Basic Firearms Safety

Basic Gun Safety

Working at a gun store and range allows me to see shooters from many different shooting disciplines, as well as shooters of all skill levels.  The one thing I can say is consistent across all groups is that we all need to pay more attention to the 4 Basic Rules of Gun Safety.

Let’s start by identifying the 4 Basic Rules of Safe Gun Handling.  These rules are as follows:

-All guns are always loaded.

-Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.

-Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

-Be sure of your target and what’s beyond.

The language used in these rules is plain and not very technical, but many new shooters don’t fully understand them, and many experienced shooters become complacent over time.  Let’s take some time to talk about them in depth.

All Guns Are Always Loaded

What do we mean by “All guns are always loaded?”  Does this mean that every gun we own is kept with a full magazine and a round in the chamber at all times?  Certainly not.  What it means is that anytime we pick up a firearm, we treat it as a loaded gun until we personally verify that it is not loaded.  We don’t take others at their word, we don’t trust that no one has handled the gun since the last time we picked it up, and we don’t rely on ourselves or our memory.

Here at the shop we don’t keep loaded firearms in the showcase or on the wall, but the first thing every associate does when a customer asks to handle a gun is to open the action and verify the gun is unloaded before handing it to the customer.  When customers or students are handling firearms off the range, we don’t allow any ammunition in the area, so there is no chance of them loading a gun.  Yet when they hand a firearm to a member of our staff, the first thing we do is open the action and verify there are no rounds in the gun.  This is the level of execution you need to have when applying this rule.

Never Point The Muzzle At Anything You Are Not Willing To Destroy

This is very simple and plain language, yet this rule is one of the two most violated of the set.  This rule can also be stated as “Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.”  We use the language that we do because sometimes when handling a firearm there is no truly safe direction to point it in, so we keep it pointed in the direction that would cause the least amount of harm or damage.  It’s important to remember that when we fire a gun, the bullet leaves the barrel and travels in a straight line until it encounters an object hard enough to stop it.  That object may be the floor or a tree, but it might also be your neighbors’ house, or a person doing yardwork four blocks away.

So, when we’re handling firearms, for whatever reason, we don’t point them at ourselves or others.  We don’t point them at our televisions or aquariums.  We don’t point them at our pets or at anything else we are not prepared to lose should that firearm inadvertently discharge.

Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Your Sights Are On The Target

This rule is the hardest rule for new shooters and some seasoned shooters to put into practice and commit to executing one hundred percent of the time.  We have practiced from a very young age to put our finger on the trigger when we pick up a gun.  No one ever taught us the 4 Basic Rules of Firearms Safety when we first started handling our Super Soakers and Nerf guns.  Also, firearms manufacturers put a lot of effort into ergonomic design, so the guns we handle make it very comfortable and easy to hold with our fingers on the trigger.  The fact of the matter is that, in reality, guns don’t normally go off unless we pull the trigger, and if we don’t put our finger on it, we can’t pull it.

Almost all firearms, especially handguns, have incorporated a firing pin block safety into the design of the gun.  This means that most modern handguns are drop safe.  It’s not like we see in the movies or on television where someone drops a gun and it goes off four times and shoots three people.  You have to pull the trigger on the gun for it to fire, and if we don’t put our fingers on the trigger it can’t fire.

Be Sure Of Your Target And What’s Beyond

Simply stated, know what you’re shooting at and what is behind it as well.  Remember, as I previously stated, that bullets, once fired, don’t stop until they hit something hard enough to stop them.  There is no recall button, and they cannot be guided or controlled.  Proper target identification is important.  Don’t shoot at sounds on the other side of a door, or noises in the dark.

The second part of this rule is just as important, knowing what is on the other side of our targets.  It’s important to remember that bullets don’t just stop when they hit a piece of paper.  We also don’t always hit what we’re aiming at and should be concerned about where our misses are going.  You can visit our range and see all of the bullet marks on our floor, walls, and ceiling baffles as proof that shooters don’t understand this rule.  It’s not just safety on the range that we need to be concerned about.  If you get attacked and need to fire your gun, where would your rounds go if you missed?  Would they hit a brick wall?  Would they go into your children’s room at the end of the hall?  Would you hit a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies in front of the grocery store?

Living The Safe Lifestyle

Clint Smith says that adhering to these rules is a “lifestyle change,” and he’s correct.  In order to ensure that we never have a negligent discharge, we have to consistently follow these rules all day, every day.

Some of you may believe that since I said the gun won’t fire unless you pull the trigger, just keeping your finger off the trigger is all the safe gun handling you need.  The fact of the matter is that we’re all human, and we all lose focus at times and make mistakes.  These rules are designed with enough overlap so that they continue to protect us even if we disregard a few of them.  They’re also designed so that if we have a truly “accidental” discharge due to a mechanical malfunction, we stay just as safe.

So there you have it, a quick refresher on how to be safe when handling your firearms.  Stay safe and keep shooting!

-Jeff Levan