This is not something to joke about, kid over or treat lightly. When at the range, at home or in a hunting scenario safety must be stuck to with a paranoid zeal that may be unfamiliar to the novice. With that in mind, treat the following as a BASIC list of what to and not to do while handling a firearm. (Some of this is based in part on information from the Remington Arms Company, Inc. I am sure that they do not mind.)

-Know your firearm.
This includes total range of the rounds. Shotgun pellets can travel 500 yards, shotgun slugs about a half-mile, rimfire rifle rounds are capable of pushing one and a half miles, with some centerfire rounds the farthest out at five miles. Read and follow the applicable manual for your particular weapon and ensure that you understand what it is that the manual is telling you. If you are unsure see a competent gunsmith or the authorized dealer that you purchased the weapon from for more amplification.

Hmm, why would I say this? The person that is holding the weapon, the person that pulls the trigger is the one that is responsible for what happens to whatever that round encounters. Whether that be a target, another person, a house or any other noun you can think of the person that pulled the trigger is ultimately responsible. Every time that you pull the trigger as a shooter, you are UNEQUIVOCALLY responsible for what happens to that round. Do not think that such flimsy and idiotic catch-phrases as "I didn't know," or "I thought it was safe" or "I thought it was unloaded" are going to excuse you from culpability in the event of an accident.

- Guns do not kill people, people kill people.
An oft maligned phrase that bears more truth than most people would like to admit. For the sake of amplification, let us look at it in this light. Let us say that I was to take a pistol, load it, and set it on the table between you and I. The weapon is going to do a grand total of nothing until someone picks it up, takes the safety off, chambers a round and pulls the trigger. Ultimately the shooter or the person pulling the trigger is responsible for what that round hits. Firearms are intrinsically no less evil than a coffeepot or a knife. If used incorrectly or in an unsafe manner nearly anything is deadly.

-The recoil seemed weak or the hammer fell and the weapon failed to report. (This includes misfires.)
STOP. Wait five minutes after alerting the range master that you have a misfire condition. Obtain a bucket of sand and eject the unfired round into said, taking care to move the bucket to a safe location. Slow powder burns are an occasional defect in manufactured and handloads that are extremely unpredictable in nature as far as the time between the firing pin falls and the time that enough heat is generated to cause a proper firing. Rounds can go off as long as ten minutes after the firing pin has struck the primer and caused the misfire condition to occur.

-Treat ALL guns as though they were loaded.
One of the most maligned and often gaffed off safety rules, this is neither a laughing matter or something to be forgotten once behind the trigger. I have nothing else to say other than to quote the first standard line out of every accidental shooter: "I didn't think it was loaded." This is a MISTAKE and one that WILL KILL YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE. No one, let me repeat this again NO ONE is excused from following particularly this rule. If you treat any gun you come across as a loaded weapon until it has been VISUALLY verified (by yourself,) to be empty you are far less likely to have some sort of an accident.

-Use the EXACT type of ammunition.
What this means is that you CANNOT place the wrong size cartridge into a weapon fire it and expect to remain in one piece. DO NOT AT ANY TIME PUT THE INCORRECT TYPE OF AMMUNITION INTO A FIREARM. If you do not know what caliber (size,) weapon you have, UNLOAD the weapon and IMMEDIATELY see a qualified gunsmith. This is not something that first time shooters are solely vulnerable too either. (A friend of mine who has been shooting and reloading his own rounds since he was tall enough to reach the bench managed to chamber and fire a 9mm round from a .40 caliber S&W semi-automatic pistol. Thanks to the decent engineering on the part of the folks at Smith and Wesson no serious damage resulted. Other than what was done to his pride. Jokes concerning the 9mm conversion kit for a S&W .40 made the rounds for a few months.)

This should be self-explanatory; however for the less initiated I am going to explain anyway. In the event that you are in the armed forces of your respective nation, in a combat situation and already being shot at (In which case, one is forced to ask what you think you are doing on E2 at the moment?) THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON THAT YOU NEED TO POINT A WEAPON AT ANOTHER PERSON. Firearms are not funny, they are not amusing, they are designed with one specific purpose in mind which is to make someone else dead.

-What is behind your target?
Oddly enough, this is forgotten more than most people would think. Do not doubt the capacity of a rifle (or pistol for that matter,) round to ricochet and cause significant property damage or death. If you are using a metal backstop, you are stupid. Yes, you are stupid. Frangible rounds aren't and will ricochet just as well as standard ball ammunition. Boresighting should be undertaken at a licensed facility with a proper backstop and safety equipment.

-Don't be stupid.
Easy enough to say, very hard to figure out (for some.) If there is any doubt that you are about to do something you ought not to, STOP RIGHT THIS SECOND. If anyone that is accompanying you believes that you are about to do something stupid, STOP RIGHT THIS SECOND. In the event that you are the person that is providing accompaniment, you need to be particularly aware of what the other party is up to at all times.

-Safety Briefs
Prior to departing for the range, again at the range, and shortly before firing these need to be conducted for the safety of everyone involved. This should consist of what you are going to be doing, what to do in the event of a misfire, what is going to be shot and how many rounds of ammunition you expect to expend during the session. Furthermore, cease-fire rules need to be laid out so that all parties involved understand what it is to do in the event of an unsafe situation. It is recommended that shouting "CEASE FIRE" be used as it is a commonly recognized signal. DO NOT JOKE about safety or think it is funny to call a cease-fire for no reason when someone is about to pull the trigger. This will more than likely result in the responsible individual's permanent ejection from the range.

-Do you REALLY need to own a gun?
Just a question you ought to ask yourself before purchase. Do you really need a firearm? Does it have a practical purpose or is this just something you are in love with the idea of having? Are you paranoid, on medication (including any illicit narcotics,) currently subject to a court action concerning restraining orders? Have you been in the past? Are you contemplating suicide? If you answered yes to any of the above (including the first two,) a serious reevaluation of the motivations behind why you are purchasing the weapon is something of a requirement. With regard to the first two questions, are you sure? Do you hunt? If it is not necessary, I would not recommend the purchase of a firearm. Honestly. Your second amendment freedoms are something that are a good thing to have, however they do not necessarily need to be exercised.

Some more information about this topic, most of it gleaned from conversation with members of the CMU Gun Club:

  1. If you go shooting at a range, consider the possibility of having a Rangemaster. This is simply one of your buddies that specifically will not shoot and whose single task is to be sure that people don't fuck up.
    The Rangemaster can, at any moment, shout CEASE FIRE, for whatever good reason he has. Shooters must obey the order without question.
  2. Remember that bullets, particularly rifle bullets, can easily go through walls. Drywall walls are, from the point of view of a 7.62 round, nearly non-existent. Even brick walls can be punched through. Solid wood thicker than one inch can be pierced as well.
    An accidental discharge in (for example) your typical apartment with flimsy wall, or a wooden North American house can harm your neighbours or someone sleeping upstairs.You are not alone.
  3. Protect your ears: when you go shooting, wear ear protection. Opinions differ on the kind to use: I like wearing high quality earplugs and ear protectors on top of them.
    But don't protect them so much that you can't hear someone shouting CEASE FIRE.
  4. KNOW YOUR GUN: guns differ in the way they are loaded, in the way the trigger feels, in the recoil and in a hundred other ways. There are even guns without a safety.
    If you happen on an unfamiliar gun, don't touch it. Ask questions. Ask the owner. You don't know everything about guns. Repeat with me: "I don't know everything about guns". Handle and shoot the gun only when you know that you are familiar enough with it.
  5. ALL GUNS ARE DEADLY. Consider a .22 rimfire pistol. It looks small and cute: the bullets are the size of a Tic Tac, and the recoil is hardly there. Those little shiny bullets, if properly aimed, kill you just as a dead as a big-ass, roaring, kicking .45 would do.
    And if you don't believe me, ask the Mossad/Shin Beth.

And while you are at it, re-read the above writeups - all good info that can save your life.

Whether you're a hunter, target shooter, or you keep a gun for personal defense, you MUST be familiar with the four cardinal rules of firearms safety. These rules are attributed to Colonel Jeff Cooper, widely considered to be the father of modern handgunning and combat technique.

1. All guns are always loaded.

We've all heard it too many times, "But I didn't think it was loaded!" Unfortunately, many firearms accidents are the direct result of the violation of this rule. If you pickup a firearm, the very first thing you should do is check to see if it is loaded. If you don't know how to check that particular firearm, PUT IT DOWN. You should do this every time you handle a firearm, even if the person that hands it to you just checked it themselves. Because, get this, you are responsible for your own actions. If someone else tells you that a gun is unloaded, and that person happens to be a complete idiot, what happens when you take them at their word, and then proceed to break rules number 2 or 3? Even after you've personally inspected a weapon's chamber visually, you should still treat the firearm as if it were loaded.

2. Never point the muzzle at anything you aren't ready and willing to destroy.

The muzzle is the end the bullet comes out of. I mean... there are actually people out there who point guns at their friends or their dog, just goofing around. These are the same people who accidentally kill their friends or their dog. There's going to come a day for anyone who handles firearms when one of those guns is going to be fired accidentally. This is called unintentional discharge. The day this happens, the direction in which the muzzle is pointed is going to be the difference between a scare and a tragedy. Afield, or carrying in a holster, I personally always keep the muzzle pointed at the ground near my feet. When I'm disassembling, cleaning or practicing dryfire, I point it at a five gallon bucket full of sand that I keep for that specific purpose. Just be certain of where the muzzle is pointing.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you're ready to fire.

You don't want to accidentally fire a gun at anything. If your finger's on the trigger and you're not on target, you could very well make that terrible mistake. If your finger isn't on the trigger, then there's very little chance that the gun will fire. There are some exceptions, such as if you're holding the hammer at a partial cock on a single action revolver, but you shouldn't be doing that either. Again, this rule relates to unintentional discharge. Whereas rule 2 serves to mediate the circumstances when an accident happens, this rule is meant to prevent the accident altogether. If you follow this rule religiously, it's unlikely that you'll experience an unintentional discharge.

4. Positively identify your target, and be sure of what is beyond it.

If you don't know what or who you're shooting at, don't point your weapon at it. This goes hand in hand with rule number 2. If you don't know what it is, how can you have made the decision that you are willing to destroy it? My own mother almost shot me in the face when I was four years old, as I tried to climb into her bed in the middle of the night. Don't shoot at sounds! And often overlooked by shooters is the fact that many bullets don't stop after hitting the target. This is called over-penetration, and it can pose a significant risk to bystanders in a self defense situation. Most handgun ammunition, especially hollow point, is designed to stop in the target. But high powered rifle ammo or large bore shotgun slugs and the like can easily over penetrate. When you are firing a weapon, expect over-penetration. Don't fire at a target that is in front of something you aren't willing to destroy.

Lastly, you have to practice all of these rules religiously until they are second nature. I find myself picking up spray bottles of household cleaner with my index finger along side the nozzle, subconsciously avoiding the trigger. Let it be said, that no man is perfect. There will be an occasion where you find yourself breaking one of the rules above. The rules attempt to compensate for that, such that in the case of an unintentional discharge, at least your muzzle is pointed at something that you don't mind destroying. Or if you accidentally point it at something important, at least your finger isn't on the trigger. But we can't become complacent. If you don't at least attempt to make these rules and habits second nature, you have no business picking up a gun.


"Jeff Cooper's Commentaries" by Jeff Cooper, Vol. 11, No. 4, April 2003
My father's advice
My personal experience

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