Firearms safety: breaking down the basics

Whether you’re brand new to guns or have been shooting all your life, the basics of safety should be first and foremost in your mind. Four of these rules are commonly stated as the basic rules of firearms safety, but I added three more that I think are equally important.

Treat every gun as though it’s loaded.

Actually, the new thing is to simply say every gun is loaded. No matter how you word it, there is a respect and a safety that should come with handling a loaded gun—and you should treat all guns with that same respect and safety. It’s always better to assume something is loaded and find out it wasn’t than to assume something isn’t loaded and find out that it was.

For instance, if someone hands you a pistol, not only should you assume that it is loaded, but you should check to see that it’s not. I don’t care who handed you the gun, how much experience they have with guns, or how safe you think they are—perform a check to make sure it is not loaded. Drop the magazine, lock the slide back (or do a press check), and make sure the chamber is clear before doing anything else with that gun.

So basically, treat it like it’s loaded, check to make sure it’s not loaded, and even when you know it’s not—continue to treat it as though it is.

How’s that for extra safe?

The basics of firearms safety should be first and foremost in your mind. Let's dig into seven of my favorite rules.

Don’t point the gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot or destroy.

That means anything you don’t intend to shoot — yourself, your friend, the dog, the car, something “to be funny”.

You should always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.

Be aware that depending on where you are, the “safe direction” might be different. When on a range, down range (where the targets would be) is the safe direction. But in other situations (think about walking with a rifle or shotgun) the safe direction might be pointed at the ground or up in the air.

Accidents happen. And the only thing worse than unintentional fire is unintentional fire that happened when the gun wasn’t pointed in a safe direction.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you have made the decision to shoot.

Range safety officers and firearms instructors see it plenty, even from people who should “know better”.

Accidentally pressing the trigger can stem from a failure to pay attention, but it can also be a biomechanics thing. Notice this: if you tighten your hand into a fist, all your fingers move.

Try tightening your hand into a fist keeping your trigger finger out straight. Now do the same thing without trying so hard to keep your finger out straight. By the time your bottom three fingers have touched your palm, your trigger finger is moving. Your fingers are meant to move together.

What this means is that when you tighten your grip on a gun, all your fingers move. If your finger is resting on the trigger, chances are you’re going to pull that trigger.

Now imagine you’re in a stressful situation and your finger isn’t outside the trigger guard. You grab for an extra tight grip on your gun. What happens?

Keep your finger outside the trigger guard at all times. The only time your finger should touch that trigger is the moment you intentionally choose to press that trigger.  

The basics of firearms safety should be first and foremost in your mind. Let's dig into seven of my favorite rules.

Keeping your trigger finger straight along the gun (outside the trigger guard) is called indexing. Practice this until it becomes second nature. In fact,  you’ll know it has become second nature when you automatically index on anything that has a “trigger”—your impact driver, a spray bottle of glass cleaner, etc.

Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

Not just because you don’t want to shoot the dog that is suddenly bounding after a bunny behind your target. But also because bullets fly a long time, friends.

Know what you’re shooting at. And know what is behind and around what you’re shooting at. If you don’t know, don’t shoot.

Now let’s get into three firearms safety tips I’d add.

Don’t rely on the safety.

Repeat after me: the safety is a mechanical device that can fail.

Don’t delude yourself into believing the infallibility of a little metal piece that  prevents the trigger or firing pin from moving. 9 times out of 10 it does work — especially when you want to shoot but forgot to click it off. (cough–hunting–cough) But the safety on your gun is a mechanical device, and any mechanical device is subject to mechanical failure .

Which is why firearms safety rules #1-4 are a big deal.

The basics of firearms safety should be first and foremost in your mind. Let's dig into seven of my favorite rules.

It’s also worth mentioning that not every gun is equipped with a manual safety—for instance, my former everyday carry gun. When I bought the gun, a few friends were worried I’d shoot my foot off because the Bodyguard .380 I chose had no manual safety. It is a double action, with a very long trigger pull — which acts as “the safety”. But they were so caught up in the fact there wasn’t a manual safety and couldn’t believe I’d carry something so dangerous.

Y’all realize it is a gun, right?

Regardless of what kind of safety your gun is equipped with, train your mind to think of yourself as the safety.

You know, by religiously following firearms safety rules #1-4.

When shooting, eyes and ears should always be protected.

Any reputable range or shooting sports group will require eye and ear protection in order to participate.

And yet, I still meet people who, when shooting in their backyard or a friend’s gravel pit, don’t use eye or ear protection because they don’t need it or the gun isn’t that loud or my eyes are fine.

The basics of firearms safety should be first and foremost in your mind. Let's dig into seven of my favorite rules.

I’ve seen too many eye injuries from mishaps with casings or targets when someone wasn’t wearing safety glasses. And I know quite a few people who have hearing loss from having shot a lot of guns when there wasn’t the option of ear protection (or they just chose not to use it).

Listen, I intend to do a lot of shooting over the course of my life. And if I can’t see…I can’t shoot. And if I can’t hear, I won’t know you’re calling to tell me it’s time to go to the range.

So maybe just put on your ear muffs and eye protection, okay?

Store guns away from people who shouldn’t have free access to them.

This includes kids. This includes your crazy uncle. This includes anyone you feel should be in this category for safety, sanity, or flat out logic.

Lock your guns up. Keep them safe. It what you do for things you love, right?

Follow the rules of firearms safety and teach them to others.

Firearms safety is important—you can’t be too careful. I’ve sat in meetings of organizations where the majority of the people involved are very experienced with firearms, and they still go over the rules of firearms safety at the beginning of every meeting.

Commit these rules to memory, and don’t be afraid to give a reminder to anyone who isn’t up to par with them. As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to be able to shoot guns for a very long time—and that requires that everyone around me is being safe with theirs.

1 comment

  1. Nancy

    Let’s shoot guns together Amy! I’m learning as we speak!!

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