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Jeff Cooper Quotes: Technique, Safety Rules, & Gun Conditions

jeff cooper quotes

To say Jeff Cooper was a bit outspoken is like saying Johnny Cash was a fair-to-middling country singer. Colonel Cooper seemed never to be at a loss for words. When he had something to say, he didn’t bother weighing those words or worrying about whom he might offend. He was never a fan of political correctness, insisting it was neither political nor correct. The most popular Jeff Cooper quotes made him a hero to many and an antagonist to others.

“It appears that the murder rate inside prisons is ten times higher than that outside prisons. It must be due to all those Kalashnikov rifles that are issued to prisoners upon their incarceration.”

-Jeff Cooper

Jeff Cooper was a Renaissance man of sorts: a shooter, author, teacher, columnist, entrepreneur, and combat veteran of two wars. Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute (API) in 1976, where he taught pistol, rifle, and shotgun classes to members of the military and law enforcement. The API was later renamed Gunsite Academy and became Cooper’s platform for teaching his modern technique of the pistol.

Jeff Cooper: Modern Pistol Technique

a photo showing modern pistol technique

Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper served as a U.S. Marine, and they are fond of saying that every Marine is a rifleman. Jeff was no exception, but he would also later develop a method for fighting with a pistol. His method is still used by defensive handgun instructors today. Here are the five primary elements of what he called the modern technique:

  1. The large-caliber, semi-automatic pistol: Cooper preferred the Colt 1911 and its .45 ACP ammo, believing that doing as much damage as quickly as possible is one of the key tenets of defensive shooting.
  2. The Weaver stance: Named after a deputy sheriff who excelled in combat matches, the Weaver stance is balanced and uses a two-hand, isometric hold on the handgun. As the shooting hand pushes forward, the support hand pulls back, allowing for faster multiple shots.
  3. The draw stroke: Cooper understood the importance of presenting a pistol in a way that made it combat-ready, easy to repeat under stress, and flowed smoothly into the proper shooting stance.
  4. The flash sight picture: Col. Cooper discovered that their speed and accuracy improved when shooters focused on the pistol’s front sight. His message to his students: You need to get the front sight on the target and get a shot off quickly in a life-or-death situation. 
  5. The compressed surprise trigger break: Another one of Cooper’s secrets of speed and accuracy was to teach his students to press the trigger instead of yanking it off target. After perfecting this method, a quick and accurate shot will “surprise” the assailant.

Jeff Cooper Quotes: Four Rules Of Gun Safety

a photo of jeff cooper quotes about gun safety

Jeff’s mantra to his students was: “Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.” In his most famous Jeff Cooper quotes he advocated four rules for safely handling a firearm. Anyone who uses a gun would be wise to take heed of this advice from an expert in the safe use of small arms:

Rule #1–Assume all guns are always loaded: This is a straightforward rule without exceptions. Whenever you pick up a gun, check it yourself. When you have confirmed that it’s not loaded, continue with the mindset that it is loaded. Don’t ever put yourself into a situation where you end up saying, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded!”

Rule #2—Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy: Any weapon that has been assembled and is in your hands could be discharged. This rule applies to fighting as well as daily carrying and range practice. Don’t point a gun at something (or someone) unless you mean to destroy it.

Rule #3—Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target: This oft-violated rule should be self-explanatory. It’s dangerous to place your finger on the trigger before you have your sights on the target and are ready to fire on it. Walking around with your finger positioned carelessly on the trigger invites an accident that could be deadly!

Rule #4—Be sure of your target: Always positively identify your target, know what it’s in line with and what is behind it. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t assume anything, whether you’re on the range or in a fight.

Jeff Cooper’s Handgun Carry Conditions

a photo of Jeff Cooper's handgun carry conditions

Also known as “carry conditions,” the readiness conditions refer to the various ways to carry a handgun. These are based on how quickly the user can have the weapon ready to fire. Jeff Cooper devised the following carry conditions and taught them to his students. Remember that Cooper favored the Colt 1911 in .45 ACP, a semi-automatic pistol with a hammer, thumb safety, and grip safety. Not all of these conditions will apply to striker-fired firearms without a hammer and with only a passive trigger safety.

These are the five carry conditions laid out by Col. Cooper, starting at the least ready condition:

Unloaded Carry Conditions:

Loaded Carry Conditions:

What Is Jeff Cooper’s Legacy?

Jeff Cooper wrote the book on handguns in combat. He also did some political writing. You don’t have to read but a page or two to discover he was an arch-conservative. He also wrote a series of memoirs about his adventures in the military, firearms instruction, and big-game hunting. 

In high school, Jeff enrolled in Junior ROTC. He earned a degree in political science from Stanford University and received a commission in the U.S. Marine Corp. He later served in the Pacific during World War II, earning the rank of major. Later, he would fight in Korea, where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

A Career In The Gun Industry

After the war, Cooper earned a master’s degree and taught high school and community college until he decided to combine his flair for teaching and his passion for firearms by founding the American Pistol Institute. His insightful teachings on modern technique, safety rules, and gun conditions are a commonsense approach to safety and defense that will never go out of style.

John Dean “Jeff” Cooper died at his home on September 25, 2006, at age 86. Having been married for 64 years to his wife, Janelle. 

Jeff Cooper quotes himself in a short poem he wrote that sums up his life philosophy elegantly:

There ain’t many troubles that caint be fixed

With seven hundred dollars and a thirty ought six!

Jeff Cooper quotes are fun to read. Looking for more info on Col. Jeff Cooper’s life and times? Check out our historic profile here.

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