Firearms are a useful tool for self-defense and hunting. But the opposite side of that coin is that they have great potential to kill or injure.
As gun owners, we have a responsibility to ensure that our firearms are safely handled to avoid any unnecessary harm.
In this guide, we’ll talk about why and how to do that. We’ll start by talking about why gun safety matters and what can happen when it’s ignored. Then we’ll go over the 4 fundamental rules of gun safety before moving on to a few more important gun safety considerations.
Importance of Gun Safety
Every year in the U.S., more than 40,000 people die and almost 77,000 more people are injured by guns. While only a very small number of gun deaths (less than 2%) is due to accidents, that still represents more than one person each day, and approximately 37% of gun injuries are from accidents.
Tragically, virtually all of these accidents could have been prevented by proper gun safety, which is why gun safety practices are absolutely essential.
They need to be taught to and practiced by every single person who puts their hands on a firearm and should be especially emphasized for beginners.
This isn’t just a problem for firearm beginners, though. In fact, in many cases, beginners are more careful than more experienced gun owners who can get complacent about safety, resulting in improper handling of a firearm.
With that in mind, let’s go over some gun safety basics.
4 Rules of Gun Safety
- Keep the Firearm Pointed in a Safe Direction at All Times
First of all, the muzzle of your gun should always be pointed in a safe direction. That way, even if an accidental discharge does occur, no one is injured.
Remember, however, that “a safe direction” doesn’t just mean away from other people. You also need to take into account ricochet and overpenetration.
This rule requires making sure you’re in constant control of the direction your muzzle is pointing, too. Even if you stumble or trip, it’s still your responsibility to make sure the muzzle is in a safe direction.
And remember that this rule applies at all times. Most people remember to keep their gun pointed downrange while shooting or to keep their gun pointed up or down while hunting, but it’s much more common for people to forget while loading or unloading, or while taking their gun out or putting it away.
This is true even when dry firing (firing a gun that’s unloaded). Which brings us to our next safety rule:
- Treat every Gun as Though It Is Loaded
For responsible gun owners, there’s no such thing as an unloaded gun. All guns are treated as loaded at all times. Even if you just unloaded it. Even if you remember unloading it before you stored it. Even if someone you trust handed it to you and told you it was unloaded. Even if you watched someone else verify it’s unloaded.
It’s distressingly common to hear the words, “I didn’t think it was loaded” after an accident, and simply treating all guns as if they’re loaded avoids the entire issue.
Treating all guns as if they’re loaded ensures that you get in the habit of practicing gun safety at all times. It also ensures that you never get a false negative when checking your firearm.
Never trust another person when they say a gun is unloaded. Always check for yourself. If they’re a responsible gun owner, their feelings won’t be hurt. In fact, they’ll expect you to check.
And this isn’t an excuse to not unload your firearm. When you’re not directly using them on a hunt or at the range, guns should be left unloaded. Completely clear the gun when not in use. Check the magazine, chamber, and receiver to visually confirm that the gun is empty.
If you want to have a loaded magazine for convenience, you can, but don’t put it in the gun. Simply store it nearby so you can quickly load it.
- Ensure Your Finger Is Off the Trigger Until Ready to Fire
The simplest way for an accidental discharge to occur is by accidentally pressing the trigger. The easy solution to this is to simply keep your finger off the trigger until you actually intend to fire. This practice is referred to as trigger discipline.
Even if the safety is on, keep your finger clear of the trigger. In some cases, if the trigger is depressed with the safety on, the gun can fire after the safety is removed. Besides, safeties can fail.
Even in a self-defense situation, you need to practice trigger discipline. This ensures that you don’t accidentally waste a round or hurt a bystander in a high pressure situation. Muzzle on target, then finger on trigger.
And once again, this still applies if the gun is empty, since we’re treating all guns as if they’re loaded, right? Notice how all these rules have built-in redundancies? That’s not license to ignore any of them. It’s so if you accidentally forget one, you and the people around you are still safe.
- Always Be Sure of Your Target and What’s Behind It
Also called “knowing your backstop,” you should always be aware of not just your target, but also your target’s surroundings.
No one is a perfect shot. Sometimes you miss, but that bullet will still strike something, even if it travels a long way past your target to do so. 9mm, for example, can travel 2.5 to 3 miles, or even farther with the right bullet in the right conditions. Even the relatively unintimidating .22can travel around 1.5 miles.
And even if you do hit your target, overpenetration can occur. This is when your round travels all the way through your target and continues on.
For that reason, you should always have some sort of barrier behind your targets when shooting recreationally. Most professionally established ranges will have that taken care of with a strong wall or a whole lot of dirt at the end of the range.
Self-defense scenarios is where this gets trickier. Fortunately, in the real world, you’re generally going to be surrounded by things that will stop a bullet, or at least slow it down enough that it can be stopped by the next thing it hits.
That said, it’s still important to clock who and want are around and behind your target to make sure that you’re not putting anyone else in danger by firing. And again, consider both overpenetration and ricochet.
Additional Rules of Gun Safety
While the above rules are the 4 basic ones that you’ll hear repeated often, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind in terms of gun safety:
Gun and Ammunition Storage
Roughly 31 percent of accidental firearm deaths may have been prevented with child-proof locks and loaded chamber indicators. Clearly, gun and ammunition storage safety is very important.
Don’t assume that hidden gun storage actually means your child doesn’t know where the gun is kept. Research shows that of children who live in homes where there are guns, 75 percent know where guns are stored. Even hidden guns need to be securely stored.
Fortunately, there are a lot of safe gun storage solutions that can be used, like gun safes, gun cabinets, and lock boxes. Ammunition should also be stored separately from the firearm itself in its own securely locked container.
When Not to Buy or Use a Gun
Finally, guns aren’t for everyone. In some cases, it’s in people’s best interest for them to not own a firearm.
Firearms should not be purchased or used under the following circumstances:
1. People Who Have Thoughts of Suicide or Self-Harm
This is pretty self-explanatory. The presence of a gun in a home with someone with thoughts of suicide or self-harm only makes it easier and more likely for these people to act on these thoughts.
2. People Who Have Been Drinking or Using Drugs
Even if you’re not an angry drunk, leave your gun alone if you’ve been drinking or using drugs. Just like driving a car, the potential for accidents is far too high when you’re inebriated. These substances interfere with your judgment, making reckless handling of a firearm more likely.
3. People Who Are Prone to Violence
This is another pretty self-explanatory situation. If someone is prone to hurting others, the last thing they need in their home is a tool that makes that easier.
4. People Who Have an Abusive Partner or Family Member, or a Stalker
Unfortunately, studies have shown us time and time again that victims of stalkers and domestic violence are far more likely to have a firearm in their home used against them than they are to use a firearm to defend themselves.
Instead of a firearm, you’re much better off with safety practices like keeping doors and windows locked, attempting to get a personal protection order from the police, and keeping trusted loved ones in the loop about where you are and what you’re doing.
U.S. Arms and Gun Safety
At U.S. Arms, gun safety is an essential part of our DNA. We believe staunchly in the Second Amendment, but we also believe in being responsible gun owners that promote safe practices.
We also advocate for safe and responsible gun storage to keep all firearms free from unauthorized access. Whether you have one of our complete M4 UTAW rifles, or you’re storing a lower for your next build, secure storage is an important part of being a safe and responsible gun owner.