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If you read only a single article on WhichGun.com, it should be this. Learning the proper and safe handling of firearms is of paramount importance, and is the single most important thing concerning guns of any type. The rules of gun safety must be ingrained into your mind and must be followed at all times, with zero exceptions. If these simple rules are always followed, a negligent discharge causing injury or even death will simply be an impossible event. Note that the term "negligent discharge", not "accidental discharge", is used. Put simply, except in very rare circumstances where a firearm is malfunctioning, there is no such thing as an accidental discharge. However, by strictly following all of the rules of firearms safety, nobody will be injured or killed by a true accidental discharge. Any other unintentional firing of a gun means that the shooter was negligent in following safe firearms handling practice.

The Four Rules of Firearms Safety

  1. Treat all guns as if they are loaded at all times, even after confirming for yourself that it is not loaded.
  2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard unless you intend to fire and are on target.
  4. Be absolutely sure of your target, what is behind it, and the capabilities of your gun and ammunition.

Detailed Explanations of the Four Rules

1. Treat all guns as if they are loaded at all times, even after confirming for yourself that it is not loaded.
In other words, never assume that a gun is not loaded. Every time you pick up a gun or a gun is handed to you, check for yourself that is not loaded. It does not matter who handed you the gun or what they tell you – gun store worker, your best friend, even law enforcement personnel – you need to check for yourself that the gun is not loaded. Verifying whether a firearm is loaded or unloaded should be an automatic and instinctive behavior whenever you pick up or are handed any firearm. Even after confirming that a gun is not loaded, you must still always treat it as if it is loaded. A firearm, even one that you have checked yourself to be unloaded, must never be treated like a toy or an airsoft gun. It must be handled at all times as being capable of firing.

2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
What is a safe direction? At the firing line of a shooting range, this is easy: downrange. In other locations, your home for example, it is trickier. Put simply, a safe direction means that if the gun were to fire -- intentionally or unintentionally -- no person you do not wish to shoot, or anything that you are not willing to destroy, would be in any danger of being hit. The muzzle should never cross the body line of a person that you do not intend to shoot. This is something that is very easy to do with a pistol because of the very short length of the barrel. Have you ever been to a gun store or gun show and have someone who is looking at a pistol swing the gun past you? These are people who do not know proper gun handling, or were never properly trained. Always be conscious of where the muzzle is pointing, and never allow the muzzle to cross the path of anything you are not willing to destroy.

If you are using your gun for defense and you need to use it because of a true threat, this rule still applies. But in this case, a safe direction means a deadly direction for the threat and only the threat.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard unless you intend to fire and are on target.
By looking at pictures in magazines, on the internet, and in movies and television, it is very easy to determine whether or not that individual has been properly taught safe gun handling. If they were, their finger would be outside the trigger guard, resting along side of it, until they are both ready to fire and are on target. Walking around with your finger in the trigger guard is a negligent discharge waiting to happen. It does not matter what type of gun it is, this is unsafe gun handling. Always keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you intend to fire and are on target.

4. Be absolutely sure of your target, what is behind it, and the capabilities of your gun and ammunition.
When you shoot a gun, where is that bullet going to land? Is it going to impact a drywall, behind which a family with kids in your apartment complex is living? You need to be keenly aware of what your gun and its ammunition is capable of doing. A responsible gun owner will resist taking a shot in self-defense if they know that their backstop is insufficient, or if firing puts any innocent people in any danger. Likewise, hunters need to visually identify that their target is indeed the animal they are hunting for, and verify that there are no other hunters, hikers, or any other persons near or behind their target that could be placed in danger before taking the shot.

Final Notes

If you think about it, following these 4 simple rules make negligent discharges impossible. Following these 4 simple rules also will prevent severely injuring or even killing a bystander in the rare event of a true accidental discharge caused by a malfunctioning firearm. Learning and always following these 4 rules is something that all firearms owners must do. If while hunting or shooting at a range, if you observe someone handling their firearms without regard to these 4 rules, you must politely confront them, explaining exactly what was unsafe about their actions, and showing them how to apply the 4 rules so they can be a safe and responsible firearms owner.

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