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4 Rules of Gun Safety: All You Need to Know [2021]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / April 28 2021

CDC.gov reports that in 2017, 486 people lost their lives and 20,488 people were injured. How? Not through malice, but negligent discharge (ND) of a firearm.

Each one of these tragedies occured by breaking one or more gun safety rules. We're going to cover the four rules of gun safety, and show why they're important through shocking real-world examples.

On This Page:

  1. Keep Your Trigger Finger Safe until You Choose to Fire
  2. Point your Gun in a Safe Direction
  3. ID Your Target, Obstructions, and Backstop
  4. Always Treat Guns as if They're Loaded
  5. Conclusion

1. Keep Your Trigger Finger Safe until You Choose to Fire

Modern firearms only fire when the trigger is pulled. When someone's reaction to a ND is, "the gun just went off", it's usually that person's moral failure to own up, not a mechanical failure of the gun.

How do NDs happen? Anytime you get startled, the natural response is to clench both your hands. This guy got a burning hot brass casing down his back. Look what happens as he reaches for it:

The guy behind him nearly got blown away. How do we prevent this?

Your trigger finger is safe when it's resting as high up on the gun as possible. This is known as maintaining trigger discipline. On a pistol, rest it on the slide.

The lower your finger goes towards the trigger guard, the more likely it will find the trigger as it clenches shut.
Unsafe trigger finger on a pistol Safe trigger finger on a pistol

So until you choose to fire, keep your trigger finger up on the slide, or you'll end up like this guy:



2. Point your Gun in a Safe Direction

Here's an example of an accidental discharge, but no one was hurt. How?

He kept his pistol pointed downrange the whole time. He maintained muzzle discipline. The muzzle is where the bullets come out, so point it at something safe.

What's safe? Anything that stops bullets without hurting people. If you're at a shooting range and on the firing line,then as long as you have your pistol pointed downrange,it should be safe.

Why do we need this rule? No one has perfect trigger discipline all the time. We're human. And as we can see in the above video, in rare cases the gun itself can cause a ND. When that happens, it's usually due to shoddy custom work.

The tricky part is having good muzzle discipline during weapon handling: reloading, clearing jams, holstering, etc.

Some real-world examples of people failing to follow this rule:



3. Always ID Your Target, Obstructions, and Backstop

Have you or anyone you know ever come home late at night? Do you want this to be you?

Though rare, tragedies like in the above video occur every year. They're a fatal failure to follow this rule. Always ID your target before you shoot. If it's too dark for that, ID them with a flashlight or a weapon-mounted light.

Obstructions are things that could be between you and your target, especially if you miss your target.

The backstop is whatever ultimately stops your bullets. If you miss your target, will your bullets hurt a bystander? Your bullets could go through the target. What happens then?

Here's a bad example:

And a good one:

Just a side-step or two can make all the difference in safe shooting.


4. Always Treat Guns as if They're Loaded

This is the foundation of gun safety. Listen to what this guy says at the start of the video. How many safety rules did he break? Which did he break first?

When we grow complacent, we begin to break the other rules. Then it's just a matter of time until we cause an ND.

Never assume a firearm is unloaded. Instead, unload the pistol and verify.

The firearm is clear if you lock the the slide back and:
You can see all the way through the magazine well to the ground below.
Pistol with slide locked open, and a round visible because the magazine is still loaded. Pistol with slide locked open, and you can see through the chamber and out the grip, because the magazine is removed.
The ammo pictured is a snap cap, an inert dummy round for practice.
And there is no ammunition lodged in the barrel.
Pistol with slide locked open, and a round lodged in the barrel. Pistol with slide locked open, and no rounds lodged in the barrel.
The ammo pictured is a snap cap, an inert dummy round for practice.
Even after you've verified a firearm is unloaded, maintain trigger and muzzle discipline, and ID your target and backstop. Why? It builds safe habits. The creep of complacency can be costly or fatal.

Conclusion

  • Nearly all accidental harm from firearms comes from failing the rules of gun safety.
  • Responsible gun owners obey firearms safety rules.

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References

  1. Jacksonville Officer Stops Threat To Disabled Veteran (2020)
  2. Man banned from gun range after gun play (2018)
  3. Negligent Discharge Sympathetic response (2018)
  4. Officer's Neglect of Rules of Firearm Safety, Bad Marksmanship Injure Child | Active Self Protection (2018)
  5. Two Stark Reminders of the Importance of Firearms Safety | Active Self Protection (2017)
  6. How to accidentally discharge your pistol properly. (2016)
  7. Surveillance video shows accidental shooting at gun range (2014)
  8. 14 year old shot and killed by stepfather (2013)
  9. Man falls over whilst holding pistol and fires twice haha! fail! (2011)
  10. DEA Agent Shoots Himself in the Foot (2006)


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