The Fundamentals of Firearm Safety
The three basic general rules of safe gun handling.
- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; never point a firearm
at anyone or anything you don't want to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard
until you are ready to shoot.
- Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to
Additional specific rules of safe gun handling
Safety Rules Related to the Shooter and His Behavior.
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
- Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm from
another person, until the cylinder or action is open and you've
personally checked that the weapon is completely unloaded.
- Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
- Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.
- Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger
you can't take back the shot you've just fired!
- Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling
or using firearms.
- Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or
impaired in any way. Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
- Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if
you sleepwalk, have nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other
- Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always
wear eye and ear protection. Endeavor to limit your exposure
to heavy metal particulates and gases, and minimize your contact
with aromatic organic solvents (such as those commonly used in gun
- If you see unsafe behavior any time when firearms are being handled or
used, speak up and take action to correct the unsafe behavior at once.
- Receive competent instruction from a qualified person before
beginning to shoot. If questions arise later, after you've been shooting for a
period of time, get answers to those questions from a competent authority.
Safety Rules Related to Your Target.
- Positively identify your target and the threat it poses
before firing at it.
- What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot,
or a bullet which penetrates its intended target through and through, will
be safely stopped.
- Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may glance off,
ricochet and injure someone.
- Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate targets
which would create a hazard for other persons or damage the environment.
- Never shoot a rifle or handgun directly upwards, or at a high angle
of elevation. Even a rim fire .22 bullet fired at an angle into the air
can have enough energy a mile and a half away to accidentally kill someone!
- Never shoot across a highway or other roadway.
- Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private property) by
using it as a target.
- Never poach a game animal out of season, or shoot any game animal you
don't intend to eat.
Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm.
- Make sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before
firing it. Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of
erosion, cracking, or wear by the factory, by a qualified gunsmith,
or by a factory certified gunsmith.
- Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially
- Insure that any modifications made to a firearm are made by a qualified
individual, and that those modifications don't interfere with your firearm's
- Be sure all accessories, such as holsters and grips, are compatible
with the firearm and won't interfere with its safe operation.
- It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is
always either about your person and under your personal control, or
positively secured from access by children or other unauthorized parties.
Prevent tragedy: lock down your firearms when they aren't in use.
- When storing a firearm for a long period of time, consider storing
the slide, bolt, or other critical components of the firearm separately
under separate lock and key.
- Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer
unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an
inertial firing pin.
- Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has
an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
- Generally avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type firearm
with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in decocking any external hammer
firearm: it is very easy to experience an accidental discharge while
doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
- Generally avoid unloading a firearm by working the cartridges through
the action one-at-a-time; drop the magazine and then eject the round
which may be left in the chamber, instead, if possible.
- Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting
scope: while observing an area you may end up accidentally aiming
your firearm at fellow hunters, or other non-targets.
- Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a
semiautomatic pistol) by cupping your hand around the ejection port
while retracting the slide; doing so may result in an accidental
Safety Rules Related to Ammunition.
- Be sure your gun and ammunition are compatible. Shooting incorrect
ammunition in a firearm may cause it to be damaged or even make it blow up.
- Relying on ammunition which doesn't feed reliably in your particular
firearm may make your firearm malfunction at a critical juncture: get
experience with a particular lot of ammunition in your firearm before
relying on it for defensive purposes.
- Use only ammunition recommended for your firearm by its manufacturer.
Never fire ammunition which exceeds industry standard pressure specifications.
Over-pressure ammunition will reduce the service life of your handgun, and
puts you and those around you at risk of a catastrophic firearm failure.
- Use reloaded ammunition judiciously. Be aware that many firearms
manufacturers specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their
products, and will void their product's warranty if you elect to use
reloaded ammunition in contravention of their instructions.
Also remember that a cartridge which has:
the wrong powder, no powder charge, or too large a powder charge;
an inverted primer, mis-seated primer, the wrong type of
primer or an inert primer;
a mis-seated, inverted, or mis-sized bullet;
a collapsed, weakened, improperly sized or mis-crimped case;
incorrect overall length or any of a host of other defects
may seriously jeopardize your safety, the safety of those around you, and/or
the reliability of your firearm in a defensive situation.
Many shooters prepare and safely use reloaded ammunition each day,
and it can be an economical way to stretch your ammunition budget,
but the safety of that reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care,
components, equipment, and practices used in preparing it.
- Carry only one caliber of ammunition when shooting. Accidentally grabbing
the wrong ammunition while shooting can result in a shooter or third party
being injured, or damage or destruction of a firearm.
- Store ammunition that isn't being used under lock and key, inaccessible to
unauthorized parties and children.
- Dispose of unwanted ammunition safely.
Miscellaneous Safety Rules.
- At a range, obey the commands of the range officers, or any individual
calling `cease fire,' at once. Read, know and follow any rules peculiar to a
particular range which you may be using.
- Be careful of hot gases and metal shavings ejected at the forcing cone
of a revolver.
- Keep your fingers and other parts of your body away from the muzzle,
the rear of the slide, and the ejection area of a semiautomatic pistol.
- In the event of a misfire, keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction,
remove your finger from the trigger, wait ten seconds, then eject the
cartridge and dispose of it properly.
- If you hear an unusual sound upon squeezing the trigger
or feel an unusual recoil, stop shooting and investigate.
You may have experienced a ``squib'' load (or under-powered cartridge),
and it may have caused a bore obstruction. Keep the firearm pointed in a
safe direction, remove your finger from the trigger, wait ten seconds,
then unload the firearm and safely examine the barrel, checking carefully
for any possible obstructions before reloading and resuming shooting.
- Never ---
- Climb a tree with a loaded firearm or climb into a hunting stand with a loaded firearm,
- Cross a fence with a loaded firearm,
- Jump a ditch or ford a stream with a loaded firearm,
- Scale or descend a steep incline or hill with a loaded firearm,
- Prop or lean a loaded firearm against a tree or other surface
which may allow it to slide, or
- Transport a cased loaded firearm.
- Always carry your firearms in a way which will allow you to control where
the muzzle is pointing, should you stumble or fall.
- Always wear a thousand square inches or more of blaze orange while in the
field during hunting season.
- Black powder (and replica black powder) firearms require additional safety
precautions not discussed here. Obtain qualified instruction in the safe
operation of black powder firearms before attempting to load or fire any
Safe Gun Storage.
When you are not using your firearm, you should insure that it is store
safely. Affirmative measures designed to prevent unauthorized access to a
defensive firearm by minors, or firearm theft, include:
Also note that:
- Use of a simplex-type locking box for securing firearms which
need to be kept loaded yet available for ready-access defensive use, and
- Use of trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms which don't
need to be kept immediately available for defensive use.
- Gun security devices which rely solely on physical strength to
secure firearms from unauthorized use are generally undesirable since
ingenious children can potentially employ leverage or tools
to overcome those devices.
- "Hiding" a firearm won't secure it from discovery and possible misuse
by curious children or intruders.
- Metal gun cabinets or gun safes can be used to safeguard firearms from
unauthorized access or theft in many circumstances and metal gun cabinets or
gun safes are generally preferable to open racks or glass-front cabinets.
- Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition when the
firearm isn't needed for ready-access defensive use.
- You may want to store critical components of a firearm (such as the
gun's bolt or slide) separately from the rest of the firearm when the gun
won't be used in the immediate future.
- Consider engraving your firearms with your social security number,
driver's license number, or concealed firearms license number
to deter theft and facilitate return of stolen firearms which may
happen to be recovered.
- Explore "gun-proofing" your child by proper training, and by
controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce
your child's natural unsatisfied curiosity about firearms.
This page last updated 04/19/2000.