Whether you own a .22 semi-automatic rifle, Glock handgun, or a tactical AR-15, one of your most important responsibilities is operating and storing your weapon safely and securely.
Firearms safety does not stop at the range. Your handling and storage habits should reflect your respect and commitment to gun safety.
Manufacturers include at least one, often more, safeties on a gun. Knowing the various types of safeties can help you recognize one on an unfamiliar gun.
There are four types of safeties on guns:
Handguns and bolt-action rifles often use pivot safeties as one of the ways to prevent accidental discharges.
A pivot safety is a lever, button, or tab that blocks the trigger or the firing pin once engaged.
A pivot safety on the frame of the gun blocks the trigger. If the safety is located on the bolt or the slide, it blocks the firing pin.
Many semi-automatic weapons and pump actions use cross-bolt safeties. Most pump action shotguns use cross-bolts that sit conveniently right behind the trigger guard.
A cross bolt safety is a push button blocking the trigger or hammer when engaged.
These safeties are usually directly in front of the hammer or by the trigger guard.
Half-Cock or Hammer Safety
Firearms, like revolvers, with exposed hammers have half-cock safeties.
Many older firearms, starting with flintlocks, had a half-cock position built into the gun mechanism. The guns have a notch that allows the hammer to remain at half-cock position. In this position, the gun can’t fire, and the firing pin does not rest on a live round.
In flintlocks this allowed you to prime the pan without risk of accidental discharge.
Hunters often kept the half-cock position engaged as a safety precaution when there was a round in the chamber.
These safeties are more part of the mechanism, a mechanical safety device, than actual safety.
Tang or Slide Safety
Some brands of rifles and break action shotguns use tang or slide safeties.
The metal strip behind the receiver, called the tang, has a slide or bar the shooter must disengage before firing the gun.
This tang safety blocks the firing action, prohibiting the firing pin from coming in contact with the round.
New Gun Safety
When you buy a new gun, never assume it is ready to shoot. Take the time to thoroughly check the weapon and resolve any issues before you shoot the first round through it.
Use this check list:
Review the Owner’s Manual
Some experienced gun owners tend to skip this vital step. Although you may have shot thousands of rounds using many different types of weapons, each gun operates differently. Newer models of your old familiar gun incorporate changes that can affect the safety of the shooter and bystanders.
In addition to safety, reading the owner’s manual can provide some subtle but essential tips on loading, unloading, maintaining, and carrying the weapon.
If you buy a used gun, you can usually find the owner’s manual online, or in the case of an antique, an aficionado’s detailed explanation of the characteristics of the musket or whatever antique weapon you bought.
Check the Gun and Accessories
As soon as you take your gun out of the box, check to ensure it is unloaded and work through the mechanisms.
Look it over for any apparent defects, things like hairline fractures or loose parts.
Look down the bore with a bore light for barrel obstructions. Pieces of plastic or even a small accessory part like a screw may accidently get trapped there.
Clean and Lubricate the Gun
New guns may have metal shavings, grit, or other manufacturing by-products trapped in the grease or coat of oil or even in one of the nooks or crannies.
Strip the gun and clean and wipe it down all the parts before firing it for the first time.
This also not only familiarizes you with the gun but also allows you to examine each part carefully for any signs of defects.
Ensure the Ammo You Want to Use Is Compatible
The ammunition you expect to use may not always work. For example, if you buy a used weapon, +P ammo may create too much pressure for the gun to fire without damaging the gun and potentially creating a hazardous situation for the shooter.
Do a Bench Check
Run a bench check on an unloaded weapon. Go through all the steps or procedures you would when using the gun: engage and disengage the safeties, insert and drop the magazine, spin the cylinders, pull back the charging handles.
Once all these checks have been completed, you can safely take the weapon to the range to fire it.
Basic Firearm Safety Rules
These ten basic firearm safety rules are the first you learn when you shoot your first gun and remain a mantra to memorize and follow every time you handle a firearm:
1. Always keep Your Weapon Pointed in a Safe Direction
This is probably the most important of the rules, particularly applicable when loading and unloading a weapon.
If you don’t intend to shoot it, don’t point the gun at it. Following this rule eliminates any possibility of hurting someone you didn’t mean to hit.
This rule is not as simple as it sounds, however. Merely keeping the gun pointed straight up may usually be fine but remember the penetration power of a weapon and what may be on the other side of the wall or ceiling.
Pointing it down at the ground may be safer but remember the possibility of ricochets.
Follow this rule when dry firing an unloaded gun.
2. Always Wear Ear and Eye Protection when Shooting
Guns are loud and can, over time, seriously harm your hearing. Flying bits of lead from the barrel, pieces of a target, twigs, or even pieces of the gun in the event of a malfunction can damage your eyesight.
Always wear shooting glasses and ear muffs or inserts even when plinking at irregular targets.
Also, wear eye protection when cleaning your weapon. Springs under tension can fly clear, and gun oils and solvents can get into your eyes.
3. Always keep Guns Unloaded when not in Use
Unless you are at the range, in the field hunting, or carrying for protection, keep your weapon unloaded.
Whenever you finish whatever shooting activity you engage in, your next step is safely unloading the gun.
After it is unloaded, you can secure it in the car or gun safe or wherever you can safely store it.
4. Follow Proper Safety Procedures when Picking up or Handing a Weapon to Someone
When you pick up a gun, always assume it is loaded. If you hand a gun to someone, the gun should always be unloaded first.
Even after you unload it, open the action and visually inspect the barrel to ensure there is no round in the chamber.
5. Don’t Climb a Tree, Fence, or Perform Some other Awkward Action Unless You Gun is Holstered or Slung and the Safety Is On
Carrying a loaded gun in one hand while climbing or performing some other awkward physical action is asking for trouble.
Secure your weapon in its holster or sling your rifle or shotgun over your shoulder before attempting any actions that require both hands for balance or grasping.
6. Don’t Rely on the Gun’s Safety
Just because a gun has a positive safety does not abrogate your responsibility to follow basic gun safety rules.
A gun is a mechanical device, and any mechanical device can break or become inoperable at any time.
7. Keep Your Finger off the Trigger Until You Take Your Shot
Don’t touch the trigger until it is time to shoot. Stumbling or an unexpected blow may cause you to jerk your finger and accidently discharge the gun.
8. Be Certain of the Target before You Fire
Make sure you know where you are going to shoot and ensure you have considered any person or thing in the immediate vicinity that could be hurt should your shot go slightly awry.
Familiarize yourself with the type of round the gun fires, its velocity and the distance it may travel. Hunting rifle rounds, like a 30-06, can travel over three miles. Shotgun slugs have a range of over a half mile unimpeded.
9. If Your Gun Misfires, Treat It with Extreme Caution
Follow all proper safety procedures if your gun misfires. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction, engage the safety, unload the gun, and get rid of the cartridge.
Keep your face away from the breech.
10. Use the Right Ammunition
Use the correct ammunition for the gun you fire. Check the owner’s manual and any warning labels on the ammunition boxes.
Using the wrong ammunition can not only hurt the gun but may also serious injury the shooter.
Examine each round as you load your gun and discard any round that doesn’t look right for whatever reason compared to the other cartridges.
Manufacturers test weapons to fire within the range of precise tolerances based on factory-loaded ammunition.
If you load your own ammo and consciously or unconsciously deviate from the factory standards, your gun may not handle the stress.
Most of the basic rules of gun safety apply when unloading a weapon such as keeping your finger off the trigger and pointing the barrel in a safe direction.
In your garage or at the range, remember a concrete floor can produce dangerous slivers of concrete or ricochets.
Using a five-gallon bucket as a clearing station will improve unloading safety. However, use sand, not water, to fill the bucket. Five gallons of water will only slow the round down a bit, but it likely will still penetrate the bucket.
Pull the slide and lock it back and press the magazine release.
If the cylinder swing out, open it, orientate the cylinder’s downward, and press the rod to empty it.
If the cylinder is fixed, you will need to half-cock the hammer before unloading. Once half-cocked, rotate the cylinder, align the cartridge chamber with the loading gate, depress the unloading rod, and remove the bullet.
For a single or double barrel, open the breach and either pull the shells out or use the ejector rod if it has one.
For pump actions, cycle the action until you have pumped all the cartridges out of the holding tube.
You pull the charging handle to the rear to eject shotgun rounds from a semi-automatic shotgun and continue doing so until all rounds have been removed.
Bolt action, depending on the brand, may require slightly different alternations like half or fully disengaging the bolt before unloading.
The necessary steps are releasing the magazine and open the bolt to check for any chambered rounds.
Semi-automatic rifles require you to pull the charging handle back, release the magazine, and check to ensure the chamber is empty.
Safe Storage Tips
Modern firearms storage comes in many different forms. Unlike in our grandfather’s day, you can safely secure your firearm, but at the same time, access it quickly for emergency use.
Depending on the use of the firearm dictates the type of storage used. Competitive shooters need something portable. Antique collectors may want something substantial and alarmed.
For home protection, you want something secure enough to keep children or unauthorized people from accessing it but also quickly available should the need arise.
If you want simple and affordable, a simple trigger lock works well. There are several different types of trigger locks. A trigger shoe, for example, clamps down on the trigger mechanism, preventing it from functioning until removed.
Cable locks prevent the weapon’s action from closing.
Single handgun safes work very well from most handgun owners securing a weapon at home. Some come with biometric openers to allow only you rapid access.
Other types of secure storage include metal gun safes, safes that can be bolted to cement floors, wall safes, and locking cases that provide a modicum of security from curious eyes when traveling.
Keeping your guns secure is one of the critical responsibilities of any gun owner.