"I didn't know it was loaded!" are tragic words often uttered after a gun accident. Accidents with firearms are usually avoidable. By learning and applying the basic safety rules for proper firearm handling and storage, you can avoid the pain, agony, and potential loss that result from a gun accident.
Becoming more responsible with firearms begins with education. No one should have a rifle or pistol in the house unless they have been trained in how to use it—and how not to use it.
Firearms education should include a number of basics:
Classes are not necessarily just for the person who will be firing the weapon. It is a good idea for anyone who may come in contact with the gun to take a safety class. Children should be taught the basics, especially if they are going to be around the weapon. They need to learn that guns are not toys, and that the damage they can cause is permanent. Many states and municipalities certify gun instructors. Your local police department may have a list. Be aware that states with right-to-carry laws require a minimum number of hours of education before issuing a right-to-carry permit.
Storing Your Weapon
Keep your rifle or pistol where no one can get to it who is not supposed to get to it. That means locking it up. There are a number of ways to do that. Options include:
Think long and hard about keeping a loaded weapon around the house. People are rarely hurt or killed by an unloaded firearm. If there is no ammunition in the gun's chamber, clip or magazine, the most that could happen by improperly handling a firearm is inadvertently dropping it on a toe.
If you must must keep a loaded gun in the house, make sure children cannot get to the loaded weapon to play with it or fire it accidentally. If you are planning the purchase of a new firearm, consider buying one with a built-in indicator that the firing chamber is loaded. This can alert you to the risk that a supposedly unloaded gun may discharge unexpectedly.
Practice as much care with your ammunition as you do with rifle or pistol. Keep bullets and magazines secured, following the same procedure that you use for the weapons.
Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has complete gun safety rules available for specific types of firearm use, the following three rules are fundamental in any situation. Whether or not you own a gun, it is important to know these rules so that you can insist that others follow them.
Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This is the primary rule of gun safety. Safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off, it would not cause an injury. Whether you are shooting or simply handling a gun, never point it at yourself or others. Common sense will tell you which direction is the safest. Outdoors, it is generally safe to point the gun toward the ground, or, if you are on a shooting range, toward the target. Indoors, be mindful of the fact that a bullet can penetrate ceilings, floors, walls, windows, and doors.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. When handling a gun, people have a natural tendency to put their finger on the trigger. Do not touch the trigger unless you are actually preparing to fire the gun.
Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. If you do not know how to check to see if a gun is unloaded, leave it alone. Carefully secure it, being certain to point it safely and to keep your finger off the trigger, and seek competent assistance.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
National Rifle Association
Canadian Firearms Training
Canada Safety Council
Education and training. National Rifle Association of America website. Available at: http://training.nra.org/. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Firearm safety—10 rules of safe gun handling. National Shooting Sports Foundation website. Available at: http://nssf.org/safety/basics/. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Tips for gun owners. State of California Department of Justice. Office of Attorney General website. Available at: http://oag.ca.gov/firearms/tips. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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