5 Rules Of Gun Safety You Need To Know, Even If You Don’t Own A Gun

The tragic and accidental death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins this past October has renewed heated conversations on guns in this country. For many, it’s an unfortunate but needed reminder that learning the tenets of gun safety is applicable to everyone, even if they don’t own firearms.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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Shutterstock/Roman Chazov

There are five basic rules when it comes to firearm safety, but before we even begin to delve into them, there’s one rule above all that’s of the utmost importance: handling a firearm, in any environment and in any scenario, is serious business and not to be taken lightly. You don’t have to be a gun-toting, paid-up member of the NRA to know your gun safety basics, and it’s evident that many would benefit if they were more knowledgeable on the fundamentals of handling firearms, whether they ever plan to or not.

Rule #1 – Treat Every Gun Like It’s Loaded

Assuming that a firearm is unloaded when you pick it up can potentially lead to mishandling, or even serious, unintentional injury. Especially if the gun isn’t yours – or even if it is and you remember unloading it – treating every firearm as if it’s already loaded when you pick it up ensures that you won’t mishandle it or pick it up carelessly. 

Assuming that a firearm is unloaded when you pick it up could lead to mishandling or injury.

Waving around a firearm you think is unloaded, mishandling it, or even pulling the trigger when it’s not unloaded can lead to a negligent discharge, or firing the gun unintentionally. Knowing the condition of your firearm is serious business, and it’s part of the responsibility that comes with owning or handling one.

Rule #2 – Always Point Your Gun in a Safe Direction

Also known as muzzle control (the muzzle refers to the open barrel of the gun which the bullet travels through when fired), anyone handling firearms should always be prepared to point their gun in a safe direction when they’re not actively shooting at anything. 

For hunters, this might mean keeping the muzzle aimed at the ground or to the side, and making sure the muzzle is never unintentionally aimed at anyone else. This way, if there is a negligent discharge, no one is harmed or injured.

Rule #3 – Keep Your Finger off the Trigger and Outside the Guard Until You’re Ready To Shoot

Good gun etiquette dictates that it’s best to keep your trigger finger extended along the slide or frame of the gun until you’re ready to shoot your target. Having your pointer finger high on the frame of the gun makes it easier for others to see that your finger is not on the trigger and therefore you’re not intending to shoot. 

Keep your trigger finger positioned on the frame of the gun until you’re ready to shoot.

Experienced firearm handlers may keep their finger positioned on the outside of the trigger guard, but this isn’t ideal if you’re an inexperienced shooter. Keeping your pointer finger inside the trigger guard could lead to firing the gun before you mean to, which could be disastrous if you’re not aimed at your target or someone is in the way. Good control of your trigger finger takes discipline, but it’s a guaranteed way to ensure that you won’t accidentally fire the gun before you mean to.

Rule #4 – Never Point at Anything You Don’t Intend To Shoot

This rule may sound simple, but it couldn’t be more crucial to the safety of the person handling the firearm and everyone around them. Even if the gun is unloaded (or even if you think it is), good gun discipline starts with controlling what or who you may be pointing at. Even if you think there’s no harm in it, casually waving or pointing a firearm at something (or someone) is one of the quickest ways to 1) prove that you’re not responsible enough to handle one, and 2) endanger yourself and everyone around you. 

Whether you’re practicing at the range, hunting, or even in a self-defense situation, don’t ever point at anything you wouldn’t be comfortable firing a bullet at. Negligent discharge and shooting accidents unfortunately happen all the time, but they’re entirely preventable with responsibility, discipline, and control.

Rule #5 – Know Your Target, What’s In Between, and What’s Beyond

No matter the situation you’re in, being sure of where your target is before you fire is just good firearm etiquette. Miscalculating the position of your target could cause you to miss or hit something you didn’t intend to. It’s also especially important to notice if there’s anything beyond your target, or even something in between you and the target that could be hit or harmed in the process. In this way, you can adjust accordingly if there is something – or someone – preventing you from hitting your target and only your target. 

Miscalculating the position of your target could cause you to miss and hit something you didn’t intend to.

Finally, Always Be SAFE

Gun ownership and even just handling one is a big responsibility. While these five basic rules are key when handling a firearm, it’s also just as important to treat it as a responsibility when it’s not in use. This means being SAFE, which is an easy acronym to use when it comes to how your firearms should be treated when they’re not in active use. 

Store your guns (if you’re a gun owner) in a secure place, preferably a safe that locks and is out of reach from children or intruders.

Be Aware of who’s around that space, and prevent them from using the firearms or accessing them if they haven’t had the proper training.

Focus on discipline, control, and training. Having the responsibility of being a gun owner also means you have the responsibility to clean them, store them properly, and keep up with following the five basic rules through regular practice, whether you’ve had them a few weeks or a few years.

Educate yourself and those around you on firearm etiquette and safety. Gun-related accidents and injuries can be avoided with education and prevention, whether that means practicing your handling regularly or educating others, even kids of an appropriate age, on how to treat weapons. 

Closing Thoughts

We’ve heard a lot recently about ensuring the safety of everyone around us, whether we’re affected by the issue at hand or not. When did that vanish from the discourse on firearms, especially when comprehensive education and thorough knowledge on gun etiquette benefits everyone?

You don’t have to have ever picked up a gun or used one before to receive training. You don’t have to believe that the Second Amendment is one of our rights codified by federal law which ensures that each and every one of us has the ability to protect and defend ourselves. You don’t have to own 10 firearms, or even one, to get basic training that benefits not only yourself, but the people around you. Gun discipline is accessible and available to all, and once we realize that everyone would benefit from this kind of knowledge, not just a select few, our homes, schools, and even our movie sets would all be safer places.

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