Gun Safety For Beginners

The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
American Liberty News
- July 15, 2024
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, a progressive host and former press secretary for President Joe Biden, voiced deep concerns this weekend about the climate of fear and violence, supposedly towards journalists, following the near assassination of former President .

During an appearance on ' “” with , Psaki addressed the tension and the possibility of violence in the wake of the assassination attempt. She emphasized that attributing the attack to Democrats and the media only heightens fears and escalates the risk.

Via GunMagWarehouse by William Lawson

So, you're a new gun owner. Congratulations! Welcome to the shooting world. I think you'll find us an interesting bunch, and we're glad to have you. Even if it seems a bit mystifying at first, there's plenty of information out there, including tons of great articles right here on The Mag Life Blog. But before you dive into those many rabbit holes, take a few minutes to think about gun safety. Shooting is great fun, but it is also inherently dangerous, so safety is paramount. Its importance literally cannot be overstated.

This article will discuss basic firearm safety principles. If they seem simple and common sense, that's because they are. As with any activity, fundamentals are the firm foundation upon which everything else is built. If you practice these fundamental safety measures until they become second nature, chances are that you will enjoy many years of safe shooting. If not, well, you're better off choosing another hobby.

Unlike some other sports, a single lapse when handling a firearm can kill you or someone else. I'm not trying to bring you down or discourage you, but you must understand the crucial nature of proper safety practices. Fortunately, they aren't difficult, but they do require conscientious application and strict discipline. So, let's get into it.

The Four Rules of Safe Firearm Handling

Gun safety is an ongoing thing and should always be in the front of your mind when handling firearms. I could provide you with a list as long as my arm, but many of those can wait until you've gotten your feet wet. But if you do no more than learn and live these four fundamental safety rules, you will have a firm foundation and be a safe shooter.

Rule 1: ALWAYS KEEP THE GUN POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION

Basically, this means that you should never point a gun at anything you don't wish to shoot. It's a simple concept that sometimes seems difficult to achieve. This usually means you always point the gun at the ground or in the air, or at your target when on the range. The problem lies with getting the muzzle to that safe direction, especially when there are other people present.

The trick is to be aware of how others are positioned around you. For instance, if you're looking at a gun in a store or at a gun show, be aware of the people around you, how the gun is positioned on the counter or table, and know how you will handle it before picking it up. The salesperson should check the gun before handing it to you and do so in a way that makes it easy for you to point it in a safe direction. They should. If not, you will need to do it yourself. Nothing bothers gun store employees more than a customer who swings a gun around the store, “flagging” everyone else. Don't be that guy or gal.

When I go to the range, I customarily point my rifle cases downrange before removing the firearm. That way, I can keep it pointed in a safe direction. I recently joined a private range, partially because the public range I formerly used had so many yahoos who had no concept of muzzle discipline. I wasn't a big fan of people sweeping the whole range with their rifles while turning around to talk to their friends. Don't be that guy or gal either.

It boils down to awareness and common courtesy. Be aware and be courteous.

Rule 2: TREAT EVERY FIREARM AS IF IT WERE LOADED

I've also seen this expressed as “every firearm is always loaded.” But that doesn't resonate with me because it's not realistic. But it IS realistic, and not difficult, to handle every gun as if it were loaded. There will be many times that you KNOW your gun is unloaded. But you still must treat it as if it is. What do I mean by that?

Think of it this way. If you know a gun is loaded, you will handle it a certain way. Get it in your mind right now that you must always handle it that way. When you pick up a gun, any gun, your first action should ALWAYS be to check the chamber to make certain the gun is unloaded. Every time. Open the action and visually inspect the chamber. You can even run your finger through the chamber to be certain. You should always do that in low light or darkness. If the gun is magazine-fed, look to see whether a magazine is inserted. If so, take it out before opening the action.

If someone hands you a gun and you saw them check it already, you should still assume the gun is loaded and check it yourself. That's not an insult to the person handing it to you. It shows them that you know and practice responsible gun handling. They'll respect you for it. And once you ascertain for yourself that the gun is unloaded, you STILL treat it like it is.

I've been in countless deer camps with many experienced hunters. It's common to check out one another's guns. It's almost like a ritual. Many, many times I've stood in a circle of guys passing around a new deer rifle. Every single person to whom the rifle is passed will point it at the floor or in the air and run the action a few times to make sure it's unloaded. Every single one. In fact, even if the last hunter to handle the rifle didn't do that, he would be quickly and vocally criticized, and many hunters would classify him as untrustworthy. That's not an exaggeration.

I bought my first gun at age 11 with the money I earned splitting firewood for my Dad. It was a Harrington & Richardson single-shot 20-gauge shotgun. I paid $42.00 for it in 1976. One evening, my Dad had a friend over to the house and he told me to go get my shotgun to show it to him. I removed it from the gun cabinet, opened the breech, and checked the chamber. It was empty, so I closed the breech and took it into the next room, handing it to my Dad's friend.

My Dad quickly asked if I had checked the chamber. I replied that I had. My mistake was handing the gun to another person with the breech closed and not checking it in front of him. Dad knew I'd checked it because he had trained me and my brother so strictly. But he still took my shotgun away for a month because of that lapse. I got the message. Dad didn't play with safety, nor should he have. I'm grateful to him today because of it. I still have that shotgun and I still handle it the way my Dad taught me. I trained my son the same way.

Always, always, always treat guns as if they are loaded. We often hear stories of guns “going off” while being cleaned. Guns don't just “go off.” There is no such thing as an “accidental discharge.” There are only negligent discharges. And negligent discharges are caused by negligent handling. There would be no “cleaning accidents” if everyone treated their guns as if they were loaded. Do it. Always do it. There's really no excuse not to.

Rule 3: KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO SHOOT

As with the others, this one is simple. It also requires training. Gun ergonomics are designed to place your finger on the trigger comfortably. Placing your finger on the trigger when picking up a gun seems the most natural thing in the world. But you have to train yourself not to do it.

Trigger finger discipline is called “indexing.” That means your trigger finger should be “indexed” somewhere other than the trigger. This usually means your finger will stretch straight out along the gun's receiver or slide above the trigger guard. It will usually be in full contact with the gun, making it easy to tell you're in the right place.

You must ingrain this so thoroughly that you do it without thinking. Personally, after doing it for 50 years, moving my finger to the trigger requires a conscious act. Seemingly, my fingers index properly of their own accord. I can thank my Dad for that too. My brother and I heard about it constantly.

If you peruse gun people's social media for any length of time, you'll soon run across criticisms of unsafe practices, the most common of which is probably poor trigger discipline. It won't be long before you see someone say, “Keep your booger hook off the bang switch.” I thought it was funny at first, but it's deadly serious. Train yourself to not reach for that trigger until your target is acquired and in your sights. Do it enough that it becomes second nature. Do it enough that it feels strange to have your finger on the trigger before you have that sight picture. It's not hard. It just requires conscientious practice.

Once you acquire this habit, you'll notice when others don't, especially on TV or in movies. For all its handwringing about gun safety, Hollywood provides very poor examples.

You should be aware that some firearms require you to pull the trigger for disassembly or decocking. It's just how some guns are designed and there's no way around it. One of my primary carry guns is a Walther PPQ. After engaging the takedown lever, I must pull the trigger to remove the slide. My deer rifle is a lever action Marlin 336. After unloading it, I'm required to pull the trigger while easing the hammer down. Same thing when I chamber a round if don't plan to fire immediately. I also collect surplus Mauser bolt action rifles. If the Mauser 98 action is cocked, I have to raise the bolt handle and pull the trigger to decock it. If I observe all the other safety rules, none of these is a problem. Understanding how your guns function helps with this. That way you can mitigate the need to pull the trigger in certain mechanical operations.

Rule 4: KNOW YOUR TARGET AND WHAT IS BEYOND IT

As with the other rules, Rule 4 requires awareness. If you're at a range with proper backstops, you're good to go, as long as you aren't shooting above the backstops. Pro tip: don't ever shoot over the backstop. But if you're hunting or plinking in a field, you must always know what's beyond your target. Bullets travel a long way. Even a .22 Short bullet can reach over a mile. Larger, more powerful rounds can go much farther. NEVER shoot into the air. What goes up, must come down. That stuff you see on TV? Don't do it. Bird hunting with a shotgun and proper ammunition is the clear exception, but that doesn't mean you can shoot toward an area with other people in it.

Understand that once you pull the trigger, that bullet is out of your control. It will go where you pointed it. If you miss your target, it will go until it runs out of steam or, worse, hits something else. You should also understand that you can never, never, never take back a bullet, and YOU are responsible for every round you fire.

This applies not just to the range, but the real world. I'm reminded of a time when I was deer hunting with my Dad and brother. I was probably 17 or 18 at the time and was an experienced hunter. Each night in camp, we always discussed where we planned to hunt the next day, so we were aware of each other's location. That way, we ensured physical barriers like ridges between us, as well as knowing not to shoot in each other's direction, regardless. Some folks don't have ridges, so it's even more important.

This particular day, I planned to walk to a county road, then work my way in to my chosen spot. For some reason, I left camp later than usual, and the sun was rising as I approached the road. I was still a couple hundred yards away as I crossed an open spot when I jumped up a deer. It was clearly a decent-sized buck since the morning sun glittered on his antlers. I froze and he stopped after only moving 25 yards or so.

I was sorely tempted to take that shot. That buck was only 50 yards away and I had him dead to rights. I was confident I could drop him with one shot. I'm still confident about it. But I stood there and watched him walk away. Why? Because that road was about 150 yards behind him. There was no traffic that I could see. No one would ever know. But my Dad had stressed over and over that we do not ever shoot toward roads, houses, or anywhere else that people frequent. So, I let him go.

I don't tell that story to make myself sound special. I told Dad about it, and he didn't make a big deal out of it. He merely told me that I did right. It wasn't a big deal because that's what he expected. I did nothing but meet the standard. The point is that the standard is incredibly high. Some of you may think I took it to the extreme, but that's how I was taught, and I have no regrets. That incident was the only time I faced that particular quandary. But my son passed up a shot on a buck a few years back because he wasn't certain where I was in relation to the deer. That was my fault for not communicating properly, but he did the right thing. I attribute that to my passing on what my Dad taught me.

While hunting, you only shoot at clear targets where you know what is, and isn't, behind it. You never shoot at noise. You never shoot at motion. You never shoot at flashes of color. My Dad made us dress in blaze orange and insisted we carry red bandanas in case we needed to wipe our nose. White handkerchiefs are dangerous, he said, because poorly trained or less ethical hunters might shoot at a flash of white, thinking it was a deer's white tail. Better to pass on a questionable target than shoot at something you're unsure about.

This rule also applies to self-defense. If you choose to carry a defensive sidearm, or use a gun for home defense, you must always be aware of what is beyond your potential target. If you miss, that bullet will hit something. Even if you hit, the bullet can possibly over-penetrate and hit something else. Proper selection of defensive ammunition can mitigate this danger, but it does not absolve you of the responsibility of knowing what is beyond your target. Awareness is key and its importance cannot be overstated.

I'll relate one more story and move on. About 10 years ago, while living in Wichita Falls, Texas, I was rudely awakened just after sunrise by what sounded like a rock hitting my bedroom window. I got up to look, and there was a small hole in the window. It looked like a .22 bullet had passed through. I traced the angle and, sure enough, found a hole in the far wall, from which I dug out a spent .22 round. It had passed directly over my bed after hitting the window.

I lived in a fairly large subdivision. I once again looked at the angle from the wall to the window and followed that angle outside into the alley behind my house. Everyone had privacy fences, but I climbed up the one I thought was right and, sure enough, there was a miniature shooting range in the backyard. I called the police and showed them everything. They came back and told me the guy had tried to shoot a squirrel perched on his fence and missed. Had I been standing up, that bullet could easily have hit me. I didn't press charges, though I did ask the cops to scare him a little and make him pay for my repairs, which he did. That's a perfect example of not giving a damn about what's behind the intended target.

Bonus Firearm Safety Rule: ALCOHOL, DRUGS, AND GUNS DON'T MIX

Just as when you drive a car, picking up a firearm literally puts the power of life and death in your hands. Never handle a firearm if you are intoxicated, or even if you've only had a beer or two. Impaired thinking and impaired motor skills are not compatible with safe firearms handling. Just don't do it. Ever.

Safety First

If I sound preachy in this article, well, so be it. Gun ownership is fun and rewarding, but it's also an awesome responsibility. These fundamental safety rules are simple, but they aren't always easy. They require conscious effort until they become unconscious in practice. Even then you should keep them in your mind so that breaking them makes you take notice. Despite my stories, I'm not perfect. I occasionally do dumb things, but I always catch myself and say that Dad wouldn't approve.

A great way to start that process is to seek professional training. Start with basic firearm safety courses. My Dad was a great trainer, but I still take courses to this day. And every one of them, even the advanced classes, stresses basic safety.

Another area to familiarize yourself with is proper gun storage. Even if you're properly trained and confident, you can't assume everyone who comes into your home will be as well.

Gun ownership is a great hobby and can even be a lifestyle. I've been a gun owner since 1976 and I've loved every minute of it. It helps define who I am. My brother and I are fortunate that our Dad trained us so well. But even if you didn't have that, the information and the training are available, and experienced gun owners are happy to help you. I urge you to do it the right way. Firearms are great fun, but they are also deadly serious. Treat them that way.

Read the article in its entirety at GunMagWarehouse.com.

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