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Four Basic Safety Rules

  1. Treat ALL firearms as if they were loaded.
  2. DO NOT point at or cover anything with the muzzle until ready to shoot.
  3. Keep trigger finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
  4. Be certain of your target and your line of fire.

Safe and secure storage of your firearm is one of your most important responsibilities. It is a full-time responsibility. You must always secure your firearm and ammunition so that they are not accessible to children or other unauthorized persons.

Please review the Proper Handgun Storage section at the bottom of this page for more information about safe storage techniques.

Gun Safety, Operation & Storage

Learning and applying basic rules of proper handling can help you avoid unnecessary mishaps.

"I didn't know it was loaded!" are tragic words often uttered after a friend or family member has committed a gun accident.

Accidents with firearms are essentially 100% avoidable. By learning and applying the basic safety rules for proper firearms handling and storage, no one need experience pain and agony due to a gun accident.

Proper Handgun Handling

People are rarely hurt or killed by an "unloaded" firearm. If there is no ammo in the gun's chamber, clip or magazine, the most that could happen by improperly handling a firearm is inadvertently dropping it on a toe.

The first rule of gun safety is to know if a gun is loaded, whether you're handling it or not. In fact, always assume every gun is loaded until you have personally verified that it isn't.

An accident can be prevented by assuring that any gun that's not being used is also unloaded.

Most people get agitated if someone randomly points a firearm at them or for that matter, anyone else. Informing someone about proper firearm etiquette or even abruptly intervening is justified as circumstances warrant.

No bullet, fired deliberately or accidentally, can be stopped.

Thus, never point a gun at someone or something you don't intend to shoot. Always pointing a gun in a safe direction is using basic common sense. Being constantly aware of the gun's field of fire and safely controlling the firearm must always be complementing actions.

Equally important is to always keep your finger off the trigger until you are actually ready to fire the gun. You can safely place your finger on the frame until you intend to shoot.

Whether shooting at a paper target, a tin can or game, be sure of your target and what's behind it. The bullet will usually pass through the primary target and strike whatever is behind it.

Be sure you have a safe backstop and that the space between it and the target is clear.

As with driving, the handling or shooting of guns does not mix with using drugs or alcohol. Anything that might impair your judgment or ability to react immediately to a real or perceived danger should not be part of the activities.

Finally, as with most other activities, knowledge and training are essential.If you don't know how a gun works, how can you ever begin to safely handle or shoot it? When you buy a new gun, the instruction manual will indicate how it operates and what ammunition is compatible with your firearm.

Better still, the shop owner should demonstrate the gun's basic functions and point out specific safety features, potential operating hazards, and special cleaning or maintenance requirements.

Don't forget - a gun is a mechanical device that can malfunction. Nothing, including the firearm's safety, can take the place of safe handling practices.

I recommend that newcomers to the shooting game who may not have capable friends to instruct them contact the National Rifle Association's Education and Training division in Fairfax, VA. Ask for a list of basic gun safety and marksmanship programs being taught in your area.

Also, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) in Newtown, CT, offers a brochure titled "Firearms Responsibility in the Home," which emphasizes safe and responsible firearms practices.

Proper Handgun Operation

There are two basic categories of handguns: revolvers and semiautomatics. Each has a distinct function. Always remember: You can't readily determine if any handgun is loaded (or unloaded) by simply looking at it. You need to know how each type of handgun operates in order to exercise proper gun safety.

Revolvers feature revolving cylinders that typically have chambers for ammunition, and may be single or double-action. The action refers to how the hammer and/or trigger are manipulated to discharge the gun.

To fire the single action revolver you must first cock the hammer fully to the rear and then pull the trigger. The shooter must repeat the sequence until all the cartridges in the cylinder have been expended. Most double-action revolvers can be fired in the same manner as a single-action.

However, a double-action revolver will also fire by simply pulling the trigger. The force applied to the trigger is transferred to the gun's internal operating mechanism which simultaneously cocks and releases the hammer.

Spent cases or loaded rounds are usually removed from single action revolvers by pointing the barrel upward and aligning a chamber with the loading gate, which is opened to load and unload the cylinder.

Using the spring-loaded ejector rod under the barrel, you remove an empty case or loaded round from each chamber as the cylinder is rotated from one position to the next.

The gun is loaded by lowering the muzzle and inserting a round of ammo into each chamber as it rotates into position. Then close the loading gate to retain the ammo in the cylinder.

Decocking most single-action revolvers must be done without allowing the hammer to slip and fall, which will cause the gun to discharge.

First, carefully pull the hammer fully back. Then, while securely and constantly controlling the hammer with your thumb, pull the trigger and let the hammer down into the gun's frame slowly and gently. You should practice this operation with an unloaded gun before proceeding with live ammo.

Double-action revolvers have a cylinder latch on the left hand side of the frame which is pushed either in, forward (all Smith & Wessons) or back to unlock the cylinder.

While the latch is actuated, pushing the cylinder to the left will move it out of the frame. The spring-loaded ejector rod at the front of the cylinder is used to push all of the empty cases and/or loaded rounds out of the cylinder simultaneously.

Fresh rounds may be inserted into the empty chambers after the ejector rod returns to battery, and the loaded cylinder can then be carefully closed.

If you choose to operate the double-action revolver in the single-action mode and then decide not to fire the gun, you must carefully decock it as described for the single-action revolver.

Semiautomatic handguns or "pistols" operate differently than revolvers do, although there are both single and double-action versions.

While the revolver's multichambered cylinder will hold one or more rounds of ammo, a magazine is used to contain and feed ammo to a single chamber in a pistol's barrel. A semiautomatic is charged by first installing a loaded magazine into the cavity within the pistol's handle or grip.

Next, grab the rear of the spring-loaded slide firmly, pull it smartly to the rear, and release it cleanly.

When the slide returns to battery it strips a fresh round from the magazine and feeds it into the chamber. Simply removing a loaded magazine from a pistol does not mean the gun is unloaded.

More than likely there's a round in the chamber that must also be ejected by pulling the slide back to completely make the pistol "Safe".

The major difference between single and double-action pistols is similar to the difference between a single and double-action revolver.

The former requires the hammer to be cocked before the first round can be fired, while the latter will fire by simply pulling the trigger. However,with a single action pistol the recoiling slide of the gun, caused by being discharged, also cocks the hammer.

Thus, subsequent rounds may be fired by simply pulling the single action pistol's trigger.

If you decide to stop shooting a single-action pistol before the magazine is emptied, you must either engage the safety/decocker or repeat a similar decocking sequence as described for revolvers.

Double-action pistols may or may not be designed to also cock the hammer when the slide recoils, extracts and ejects the empty case and reloads the chamber.

Some pistols feature repeated double-action trigger operation or double-action only; others operate like a single-action pistol after the like a single-action pistol after the first round is fired.

Some traditional double-action pistols feature a "decocker" control lever that safely drops the hammer even if a round is in the chamber.

Any mechanical device may malfunction - in this case, possibly causing a pistol to accidentally discharge. Always point the gun in a safe direction.

Proper Handgun Storage

It is as important to properly store your firearms when they're not in use as it is to properly handle them when they are. Proper storage prevents access to guns by children or other unauthorized persons and avoids firearms theft.

Children are naturally curious, and also like to "play act" roles they learn from TV and other kids. The most effective way to overcome curiosity is to satisfy it. When a child asks about or shows interest, immediately and patiently respond.

Sternly saying "Don't touch my guns!" to a child's expressed interest in firearms will almost surely lead to their finding out for themselves later with potentially fatal results.

Teaching your child that he or she may handle firearms only when you are present is one of the most important lessons they can learn.

When other kids come into the home, having a child who knows to leave guns alone unless they're with a responsible adult can defuse a potentially catastrophic situation. The NRA's "Eddie Eagle" program is geared to teach children, upon encountering a gun, to immediately tell an adult, without touching the gun.

Securely storing your guns and ammunition when not in use is mandatory. Installing a trigger lock and storing guns in a locked cabinet will help preclude unauthorized access. Keep the keys/combination away from children. If a critical part of the gun is removed and stored separately, it is more secure.

Those with several guns should seriously consider a safe. Many companies offer models with combination locks, interlocking bolts, and optional fireproofing. Most are configured to store both long arms and handguns. Safes will stop the amateur burglar or kids, but not the professional burglar.

Gun safety should never be thought of casually; It must be a mindset that both consciously and subconsciously directs our behavior whenever we use, carry or store a firearm. Safe handling and securely storing firearms are so important that the discussion bears repeating.

by: Lane Pearce

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