Ten Gun Safety Rules

Ten Basic Gun Safety Rules for Safe Firearms Use

Close-Up Of Guns On Table
Emily Fennick / EyeEm / Getty Images

Guns are used safely millions upon millions of times every year, but the potential for injury and death is always there. For this reason, we need to follow basic safety rules at all times when handling firearms, including handguns like revolvers and pistols, rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, airguns, etc.

Here are ten rules you should always follow with any firearm. 

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Always Point a Gun in a Safe Direction

Photo © Russ Chastain

This one should be self-explanatory. It is the bedrock of all gun safety and is the most important rule.

Another way to say it, which Dad taught me many years ago, is, "Never point a gun at anything you're not willing to shoot."

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Assume That Any Gun, at Any Time, is Loaded

When someone tells you a gun is not loaded, that's fine--but don't believe it until you see it for yourself.

If you offend your buddy by checking a gun after he's told you it's unloaded, then so be it. If he is a true friend, he will understand. And better safe than dead. Make it a habit to check, no matter what. This is a very important habit to get into.

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Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger

Empire Arms double barrel "rabbit ear" shotgun, showing double triggers and trigger guard.
Photo copyright Russ Chastain

This is something I see way too often--a distracted or amateur shooter will have his or her finger on the trigger of a gun they are simply carrying or examining. Don't do it! Keep that finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot, and after shooting, move it back out of the trigger guard.

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Know What You're Shooting At

bullseye target

Your target is whatever you have decided to shoot. And--this is extremely important--it must be a conscious decision when you shoot something.

Don't get lax about this. You need to know what you are going to shoot at, what is between you and it, and what is beyond it. Pay attention.

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Be Familiar With Your Gun

Take the time to learn about the operation and features of the firearm you are planning to use. The time to learn this is not while you are shooting--that is when you need to be learning about grip, shooting positions, trigger control, etc. When you step up to the firing line, you should already know how to operate the gun you'll be shooting.

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Don't Shoot at Hard Surfaces (Including Water)

Water might not seem like a hard surface, but its density makes it pretty dangerous. Bullets and shotgun shot can ricochet (glance off) and fly off in an unintended direction. Not good.

Hard surfaces like metal, rocks, and hard wood can do this too--and they can even send the projectile straight back to the shooter. Shooting oneself, even indirectly, can be a pretty nasty experience.

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Don't Rely on a Safety Mechanism.

Put the safety in the "safe" position before you try to remove the trigger group.

Many guns have a safety device to prevent the gun from firing. These are often reliable, but not always. And some guns have even been known to fire when the safety is released--most notably Remington bolt-action centerfire rifles, which naturally leads to the conclusion that safety mechanisms are often useful but are not completely reliable.

Use the safety, but don't count on it! Continue to follow the number one rule: always keep the gun pointed somewhere safe.

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Load Your Gun When You Need To.

Some, including the NRA, will tell you to keep every gun unloaded until you're ready to fire it. This is not a practical rule, because guns used for hunting and defense purposes will be needed in a hurry whenever they are needed, and there is no time to be messing around loading your gun when you need it to save your life or to take the game you're hunting.

If you need your gun for defense from human or animal attackers and it's not loaded, it becomes a liability rather than a benefit, and your safety goes down the tubes. So load your gun, and handle it responsibly.

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Use the Right Ammunition

Photo of a dozen rounds of .32-caliber rimfire ammunition.
Photo © Russ Chastain

Make certain the ammunition you're using is right for your gun. Don't assume that you have the correct ammo just because it can be crammed into the gun. The groceries you feed your firearm need to match up with the gun's design and strength factors. The proper cartridge designation is usually marked on the gun. If you have any doubt, consult the gun's manufacturer or a qualified gunsmith.

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Pay Attention!

It's easy to get distracted when you're having fun, and target shooting can be a lot of fun, especially if you're enjoying it with friends and family. Don't let yourself get carried away.

Take extra care to follow safe gun handling rules, and don't be afraid to correct others when you see them improperly handling firearms--we all need a reminder every now and then. Some folks may not like to hear it, but all participants must follow gun safety rules if everyone is to come home safe and sound. And that's what we always want to see!