There are quite a few new gun owners and if you are going to handle a firearm there are a few simple safety rules that must be followed. The NRA has rules, manufacturers have rules, heck, everybody has rules. What I would like to do is to give you one rule, let’s call it the Golden Rule, and then the NRA rules for safe gun handling. So here it is, my Golden Rule:

Treat Every Firearm As If It Is Loaded

Simple right? So you unloaded a firearm, now you can point it and pull the trigger. Heck no! The firearm is still to be treated as if it is loaded. If you follow that rule and handle every single firearm as if it is loaded it is impossible to have an accident. Guns do not spontaneously discharge. In the case of some long guns they may discharge if dropped with a round in the chamber, but most of the time the trigger is pulled or depressed by an object and that causes the discharge. So let’s take a look at the NRA rules:

  1. ALWAYS keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire
  3. ALWAYS keep the firearm unloaded until ready to use

Let’s break these down a little. If I always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction then even if the gun somehow magically discharged it would not hurt anyone. Since we know a gun cannot magically discharge, if I keep my finger off the trigger until I have my sights on target and I am ready to fire the gun will only shoot at the target. The last rule is key as well. If you are not using the gun, do not keep it loaded. I can see the eye rolls from people thinking about home defense. If you have a home defense gun then have it in a safe, secured location, pointed in a safe direction and ready to be retrieved for use. Otherwise keep them unloaded. An unloaded gun, with your finger off the trigger and pointed in a safe direction can never harm or hurt anyone. To me that boils down to treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

The NRA has some additional safe handling rules copied below.

  • Know your target and what is beyond. Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.
  • Be sure the gun is safe to operate. Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to remain operable. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun’s general upkeep. If there is any question concerning a gun’s ability to function, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.
  • Know how to use the gun safely. Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts, how to safely open and close the action and remove any ammunition from the gun or magazine. Remember, a gun’s mechanical safety device is never foolproof. Nothing can ever replace safe gun handling.
  • Use only the correct ammunition for your gun. Only BBs, pellets, cartridges or shells designed for a particular gun can be fired safely in that gun. Most guns have the ammunition type stamped on the barrel. Ammunition can be identified by information printed on the box and sometimes stamped on the cartridge. Do not shoot the gun unless you know you have the proper ammunition.
  • Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate. Guns are loud and the noise can cause hearing damage. They can also emit debris and hot gas that could cause eye injury. For these reasons, shooting glasses and hearing protectors should be worn by shooters and spectators.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting. Alcohol, as well as any other substance likely to impair normal mental or physical bodily functions, must not be used before or while handling or shooting guns.
  • Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
    Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person’s particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Dozens of gun storage devices, as well as locking devices that attach directly to the gun, are available. However, mechanical locking devices, like the mechanical safeties built into guns, can fail and should not be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun safety rules.
  • Be aware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.
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    Knowing the target and what is beyond is key, if it is not safe to shoot, do not shoot. So treat every firearm as if it is loaded, always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, always keep your finger off the trigger and always keep the firearms unloaded until ready to use!