Steve Munden



Four Rules for Firearm Safety

There are many safety rules of varying importance: Make sure the gun is in good condition, don't put a 20-gauge shell in a 12-gauge shotgun, wear ear and eye protection, keep out of reach of untrained people, that sort of thing. But those are all secondary, in my opinion. The real meat of firearm safety is in not shooting anything that you don't intend to shoot. And that is a very simple matter. Here's how to figure out gun safety.

Suppose I want to shoot something, say that big stump over there. What would I have to do? I'd have to load a gun, point it at the stump, and press the trigger. Nothing else. There are things I probably should do, like don eye and ear protection, but those don't have to be done. The only things that have to be done are:

Press Trigger

So that gives me a clue about how to avoid shooting something that I don't want shot. If, in order to shoot, I have to load, point, and press the trigger, then to avoid shooting, I need only not load, not point, or not press the trigger. So here are the rules:

1. Don't load the gun until you're mentally and physically ready to shoot.

What does "ready to shoot" mean? This will depend on circumstances. In every formal competition I've ever been in, the shooter is told when to load by a range officer. While hunting, you'll decide for yourself when to load. If you're carrying a gun for protection, the gun will be loaded all the time. But all these have this in common: When you load that gun, you'd better be ready to shoot. In competition, the signal to fire will come very shortly, and in hunting and self-defense, you may have to shoot at any time; pheasants and violent criminals don't call ahead for an appointment, you know.

2. Don't point your gun at things you don't want to have shot.

This is the rule that's most conspicuously violated, justified by the claim that it doesn't matter, the gun isn't loaded. I don't care whether it's unloaded — more particularly, whether you think it's unloaded. Don't point it at things you don't want shot, ever. That way, when you make the mistake of thinking it's unloaded when it's actually loaded, it won't matter.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have decided to shoot.

And there's one more. It's possible to shoot something by accident because you missed what you were shooting at, or because you didn't realize that white flash in the woods was a handkerchief and not a deer's tail. Hence the fourth rule:

4. Positively identify your target, and what's around it and behind it.

Don't get sloppy with those 4 rules and you won't shoot anything by accident. Always keep in mind that people make mistakes. When, not if, you make a mistake — your friend didn't check his shotgun before handing it to you, say, and you didn't check it yourself — your blunder won't result in an accidental shooting because you keep your finger off the trigger, and you don't point the gun at anything important. Obeying those rules all the time will keep you at least two mistakes away from an accidental shooting. And that's crucial, because people make mistakes.