Today, we are talking about a very serious subject. In fact, it is a deadly serious topic: gun safety. There is nothing more important, more fundamental, and more foundational than gun safety. Whether it’s your first time shooting or your 10,000th, the same rules and principles apply. The generally accepted four fundamental rules of gun safety are, in no particular order:
- Treat every single gun as though it were loaded.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
- Know what’s beyond your target.
- Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction until you are ready to shoot.
That’s it. If you abide by these four rules, you are among the safest firearms owners in America.
Treat Every Gun As If It Is Loaded
This first step seems like it should be so obvious that nobody could even mismanage it. Yet, every year, people are killed or injured by “unloaded” guns.
But treating every gun you are in contact with as though it is loaded is a fundamental principle of gun safety. It instills a mindset of caution and responsibility. See, even if you really, truly believe any given firearm is empty…that does not make it so.
By treating every single firearm as though it is loaded, including and especially those that you know for a fact not to be loaded, you are instilling muzzle discipline in yourself for when you know the firearm is loaded. But seriously, no matter what, no matter that you just cleared the chamber, always treat every gun as if it is loaded.
Keep That Trigger Finger Stowed
This next step falls in line with the first rule, which is to treat every gun as if it is loaded. Look, your trigger finger has a great responsibility here. Trigger discipline is critical, and when you know, you know.
Time for a little anecdote: last year, my wife and I had a newborn. We were up late a lot, as is known to happen. Well, we got sucked into the pop culture vortex that is Yellowstone. So, one of the major characters is the protagonist's son, and apparently was a Navy SEAL. Well, fast forward through several seasons, and dozens of bodies piled up. This young former SEAL is stalking his next unwitting prey who done the family wrong, slipping silently through a house…with his finger all over that trigger! If any of you guys watched it, you know the exact scene that I’m talking about.
When you drill it into your mind enough, you tend to notice when others aren’t adhering to standard safety doctrine and discipline, you notice it. Because when it is habitual, you won’t make the mistake of resting your finger on your trigger until you are ready to shoot.
So, keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to engage your target. There are lots of resources out there for how to grip your weapon without having a finger on the trigger, and this is not one of those. Just keep it off the trigger until you are ready to go live, and everyone is safer.
Know Dang Well What’s Beyond Your Target
If you haven’t noticed by now, there is a sort of recurring theme with gun safety: point it in safe directions, treat every gun like it is ready to shoot, and keep your finger off the trigger.
The next step is knowing just what exactly is beyond the muzzle of your firearm. Let’s take a look at some statistics to put this in perspective. These stats are all courtesy of NRAFamily.org:
- A 9mm 124-grain projectile can travel 2,130 yards
- The much heavier .45 ACP +P with a 185-grain slug goes 1,840 yards
- A fiery 158-grain slug from a .357 Magnum travels 2,398 yards.
Now for some rifle calibers:
- A standard 55-grain .223 Remington: 3,843 yards.
- Your grandpa’s .270 Winchester deer gun with a 130-grain bullet? 4,795 yards. Yes, that is two and three-quarter miles.
- That .30-30 Winchester in the gun cabinet that’s “outdated”? 3,010 yards with a 150-grain slug.
These are some serious numbers. The most common medium-game hunting calibers in the world need to get the respect they deserve. A stray ought-6 or .270 is lethal at nearly three miles. Three miles! Think about how far that really is.
Keep It Pointed In A Safe Direction
And finally, keep your weapon pointed in a safe direction. Most people have the weapon pointed up in the air or at the ground. While there is the chance that an accidental discharge could clip you on the foot, that is pretty remote. Usually, we don’t carry a rifle with the muzzle pointed straight down; it goes against our anatomy.
Instead, we tend to carry our firearms downward at around a 45° angle or so. As long as nobody is directly in front of you, this is ideal. An accidental discharge will go harmlessly into the dirt (unless you are on a hard surface like blacktop or concrete; in this case, pointing the muzzle in the air is probably better).
There is no stock answer to this rule either; firearm safety is never static. It is a dynamic thing because every situation is different. It is way different shooting at an outdoor range with dirt embankments than at an indoor range with concrete floors and walls.
And then, shooting in the woods or the prairie during a hunt is another ball of wax entirely. Remember those figures about the maximum range from earlier? You need to have an awareness of what lies well beyond your target.
I always try to take shots in a downward direction with plenty of dirt as the backdrop to the shot. Again, the 4 rules of gun safety are hard and fast rules, but the situations you find yourself in will not be. Every scenario is different, and every location is different. But if you
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot
- Keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction
- Know what’s beyond your muzzle at all times, and
- Treat every single gun you handle like it’s loaded,
You will be a safe shooter.