The Fundamentals of Firearm Safety
The three basic general rules of safe gun handling.
- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; never point a firearm at anyone or
anything you don't want to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are
ready to shoot.
- Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to use it.
Additional specific rules of safe gun handling
Safety Rules Related to the Shooter and His Behavior.
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
- Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm from another person,
until the cylinder or action is open and you've personally checked that the
weapon is completely unloaded.
- Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
- Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.
- Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger you can't take back the shot
you've just fired!
- Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling or using firearms.
- Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or impaired in any way.
Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
- Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if you sleepwalk, have
nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other sleep problems.
- Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always wear
eye and ear protection. Endeavor to limit your exposure to heavy metal
particulates and gases, and minimize your contact with aromatic organic
solvents (such as those commonly used in gun cleaning products).
- If you see unsafe behavior any time when firearms are being handled or used, speak
up and take action to correct the unsafe behavior at once.
- Receive competent instruction from a qualified person before beginning to shoot. If
questions arise later, after you've been shooting for a period of time, get
answers to those questions from a competent authority.
Safety Rules Related to Your Target.
- Positively identify your target and the threat it
poses before firing at it.
- What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot, or a bullet which
penetrates its intended target through and through, will be safely stopped.
- Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may glance off, ricochet
and injure someone.
- Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate targets which would
create a hazard for other persons or damage the environment.
- Never shoot a rifle or handgun directly upwards, or at a high angle of elevation.
Even a rimfire .22 bullet fired at an angle into the air can have enough
energy a mile and a half away to accidentally kill someone!
- Never shoot across a highway or other roadway.
- Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private property) by using it as a
- Never poach a game animal out of season, or shoot any game animal you don't intend to eat.
Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm.
- Make sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before firing it.
Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of erosion, cracking, or
wear by the factory, by a qualified armorer, or by a factory certified
- Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially obstructed barrel.
- Insure that any modifications made to a firearm are made by a qualified individual,
and that those modifications don't interfere with your firearm's safety
- Be sure all accessories, such as holsters and grips, are compatible with the firearm
and won't interfere with its safe operation.
- Remember: a backup firearm carried about your person
may be highly valuable to you in the event your primary firearm is ever
rendered inoperable or is taken from you by an assailant.
- It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is always either about your
person and under your personal control, or positively secured from access by
children or other unauthorized parties. Prevent tragedy: lock down your
firearms when they aren't in use.
- When storing a firearm for a long period of time, consider storing the slide,
bolt, or other critical components of the firearm separately under separate
lock and key.
- Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer unless that
revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an inertial firing
- Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has an
automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
- Generally avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type firearm with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in decocking any external hammer firearm: it is very easy to experience an accidental discharge while doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
- Generally avoid unloading a firearm by working the cartridges through the action one-at-a-time; drop the magazine and then
eject the round which may be left in the chamber, instead, if possible.
- Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting scope: while
observing an area you may end up accidentally aiming your firearm at fellow
hunters, or other non-targets.
- Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a semiautomatic pistol) by
cupping your hand around the ejection port while retracting the slide; doing
so may result in an accidental discharge.
Safety Rules Related to Ammunition.
- Be sure your gun and ammunition are compatible. Shooting incorrect ammunition in a firearm may cause it to be damaged or even make it blow up.
- Relying on ammunition which doesn't feed reliably in your particular firearm may
make your firearm malfunction at a critical juncture: get experience with a
particular lot of ammunition in your firearm before relying on it for
- Use only ammunition recommended for your firearm by its manufacturer. Never fire ammunition which exceeds industry standard pressure specifications.
Over-pressure ammunition will reduce the service life of your handgun, and
puts you and those around you at risk of a catastrophic firearm failure.
- Use reloaded ammunition judiciously. Be aware that many firearms manufacturers
specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their products, and
will void their product's warranty if you elect to use reloaded ammunition
in contravention of their instructions.
Also remember that a cartridge which has: the wrong powder, no powder charge, or too
large a powder charge; an inverted primer, mis-seated primer, the wrong type of
primer or an inert primer; a mis-seated, inverted, or mis-sized bullet; a
collapsed, weakened, improperly sized or mis-crimped case; incorrect overall
length or any of a host of other defects may seriously jeopardize your safety,
the safety of those around you, and/or the reliability of your firearm in a
Many shooters prepare and safely use reloaded ammunition each day, and it can be an
economical way to stretch your ammunition budget, but the safety of that
reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care, components, equipment, and
practices used in preparing it.
- Carry only one caliber of ammunition when shooting. Accidentally grabbing the
wrong ammunition while shooting can result in a shooter or third party being
injured, or damage or destruction of a firearm.
- Insure you carry sufficient spare ammunition for your defensive firearm, and make
sure you carry it in a readily employable fashion (such as in spare
magazines or in speedloaders).
- Store ammunition that isn't being used under lock and key, inaccessible to
unauthorized parties and children.
- Dispose of unwanted ammunition safely.
Rules Related to Your Firearm's Holster and Ammo Carrier.
use a holster which is designed for, and which fits, your handgun.
sure your holster covers the trigger guard of your handgun.
- Purchase a holster which allows you to obtain a secure grip on your handgun while it
is still holstered.
- Be sure the thumb break, safety strap, or other firearm retention device on your
holster is functional and consistently employed. A good holster should
retain your firearm during normal carry and routine physical activity, but
no holster can insure that a firearm will be secure against determined
attempts at disarmament, or keep a firearm secure during all possible
clip-on holsters and magazine pouches. These carriers may fail to stay
clipped to the belt and end up being drawn along with the firearm or the
magazine they still hold, thereby interfering with use of the firearm or
with timely reloading.
ankle holsters, shoulder holsters and other types of holsters which can
introduce unnecessary delays in accessing a defensive firearm.
carrying a defensive firearm in a purse, pocketbook, daypack or briefcase. A
firearm carried in that fashion is:
- Typically hard to rapidly access due to the presence
of slow-to-open zippers, multiple latches, etc.,
hard to find and draw amidst all the other items routinely carried, since
few purses or briefcases include a dedicated handgun-carrying compartment,
- Prone to being unavailable when needed, since briefcases, purses and other carriers are routinely set down or put away in a desk drawer where they may or may not be readily accessible and under your physical control,
- Unusually vulnerable to being stolen, since purses,
pocketbooks, daypacks and briefcases are prime targets for purse snatchers,
pick pockets, muggers and thieves,
- Prone to misfunction in an emergency since materials carried along with your handgun in a purse or brief case may gum up the firearm's mechanism and potentially
interfere with its proper operation, and
to allow your handgun to accidentally become visible to shop clerks, bank
tellers or other parties while you are searching for your checkbook or
locating a credit card, and that inadvertent exposure may potentially
result in a tense situation or even a tragic over-reaction on the part of
an individual noticing the firearm and/or summoning law enforcement
officers to the scene.
carry a handgun tucked into your belt or waistband without a holster (i.e.,
so-called ``mexican carry''). A handgun carried in this fashion may be
unintentionally dislodged, fall onto a hard surface and accidentally
discharge or be damaged. Inside the waistband-type holsters will allow you
to obtain the concealment of this type of carry while simultaneously
providing vastly improved firearm retention.
ammunition. Select a design that secures and protects your speedloaders or
magazines while still making them readily available for use. Avoid
ammunition loops and ammo dump boxes.
or speedloader pouch: only full magazines or full speedloaders belong in a
carrier. Partially empty magazines or speed loaders should go into your
pocket; empty magazines or speedloaders should be allowed to fall where
they're used during an emergency.
- At a range, obey the commands of the range officers, or any individual calling
`cease fire,' at once. Read, know and follow any rules peculiar to a
particular range which you may be using.
- Be careful of hot gases and metal shavings ejected at the forcing cone of a
- Keep your fingers and other parts of your body away from the muzzle, the rear of
the slide, and the ejection area of a semiautomatic pistol.
- In the event of a misfire, keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, remove
your finger from the trigger, wait ten seconds, then eject the cartridge
and dispose of it properly.
- If you hear an unusual sound upon squeezing the trigger or feel an unusual recoil,
stop shooting and investigate. You may have experienced a ``squib'' load
(or under-powered cartridge), and it may have caused a bore obstruction.
Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, remove your finger from the
trigger, wait ten seconds, then unload the firearm and safely examine the
barrel, checking carefully for any possible obstructions before reloading
and resuming shooting.
- Climb a tree with a loaded firearm,
- Cross a fence with a loaded firearm,
- Jump a ditch or a stream with a loaded firearm,
- Scale or descend a steep incline or hill with a loaded firearm,
- Climb a tree, or climb into a hunting stand with a loaded firearm,
- Prop or lean a loaded firearm against a tree or other surface which may allow it
to slide, or fall
- Transport a cased loaded firearm.
- Always carry your firearms in a way which will allow you to control where the
muzzle is pointing, should you stumble or fall.
ballistic vest may substantially improve your chances of surviving an armed
encounter on the street.
wear a thousand square inches or more of blaze orange while in the field
during hunting season.
- Blackpowder (and replica blackpowder) firearms
require additional safety precautions not discussed here. Obtain qualified
instruction in the safe operation of blackpowder firearms before attempting
to load or fire any such firearm.
- Circumstances may require additional safety rules
unique to a particular situation.
Safe Gun Storage.
are not using your firearm, you should insure that it is store safely.
Affirmative measures designed to prevent unauthorized access to a defensive
firearm by minors, or firearm theft, include:
- Use of a
simplex-type locking box for securing firearms which need to be kept loaded
yet available for ready-access defensive use, and
- Use of
trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms which don't need to be kept
immediately available for defensive use.
Also note that:
- Gun security devices which rely solely on physical strength to secure firearms
from unauthorized use are generally undesirable since ingenious children
can potentially employ leverage or tools to overcome those devices.
- "Hiding" a firearm won't secure it from discovery and possible misuse by curious children or intruders.
- Metal gun cabinets or gun safes can be used to safeguard firearms from
unauthorized access or theft in many circumstances and metal gun cabinets
or gun safes are generally preferable to open racks or glass-front
- Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition when the firearm isn't needed for ready-access defensive use.
- You may want to store critical components of a firearm (such as the gun's bolt or slide) separately from the rest of the firearm when the gun won't be used
in the immediate future.
- Consider engraving your firearms with your social security number, driver's license number, or concealed firearms license number to deter theft and facilitate return of stolen firearms which may happen to be recovered.
- Explore "gun-proofing" your child by proper training, and by controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce your child's natural unsatisfied
curiosity about firearms.