There’s no question that a loaded gun can be dangerous. Any responsible person knows this and makes every effort to handle their gun safely. This is just being smart.
But perhaps not everyone knows the basic techniques and “best practices” for handling guns and ammo. Here are a few suggestions based on my many years as a gun enthusiast and someone who takes gun safety seriously.
Safety Is A Mindset
Gun safety efforts seek to create a certain attitude and appropriate habits by following some simple rules. The mindset needs to be… firearms are inherently dangerous and must always be handled with care. Gun handlers are taught to treat firearms with respect for their destructive capabilities, and strongly discouraged from playing or toying with firearms, a common cause of accidents.
The common sense rules of gun safety follow from this mindset.
Originally Colonel Jeff Cooper developed four rules are those most commonly taught during gun safety training. John Dean “Jeff” Cooper (May 10, 1920 – September 25, 2006) was recognized as the father of what is commonly known as “the Modern Technique” of handgun shooting, and was considered by many to be one of the 20th century’s foremost international experts on the use and history of small arms. Here are his four rules:
- Treat all guns as if they are 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 it.
The NRA provides a similar set of rules:
- ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
- ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
- ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Treat Guns As If They Are Loaded
Many firearm accidents result from the handler mistakenly believing a firearm is emptied, safetied, or otherwise disabled when in fact it is ready to be discharged.
If a gun handler always treats firearms as capable of being discharged at any time, the handler is more likely to take precautions to prevent an unintentional discharge and to avoid damage or injury if one does occur. In other words it becomes a habit and a single mindset.
Point the Muzzle Away From Any Target
This rule is intended to minimize the damage caused by an unintended discharge. The first rule teaches that a firearm must be assumed to be ready to fire. This rule goes beyond that and says, “Since the firearm might fire, assume that it will and make sure no harm occurs when it does.”
A consequence of this rule is that any kind of playing or “toying” with firearms is prohibited. Playfully pointing firearms at people or other non-targets violates this rule. To discourage this kind of behavior, the rule is sometimes alternately stated, “Never point a firearm at anything unless you intend to shoot it.”
Keep Fingers off the Trigger
This rule is intended to prevent an unintended discharge. If your finger is not on the trigger generally the gun cannot be shot. If a finger is on the trigger a handler’s finger may involuntary move for a number of reasons.
- The handler is startled
- There’s a lack of full attention on body movements
- There may be physiological reasons beyond conscious control such as a spasm
- The handler stumbles or falls
- The finger being pushed by something (as when trying to holster a handgun with one’s finger on the trigger)
Handlers are therefore taught to minimize the harmful effects of such a motion by keeping their finger off the trigger until the muzzle is pointing at the target and the handler wishes to discharge the firearm.
Be Sure of Your Target and What Is Beyond It
Gun handlers are taught that they must positively identify and verify their target. Additionally, they learn that even when firing at a valid target, unintended targets may still be hit, for three reasons:
– The bullet may miss the intended target and hit a non-target around or beyond the target.
– A non-target may pass in front of the target and be hit with a bullet aimed at the target.
– The bullet may pass through the intended target and hit a non-target beyond it, so called “over penetration”.
Therefore, this rule requires a handler to be sure of both the target itself and anything along the avenue of travel to and beyond the target.
Although this is not part of the commonly expressed rules of gun handling, I’d like to add that gun storage MUST be included in any safety mindset. The story of children finding a loaded gun and shooting themselves or a playmate is all too common.
Be sure to store guns in a locked and safe place and always make sure it is not loaded. Also be sure any ammunition is locked away. Provide a clean, dry and different place to store ammo. Guns are useless without ammo, so be sure to store the two in different locations.
The sad stories of children being injured, although rare, may be the biggest factor in the public’s unfavorable viewpoint on hand guns.
Be Safe For Everyone’s Benefit
These four common sense rules are the excepted basic mindset and best practices for all gun owners. If we want the sport we love to be accepted and grow, all gun lovers must take these practices to heart. Following these practices and developing this mindset not only may save a life but increase the acceptance of guns.