There are a few basics of safe gun handling that everyone should know and abide by before they even consider touching a gun, much less firing one. Safely exercising our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms requires that we be responsible, for our own safety and for the safety of those around us.
1. Assume the gun is loaded until *you* have personally verified that it is not loaded.
Almost all unintentional discharges of firearms are the result of the trigger being pulled by a person who incorrectly believes that the gun is not loaded, when in fact it is loaded. These incidents can be prevented if each person who handles a gun visually checks that the chamber and/or magazine are empty before handling the gun. Even if you think you left the gun unloaded, or the person who handled it last swears that it is unloaded, verify this for yourself. When handing a firearm to another person, it is good etiquette to have the gun unloaded and the action locked open as proof of this unloaded state. Even then, the recipient needs to check for themselves that the gun is, in fact, not loaded.
2. Point the gun in a safe direction at all times
Even after you have verified that the gun is unloaded, keep it pointed in a safe direction. Do not allow the muzzle of the gun to point at anyone or anything that you do not want to shot. Following this rule can avert disaster in the event that the first rule is not followed.
3. Don’t touch the trigger until you are ready to fire the gun
Modern firearms are amazingly reliable and safe devices that will almost never fire unless the trigger is pulled. This means that keeping your finger off the trigger will almost certainly guarantee that the gun won’t fire. Conversely, having your finger on the trigger when you’re not ready to shoot can lead to an unintentional discharge, when you sneeze, slip/fall, are startled, have a finger cramp, etc. That list of reasons may seem laughable, but if you keep your finger on the trigger, then all it takes to fire the gun unintentionally is a slight finger movement.
4. Know how to operate the gun
Before you handle a gun, you should be familiar with how it works. Read the owner’s manual and/or obtain help from someone who is familiar with the gun.
5. Know that the gun is mechanically sound and in good working order
Especially if you are preparing to fire a used gun, you should first make sure that it is mechanically sound and free from any defects that could cause it to malfunction. Look for rust, cracks, broken or worn parts, etc. If you are unsure whether the gun is in working order, have your local gun store‘s gunsmith inspect it.
6. Ensure that you, the shooter, are in working order too
It should go without saying that the user needs to be mentally and physically prepared to fire the gun. This means absolutely not alcohol or drug use. The user should also be in a good state of mind so that they can focus on the gun and using it safely. Finally, the user should be prepared for the physical demand of the gun they are preparing to use. For a .22 caliber gun the physical demands are virtually non-existent, but for a .460 Weatherby Magnum the recoil is severe, and beyond the ability of some people to handle at all.
7. Wear the appropriate eye and ear protection
Protecting your eyes and ears when shooting is vital. Fragments of bullets, or shrapnel from guns that explode, can cause permanent injury. It is true that firearms are very safe and these events are extremely rare, generally less likely than lighting striking, wearing the proper protective gear is a good idea. Ear protection can prevent hearing loss due to the loud noise most firearms will produce when fired.
8. Use the right ammunition for your gun
It is critical that the right ammunition for the gun be used. Luckily, the wrong ammunition won’t fit most of the time, but there are situations where it will fit, and the result can be bad. For example, a 20 gauge shotgun shell will fit into a 12 gauge shotgun, and will slide partially down the barrel. If a 12 gauge shell is then loaded behind this jammed 20 gauge shotgun shell and fired, the shotgun can (and likely will) explode. Indeed, shotgun shells are color coded to help prevent their users from making this mistake.
9. Store your gun safely
Safe gun storage is vital to preventing theft or misuse by children.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, since the safe use of a gun requires intelligent decision making and on the spot thinking, in addition to the following of rules. I wish you safe, happy, enjoyable, and lawful gun use.