Everybody knows that when it comes to weapons, firearms are one of the most dangerous of all, but they can also be a lot of fun when used in an outdoor recreational activity, at a shooting range, or in an organized group function. Unfortunately, many people are quick to pick up a firearm without taking the time that’s necessary to become knowledgeable on firearm safety, thinking nothing will happen to them. It’s critical that, before even touching any type of firearm, everyone should learn a few basic cardinal rules, which all responsible gun owners and operators heed, regardless of the duration or purpose they will be engaging with a firearm. For anyone who has spent any time around gun shops and firing ranges, they are probably used to the “10 rules of firearm safety” posters and sayings or quips that are frequently posted at such places. Most gun owners believe that these safety posters are inadequate, at best, as they will tell you there are more than just 10. What follows are additional important firearm safety rules, with varying details.
While you’ll find these rules listed generally in order of priority (highest to lowest), they are all considerably important, to be observed at all times. These techniques for safe handling of firearms should be adheres to consistently every single time you handle a firearm. Being 99% safe means that there is a percent possible for tragedy to occur when it comes to firearms.
1. Always Ensure the Muzzle is Pointed in a Safe Direction. This rule surpasses all other rules. When observed, intentional or accidental discharge will not harm anyone. The safest direction should be chosen so humans, animals, then inanimate objects are all taken into account. This also includes being sure that when you carry the firearm you maintain full control of the muzzle’s direction and angle, regardless of what you’re doing.
2. Assume the Firearm is Always Loaded. Even if you are positive that it’s unloaded, treat it like it’s a loaded gun and don’t point it at any living thing.
3. Keep Your Finger off the Trigger. Prevent any accidental discharges from an inadvertent trigger pull. Just rest your finger on the area above the trigger. For rifles or other guns, simply remove your whole hand from the area where the trigger is. You can carry the gun safely in other ways. Never rely on the firearm's safety. While human error is many times more likely to cause a problem, a gun’s safety can fail, and pulling the trigger could always result in an accidental discharge. Some pistols have safeties that are integrated into the trigger and are not manual, and can present the worst dangers. Only adequate training and practice can overcome these dangers. Even if you are on the line to shoot, never put your finger on the trigger until you have pointed and zeroed-in on the target.
4. Be Sure of Your Target and Everything That is Downrange. Be sure what’s behind your target, as the bullet can go through the target and out the other side. Bullets can always strike and bounce, ricochet, or otherwise change direction. Never stand behind anyone when you fire. It’s unsafe and discourteous. Only shoot side by side. This prevents accidental shootings, it also prevents someone from being startled.
5. Keep Your Firearm Unloaded When Not in Use And When Handing to Someone. In many locales, there are laws against carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle without the proper permits, even if just transporting it to and from a firing range or repair shop. And if you receive a firearm from someone, you should check the magazine and chamber to ensure the gun is not loaded. Remind yourself and anyone around you that the gun is unloaded is by locking the bolt, slide, or cylinder in the open position so if the trigger is pulled, no bullet will fire. Check the manual for the firearm. It should explain the safest way to carry or unload the firearm.
6. Use Proper Ammunition. Using improper ammunition for your firearm can damage or destroy your firearm and cause serious injury or even death. Manufactured ammunition is usually the best to use. It’s been tested many times with expensive machines. In general, the more expensive ammunition is more consistent, but not always. Powder loads are also important to pay attention to. Asking the manufacturer and checking the manual is the best way to ensure you are not damaging your weapon or putting yourself at risk. There are additional considerations for rifles such as the .223 Remington. There are different types or receiver/chamber specifications. Know yours.
7. The Importance of Eye and Ear Protection. The sound of any gun firing may not cause pain, but it still has a potential to damage your hearing. You can’t get back your hearing, once lost. The same goes for eye protection. You may be confident that your firearm works perfectly, however there are numerous eye safety issues of concern to warrant using eye protection when firing. Just do it.
8. If Your Gun Didn’t Fire When You Pulled the Trigger. First make sure you had a round in the chamber. If you are absolutely sure you did not have one in the chamber, fix the problem, but if you think there was a cartridge in the chamber, hold the gun, pointed toward the target. You can try firing the gun again (if it is a double-action gun), maybe once or twice, and if nothing happens still, keep the gun pointed at the target for about 20 seconds. If the round still hasn’t fired, carefully remove the magazine (if you can,) and eject the round out of the chamber. Place the dud cartridge in a safe area away from humans, valuables and other ammunition. This problem is usually due to a dud primer, and is much more common in hand-loaded ammunition than manufactured ammunition.
9. Make sure the firearm's barrel, chamber, and action are clear of obstruction before firing. Anything caught in the barrel can cause major damage to your barrel and/or firearm and even prevent it from firing another round.
10. Maintain your firearm properly. The older the firearm, the more important this can become. In general, the firearm should be cleaned after each use. Some firearm manufacturers recommend the wearing of eye protection prior to field stripping the weapon to help prevent eye injuries resulting from inadvertently "launching" springs or other components when field stripping the weapon.
Pistols should be minimally "field stripped" (if possible), cleaned with a cloth and/or brush and solvent. The barrel should be brushed clean with a barrel brush. Expect a buildup of carbon and powder in the chamber, so a pick and more solvent can be used there. Then wipe again with a clean cloth (to remove all solvent). Each moving part should be lubricated with gun oil (except the firing pin of semi-auto pistols which can become gunked up with grime and carbon collected by the oil). Also lubricate the exterior of the barrel and the slide rail guides. Too much oil may encourage the buildup of powder and carbon in those areas. Once done, wipe the externals down with a clean cloth to remove any excess oil, then pull the slide back a few times to work some of the oil around.
Field stripping rifles and shotguns for cleaning is typically more complex. Alternatively, a brush with solvent can be used to clean the action and chamber without much, or any, dismantling. Wipe as much down with a clean cloth as possible. Use barrel solvent or a bore snake to clean the barrel. Oil the trigger assembly (check the manual), and oil, with gun oil, the bolt and action. Pull the bolt back and forth a few times to work the oil in. Wipe the excess oil off with a clean cloth. If the firearm won’t be fired for a significant time period, clean it thoroughly before storage.
There are products on the market designed to protect your firearm for really long storage periods, but these are not recommended for storage for only a few years (or less). Every 6-8 months, the firearm should be taken out and oiled again and dust build-up cleaned. With plenty of oil and a good initial cleaning, the firearm should stay in perfect condition. Storage in a dry area would help too, but the oil should prevent and protect against moisture on your firearm. Clean and re-oil your firearm before use, after not using the firearm for an extended period of time.
11. Approach Modifications Knowledgeably. While many recommend not modifying your firearm (especially to preserve your warranty and keep your firearm reliable), it can be done in a proper way. It is generally best to let the factory do all your modifications, but if it’s not possible, a certified gunsmith with your firearm's manufacturer's certification would be the next best choice. If you can’t, then it’s best not to have your firearm modified. Never do any modification yourself. Changes to your firearm which are done improperly could permanently damage the firearm, and can cause all sorts of problems.
12. Learn the Safety and Firing Characteristics of Your Firearm. Above all, you must learn how to use a firearm safely. This includes how to unload the magazine, unload and check the chamber, engage the safety, clear jams, examine the barrel, and field strip the firearm. Firing characteristics are an essential component of knowing the firearm you are using. If you are unaware about certain aspects of the gun, then ask someone who is knowledgeable with that specific firearm. Be sure you can consistently operate the firearm safely.
13. Never Shoot at Hard or Flat Surfaces, Including Water. While some objects may be compelling objects to shoot, many metallic or other hard and/or flat objects can be very dangerous when shot. These objects, including water, can cause the bullet to bounce or ricochet in many unknown and dangerous directions. They can even bounce back toward or near the shooter. Smaller, low velocity bullets are especially well known for their ability to ricochet, even off of things like wood, rocks, or even dirt. Generally, where the shooter is standing is usually the safest place to be when a ricochet occurs. There are always exceptions, so exercise caution.
14. Never Leave Your Loaded Firearm Out of Your Control. This means at the range and at home. When you can't be sure of its status or who may have access to it, unload the firearm, lock it with a slide lock (for a pistol) or lock the firearm in a hard case or a safe. Keep the ammunition in a separate area, locked up as well. Be sure to know and follow all state and local laws regarding firearm storage. Always be aware that there are children or others who may obtain access to your firearms or ammunition.
15. Drugs and Alcohol Never Mix With Firearms. Even a small amount of alcohol or drugs (whether illegal or prescribed,) can impair or alter your judgment. It’s just not worth the risk when you or others will be doing anything involving firearms. Be completely sober, or don’t use a firearm.