Many times, fear and mishandling of firearms, result from a lack of knowledge about the function and proper use of firearms, and more importantly, understanding the basic rules of firearm safety. Whether you are a novice or an expert, there is no excuse for violating these basic rules of firearm safety. These same rules should be applied when you are at the shooting range practicing your skills, in your home cleaning or using a firearm for dry-fire practice, at a friend’s house checking out a new firearm, or anywhere else you come into contact with firearms. When these safety rules are followed, the chance of an accident – more properly termed a negligent act – is reduced tremendously. According to the National Rifle Association, the three most important rules are:
- Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction. Depending on the circumstances, a safe direction can mean different things. At a shooting range, a safe direction is downrange. In your home or in a gun store, a safe direction would most likely be at the floor. Care should be taken to follow this rule even after you have checked to make sure a firearm is unloaded.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. This rule prevents any negligent discharge by inadvertently pressing the trigger. Your trigger finger should be kept outside the trigger guard along the frame of the gun until ready to shoot.
- Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. A firearm in a safe for storage, in a range bag for transportation, or sitting on the bench while you check your targets downrange should be unloaded. Personal protection firearms in the home or in a holster may need to be accessed and fired quickly and are an exception to this rule, as long as they are stored safely and out of reach of unauthorized persons and children.
It is important to note the Always indicated in each basic rule. This means that the rules apply whenever you are handling a firearm, even if you have visually and physically checked to make sure the firearm is unloaded. It is important to Always follow these rules to establish good habits, ensure correct muscle memory and provide a positive example for those around you.
Please note that respected pistol instructor and former US Marine Jeff Cooper developed a similar set of rules that are used and taught by many modern professionals as well. As you can see, the first three are very similar to the NRA rules, but use stronger direct wording. Cooper’s rules are:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target (and what is beyond).
In addition to these basic and necessary rules, there are some other good rules that should be followed as well. For instance, you should know how to safely operate any firearm you pick up. You should never use a firearm while under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. You should always store guns in a place that is secure and/or inaccessible to unauthorized persons and, especially, children.