It’s only right that any discussion of shooting begin with a discussion of safe firearms handling. This particular article will confine itself to the aspects of safety governing responsible firearms use and set aside, for the moment, safety in design, shopwork, and gunsmithing.
There are only four fundamental safety rules to abide by to ensure safety when handling firearms. They were first enumerated by the late Colonel Jeff Cooper and have come (in various guises) to be adopted by numerous shooting disciplines and organizations. I list them here in my own verbiage.
1. Every Firearm is Always Loaded!
From a gunhandling perspective, there is no such thing as an ‘unloaded’ firearm. Responsibility dictates that at no time should a firearm be treated any differently in one set of circumstances than in another. In the vast preponderance of cases, when a person negligently shoots themselves or someone or something that they shouldn’t they exclaim “I didn’t know the gun was loaded!”. That is, perhaps, the case but it was irresponsible to handle the firearm as if it were anything but loaded.
2. Never Allow the Firearm to Point At Anything You Are Not Willing to Destroy!
If a firearm is never pointed in an inappropriate direction, nothing but the ego can be harmed by its discharge. This is perhaps the most frequently violated rule, and its violators are often unaware of the violation. As a firearms user, you must maintain a continuous awareness, under all circumstances, of where your firearm is pointed. It is always pointed at something. Pick something safe (e.g. the backstop at the range, a target, the floor (assuming you are not upstairs)) and specifically point at that.
3. Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until You Are Ready To Fire!
This is the “golden rule” of responsible firearms handling. A firearm in good mechanical order will not discharge unless and until the trigger is pulled. (However we have rules 1 & 2 to protect us in the event that our firearm is faulty.) Make it a point when handling firearms to keep the trigger finger fully outside the trigger guard and fully extended when not prepared to fire a shot. Ideally, find a bump or stud on the side of the arm to feel with your finger as tactile confirmation that your finger is indeed where you think it is.
4. Be Aware of Your Target and What is Beyond.
You are responsible for every bullet you fire, from the moment it is fired until the moment it comes to a complete rest. Therefore you should make sure the thing at which you are shooting is an appropriate target. This is true on the range as well as in hunting (that’s really the animal you want and not another hunter, or the wrong sex animal, etc.) and self defense (that home intruder is really a bad guy and not your teenager sneaking in late). Additionally you must be aware of what’s beyond. A bullet is a stupid thing and may pass through the target, going on to cause further damage or you might miss. Be sure there is a clear line of sight to a safe and impenetrable backstop.
These rules apply to all types of firearms in all situations. Think of them every time you are about to handle a firearm and practice to make them habitual. Demand the same of everyone who handles firearms in your presence. Shoddy gunhandling is negligent, unacceptable and downright dangerous. Safety costs little, negligence can cost everything.