Gun Safety Basics

Whether you’re new to the sport or you’ve been shooting for years, there’s never an excuse to forget gun safety.

Hunting, target shooting and plinking are supposed to be fun activities that everyone can enjoy. However, when someone gets hurt the fun stops, and when it comes to guns there is no excuse for careless behavior. I say careless behavior because calling gun injuries an accident is not accurate, since this implies that something happened outside of anyone’s control.

When we go out to the field or the range to shoot we are each in control of the gun in our hands and our actions. When you ignore the basic safety rules of gun handling, or simply become a bit too casual about them, you endanger yourself and others. It is the responsibility of every gun owner and shooter to learn, memorize, understand and follow all the safety rules and to make sure that everyone who is with you does as well.

Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. 

You have probably heard this one 100 times or more, and there is a good reason for it. This is the single most important safety rule. You should treat all guns as though they are loaded and ready to fire, and you should never point the muzzle at anything you don’t want to shoot. Guns are mechanical devices and, just like your computer can crash or a car can break down, your gun may malfunction. Specifically, you should never rely on the mechanical safety on your gun, since it is possible for it to fail. Keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction at all times helps guarantee that no one gets hurt.

On a range, downrange is the proper safe direction. The gun should remain pointed downrange at all times that it is uncased or unholstered. When removing the gun from the case, you want to make sure that it stays pointed downrange. If you open your gun case and the gun is pointed anywhere other than downrange, turn the case so that the gun is pointed in a safe direction before you remove your gun from the case.

If you are hunting or otherwise carrying your gun uncased, you always want to be aware of your surroundings. You may have your gun pointed in a safe direction until someone appears who was not visible to you before. You should always be aware of where the gun is pointed and always on the lookout for the safest direction, which can change. Sometimes keeping the gun pointed up is the safest direction, but remember “what goes up must come down”… so this is not ideal in all situations. Other times keeping the gun pointed towards the ground may be the safest direction.

What about at home, when you are cleaning your gun or practicing dry fire? In this case, you should still look for the safest direction and keep the gun pointed at a solid object that could stop a shot in a worst case scenario. Appliances, solid masonry walls, and solid furniture (like a bookshelf full of books) could be your safest direction…but stay aware of adjoining rooms and where a shot could end up. Remember, drywall will not stop a bullet!

Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. 

A properly functioning gun will not fire unless you squeeze the trigger. But different guns have different trigger pulls, which is how much pressure is needed on the trigger to fire the gun. If you have your finger on the trigger, you may not realize how much pressure you are applying. You may even squeeze the trigger unintentionally; it’s a natural reflex for people to squeeze their hands when they are startled. That’s why it’s so crucial that you always keep your trigger finger along the side of the gun frame above the trigger, and outside of the trigger guard. You should only place your finger on the trigger when you are ready to shoot—and that is only when your sights are on your target and you know where your shot is going. Once you squeeze the trigger and fire a shot, there is no taking it back, no reset button, no do-over.

Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. 

When we store or transport guns, and when they are not needed, they should be kept unloaded. Examples of a gun that is ready to use and may properly be kept loaded include when you are target shooting, if you are carrying concealed in a secure holster, or when you are hunting. Guns that are kept for personal protection can also remain in a ready-to-use condition. However, unloaded or not, every gun should be treated the same, and the first and second rules still apply. No gun you touch should be considered unloaded until you have personally checked it. Remove the magazine and any ammunition, and open the action. Make sure that you visually and physically inspect the chamber to ensure there is no round remaining in the gun.

When you hand a gun to another person it should be unloaded and with the action open, and they should also inspect the gun each and every time. It doesn’t matter if you just checked it a couple of minutes ago; if it’s been out of your hands, check it again. If you are unsure how to check if a gun is loaded or unloaded then do not handle it. Seek help from a knowledgeable person.

Know your target and what lies beyond. 

You are responsible for every shot you take and it is vitally important to identify your target with 100 percent certainty. This is especially important for hunters who must master game identification and protect fellow hunters. On the range you want to make sure you have selected a proper target and not something that will cause dangerous ricochets or other damage.

It is also important to remember that a bullet can pass through your target or that you may miss. For this reason it is also important to know what lies beyond your target. Where is your shot potentially going to end up? Is it a safe area? Make sure you have a good solid backstop, such as an earth embankment, to stop your shot.

Finally, always remember the top safety command of cease fire. When you hear this, you should immediately stop shooting, and make sure others around you do as well by passing along the cease fire command. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction, your finger off the trigger and await further instructions such as to unload your gun. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and anyone who notices an unsafe situation can call a cease fire

Remember that when it comes to safety there is no such thing as too safe. No matter how many times you may have heard the safety rules, a review is always a good thing. So stay safe, keep shooting and have fun.