Gun Safety & Shooting Safely
Regardless of your familiarity with firearms or level of marksmanship, both new and experienced shooters always need to focus their thoughts on safety when being around guns. Knowledge of safe practices and, more importantly, always applying that information must be the first and foremost at all times whenever and wherever firearms are present. Whether you are shooting targets or hunting, never allow yourself to become distracted from safety governing your actions. Firearm safety can never be repeated too often or stressed strongly enough, because careless handling of a gun can easily cause devastating results.
Safety awareness around firearms may be presented as a simple list of do’s and don’ts, or a set of rules or commandments, but any compilation of gun safety and shooting safely cannot be all inclusive. Any single list cannot take into account additional circumstances or unique situations that present themselves. The guidelines presented here are to make a person cognitive of recognizing potential dangerous situations with firearms. When handling firearms and ammunition be mindful of your actions, use good sense and caution. Shooting is a relaxing and enjoyable sport that anyone can take part. The key to it all is to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.
The first things to keep in mind for gun safety are:
Always treat any gun as if it were loaded. Never assume that a firearm is unloaded. Any time you handle a firearm, the very first thing to do is point the muzzle in a safe direction, make sure the safety device is engaged, and check to see if the gun is loaded. The only way to ever make certain a firearm is not loaded is to examine it. If you do not understand how to determine if it is loaded, if you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber, leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does know how to check. Never accept any firearm until someone has safely shown you that it is unloaded.
Always point the gun in a safe direction. A safe direction means that even if the gun were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. Depending on your surroundings, common sense determines the safest direction. Be aware of your immediate environment and continuously aware of where the muzzle or front of the barrel is pointing at all times. Never point a firearm at anything that you do not intend to shoot. Never allow the muzzle of a firearm to point at your body or another person. Never rest a muzzle on a body part, like your foot.
Some good practices for shooting safely are:
Keep the gun unloaded when not in use. Unload your firearm when not in use. The only time a gun should be loaded is immediately before using it to shoot. Do not transport a loaded gun. Leave the action open and store the gun in a case when traveling to and from shooting areas. While hunting, open and empty the chamber of your firearm before climbing a tree or jumping over an obstruction. If you have a carry permit for self-protection, keep the chamber of the gun unloaded when carrying to reduce the chance of an accidental discharge.
Learn about the gun and how to use it safely. Find out how the gun operates before handling it. Know the basic parts and features of any firearm you are using; including the safety mechanism, how to safely open and close the action, and how to load and remove any ammunition from the gun. Knowing the handling characteristics of a gun gives the fundamental information to be able to practice safe gun handling. Read the owner’s manual. Ask information from someone who is familiar with the gun. To further familiarize you with the proper use of the gun, consider taking a formal Firearms Safety Course taught by an expert in firearms use and safety procedures.
Maintain the gun to keep it operating safely. Just like any mechanical tool, any firearm needs regular maintenance. General upkeep, such as periodic cleanings and proper storage, are needed to keep a gun in good condition. Regular cleaning will keep your gun operating correctly and safely. After each use, clean and oil your firearm to protect again corrosion, accumulation of impurities and damage to the barrel. Proper cleaning will also help to maintain the gun’s value and prolong its life. Store and carry your firearm so that dirt and lint cannot accumulate in the working parts. Any gun brought out of prolonged storage should be cleaned before shooting to remove any accumulated moisture and dirt, or solidified grease and oil, which can prevent the gun from operating properly. If there is any question concerning a gun’s ability to function, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.
Use proper and correct ammunition for your gun. Only ammunition that is designed for a particular gun is safe to be fired in that gun. The discharge of ammunition in a firearm that is not designed to shoot that ammunition can be dangerous. The caliber or gauge is indicated on the barrel, frame or receiver of a firearm. Ammunition can be identified by check the head stamp to confirm that it matches the caliber or gauge of your firearm. If the ammunition has no marking on the head stamp or cartridge, check the original ammunition packaging. Even if a round can fit into the firearm chamber, it does not necessarily mean that it is safe to use that ammunition in the firearm. An excessive build up and/or release of high-pressure gas in the chamber, barrel and/or action greater than what the firearm is designed to withstand can cause serious injury or death to the user and bystanders, as well as cause damage to the firearm. If there is any question about the caliber of the ammunition, do not use it until you have had it examined by a qualified person who can determine its caliber.
Handle your gun and ammunition carefully. Do not initiate, or take any part in, any horseplay with firearms. Never face or look down the barrel from the muzzle end. Use gun or trigger locks and guards on your firearm when not in use. Store and transport your gun and ammunition separately under lock and key. Never climb a fence, tree or ladder with a loaded firearm. Never jump a ditch or obstruction with a loaded firearm. Carry only ammunition that correctly matches the gauge or caliber you are shooting with your gun. Carry your gun with the chamber empty. Learn how the proper carry for your firearm, and use a two-hand carry when possible to give you the best muzzle control.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you ready to shoot.
Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Never rest your finger on the trigger, but keep it on the trigger guard or along side of the gun until you are actually ready to fire.
Never consider the safety lock as a substitute for safe firearm handling. The safety is a mechanical device and it can fail. But as an added measure keep the safety on until you are ready to fire.
Know your target, and what is in front of and behind it.
When shooting, know your safe zone-of-fire. Your safe zone-of-fire is the area and direction in which you can safely fire a shot that will not cause injury or damage. Depending on your firearm and ammunition, some bullets can travel over a mile and you must know how far your shot can travel. Know what is in front of and behind your target. Never shoot at flat or hard surfaces, such as rocks, steel, or water because the bullet could ricochet. Determine that you have a safe backstop or background behind your target that will stop your bullet. Never take a shot at a target that is on top of a ridge or hill, because you do not know what may be on the other side. It is your responsibility to ensure that the shot does not cause unintended injury or damage if you miss your target or the bullet penetrates the target.
Wear hearing and eye protection when you shoot your gun.
When shooting, wearing hearing and eye protection is a necessary precaution at all times. Firearms are loud. The noise created from a firing gun damages hearing. Hearing loss can be immediate from being to close to one muzzle blast, or gradual from the vibrations made from lesser blasts over many years. Impact resistant shooting glasses protect your eyes from escaping gases, burnt gunpowder or metal fragments can blow back and injure the shooter. Although these incidents are rare, serious injury can occur and loss of eyesight is a possibility.
Control your emotions when shooting. Shooting is challenging and stimulating, but keep your emotions in check so you do not act carelessly. You or someone else may be in danger if you get caught up in the moment by your emotions. When you successfully shoot you will be excited. At that moment, you must demonstrate discipline and keep safety in mind. After a successful shot at a target, you need to first put your gun down with the muzzle facing down range before turning back towards your companions with a loaded firearm in your hands. When hunting, after a successful shot remember to put the safety on before you run with a loaded firearm towards a downed animal. Plan in your mind what the safe action will be.
Never drink alcohol or take over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before while handling your gun. Alcohol and drugs can impair normal mental and physical body functions and should never be used before or while handling firearms. handling a gun while using alcohol and/or any drugs cause a hazardous situation because these substance affect motor reactions, judgment and emotions.
Store your gun safely. There are several locking devices available for firearms. Consider your personal situation in deciding how and where to store your gun and ammunition. Separate and lock your unloaded firearm and your ammunition in different locations. Devices such as cable locks, chamber plugs and gun cases are intended to prevent accidents. To reduce the possibility of intentional misuse of your firearm from an unauthorized child or person, steel gun safes are the most appropriate storage. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to ensure that children under the age of 18 or other unauthorized persons do not gain access to your firearm.
The Right to Bear Arms, the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, guarantees Americans the freedom and ability to own and use firearms. With this right comes the great responsibility to knowing how to and handling a firearm safely. A simple search on the internet for Gun Safety Rules or Shooting Safely will bring many results with similar, but different and varying, guidelines. There is no definitive number of rules to follow, but there is a basic commonality among all of the guidelines. The most basic purpose is to use common sense and be conscientious around firearms. Handling a firearm safely and responsibly is always the most important concern in participating in any of the shooting sports.