We’ve had a few gun articles here on ROK and, while I intend for more, it’s time to talk some firearms safety. Operating a firearm can and should be an enjoyable experience and, while it should be detrimental to your target, be that a piece of paper, reactive target, game animal, or even another person in a self defense scenario, you should strive to make sure you and those with you aren’t injured.

The primary movers in the world of US organized shooting are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and they both have their safety rules with some overlap. The NRA’s Three Rules are universally recognized and are a good start to the discussion.

The Three Rules

1. Always Keep The Muzzle In A Safe Direction

Downrange would be to our right, presumably.

This rule is the primary rule of gun safety; if it is never pointed at anyone, it can’t hit them, no matter if all other rules are broken. If you’re on a gun range, a safe direction is downrange, and either up, or down, or both, depending on the range’s rules. If you’re carrying a rifle or a pistol around, it’s the same; down or up.

When I travel, I like to point the gun away from me in the car, and I sit it down facing away from me in the hotel. You shouldn’t walk in front of a gun you are not sure is unloaded when it’s lying there, and you definitely should never wave the muzzle around, causing it to point at people. When done in a wide arc, it’s called “sweeping” and is very poor form that will get you asked to go home.

It’s a seriously important rule that is number one in the NRA and CMP books. This is an inversion of the second of the classic 4 Laws of Gun Safety that says “never point the gun at something you are not willing to destroy.”

2. Always Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Ready To Shoot

This is rule two for the NRA, three for the CMP, and four for the Classic Laws. Ever see the video of someone re-holstering a Glock with their finger in the trigger guard, or carrying it Mexican-carry and grabbing at it if it gets loose a la Plaxico Burress? They shoot themselves, and, if anything is more embarrassing than someone else shooting you, it’s shooting yourself.

No holster, safety off, finger on trigger; this guy could seriously earn himself a second ass crack here.

When handling a gun, you should never have your finger inside the trigger guard unless you mean to be firing, or possibly firing, immediately. If you’re building your firing position and getting your natural point of aim on the firing line, have your finger on the trigger. If you’re going to dry fire a gun, check that it is clear, double check it is in a safe direction, then apply your finger to the trigger. If you’re holding someone at gunpoint, keep the gun on him, put your finger on the trigger, and watch his hands for sudden movements.

Good trigger awareness on a 3″ 1911.

The rest of the time, keep your booger hook off the bang switch, and this goes double for any photography of you with weapons. As an aside, in today’s day and age, I don’t recommend being in photos, especially on social media, with guns, due to PC cultures and SJWs.

3. Always Keep The Gun Unloaded Until Ready To Use

This is rule 3 for the NRA, and an inversion of the first of the Classic Laws “the gun is always loaded.” An unloaded gun is a safe gun, because all that will happen with an accidental firing is a dry-fire, instead of a discharge.

Obviously, leave your home protection and carry guns loaded, and load when appropriate while hunting and at the range, but, otherwise, treat the gun with the same respect due a loaded gun.

Rifles on a firing line. Unloaded, bolts locked back, chamber flags in, safeties on, pointed downrange.

Other Rules And Guidelines

  • Be sure of your target and what is behind it. This is the third of the Classic Laws.
  • Use an empty chamber indicator. This is the CMP Rule 2, and means to use a chamber flag on an open action to show it’s locked open when not being fired on a firing line.
  • Use hearing and eye protection. Good plugs, or muffs (or even both) and safety glasses or side shields on eye glasses are always recommended. Obviously, in case of hostile action, you may not have time.
  • Know how to operate the gun. Read the damn manual, and make sure it is in a functional condition that is safe to use, as in not filthy or dirty.
  • Use the correct ammo. Use ammo that is the correct caliber or type for the gun, and that isn’t too powerful. Use commercial ammo, unless they’re your reloads and you know what you’re doing (or reloads from someone you trust that knows what they’re doing).
  • Don’t drink or use drugs prior to shooting. Put this up with “driving or operating heavy machinery.”
  • Store guns safely and securely. Unloaded, clean, and locked up.
  • Use a good holster that covers the trigger and the safety (if applicable.) Remember Stranahan’s first law of concealed carry.
  • Don’t shoot something that will ricochet the round back at you. Steel targets that can’t swing will do this. Be sure to be at minimum safe range for steel, as well, which is usually 25 yards for pistol and 100 yards for rifles.

Etiquette

I’ll cover a few common places and scenarios of gun use here for your reference.

Gun Ranges

Everything is copacetic except the guy behind the camera is downrange on a hot range.

Best thing to do is read the rules of the range (they should be posted) and follow them. Do all the above rules, and observe the hot-cold nature of the firing line. Typically, a firing line is “hot” and you can handle, load, and shoot your guns downrange at your target, but not GO downrange. The opposite state is “cold” and the guns are rendered safe and are not handled during this time (some ranges vary a bit on the degree of what is handling). You can go post your targets during this time.

The polite thing to do is show up, wait till people are done with shooting their strings, and inquire if you might go downrange. Get agreement from all, and declare it cold and go. Once everyone is back, you can go hot, usually by saying “Going hot!” or something similar. The range is then hot until declared cold, and you don’t have to yell “going hot!” before each mag like some idiots. Also, “fire in the hole!” means you’re throwing a grenade, not opening fire, so don’t yell that either. Hell, I need a “how to use a gun range article” to go into this further, stay tuned.

Some pistol ranges have target runners, and you always stay behind the line. These ranges are always “hot.”

Indoor range with firing line rail and target runner systems.

Gun Shows And Stores

Don’t sweep people. Seriously, that’s the number one thing by far. Keep your finger away from the trigger and trigger guard. Ask to handle guns if you want to pick one up, and ask before you rack it, and especially before you dry fire it.

Some guns can be damaged by manually lowering the hammer, like a 1911 pistol, if you don’t know what you’re doing, so if you’re not sure what to do, just ask the guy. No one minds ignorance; people mind you doing the wrong thing when you assumed you knew what you were doing and didn’t.

If she’s not sweeping someone, I’d be surprised, and that pump 12 would put her on her can anyway.

Hunting

It’s generally a good idea to not have a round in the chamber during periods of complex movement, like getting into and out of a tree stand, even though the commonly available ladder stands and climbers of today are much easier than the “climb a bunch of railroad spikes and sit on a 2×6 in the fork of an oak” stands of yesteryear. Sometimes it’s even better to lift the rifle up after you on a rope, then lower it down when done as opposed to slung over your back, depending on your age, agility, and the tree stand in question.

In a vehicle, it’s usually a good idea to completely unload if you’re going to be casing the gun. If you’re riding shotgun (which is where the term comes from), and driving around looking for game, keep the gun ready, pointed at the floorboard, and you can make the call between an empty chamber, or chambered with the safety on, depending on your needs. Don’t roll up to the local McDonald’s like that after the hunt, however.

Conclusion

Gun safety can be summed up with: Don’t be an idiot, and don’t be a clown. Most unintentional gun injuries occur when someone is forgetful, acting deliberately casual to look cool, or showing off. If you want to show off, hit the bull’s-eye and don’t say much, as that will be enough in itself.

Read More: A Beginner’s Guide To Carrying A Handgun