Safety is fundamental to all shooting activities. Whether you’re practicing at the range, hunting in the field, or cleaning your gun in your workshop, the rules of firearm safety always apply. Safe gun handling involves the development of knowledge, skills and attitude—knowledge of the gun safety rules, the skill to apply these rules, and a safety-first attitude that arises from a sense of responsibility and an understanding of potential dangers.
Most gun accidents are caused by ignorance and/or carelessness. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge— a person who handles a gun without knowing the gun safety rules or how to operate the gun is exhibiting a dangerous lack of knowledge. Equally dangerous is the person who, although knowing the gun safety rules and how to properly operate a gun, becomes careless in properly applying this knowledge. In both of these cases, accidents can easily happen. But when people practice responsible ownership and use of guns, accidents don’t happen.
Though there are many specific principles of safe firearm operation, all are derived from just three basic safe gun handling rules.
1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
And 3, ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off, it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending upon the circumstances. At the range, a “safe direction” is downrange.
If only this one safety rule were always followed, there would be no injuries or damage from unintentional discharges. Keeping a firearm pointed in a safe direction is relatively easy with a long gun, such as a rifle or shotgun, as the longer barrel promotes muzzle awareness. The shorter length of the typical revolver or semi-automatic, and its ability to be held and fired in one hand, require that the shooter be even more conscious of where the gun is pointing.
Your trigger finger should always be kept straight, alongside the frame and out of the trigger guard, until you have made the decision to shoot. Unintentional discharges can be caused when the trigger of a loaded gun is inadvertently pressed by a finger left in the trigger guard instead of being positioned straight along the side of the gun’s frame.
A firearm that is not being used should always be unloaded. For example, at the range, your firearm should be left unloaded with the action open while you walk downrange to check your target. Similarly, a firearm that is stored in a gun safe or lock box should be unloaded (unless it is a personal protection firearm that may need to be accessed quickly for defensive purposes).
As a general rule, whenever you pick up a gun, point it in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger, engage the safety (if the gun is equipped with one), remove the magazine (if the gun is equipped with a removable magazine), open the action and visually and physically inspect the chamber(s) to determine if the gun is loaded or not. Unless the firearm is being kept in a state of readiness for personal
protection, it should be unloaded. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the firearm, leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does. Further information on pistol mechanisms will be presented in Part.