The three basic general rules of safe gun handling.

  • Never load a firearm until you are ready to shoot.
  • Always point the gun muzzle in a safe direction; never point a firearm at anyone or anything you don't want to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

Additional specific rules of safe gun handling Safety Rules Related to the Shooter and His Behavior.

  • Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
  • Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm from another person, until the cylinder or action is open and you've personally checked that the weapon is completely unloaded.
  • Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
  • Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.
  • Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger you can't take back the shot you've just fired!
  • Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling or using firearms.
  • Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or impaired in any way. Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
  • Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if you sleepwalk, have nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other sleep problems.
  • Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always wear eye and ear protection. Endeavor to limit your exposure to heavy metal particulates and gases, and minimize your contact with aromatic organic solvents (such as those commonly used in gun cleaning products).
  • If you see unsafe behavior any time when firearms are being handled or used, speak up and take action to correct the unsafe behavior at once.
  • Receive competent instruction from a qualified person before beginning to shoot. If questions arise later, after you've been shooting for a period of time, get answers to those questions from a competent authority.

Safety Rules Related to Your Target.

  • Positively identify your target and the threat it poses before firing at it.
  • What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot, or a bullet which penetrates its intended target through and through, will be safely stopped.
  • Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may glance off, ricochet and injure someone.
  • Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate targets which would create a hazard for other persons or damage the environment.
  • Never shoot a rifle or handgun directly upwards, or at a high angle of elevation. Even a rimfire .22 bullet fired at an angle into the air can have enough energy a mile and a half away to accidentally kill someone!
  • Never shoot across a highway or other roadway.
  • Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private property) by using it as a target.
  • Never poach a game animal out of season, or shoot any game animal you don't intend to eat.

Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm.

  • Make sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before firing it. Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of erosion, cracking, or wear by the factory, by a qualified armorer, or by a factory certified gunsmith.
  • Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially obstructed barrel.
  • Insure that any modifications made to a firearm are made by a qualified individual, and that those modifications don't interfere with your firearm's safety features.
  • Be sure all accessories, such as holsters and grips, are compatible with the firearm and won't interfere with its safe operation.
  • Remember: a backup firearm carried about your person may be highly valuable to you in the event your primary firearm is ever rendered inoperable or is taken from you by an assailant.
  • It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is always either about your person and under your personal control, or positively secured from access by children or other unauthorized parties. Prevent tragedy: lock down your firearms when they aren't in use.
  • When storing a firearm for a long period of time, consider storing the slide, bolt, or other critical components of the firearm separately under separate lock and key.
  • Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an inertial firing pin.
  • Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
  • Generally avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type firearm with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in decocking any external hammer firearm: it is very easy to experience an accidental discharge while doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
  • Generally avoid unloading a firearm by working the cartridges through the action one-at-a-time; drop the magazine and then eject the round which may be left in the chamber, instead, if possible.
  • Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting scope: while observing an area you may end up accidentally aiming your firearm at fellow hunters, or other non-targets.
  • Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a semiautomatic pistol) by cupping your hand around the ejection port while retracting the slide; doing so may result in an accidental discharge.

Safety Rules Related to Ammunition.

  • Be sure your gun and ammunition are compatible. Shooting incorrect ammunition in a firearm may cause it to be damaged or even make it blow up.
  • Relying on ammunition which doesn't feed reliably in your particular firearm may make your firearm malfunction at a critical juncture: get experience with a particular lot of ammunition in your firearm before relying on it for defensive purposes.
  • Use only ammunition recommended for your firearm by its manufacturer. Never fire ammunition which exceeds industry standard pressure specifications. Over-pressure ammunition will reduce the service life of your handgun, and puts you and those around you at risk of a catastrophic firearm failure.
  • Use reloaded ammunition judiciously. Be aware that many firearms manufacturers specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their products, and will void their product's warranty if you elect to use reloaded ammunition in contravention of their instructions. Also remember that a cartridge which has: the wrong powder, no powder charge, or too large a powder charge; an inverted primer, mis-seated primer, the wrong type of primer or an inert primer; a mis-seated, inverted, or mis-sized bullet; a collapsed, weakened, improperly sized or mis-crimped case; incorrect overall length or any of a host of other defects may seriously jeopardize your safety, the safety of those around you, and/or the reliability of your firearm in a defensive situation.
  • Many shooters prepare and safely use reloaded ammunition each day, and it can be an economical way to stretch your ammunition budget, but the safety of that reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care, components, equipment, and practices used in preparing it.
  • Carry only one caliber of ammunition when shooting. Accidentally grabbing the wrong ammunition while shooting can result in a shooter or third party being injured, or damage or destruction of a firearm.
  • Insure you carry sufficient spare ammunition for your defensive firearm, and make sure you carry it in a readily employable fashion (such as in spare magazines or in speed loaders).
  • Store ammunition that isn't being used under lock and key, inaccessible to unauthorized parties and children.
  • Dispose of unwanted ammunition safely.

Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm's Holster and Ammo Carrier.

  • Always use a holster which is designed for, and which fits, your handgun.
  • Make sure your holster covers the trigger guard of your handgun.
  • Purchase a holster which allows you to obtain a secure grip on your handgun while it is still holstered.
  • Be sure the thumb break, safety strap, or other firearm retention device on your holster is functional and consistently employed. A good holster should retain your firearm during normal carry and routine physical activity, but no holster can insure that a firearm will be secure against determined attempts at disarmament, or keep a firearm secure during all possible physical activities.
  • Avoid clip-on holsters and magazine pouches. These carriers may fail to stay clipped to the belt and end up being drawn along with the firearm or the magazine they still hold, thereby interfering with use of the firearm or with timely reloading.
  • Avoid paddle-style holsters, cross draw holsters, and similar holsters which provide poor weapon retention.
  • Avoid ankle holsters, shoulder holsters and other types of holsters which can introduce unnecessary delays in accessing a defensive firearm.
  • Avoid carrying a defensive firearm in a purse, pocketbook, daypack or briefcase. A firearm carried in that fashion is:

- Typically hard to rapidly access due to the presence of slow-to-open zippers, multiple latches, etc.,
- Often hard to find and draw amidst all the other items routinely carried, since few purses or briefcases include a dedicated handgun-carrying compartment,
- Prone to being unavailable when needed, since briefcases, purses and other carriers are routinely set down or put away in a desk drawer where they may or may not be readily accessible and under your physical control,
- Unusually vulnerable to being stolen, since purses, pocketbooks, daypacks and briefcases are prime targets for purse snatchers, pick pockets, muggers and thieves,
- Prone to misfunction in an emergency since materials carried along with your handgun in a purse or brief case may gum up the firearm's mechanism and potentially interfere with its proper operation, and
- Likely to allow your handgun to accidentally become visible to shop clerks, bank tellers or other parties while you are searching for your checkbook or locating a credit card, and that inadvertent exposure may potentially result in a tense situation or even a tragic over-reaction on the part of an individual noticing the firearm and/or summoning law enforcement officers to the scene.

  • Never carry a handgun tucked into your belt or waistband without a holster (i.e., so-called "Mexican carry''). A handgun carried in this fashion may be unintentionally dislodged, fall onto a hard surface and accidentally discharge or be damaged. Inside the waistband-type holsters will allow you to obtain the concealment of this type of carry while simultaneously providing vastly improved firearm retention.
  • Always employ a proper magazine holder or speed loader carrier to carry your spare ammunition. Select a design that secures and protects your speedloaders or magazines while still making them readily available for use. Avoid ammunition loops and ammo dump boxes.
  • Never put a partially empty magazine or speedloader back into a magazine carrier or speedloader pouch: only full magazines or full speedloaders belong in a carrier. Partially empty magazines or speed loaders should go into your pocket; empty magazines or speedloaders should be allowed to fall where they're used during an emergency.

Miscellaneous Safety Rules.

  • At a range, obey the commands of the range officers, or any individual calling `cease fire,' at once. Read, know and follow any rules peculiar to a particular range which you may be using.
  • Be careful of hot gases and metal shavings ejected at the forcing cone of a revolver.
  • Keep your fingers and other parts of your body away from the muzzle, the rear of the slide, and the ejection area of a semiautomatic pistol.
  • In the event of a misfire, keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, remove your finger from the trigger, wait ten seconds, then eject the cartridge and dispose of it properly.
  • If you hear an unusual sound upon squeezing the trigger or feel an unusual recoil, stop shooting and investigate. You may have experienced a ``squib'' load (or under-powered cartridge), and it may have caused a bore obstruction. Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction, remove your finger from the trigger, wait ten seconds, then unload the firearm and safely examine the barrel, checking carefully for any possible obstructions before reloading and resuming shooting.
  • Never:

- Climb a tree with a loaded firearm,
- Cross a fence with a loaded firearm,
- Jump a ditch or ford a stream with a loaded firearm,
- Scale or descend a steep incline or hill with a loaded firearm,
- Climb a tree, or climb into a hunting stand with a loaded firearm,
- Prop or lean a loaded firearm against a tree or other surface which may allow it to slide, or Transport a cased loaded firearm.

  • Always carry your firearms in a way which will allow you to control where the muzzle is pointing, should you stumble or fall.
  • A ballistic vest may substantially improve your chances of surviving an armed encounter on the street.
  • Always wear a thousand square inches or more of blaze orange while in the field during hunting season.
  • Blackpowder (and replica blackpowder) firearms require additional safety precautions not discussed here. Obtain qualified instruction in the safe operation of blackpowder firearms before attempting to load or fire any such firearm.
  • Circumstances may require additional safety rules unique to a particular situation.

Additional Safety Points

  • Never handle a gun when you are in an emotional state such as anger or depression. Your judgment may be impaired.
  • Never shoot a gun in celebration (the New Year's Eve, for example). Not only is this unsafe, but it is generally illegal. A bullet fired into the air will return to the ground with enough speed to cause injury or death.
  • Do not shoot at water, flat or hard surfaces. The bullet can ricochet and hit someone or something other than the target.
  • Hand your gun to someone only after you verify that it is unloaded and the cylinder or action is open. Take a gun from someone only after you verify that it is unloaded and the cylinder or action is open.
  • Guns, alcohol and drugs don't mix. Alcohol and drugs can negatively affect judgment as well as physical coordination. Alcohol and any other substance likely to impair normal mental or physical functions should not be used before or while handling guns. Avoid handling and using your gun when you are taking medications that cause drowsiness or include a warning to not operate machinery while taking this drug.
  • The loud noise from a fired gun can cause hearing damage, and the debris and hot gas that is often emitted can result in eye injury. Always wear ear and eye protection when shooting a gun.  

A Word About Semi-automatics

Most semi-automatic firearms can still be loaded and will fire EVEN AFTER THE MAGAZINE HAS BEEN REMOVED.  Although there are minorities of semi-auto pistols that have "magazine disconnect safeties", the vast majority of semi-autos may have a round in the chamber which can be fired by pulling the trigger after the magazine has been removed.  On semi-autos, you must REMOVE THE MAGAZINE FIRST, and then CHECK & CLEAR THE CHAMBER to confirm that the gun is unloaded.
Safety and Older Guns

  • There are additional safety concerns in dealing with older guns.
  • It is important to remember that a lot can happen to a gun over decades of use and abuse, and it’s always a good idea to have a competent professional gunsmith check out an older gun for safe functioning before even thinking about shooting it.
  • Always be certain that you are using the correct ammunition for a gun, and that the gun hasn’t been converted to another caliber without being properly marked (uncommon, but it does happen). Never shoot modern high-pressure smokeless powder ammunition in a gun that was originally designed and manufactured for lower pressure black powder cartridges.
  • On older revolvers, the gun should never be carried with a live cartridge under the hammer. They can fire accidentally if dropped or struck on the hammer spur with the firing pin over the primer of a live cartridge.

Collector Courtesy and Safety - Gun shows, etc.

There are special concerns for us who are gun collectors, dealers, and enthusiasts. There are some additional rules in collector situations, whether it is the world’s largest gun show or a friend’s gun room that are a combination of safety and courtesy. Violation of these rules is the quickest way to prove yourself a lout and gun amateur, and to wear out your welcome:

  • Never handle a gun without asking the owners permission.
  • Never open the mechanism, dry fire, or otherwise manipulate a collectible gun without asking the owners permission.
  • If you are showing your guns, triple check to be sure they are unloaded. It is a good practice to tie the guns with plastic cable ties so they are inoperative, and do not display any loose, unsealed ammunition. Well-run gun shows will require this.
  • Control your children.  Strictly enforce the no touch rule.
  • About load checking. This is a bit of a touchy subject, so please consider it carefully.  In a field or range situation, it is an accepted and expected practice to check any gun you receive to be sure whether or not it is loaded. However, in a collector setting such as a gun show, this may not always be possible. On some very valuable mint condition or highly decorated arms, working the mechanism to check the loaded status runs the risk of marring the finish and significantly reducing the value assigned to new in the box, unfired, unturned condition. This makes adherence to basic rules #1 (treat every gun as if loaded), #2 (muzzle control), and #4 (finger off trigger) even more vital.  A quality show will require all guns brought into the show by the public to be load checked at the door.
  • Most quality gun shows prohibit loaded firearms, including legal concealed carry.  This is not an anti-CCW stance by the promoter, but practical recognition of the fact that negligent discharges have occurred when concealed carry guns have been pulled out at shows to get an appraisal, try a holster, fit grips, show a friend, etc., etc., etc.  IF you are at a rare show that permits CCW, DO NOT under any circumstances removes your CCW firearm from its holster inside the show.

Safe Gun Storage.

When you are not using your firearm, you should insure that it is store safely. Affirmative measures designed to prevent unauthorized access to a defensive firearm by minors, or firearm theft, include:

  • Use of a simplex-type locking box for securing firearms which need to be kept loaded yet available for ready-access defensive use, and
  • Use of trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms which don't need to be kept immediately available for defensive use.
  • Also note that:
  • Gun security devices which rely solely on physical strength to secure firearms from unauthorized use are generally undesirable since ingenious children can potentially employ leverage or tools to overcome those devices.
  • "Hiding" a firearm won't secure it from discovery and possible misuse by curious children or intruders.
  • Metal gun cabinets or gun safes can be used to safeguard firearms from unauthorized access or theft in many circumstances and metal gun cabinets or gun safes are generally preferable to open racks or glass-front cabinets.
  • Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition when the firearm isn't needed for ready-access defensive use.
  • You may want to store critical components of a firearm (such as the gun's bolt or slide) separately from the rest of the firearm when the gun won't be used in the immediate future.
  • Explore "gun-proofing" your child by proper training, and by controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce your child's natural unsatisfied curiosity about firearms.


  • Summary of Safe Storage Laws Regarding Children

You may be guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony if you keep a loaded firearm within any premises that are under your custody or control and a child under 18 years of age obtains and uses it, resulting in injury or death, or carries it to a public place, unless you stored the firearm in a locked container or locked the firearm with a locking device to temporarily keep it from functioning.
You Cannot Be Too Careful with Children and Guns

There is no such thing as being too careful with children and guns. Never assume that simply because a toddler may lack finger strength, they can't pull the trigger. A child's thumb has twice the strength of the other fingers. When a toddler's thumb "pushes" against a trigger, invariably the barrel of the gun is pointing directly at the child's face. NEVER leave a firearm lying around the house.

Child safety precautions still apply even if you have no children or if your children have grown to adulthood and left home. A nephew, niece, neighbor's child or a grandchild may come to visit. Practice gun safety at all times.

To prevent injury or death caused by improper storage of guns in a home where children are likely to be present, you should store all guns unloaded, lock them with a firearms safety device and store them in a locked container. Ammunition should be stored in a location separate from the gun.

  • Talking to Children About Guns

Children are naturally curious about things they don't know about or think are "forbidden." When a child asks questions or begins to act out "gun play," you may want to address his or her curiosity by answering the questions as honestly and openly as possible. This will remove the mystery and reduce the natural curiosity. Also, it is important to remember to talk to children in a manner they can relate to and understand. This is very important, especially when teaching children about the difference between "real" and "make-believe." Let children know that, even though they may look the same, real guns are very different than toy guns. A real gun will hurt or kill someone who is shot.

  • Instill a Mind Set of Safety and Responsibility

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that adolescence is a highly vulnerable stage in life for teenagers struggling to develop traits of identity, independence and autonomy. Children, of course, are both naturally curious and innocently unaware of many dangers around them. Thus, adolescents as well as children may not be sufficiently safeguarded by cautionary words, however frequent. Contrary actions can completely undermine good advice. A "Do as I say and not as I do" approach to gun safety is both irresponsible and dangerous.
Remember that actions speak louder than words. Children learn most by observing the adults around them. By practicing safe conduct you will also be teaching safe conduct.


Adults should be aware that a child could discover a gun when a parent or another adult is not present. This could happen in the child's own home; the home of a neighbor, friend or relative; or in a public place such as a school or park. If this should happen, a child should know the following rules and be taught to practice them.

  • Stop The first rule for a child to follow if he/she finds or sees a gun is to stop what he/she is doing.
  • Don't Touch! The second rule is for a child not to touch a gun he/she finds or sees. A child may think the best thing to do if he/she finds a gun is to pick it up and take it to an adult. A child needs to know he/she should NEVER touch a gun he/she may find or see.
  • Leave the Area The third rule is to immediately leave the area. This would include never taking a gun away from another child or trying to stop someone from using gun.
  • Tell an Adult The last rule is for a child to tell an adult about the gun he/she has seen. This includes times when other kids are playing with or shooting a gun. Please note that, while there is no better advice at this time for children or adolescents who encounter a gun by happenstance, the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians reports that such warnings alone may be insufficient accident prevention measures with children and adolescents.


As a responsible handgun owner, you must recognize the need and be aware of the methods of childproofing your handgun, whether or not you have children.
Whenever children could be around, whether you’re own, or a friend's, relative's or neighbor's, additional safety steps should be taken when storing firearms and ammunition in your home.

  • Always store your firearm unloaded.
  • Use a firearms safety device AND store the firearm in a locked container.
  • Store the ammunition separately in a locked container.

Always storing your firearm securely is the best method of childproofing your firearm; however, your choice of a storage place can add another element of safety. Carefully choose the storage place in your home especially if children may be around.

  • Do not store your firearm where it is visible.
  • Do not store your firearm in a bedside table, under your mattress or pillow, or on a closet shelf.
  • Do not store your firearm among your valuables (such as jewelry or cameras) unless it is locked in a secure container.
  • Consider storing firearms not possessed for self-defense in a safe and secure manner away from the home.