Whether you own a gun for hunting, or you have one in your home for emergency protection, you should never wield a firearm before you’re familiar with the correct safety precautions.
Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote the four “golden” rules of gun safety in 1970, and we’ve added a couple of extra rules to consider, to promote safety both on and off the firing range.
Remember, even if you rarely (or never) use your gun, it’s a dangerous weapon — fully capable of injuring or killing another human being. Gun safety is essential when it comes to protecting yourself, your family, and the people around you.
Treat the Gun as Though It’s Always Loaded
Whenever you pick up or move a gun — no matter if you’re at home, or in the field — it’s important to always assume the weapon is loaded. Handle every gun as a loaded weapon, even if someone tells you it’s empty.
This is an important distinction, so it’s worth stating again: If someone ever hands you a gun and says, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” don’t automatically take that person’s word for it. In a situation like this, ask the owner of the gun remove the magazine, open the chamber, and display the empty gun to you. Your safety is more important than being polite or impolite to the person handing you a weapon; and any good gun owner will understand, and willingly show you that the weapon is empty.
In the same vein, it’s easy to get distracted yourself when storing your gun after use. You may think that it’s unloaded, then discover differently when you accidentally pull the trigger as you take the gun out of your safe. Even if you just put that gun down moments ago, safety check it as you pick it back up. Be vigilant when picking up and putting away any gun — whether it’s yours or not.
Always Keep the Muzzle Pointed in a Safe Direction
Once you’ve committed yourself to the first rule, it’s easy to naturally embrace the second. A good way to think of this rule is that you should never point a gun towards something you’re not willing to destroy. Don’t point your gun towards another person to threaten them, or wave your gun around when you’re illustrating a point.
Regardless of whether you’re shooting a bullet or a tiny pellet, the projectile from a firearm has the power to destroy — permanently — whatever it’s pointing at. This safety rule applies at all times; not just when you’re shooting something or holstering your weapon, but also when you’re showing someone your gun, cleaning your gun, or handling it for any reason.
Don’t Touch the Trigger Until You’re Ready to Shoot
Regarded as the number one rule for some firearm experts, it’s crucial to never touch the trigger of your gun until your gun is aimed, and you’re ready to shoot. Before this point, and as you’re lining up, keep your trigger finger lined along the receiver or frame of the gun, so you don’t accidentally slide it onto trigger position.
Remember, humans have a “startle reflex,” which prompts the thumb and fingers to move together (in a clutch motion) when we are startled. It’s part of your biology — we all have this reflex, and we can’t help it. The force of this clutch motion is more than enough to cause you to fire your gun unintentionally, if something surprises you or catches you off guard.
Another important reason to keep your finger off the trigger is the risk that you could lose your balance, and end up shooting something — or worse, someone — unintentionally.
Be Certain of Your Target, and What’s Behind it
This rule applies not only when you’re firing a gun, but also when you’re simply holding it. Just because you aim your gun at your intended target doesn’t mean you’re aiming in a perfectly safe direction. You need to be sure you’re not pointing your muzzle at something unintentionally, like an object behind, next to, or moving by your target.
No matter how practiced you are, there is always the possibility that you could miss a target, or that your projectile could pass through it completely and hit something behind it. Make sure that no unintended targets are anywhere near where you’re pointing your muzzle.
Store Guns Securely When They Aren’t in Use
Even when your guns aren’t out or in use, they’re still dangerous. This means that you need to think carefully about where and how you store them. In most circumstances, the best solution is to purchase a gun safe and place it inside of your home. A well-designed gun safe will ensure that no one can handle your gun without your consent.
A gun safe also ensures that young children don’t accidentally come across your gun when playing — and injure themselves (or others) by mistake. It’s astounding how quickly and easily disasters can happen when guns get into innocent little hands, so keep your family and all guests protected by storing your guns in a locked safe.
Don’t Blindly Trust Your Safety
Although many guns have a safety device that prevents the firearm from firing, these are not always reliable. Some guns may even fire when the safety is released. In other words, you can’t afford to be careless or reckless with your gun just because you believe the safety mechanism will protect you.
It’s easy to get distracted when you’re having fun shooting targets, and it’s even easier to feel comfortable and sure of yourself the more you get used to handling your gun. While it’s great to feel confident in your own firearm skills, don’t let yourself get complacent about your gun’s power and associated risk.
Take extra care when using and storing firearms, and don’t be afraid to correct others when you see them using guns incorrectly. Never forget that the item you’re handling has the power to kill another person. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, or used carelessly in any circumstances.