Gun safety

From Academic Kids

(For discussions on politics concerning firearms and gun safety, see Gun Politics or Talk:Gun Politics. This page only deals with non-political aspects of gun safety.)

Gun safety is a collection of rules and recommendations that can be applied when handling firearms. The purpose of gun safety is to eliminate or minimize the risks of unintentional damage, injury and/or death caused by improper handling of firearms.


Gun safety rules and mindset

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Example of safe gun use. The gun is pointed at the ground and the handler's finger is off the trigger.

Gun safety training seeks to instill a certain mindset and appropriate habits, or rules. The mindset is that firearms are inherently dangerous and must always be handled with care. Handlers are taught to treat firearms with respect for their destructive capabilities, and strongly discouraged from playing or toying with firearms, a common cause of accidents.

The rules of gun safety follow from this mindset. While there are many variations, the following rules are those most commonly taught during gun safety training:

  • Always treat firearms as if they are loaded, not safetied, and ready to fire.
  • Always point the muzzle away from anything and everything which you do not intend to fire upon.
  • Always keep your fingers away from the trigger until you are ready to fire.
  • Always be sure of your target and its surroundings.

Treat firearms as if they are loaded

This rule is a matter of proper mindset rather than a specific habit. Many firearm accidents result from the handler believing a firearm is emptied, safetied, or otherwise not ready to fire when in fact it is ready. If a handler always treats firearms as capable of being fired at any time, the handler is more likely to take precautions to prevent an unintentional discharge and to avoid damage or injury if one does occur.

The phrase "The gun is always loaded" is often used. The purpose is to discourage mental habits such as "I know my gun is empty so (some unsafe practice) is OK." Inexperienced handlers often think this way and accidents can happen as a result. A gun safety instructor can respond to such reasoning by restating the rule: "No, your gun is always loaded".

Point the muzzle away from non-targets

This rule is intended to minimize the damage caused by an unintended discharge. The first rule teaches that a firearm must be assumed to be ready to fire. This rule goes beyond that and says "Since the firearm might fire, assume that it will and make sure no harm occurs when it does".

Two natural "safe" directions to point the muzzle are upwards (at the sky) and downwards (at the ground). Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Firing at the ground may result in a ricochet or cause hazardous fragments to be flung at people or material. Aiming upwards eliminates this risk but replaces it with the risk that the bullet may cause damage when it comes down to the ground again. Indeed, several accidents have been caused by discharging firearms into the air. It is also possible that the muzzle will inadvertently be pointed at a non-target such as someone's head or an aircraft. [1] (

Keep fingers off the trigger

This rule is intended to prevent an undesired discharge. Normally a firearm is discharged by pressing its trigger. A handler's finger may involuntary move for any of several reasons: being startled, not keeping full attention on body movements, or physiological reasons beyond conscious control such as spasms. Handlers are therefore taught to minimize the harmful effects of such a motion, by keeping the finger off the trigger.

In popular culture, such as movies and TV shows, this rule is often violated, even by characters who would be trained in gun safety such as military personnel or law enforcement officers.

Be sure of your target

This rule is intended to eliminate or minimize damage to non-targets when a firearm is intentionally discharged. Unintended damage may occur if a non-target is misidentified as a target, or if the bullet hits something or someone other than the intended target.

Handlers are taught that they must positively identify their target as valid. If the situation allows it, all of the above gun safety rules are to be observed until the target is identified.

Even when firing at a valid target, unintended targets may still be hit. A bullet may miss the intended target and hit something else. Alternatively, the bullet may go through the target and hit a non-target behind it. (Ammunition can be chosen to reduce this risk; see Terminal ballistics, Stopping power, Hollow point bullet.) Thus, the handler must observe what is close to and behind the target. If non-targets are at risk of being hit by the bullet, the handler may have to refrain from firing.

This rule may create situations that present dilemmas for a handler. Such situations may include for instance a police officer in a riot or a soldier in a situation where civilians are near the enemy. Indecision or misjudgement of the handler's abilities in such a situation may cause undesired outcomes, such as injury to the handler or the handler violating rules of engagement and causing unintended damage. To prevent such outcomes the handler must be properly trained. This makes it easier for the handler to make appropriate decisions, even if given little time and/or put under severe stress.

Gun safety for firearms not in use

Gun safety for situations where firearms are not in use are intended to prevent access to and subsequent discharge of a firearm. Preventing access to firearms serves a double purpose in that it also protects the firearm from theft.

An effective method of preventing access to a functioning firearm is to store it disassembled and to keep the parts separated. If a certain part of a firearm is required for it to fire, the handler may remove that part from the firearm and keep it in a separate location. Ammunition may also be stored away from the firearm.

Sometimes this rule is codified in law. For example, Swedish law requires owners of firearms to store the firearms with the main body, the "vital piece", and the ammunition in separate locations.

A lock that prevents motion of the trigger, blocks the chamber or in any other way prevents the firearm from being discharged may be used for additional safety. This also makes the firearm less useful to thieves as the firearm cannot be used unless the lock is removed. Such locks are commonly designed so that they cannot be forcibly removed without permanently disabling the firearm. This method is considered less effective than keeping firearms locked in a safe or a gun cabinet since locks are more easily defeated than approved safes.

If a firearm is intended to be used for self defence at home, special-purpose locking devices exist that allow the owner to store the firearm in a safe manner while still being able to gain quick access to it.

Protective gear

When discharged a firearm emits a very loud noise, typically close to the handler's ears. Over time this can cause hearing damage such as tinnitus. Hearing protection is recommended to prevent this.

Firearms emit hot gases, powder, and other debris when fired. Some weapons, such as semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms, typically eject spent cartridge casings at high speed. Ejected casings are also commonly very hot from the discharge. Any of these may hurt the handler through burning or impact damage. Eyes are particularly vulnerable to this type of damage. Therefore eye protection is recommended.

Hearing and eye protection can also be used to protect observers, bystanders, team members or others that may be close to the handler.


A firearm should never be used while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even legal prescription or over the counter drugs. An exception might be made for drugs that are definitely known not to impair judgment or cause drowsiness or involuntary motions, but it is still best to avoid shooting while using any drug.

Correct ammunition

The handler must be certain the firearm is loaded only with its correct ammunition. Using ammunition of wrong caliber or type may result in the firearm malfunctioning or becoming damaged. This can cause the firearm to explode, resulting in severe or even fatal damage to the handler.

Gun safety for children

Children who are generally considered too young to be allowed to handle firearms at all have a different set of rules which can be taught to them:

  • Stop.
  • Don't touch.
  • Leave.
  • Tell an adult.

The purpose of these rules is to prevent children from inadvertently handling firearms. If a child discovers a firearm, an adult should remove access to it as soon as possible. This may include turning it over to an appropriate law enforcement agency.

History and teachers of gun safety

While gun safety in different forms has existed since the creation of firearms, modern gun safety is often credited to Jeff Cooper. Being influential in the modern handling of firearms, he formalised the above mentioned rules of gun safety.

Other teachers of gun safety include Massad Ayoob, Clint Smith, Chuck Taylor, and Ignatius Piazza.

One widely-known firearms safety program in the United States is the Eddie Eagle program developed by the National Rifle Association.

External links


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