We’ve been touting big numbers in terms of lawful firearms sales from the FBI’s NICS Firearm Checks since last December (2020). Have you stopped to think about all the new firearm owners that are out there today? With nature healing and ammo prices coming down a little bit… You might bump into them at your go-to FFL, the local range or even your next competition. With that in mind, not everyone’s up to snuff when it comes to good habits and overall basic firearm safety. It’s up to you to look out for yourself and be aware of how others are behaving when surrounded by other people whenever firearms are being handled. This way, you can confidently look out for your friends and loved ones as well. These are the four cardinal rules of gun safety. Follow these, and you’ll largely be free of any unintended accidents:

1. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.

springfield hellcat, checking if gun is loaded

Anytime someone hands you a firearm you should check to see if the magazine is loaded and if there is a round chambered. It sounds basic but countless lives have probably been saved by people just practicing this essential habit. Knowing if a firearm is loaded or not should aid you in confidence when handling it and inform your behavior going forward. After all, there is no such thing as “too safe.”

While simple, this first rule might prove to be more difficult than it initially seems. There are multiple types of firearms and beginners might not be able to identify where magazines are located or how to remove them and perhaps even where to look to check the chamber. Being able to identify that unfamiliarity in other people gives you an idea of others’ experience level and could potentially be a teaching moment as well. 

An AR-15 has a magazine release button and the safety selector switch is in a clearly marked and labeled area on the lower receiver. But what about a shotgun? The safety switch is usually only identified by a button that shows a bit of red or black (“hot or not”) but depending on the gun’s brand it might be located in a completely unexpected location for some people. Sometimes shotguns might have colored followers in their magazine tube and that can be confusing to new shooters who might think their firearm is loaded when it’s actually not. Handguns can be equally confusing for beginners. Between hammer-fired and striker-fired pistols, not all handguns have manual safety switches, decockers or a standard magazine button release. If someone at the range seems like a danger to themselves or other people just let a range security officer know and go home. It’s not worth the risk.

2. Never point a firearm at anyone or anything you are not willing to destroy.

safety first

It doesn’t get more clear cut than this. If you’re not willing to break it, hurt it or kill the object you are pointing a firearm at whether it is animate or not then don’t do it. Practicing and strictly observing this rule helps develop due respect for firearms and the potential damage that they can do. 

3. Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. 

This is where the term “trigger discipline” comes from. Let’s say your gun IS loaded and chambered but unless your finger presses down on that trigger, nothing is going to happen and that’s how it should be. Most cops use striker-fired pistols that don’t have a manual safety. How do you think they operate around each other or the public when they have their guns drawn? Every now and then, range-time including, you might accidentally flag somebody. Obviously that is something we want to reduce to almost never happening. Keeping that finger off of the trigger just makes it exponentially much safer for people around you and even yourself. Let’s say you’re running and take a spill because you tripped over a rock… chances are you’ll be fine if your finger is off the trigger. But if the opposite were to happen with a finger on the trigger, you’d probably have a negligent discharge. 

4. Know your target and what is behind it. 

hunter safety

This one can get a little complicated for the layman so we’ll keep it as simple as possible. If you are pointing a firearm at a target in a situation where you are committed to pull the trigger, you want to be aware of what your target is made of, and if there is danger in harming anyone else in the immediate vicinity if you were to miss. The main reason for this is because we want to know where the bullet should predictably stop. You wouldn’t skip checking a blind corner before turning your car at an intersection right? Same principal here.

If you have the wherewithal to consider what your target is made out of and what kind of damage your ammunition can do to that material then extra brownie points for sure. Typically for self-defense rounds hollow points are highly recommended as they expand on impact reducing the chance of the round being able to go through multiple objects. Whereas full metal jacket rounds have the capability of going through several barriers before finally stopping. That creates a huge liability risk and could cause irreparable damage albeit unintentional.

So stay safe out there. Keep your eyes peeled and have situational awareness whenever possible and find some shade to shoot in when you’re outside. The summer heat is finally here.