scolded for careless gunhandling, will offer, “It’s not loaded,” as a defense against their stupidity. What they are inferring when they say this is that they have 2 separate sets of gunhandling skills. They claim they have a set of safe gunhandling skills they use with “dangerous,” loaded guns, and another set of skills, sloppy, unsafe skills they use with “safe,” unloaded skills. This is folly.
In my experience working with shooters, I have yet to meet anyone who actually has 2 complete set of skills. Those shooters who exhibit sloppy, unsafe skills with “unloaded” guns, exhibit exactly the same behavior with loaded ones. Anyone who has ever taken my classes will note that I never actually utter the word “unloaded.” I use the term “devoid of ammunition” to describe a firearm that I personally have cleared and inspected. Once a firearms is properly cleared and inspected, it is still handled properly, in accordance with the other 3 rules. This will build and reinforce proper, safe gunhandling habits.
Those instructors who use the phrase, “Treat all guns as if they are loaded,” are describing the behavior you should exhibit. When I say, “All guns are loaded,” I am describing my perception of your behavior. I am saying that I will never accept, “it’s not loaded” as an excuse for stupid behavior. I am saying that I don’t care the condition of a firearm, I expect proper gunhandling, and will not settle for less.