A quick recap of the Four Rules of Firearm Safety:
1. Every gun is always loaded
2. Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy
3. Finger off trigger until sights are on target and you’ve decided to shoot
4. Be sure of your target and what’s around it.
This outtake is about Rule #1: Every gun is always loaded. Adults who are new to shooting, or new to handguns with a background of shotgun or rifle use, can be hesitant to think and act for themselves when handling a new-to-them gun. Safety Rule #1 is one place where that’s always a good idea.
What does that mean, “every gun is always loaded?” It means we must treat them as loaded. This rule dovetails tightly with Rule #2, about muzzle control. The most frequent violation of Rule #1 I observe is incurred by folks who show up at the range, unbox a gun, and without checking its load condition, casually hand it over to a friend or begin rolling the gun in their hands while chatting as one would any random object like a pencil.
Know the proper unloading procedure for your gun—for most, that means magazine out or cylinder open, then bolt or slide open, and a physical and visual inspection to be sure the chamber is clear. For revolvers, it means cylinder clear of the frame and all chambers empty. Many new pistol handlers aren’t sure of how to lock a slide back. Most people who believe they can’t lock a slide open simply don’t understand the mechanical act of doing so. Once they learn to coordinate moving the slide and slide lock as one fluid movement, all but the most frail of people can accomplish this on a pistol that has a slide lock—which of course is nearly all of them.
The term NEVER ASSUME applies to gun safety in spades. An often-heard excuse is “this gun is always in this case, it hasn’t been out since (usually some time during the Bush II administration), so I know it’s unloaded.” Out of respect for those around you and for yourself, check the load condition anyway. That means every time you bring the gun out of storage for range use or carry as well as stowing it. Perhaps you want it loaded—be sure it is before strapping it on and leaving the house.
Gun handling can give rise to trepidation for the new shooter. Neophytes may be hesitant to check the load status of a gun they’ve just been handed or newly pick up, sometimes out of not wanting to appear uninformed, or not wanting to buck the perceived authority of a more experienced handler who states “it’s not loaded.” Any good gun person will gladly oblige showing the load condition if you ask, and will teach you how to check for yourself. Anyone who’s offended at the question is one to avoid as a future shooting partner or instructor.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Very few, but yes. A thorough cleaning and complete understanding of your gun’s construction, and perhaps the odd repair, will require you to handle the muzzle and look down the barrel. There’s a reason virtually every owner’s manual admonishes users to unload and double-check the gun to be sure ammunition is absent during cleaning—it’s the time when most “accidents” happen, because people fail to do so.
Make it your commitment to put ammunition out of arm’s reach of the gun during cleaning, preferably in another room, out of sight. Make it your commitment to be free of distractions during the moments when cleaning requires unloading and perhaps reloading, so that no ammunition slips past your mental radar. When a gun’s in your hands, safety is YOUR responsibility and yours alone. Have fun, and be safe.
Related Post: Range Etiquette.
Photos Owned by Eve Flanigan