Guns are designed to go “bang” when their triggers are depressed. Unfortunately, everyone grows up seeing thousands of images of people on TV and movie screens wielding their guns with fingers right there on the trigger. Then there’s a startle response or some other stimulus, and BANG! An unintentional shot is fired, sometimes with fatal results.  

Any firearms instructor or range safety officer can tell you that the single corrective command that has to be uttered on the firing line is “finger!”

As an expert witness for the courts in weapon-related matters since 1979, I’ve long since lost count of how many of the cases involved a finger on the trigger when it shouldn’t have been, and often a tragic unintended shooting resulted.For decades now I’ve written the Cop Talk column for American Handgunner magazine. The following comes from there. The folks at American Handgunner apparently thought the matter was important enough to run it again recently, and I agree:  

The rule “on target, on trigger/ off target off trigger” is not enough! I teach it as “the trigger finger will be inside the trigger guard only if and when you are in the very act of intentionally discharging the weapon.”

As always, your opinion and commentary is invited.

28 COMMENTS

    • That behavior is ingrained into me too.

      Side note – the thoughts in that link are passed along from Karl Rehn, one of the best trainers in America. Safety is always top priority. I have to thank Mas for telling me about him years ago, because he’s a few hours south of me and I hadn’t heard of him. Anyone in or around central Texas who hasn’t taken advantage of his training needs to change that and sign up.

  1. Trigger digit position causes a lot of issues. One of the differences in the LE instructor training and private citizen instructor training I’ve experienced is the use of color ER photos to illustrate what can happen if someone’s careless. Unfortunately, we still don’t seem to get the message across as well as we’d like to some of our LE students. I’ve personally been far less thrilled with muzzle discipline across the board.

    However, there’s also some built in issues. The OEM grip configuration of the AR series seems to initiate a lot of trigger verification. Transition training-long gun to hand gun-spawns a series of training issues. What safety folks call the root cause of the issue with triggers is failure to always use a dummy/inert round to trigger the transition. Limiting myself to the trigger issue, it’s been demonstrated that contact with gear can wipe the safety off and actuate the trigger. Results have varied between embarrassment to truly gruesome injury.

    OK, now everything pretty much has ambidextrous controls, but was the NYPD instruction on trigger digit placement written by a left handed person? Feels a bit awkward.

  2. The ergonomics of firearms are such as to invite placement of the finger on the trigger. Human nature is such that the body will sometimes tend to do some things automatically and subconsciously. It is easy when on the firing line, listening to instructions, concentrating on the target, concentrating on your stance, concentrating on maintaining a proper grip, etc. to become distracted and (low and behold) your traitorous trigger finger drifts over toward the trigger without your conscious thought.

    One almost needs to build muscle-memory up to the point where the body is “conditioned” to keep the finger off the trigger until a deliberate decision is taken to fire the firearm.

    This may have been a factor in the “Rust Shooting”. Alec Baldwin claims to have not pressed the trigger. However, would he truly know? Maybe his sneaky and traitorous trigger finger slipped over and pressed it without Baldwin’s conscious command.

    The fact is, we know Alec Baldwin was fingering the trigger and snapping the revolver. Film from the practice session proves it. See this article:

    https://thereload.com/analysis-video-shows-alec-baldwins-finger-on-revolver-trigger-during-rust-rehearsals/

    Alec Baldwin violated the rule to “Keep your finger off the target until ready to fire” whether he knows it (or will acknowledge it) or not. It is also certain that he violated the rule to “Never point a firearm at something you are not willing to destroy”.

    These rule violations are why he is facing charges for negligent homicide today.

    • Typo correction: Clearly, in my comment above, I meant to write “keep your finger off the trigger until ready…”.

      Sorry, my traitorous fingers hit the wrong keys as I was typing the above line. 🙂

  3. When I first began carrying a G17 in the 90s it was a big departure from revolvers I had carried in the past, and using the Glock trigger was an adjustment. But I was using your (LFI Register) finger bent on the frame, and that gave me confidence while carrying that pistol.

    • Great point. Unfortunately the “crooked” finger that Mas teaches is criminally overlooked. I do admit that i was unable to program myself to use it, despite understanding the value of it from Mas’s explainations, however i did completely master it when under his instruction on the range. Its a part of me now and has made my life better, your comment is dead on.

  4. “Fingers” is the one rule most violated by new shooters at the range I supervise. It’s easily corrected in brand new shooters as one of the first rules they learn before their heads fill up with ego and uncorrected habits. It’s harder to manage with shooters who have had the habit longer. Training scars are almost always the hardest to overcome.

  5. “I teach it as `the trigger finger will be inside the trigger guard only if and when you are in the very act of intentionally discharging the weapon.’”

    I think it’s a good rule, but apparently it’s NOT widely accepted.

    For serious social purposes, as distinct from gun games, if you’re finger is out of the trigger-guard unless you’re actually shooting, then you want to pull that trigger straight through, and therefore you want a trigger with no stacking or “wall” just before the gun fires. I.e. a Kahr trigger, or a S&W DA revolver trigger.

    People who make a big deal about taking up the slack before getting a good sight-picture, and releasing the trigger just enough to reset the link are talking either about single-action pistols (which should have manual safeties), or having the trigger mostly pressed before they’re actually shooting.

  6. Hollywood entertainment is the very worst place possible, for gun safety. It is common for a good guy, in a tense situation, to accidently draw down on a friendly. Okay. I can see how that might happen. Their response, is to lower the hammer, while still pointing the gun at their friend’s face. I hope that if I ever have friend pointing a cocked handgun at my face, my friend will point it somewhere else before lowering the hammer.

  7. I remember hearing you say many times, in the S.A.F.E. live fire instructions, that the finger should not be on the trigger unless you are in the act of shooting. That one really stuck with me, and I have repeated it many times since then when giving safety briefs

  8. Talked with a kid (17) on Sunday who had managed to shoot himself in the foot the day before. His dad blamed it on the binary trigger they’d installed on their 10/22 and that the son had bumped the rifle with his leg causing it to fire. I went with finger on the bang switch as the likely cause. I’m sure the kid wasn’t paying any attention and has no real idea what happened, just that the noise and the pain happened at the same time. The kid was young enough to think it was sort of cool that he’d been shot. I suggested that most everyone else will think he was just a dumb ass. Hopefully, dad and son will both learn the right lesson.

  9. I mostly agree, but I think it some deference can be given to DA/SA pistols. Given certain situations, a 12 lb pull on say a Sig P226 or a S&W 586 doesn’t worry me if the officer is pointing his weapon at what they consider an a possible threat. It’s a narrow window, I agree, but there are times finger ON while pointing isn’t a wrong tactic, with consideration to certain situations such as whether one is moving, terrain, etc.

    Having said that, there is never a good time to go finger ON with any striker fired pistol or off-safe 1911, unless one is in the process of firing. The key is for that officer to have extensive, dedicated training on that particular platform. I strongly disagree with the idea of folks routinely swapping out differing weapons platforms on a regular basis just to “rotate” what they like, for several reasons including the above stated reason.

    However, just my $00.02 and YMMV.

  10. as an IDPA safety officer and firearms/self defense instructor, if i had a dollar for every time i said “FINGER” i’d be in retirement. as well, working part-time in a gun store, 95% of potential buyers for both long guns and pistols violate the rule…

  11. Sorry, but when I am in my concrete block wall-enclosed back yard with a double-action revolver in my hand, at point-blank distance from a possibly belligerent high-jumping coyote, wildcat, or even a mountain lion, all of which have visited at O-dark thirty to stir up my three watchdogs, and are fairly guaranteed to attack me before attacking the dogs, I have the nail of my trigger finger against the inside of the front of the trigger guard. My yard lights and game camera light cannot be guaranteed to keep a predator out of the yard, or even from leaping over the dogs to get at me. It takes a split second too long for me to move the trigger finger from outside to inside of the trigger guard. Really, for me the finger held outside the trigger guard is not as safe when it is time to press the trigger as is pressing forward with the fingernail. As long as I actively press forward with the fingernail I am not likely to be subject to a sympathetic trigger press due to inadvertent clenching of the free hand. Particularly the thought of a puma or a wildcat sinking its front claws into my shoulders while biting at my neck and gutting me with its hind feet simply keeps me at optimal readiness to get close shots off quickly. I do not plan to get me or my loyal dogs attacked at the point of giving a predator any advantage of delayed shots. I continually remind myself that double-tap shots are likely the best bet. Predator attacks are rare, true, but pressure on predators to predate outside of norms continues to increase as wild habitat decreases, and predator numbers grow. I have been literally within reach of mountain lions in different circumstances many times in the course of my outdoor vocations, for example. Believe me, the lions have confidence in their stealth, and I would encourage everyone to read excellent research like “Cougar Attacks.,” by Etlin, or one or more of Elmer Keith’s near-death encounters. Be careful to keep your children close in cat country, especially in “parks,” carry at least a powerful handgun at the ready, concealed if necessary, but under control, and get good with it. A .357 with the right bullets can be plenty enough, but I would not go with less.

  12. I have been handling 1911s since Vietnam in 1967 and I have often read similar comments such as the one below over the years. I still don’t understand how it’s possible to maintain pressure on the ‘slide stop stud’ with your trigger finger while at the same time pulling the trigger!? (Regardless of how tight your grip is on the pistol.) There is a tang on the slide stop that must be aligned with the detent notch on the slide in order to be able to push the slide stop out of the frame for disassembly. That tang prevents the slide stop from being able to be pushed out past the bottom edge of the slide while the slide is in battery. Can someone please explain where I’m wrong in my thinking?

    “If the officer has a 1911 in the right hand, its slide stop stud protrudes on the right side. A straight index finger in a tight grip can sometimes push it leftward out of position, causing the pistol to lock up after the first shot. A flexed fingertip with the fingernail behind the stud can’t cause that.”

  13. I’ve trained my children this time of year to apply Jeff Cooper’s four Golden Rules to toy water squirt guns. I don’t know if there will be any crossover into firearms safety, but no one has had water unintentionally land on their potato salad at the July 4th barbecue.

    • I teach it to my kids with their NERF guns (as it happens, we don’t have any water guns in the house — not because we disapprove, but simply because we haven’t got any replacements since the old stock broke down). We’ve had zero unintentional discharges.

      (Questionably-reasoned intentional discharges, on the other hand…. :D)

  14. RE: DA/SA pistols being a bit more tolerant of finger on trigger and the semi-acceptability of finger on trigger while pointing at a possible threat – NO to both! Roger Enoka showed pretty conclusively that triggers can be pulled unconsciously via startle response, interlimb reaction and postural disturbance no matter what type or pull weight of trigger the gun has. Others such as Force Science Institute have measured the force generated in these unconscious contractions and have found they can measure greater than 20 ponds. There is a good reason why police departments back in the day moved away from their training policies that had officers putting their fingers on the trigger of their revolvers while still in the holster.

  15. Hopefully, this will not cause a stroke in our host.

    https://amgreatness.com/2024/06/20/pistol-packing-pedagogues/

    Note the picture.

    Finger on trigger, safety off, pointed in a random direction. However the hammer is down.
    This in an allegedly conservative publication, purporting to support armed teachers. The effect is the opposite. Does anyone there know the first thing about guns? Or could the picture be AI generated.

    • You are correct. I’m trying to imagine what happened. A photographer was hired for the photo, and a subject. Neither have to know anything about guns. However, there is such a thing as an editor. Maybe the editor just knows about English, and paper magazines. NO EXCUSE. Someone who knows something about guns should have had some oversight of this article. I guess it just got handed off to the writer, who used a stock photographer, who photographs all kinds of things, and they grabbed the closest person who looks like a teacher to be the subject. They should have done more research.

      I’ve noted before. Guns are in the news EVERY DAY. Yet, journalists know nothing about guns. That’s professional irresponsibility.

    • Having carried a firearm legally while working on the staff of a school, long-term, I find phobic fear of firearms a great deal more dangerous than encouraging willing and competent staff to be armed. The comments from the NEA are the usual pacifism that has gotten a lot of defenseless people killed in schools called“weapon-free,” that should have been described as “free fire zones.” You just cannot beat Dr. Watson’s “comforting feel of a heavy revolver” (see “The Hound of the Baskervilles”) when push comes to shove. A Lieutenant Colonel in a National Guard Unit cannot be credible as a fighting defender and a pacifist simultaneously, nor can a school employee conscientiously allow anyone purportedly under their care to be ruthlessly harmed. Maybe the Light Colonel is a CO? Above all, watch out for the NEA and any political “leaders” with criminal minds.

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