The Basics Of Gun Safety

New or old, safety should be foremost on all of our minds.

With the hopeful tag end of the Chinese Flu/Beer Flu/COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic approaching, there’s a lot of new gun owners out there, itching to get to the range and finally get some serious trigger time. Thus, more than ever, it’s important to cover the fundamentals, including gun safety and safe firearms handling. Whether you’re new to this, or are an old hat looking to pass on the knowledge, it’s a great time to go over this important topic…

The best place to start is, of course, with the Four Rules. Refined and documented by Col. Jeff Cooper in the 1960s and 1970s, prior to this, firearms safety, though practiced, was never coalesced into the “commandments” that gun owners are educated on today.

The four rules are pretty simple, but adhering to them is critical. Firearms safety isn’t like snowboarding safety where a mess-up will most likely land you in a snowbank with some bruises. Errors in firearms safety can contribute to serious injury and death. The term, “negligent homicide” comes to mind.

Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules Of Gun Safety

AKA the Four Rules

You’ve read them elsewhere, now you’ll read them here. Again, whether you’re a new person, or someone who has been at this for awhile, it’s good to have a refresher on something as critical as this. Let’s not give the enemy more examples of bad things to do.

Rule 1: The Gun Is Always Loaded.

Yes, even if you know it’s unloaded, treat every firearm as if it’s loaded. It’s super-easy to forget there’s one in the chamber. Ask someone who works in a gun shop. There’s numerous tales of someone who drops the magazine, and still hands over a loaded weapon (sometimes muzzle first) to the clerk.

The magazine may be dropped, but there could be one in the chamber. If you lend your gun to someone, always drop the magazine, rack the slide back, lock it in place, and hand it over, preferably muzzle pointed downward.

At the range, don’t pass your gun to someone else in another lane either, even if you have just cleared it. Trade people, not guns. If I’m in lane 1 and you are in lane 2, and I want to try your new GLOCK pistol, have me come into your lane. You can go in my lane and try my H&K VP9 if you want. Trade lanes, not guns.

Rule 2: Never point the gun at something you aren’t prepared to to destroy.

Yes, you checked the gun and the action is open and there’s no round in the chamber. Doesn’t mean you can be careless with it. This reinforces a good habit, and also rules out the possibility for any accidents. I’d rather a negligent discharge go downrange at a target than through a wall or worse.

Even when dry-firing, observe this rule.

Rule 3: Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Bullets, especially full metal jacket training rounds, can and will go through objects. Whether it’s a defensive situation or a training session, always identify your target, and what is beyond it. That super-reliable Speer Lawman 9mm FMJ round will go right through the target and won’t stop traveling til it hits something rather substantial.

This rule is especially important when shooting outdoors on public land or land you have permission to shoot on, or ownership of. You are policing your own training, and there could be others around who may stumble into your session. Triple-check your surroundings and have a spotter (who isn’t firing a gun) watch the range. You are your own range safety officer.

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Rule 4: Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.

This is called “indexing the trigger”. Don’t do what the Hollywood-types do, and draw your gun with your finger on the trigger. Place your finger on the slide above the trigger until you are sure of your target and surroundings. Only then should you engage and press the trigger. Practicing this, you will never have a negligent discharge. Note “negligence”. Guns don’t “go off” unless you make them. You are accountable for each bullet that leaves your gun’s barrel.

Fun fact about Rule 4. It wasn’t considered dogma until Jeff Cooper emphasized it in his rules. Until the 1960s or so, your standard duty pistol was usually a double-action revolver with a heavy first trigger pull or a hammer-fired semi-automatic pistol with the same characteristics. You could, in theory, have your finger on the trigger and still be “safe” since the pull was heavy. Earlier instructors actually taught to have your finger on the trigger, regardless. With newer guns having a sub-5.5lb trigger pull, this became dangerous, hence the “rule”. Regardless of your gun, practice good trigger discipline.

Other Safety Considerations

While not in the context of “rules”, per se, I consider several other things to be important lessons and recommendations for real gun safety, as well.

Ear Protection

This is an obvious one. Gunshots are loud. Your average pistol or rifle round being fired will max out that decibel meter at 160 dB or louder. This is louder than a jet engine at takeoff. This is louder than Sabaton. Permanent hearing loss level. Especially indoors. Now in an emergency you’re not going to, nor should you be, fumbling for ear protection, but in training, it’s a must. Spend the money for a good pair of earmuffs.

Eye Protection

Bullets can and will fragment upon impact with a hard target. If you are shooting steel, “spalling” is a known phenomenon. Imagine how fast a bullet travels. Now imagine having something going at even 75 percent of that speed coming back at you. You don’t want that in your eye. Also, sometimes a gun can and will fail in a spectacular fashion. Metallic chunks flying right next to your eyes. Also, on a more mundane level, you don’t want propellant gases or squirts of lubricant flying in your eye. It happens. Grab the disposable ones at your favorite range, or spend $10-$20 on a good pair of reusable ones.

First Aid Kit

Most ranges have them on standby and ready to go. It’s good practice, and also I bet their insurance company demands it. Regardless, you should have a first aid kit of your own, especially if you are shooting on unsupervised land. It should have the basics like bandages, painkillers, Quick-Clot, disinfectants, medical scissors, and a quality tourniquet. Also equally as important is knowing how to use those things. Take a first-aid class. Look for your favorite gun range to offer “Stop The Bleed” classes.

Get Yourself A Suppressor If Possible

The safety benefits of suppressors can’t be ignored. Think about it. Your average can will knock a 5.56mm round from an ear-shattering 160+ dB down to about 130 dB. Still loud, but not devastatingly so. Couple that with earpro and you have a nice, quiet, and less fatiguing shooting experience. On the extreme end, a good can will knock subsonic 300 BLK down to less than 119 dB, which you can shoot outdoors without ear protection even. Keep your shooting glasses on though, suppressed firearms have a notorious tendency to throw all sorts of crap back into the action.

Yes, there’s huge barriers to suppressor ownership. It’s why I support the American Suppressor Association in their effort to remove suppressors from the purview of the NFA. Cans make shooting safer and more enjoyable. In gun-control fanatic countries like Norway, it’s considered polite to buy them, and you can do so over the counter with no more trouble than buying a flashlight. But regardless, if you have the finances and the patience to get a can, do it. You’ll be amazed.

Storage

When not in use, you should have a safe place to keep your firearms. Whether it’s a true gun safe, or a sturdy lockbox that looks nothing like a gun safe, keeping your firearms safely stored is important.

Educate Others

If you live with multiple people, it’s important to educate them on the Four Rules, and general firearms safety, even if they aren’t into guns. Especially children. If a child expresses an interest in firearms, encourage and nurture that, because it’s awesome. Guiding a child into the world of firearms ownership and the Second Amendment instills a sense of self-reliance, which will benefit them enormously. But that doesn’t mean you should just leave guns scattered around the house at random. Educate them on the potential for bad things to happen if the gun is misused. Let them know if they see an unattended or misused gun, anywhere, to notify an adult immediately. Nurture a responsible interest. Don’t nuture fear and irresponsibility.

A Note On “Gun Safety”

You may see some organizations out there that use the term “gun safety” a lot. I won’t mention them by name, but there’s the one that sounds like a Broadway musical, and the other one that sounds like a TV show, and the other one that sounds like a Midwest supermarket chain. Or the one that sounds like a low-grade porn site. None of these organizations actually encourage responsible firearms ownership. Their idea of “training” is just enough to get you to drop your weapon off at the police station or the next turn-in event.

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