Firearm Safety Rules

(From the National Rifle Association Website)

The fundamental NRA rules for safe gun handling are:

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.

2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
When holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.

3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Whenever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible, and, if the gun has a magazine, remove it before opening the action and looking into the chamber(s) which should be clear of ammunition. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.

When using or storing a gun, always follow these NRA rules:

  • Know your target and what is beyond.
    Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.
  • Know how to use the gun safely.
    Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts, how to safely open and close the action and remove any ammunition from the gun or magazine. Remember, a gun's mechanical safety device is never foolproof. Nothing can ever replace safe gun handling.
  • Be sure the gun is safe to operate.
    Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to remain operable. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun's general upkeep. If there is any question concerning a gun's ability to function, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.
  • Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
    Only BBs, pellets, cartridges or shells designed for a particular gun can be fired safely in that gun. Most guns have the ammunition type stamped on the barrel. Ammunition can be identified by information printed on the box and sometimes stamped on the cartridge. Do not shoot the gun unless you know you have the proper ammunition.
  • Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
    Guns are loud and the noise can cause hearing damage. They can also emit debris and hot gas that could cause eye injury. For these reasons, shooting glasses and hearing protectors should be worn by shooters and spectators.
  • Never use alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before or while shooting.
    Alcohol, as well as any other substance likely to impair normal mental or physical bodily functions, must not be used before or while handling or shooting guns.
  • Store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.
    Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person's particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Dozens of gun storage devices, as well as locking devices that attach directly to the gun, are available. However, mechanical locking devices, like the mechanical safeties built into guns, can fail and should not be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun safety rules.
  • Be aware that certain types of guns and many shooting activities require additional safety precautions.
  • Cleaning
    Regular cleaning is important in order for your gun to operate correctly and safely. Taking proper care of it will also maintain its value and extend its life. Your gun should be cleaned every time that it is used.

    A gun brought out of prolonged storage should also be cleaned before shooting. Accumulated moisture and dirt, or solidified grease and oil, can prevent the gun from operating properly.

    Before cleaning your gun, make absolutely sure that it is unloaded. The gun's action should be open during the cleaning process. Also, be sure that no ammunition is present in the cleaning area.


By Adam Williams, Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Instructor, NRA Home Firearms Safety Instructor, NRA Basic Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, Graduate: Gunsite Academy 250 Defensive Pistol, FCSC Member

Virtually all gun accidents can be traced back to ignorance or carelessness on the part of the user. None of us want to be labeled with one of these characteristics, but I hope that we can all take a look in the mirror for just a moment, and honestly assess how confident we are in our safety practices on the range. Never lose sight of the fact that you own every single round fired from your gun, and you are responsible for it safely coming to rest. Whether you feel that you might need a little refresher on firearm safety, or you’ve witnessed what I’m talking about on the range, please read on.


The aim of fundamental safety rules is to avoid the dreaded NEGLIGENT DISCHARGE, a round being fired unintentionally. Perhaps the loudest sound you’ll ever hear is the bang that happens when you were expecting a click...or worse, not expecting anything. Depending on when, or how a negligent discharge happens, it could potentially damage property (like the light fixture in the indoor pistol range), it could injure the shooter, or in the worst case scenario result in the injury or death of someone else on the range--not something you would recover from, legally or emotionally. As gun owners and shooters, it is our responsibility to insure that this doesn’t happen. That means that if there is any doubt in your mind as to whether or not you possess enough knowledge to be certain that your range practices are safe, then you MUST actively seek more.

IGNORANCE is defined as a lack of knowledge. When it comes to firearms, there is always more to learn, but most of us are more likely to spend our money on a new gun, or more ammunition, than we are to spend it on quality training or education. Many shooters have not had a firearms class of any kind since the safety class they took to get their license 5 or more years ago. Fortunately, there are many qualified people to learn from in our club, including several NRA certified Instructors and Range Safety Officers. Keep an eye out for information in the coming months for basic skills and safety classes being offered at the club, and sign up for one; short of that, keep your eyes open for talented and safe shooters on the range and seek mentorship if you need or want it. Seeking education is the only way to combat ignorance, and the potential accidents that are associated with it.

CARELESSNESS is a lack of the proper ATTITUDE around firearms. Even if you are lacking some skills, approaching firearms with the proper attitude will keep you out of trouble for the most part. We must cultivate an attitude of extreme respect for what guns are capable of, and always handle them with that capability in mind. It takes a lot discipline to check, and double check the condition of our firearm again and again while on the range, and to always handle it properly, and having that discipline is your duty as a responsible gun owner. Again, take a moment for a little self-reflection, and try to be honest about whether or not you need to work on cultivating a more careful attitude.


First, a quick review of the three fundamental safety rules for safe gun handling

  1. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction - don’t point the muzzle at anything you’re not will to kill, break, or buy
  2. Keep your finger off of the trigger until your sights are on the target - Your finger stays out of the trigger guard until the muzzle is pointed at something you mean to destroy.
  3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use - Do not load the firearm until the moment you are ready to use it.

DEADLY SIN #1 - FAILURE TO CONDITION CHECK (safety rule number 3) - It seems crazy that someone could be so careless as to be unaware that their firearm is loaded, but I see it happen often. Every time you pick up a firearm you must take a few seconds to check whether or not it is loaded. Step 1 - Remove the magazine. If the firearm is magazine fed, simply remove the mag. Step 2 - Open the action. Whether handling a semi-auto pistol, or a break action shotgun, simply open the action. Step 3 - Visually and physically inspect the chamber. Verify by sight and touch that the there is no round in the chamber. Perform this simple check every time you handle a firearm...EVERY TIME. For an example of the consequences, check out this video of a police officer in a gun store demonstrating carelessness and failing to condition check a pistol...and also not keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction….and also not keeping his finger off of the trigger:

DEADLY SIN #2 - THE PREEMPTIVE LOAD (safety rule #3) - Here’s an example I’ve witnessed often. A shooter on the pistol range is at the 10 yard line conducting slow fire. Another shooter is back at the shed loading a magazine. The shooter at the shed loads the magazine in the gun and racks the slide, then (sometimes with a finger inside the trigger guard!) walks up to the line behind the other shooter. Imagine if he stumbled and accidentally clenched his hand in response. NEVER LOAD UNTIL THE MOMENT YOU ARE READY TO USE THE GUN. For a great example of this rule, visit the skeet field on the weekends, and watch how none of the shooters load their shotguns until they are standing on the station and ready to call “PULL.” “But it was pointed at the ground,” you might say...well, see DEADLY SIN #3. KEEP YOUR GUN UNLOADED AND YOUR ACTION OPEN WHEN YOU APPROACH OR LEAVE THE LINE. If you have a holster and are familiar with its safe use, then this is also a good option. Keep in mind though that many accidents happen when drawing from a holster or reholstering, due to ignorance about how to do so safely. If you’re not sure what I mean, then seek more training.

DEADLY SIN #3 - THE DANGLE (safety rules number 1 and 3) - The dangle is a bad habit I see more than almost any other, and it’s specific to pistol shooters. Dangling is holding a loaded firearm at your side. This happens often when a shooter takes a couple of shots, but does not empty the gun, and then approaches the target to inspect their hits while dangling the pistol at their side...often with their finger inside the trigger guard. Said shooter then turns and walks back to the line with the pistol casually dangling. It wouldn’t take much for a negligent discharge in this scenario, and that discharge would likely result in hole in your leg or foot, or even a round headed up range toward bystanders. KEEP YOUR GUN UNLOADED AND YOUR ACTION OPEN WHEN YOU APPROACH OR LEAVE THE LINE.

DEADLY SIN #4 - THE DROP - We are all human, and that makes us fallible. Despite our best efforts it’s possible to drop a firearm accidentally. If you have a deadly tool in your hand, be sure that you have it under control. Also, there are gun handling mistakes that can increase the chance of dropping your firearm, particularly if it’s a pistol. If you don’t know what gun handling mistakes I mean, then you need more training. Examples include running the slide on a semi-auto pistol like a slingshot (pinching it between the thumb and forefinger) and switching hands to perform reloads. IF YOU ACCIDENTALLY DROP YOUR GUN, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CATCH IT. Modern firearms are built with drop safety mechanisms...for the most part...and if you attempt to catch it you risk accidentally grabbing and pulling the trigger.

DEADLY SIN #5 - THE PICK UP (safety rules numbers 1 and 2) - It goes something like this: you are standing on the line, maybe working on your marksmanship, or shooting a new gun. Maybe you lose track of how many rounds you’ve fired, or you walk up to the target (deadly sin number 3) and then return to the line, or maybe you have a malfunction--regardless of the reason, you rack the slide of your pistol unnecessarily and a live round ejects and hits the ground. Be honest--would you bend down and pick it up? If so, would you unload and open the action on your pistol first? I’ve seen numerous shooters bend down to pick up a live round, or a fumbled magazine and unintentionally point their loaded pistol right at their own head. NEVER PICK UP ANYTHING OFF OF THE GROUND UNTIL YOU HAVE MADE YOUR GUN SAFE (MAGAZINE OUT AND ACTION OPEN).

DEADLY SIN #6 - SHOW AND TELL (safety rules numbers 1,2, and 3) - Show and tell is exactly what it sound like. We all love our guns, we invest a lot of money in them, and we all agree that they are awesome. This results in an almost uncontrollable desire to show them off, and when we do this, a perfect storm of bad safety habits ensues. For whatever reason, if someone at a range or a gun store pulls out a gun, or hands it us, we tend to take it on faith that the gun is in a safe condition--WE FAIL TO CONDITION CHECK IT--Never hand someone a gun without verifying that it is empty, and never take one from someone without verifying that it is empty--WE FAIL TO KEEP IT POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION--because we ASSUME it’s safe, we exercise poor muzzle control--AND, WE FAIL TO KEEP OUR FINGER OFF OF THE TRIGGER--again, based our ASSUMPTION of safety we grab the trigger to get a better feel for the gun we are supposed to be impressed by. Spend some time thinking about this one. Some of the most careless gun handling I’ve ever seen happens in gun stores and meeting places around the range. Keep your gun holstered, and if you absolutely must show it to someone because it just the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen, then do it on the shooting line and follow the three fundamental safety rules in the process.

DEADLY SIN#7 - PERHAPS THE DEADLIEST OF ALL - BOOGER HOOK ON THE BANG SWITCH - We all know that guns fire when the trigger is pulled. That is precisely why the best way to avoid a negligent discharge is to keep your finger off of the trigger unless your sights are on target. Surprisingly, this requires some practice, and I regularly witness shooters walking around the various ranges with their finger in the trigger guard. Negligent discharges can occur when manipulating the gun (such as loading or unloading), when drawing from a holster, or reholstering, or due to sympathetic response and interlimb interaction. In short, if your finger is on the trigger as you walk to the line, and you stumble or slip, you will clench your hands and fire a round. In fact, it is often enough to witness someone else stumbling for our sympathetic nervous system to respond and clench our hands. KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF OF THE TRIGGER AT ALL TIMES UNLESS YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON TARGET AND YOUR EYES ARE ON THE SIGHTS. IF YOU REMEMBER NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS ARTICLE, REMEMBER THIS--KEEP YOUR BOOGER HOOK OFF OF THE BANG SWITCH.

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