Firearm Safety, Information, Education and Training   •   Personal Safety & Crime Prevention

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Like the first rule, this one should also become a natural habit without even thinking about it.  You can always tell when someone has not been trained in firearm safety when the first thing they do when picking up a firearm is to immediately put their finger right on the trigger.  Make it a habit that anytime you pick up a firearm, you NEVER immediately put your finger on the trigger.  When gripping the firearm, your trigger finger should be outside the trigger guard, lying straight out along the frame of the firearm, not over the trigger guard, but above the trigger guard.  Your finger should never enter the trigger guard until your firearm is on target and you're ready to shoot.  Then when you take your firearm off the target, your finger should immediate come off the trigger and back along side the frame of the firearm.  A good general rule of thumb is, "on target, on trigger; off target, off trigger".  A few exceptions to this rule include: when decocking a revolver, when it's necessary to field strip some semi-automatic pistols, and when dry firing for training or for inspecting the proper functioning of the trigger mechanism.

THIRD: ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

"Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight"  -- Psalm 144:1

"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace"  -- Luke 11:21

"he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."  -- Luke 22:36

​There's no denying that guns are dangerous.  To refuse to acknowledge the fact that guns are dangerous is, well, dangerous.  But to be fair, there are countless other things we frequently have around us that are also dangerous.  Knives, automobiles, streets, cliffs, staircases, fire, electricity, swimming pools, bathtubs, and prescription drugs are all dangerous.  And the list goes on and on.  But we don't forbid ourselves from using these things just because they're dangerous.  Instead we learn how to use these things properly and safely, to avoid accidents when using them.  We teach our kids from a very young age how to respect dangerous things, and we don't allow them to use them unsupervised until we're confident that they can be trusted to use them safely.  The same should go for firearms.  If you're going to own or use a firearm, the very first thing any responsible person should do is to learn how to use them properly and safely.

There's a lot to learn about the proper and safe use of firearms.  If you want to do it right, I always recommend that people take a basic firearm safety course from a certified firearms instructor, especially if you're going to own a firearm and store it in your home.  With something as dangerous as guns, you shouldn't just wing it.  You should want to make sure you're being taught correctly, right from the beginning, before you learn any bad habits.  This article won't come close to giving you all the information you need to send you on your way, but it will get you started in the right direction, with the most basic fundamental firearm safety rules.

If you ask gun users about firearm safety rules, you will commonly hear something about the "four rules" of firearm safety.  There are numerous versions of these "four rules", often worded slightly differently, but they generally go something like this:

1. Treat every gun as if it's loaded.

2. Never point the muzzle at anything you're not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you've made a conscious decision to shoot.

4. Always know your target and what's beyond it.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) sets the standard for basic firearms training.  Their courses are recognized nationwide and are commonly accepted to meet the minimum training requirement for firearm permits issued by many agencies.

The NRA Rules for Safe Gun Handling are:

FIRST: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

SECOND: ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

THIRD: ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Beyond these three fundamental safety rules, the NRA goes on to list several additional rules to follow when using or storing your firearm.  The first of these is:

Know your target and what is beyond.

These three fundamental NRA rules, plus the first additional rule, are pretty much along the same lines as the "four rules" stated above.  Let's talk about these NRA rules in a little more detail.

FIRST: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

A gun that is not loaded cannot fire.  If you have no intention of shooting the gun, it's safest to keep all live ammunition away from it.  Only when you're preparing to shoot (at the range), preparing to hunt (in the field), or arming yourself (in the case of a personal protection firearm) should the gun be loaded.

In order to make sure the gun is unloaded, you need to check it.  The first thing you should do anytime you pick up a firearm is to keep it pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, and check to make sure it's unloaded.  And guess what?  This should also become habit.  Even if you just saw someone check that it's unloaded, as soon as you pick it up, you need to check for yourself.  Do this every time.  It's YOUR responsibility.  Keep in mind that with semi-automatic firearms, even though the magazine is removed from the firearm, there could still be a round in the chamber that may still fire.  With semi-automatic firearms, you must always check the chamber as well when making sure it's unloaded.

Know your target and what is beyond.

Before deciding to shoot your gun, you must be absolutely sure what you're shooting at.  You must know what your target is, and what is behind and beyond it.  You must make sure that there is a safe backdrop behind your target that will stop the bullet if it misses or goes through your target.  When hunting, don't get too excited about your hunt, that you forget to make sure that there is something behind your target to safely stop the bullet, and especially be absolutely sure that there are no other hunters that could possibly be in the line of fire.  Even in an emergency self-defense situation, you must always be mindful of the potential for collateral damage.  There could be innocent people around, and bullets can penetrate interior walls and ricochet of off streets and concrete walls.  You are accountable for every bullet you shoot, so think before you shoot.

Most gun accidents happen when one or more of the above safety rules are not followed.  Learn these rules, make a habit of them, live by them, and encourage other shooters to do the same.  If you own a firearm, the information in this article should only be the very beginning of your training.  I strongly recommend that you take an in-person basic firearm safety course from a certified instructor, then continue on with a personal protection course and accuracy training, and regularly practice/train.  Accuracy is a part of safety, and shooting is a perishable skill that must be practiced to maintain.

God bless and be safe,

Instructor Armand
Founder and Chief Instructor
Shield Personal Safety Training

Photos by Instructor Armand.

Copyright © 2016 Shield Personal Safety Training. All Rights Reserved.

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Basic Firearm Safety Rules​

About the Author:

Instructor Armand is the founder and chief instructor of Shield Personal Safety Training. He's a USCCA Certified Firearms Instructor, Utah Certified Concealed Firearms Instructor, NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, NRA Certified Range Safety Officer, Refuse To Be A Victim® Certified Instructor, CA DOJ FSC Certified Instructor, CA DOJ Certified Fingerprint Roller, hunter, and CCW permit holder.

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This is the most important rule.  If only this rule was always followed, most accidents would be prevented.  Make this a natural habit.  Practice this every time you touch a firearm regardless of whether or not it's loaded.  It should become second nature.  It should just "feel" wrong to NOT point the gun in a safe direction.  Now, what is a "safe direction"?  At the range, this would be downrange (in the direction of where the targets are setup).  In other places it could be down towards the ground or up towards the sky, or something else.  Keep in mind that concrete, rocks, or other hard surfaces on the ground can cause a ricochet, and also that what goes up must come down.  Sometimes there isn't a 100% absolute safe direction.  Sometimes you must just determine the SAFEST direction, with the least likelihood to cause harm or damage should the gun somehow fire.  When inside your home or other structure, the top corners of rooms, where big load-bearing support beams meet, contain lots of building material.  That might be the safest direction.  A bookcase containing lots of large books might be the safest direction.  Certainly you should never point a gun at yourself or anyone else, except for as a last resort in the case of unavoidable, unprovoked legal and ethical self-defense.

SECOND: ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.