basic gun safety

Gun safety is the responsibility of the owner, and no one else. It’s also not something that should be taken lightly, since the destructive potential of firearms is huge.

According to the CDC, 77 minors were killed by unintentional gun discharges in the U.S. in 2015. However, when the Associated Press and USA Today conducted an independent review of shootings-related deaths nationwide, the results were nearly double those of the CDC. AP found at least 141 deaths of minors attributed to accidental shootings in the same period. CDC officials acknowledge their statistics are lower because of how coroners classify fatalities on death certificates.

Accidental discharge-related deaths of minors are most common among 3-year-olds. Most accidents follow the same scenario – children pick up unsecured, loaded guns in their homes and shoot themselves.

Former director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Mark Rosenberg, says “it’s crazy” that the government isn’t researching more into how to prevent accidental discharge deaths because the bottom line is – 100% of them are preventable.

Following these gun safety rules is essential in preventing accidental firearm-related injury or death. Avoiding becoming a statistic begins with your conduct at home, at the range, or anywhere you carry your gun.

Basic gun safety tips

  • Treat every firearm as if it's loaded.
  • Always keep the weapon’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  • Give the owner’s manual a thorough read. Know how to use your gun, how to open and close its action safely, and how to remove ammunition from the gun, as well as its magazine. 
  • Don’t rely on safety mechanisms. Mechanical safety isn’t foolproof. Learn the intricacies of the mechanical safety on your gun.
  • Keep your firearms in good working order. Regular maintenance translates into a more reliable, safer firearm. When carried, guns develop rust even faster than when stored at home. So, clean your firearms regularly, even if they are never used.
  • Have your gun serviced by a gunsmith regularly. A qualified technician should do everything that goes beyond basic cleaning. Don’t be tempted to disassemble and reassemble a gun without proper knowledge and skills.​

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) suggests a S.A.F.E. strategy to gun safety:​

S.A.F.E.

S – secure your firearms when not in use​

A – maintain awareness of people in your proximity and prevent unauthorized access to guns​

F – focus on your responsibility as a gun owner​

E – educate yourself and others about gun safety​

Safe gun storage 

Purchasing a gun means accepting the responsibility that comes along with it, and the principle way to prevent gun-related accidents is to ensure that firearms are always properly stored in the home.

See to it that guns are stored where they won’t be accessible to unauthorized persons: hiding a gun in a drawer, closet, or underneath a pillow does not make your house a safer place. Safe storage requires precautions and critical safeguards that create barriers to against unauthorized use and accidents.

How to safely store a gun

  • Store guns unloaded.
  • Good storage places include in locked cabinets, gun vaults, safes, and storage cases.
  • Stored guns must be inaccessible to children.
  • Lock ammunition in a separate location from your guns.
  • When removing firearms from storage, double-check to make sure they are not loaded.
  • Gun-locking devices render firearms inoperable and serve as an additional precaution against accidents.
  • Cable-style locks aren’t a substitute for safe storage. They are simply a way to discourage unauthorized access to guns by young children.​
  • Consider special lockable cases that can be quickly opened by authorized individuals.

Gun owners must commit to learning how to safely use their firearms, especially if they plan on using them for home security. The objective is to keep firearms somewhere where they are readily available to the owner, yet inaccessible to others. Keeping a gun to defend your family is meaningless if that same gun puts your family at risk. 

Children and gun safety

Several studies have found that gun accidents claim at least one child’s life every other day. Sadly, nearly all firearm accidents are preventable when gun owners take basic precautions.

If you have firearms in the home, you need to teach your kids about them. In many cases, children find firearms because they go looking for them out of curiosity or because one of them dared the other to find it.

Provided the firearms in your house are stored safely, make sure your kids:​

  • Never go snooping for guns in your home or at a friend’s home.
  • Never allow other children to go looking for guns in your home.
  • Know that if they find a gun, they are not to touch it or let others touch it, but they are to tell an adult about it immediately.
  • Never touch a firearm, even if it looks like a toy. They should always ask permission first.​

Sleepovers at a friend’s house

  • Whenever your kids are going to a sleepover at a friend’s house, ask the parents if they have a gun in the house.
  • If the answer is yes, ask how the firearms are stored, and where the ammunition is kept.
  • It doesn’t matter if it makes someone feel uncomfortable or offended: the safety of your child and other children comes first.

Carrying a gun safely

​Before carrying a gun, you should know:

  • Safety precautions
  • Federal, State, and Local laws
  • How to maintain situational awareness

A majority of negligent discharges occur when the person handling the gun is not paying attention and doesn’t maintain situational awareness. 

Practice safe handling and situational awareness

  • Practice carrying an unloaded gun first. Get used to its weight, and how it feels in your hand.
  • Develop a sense of protectiveness for the area of your body where the gun is stored. For example, when choosing a seat in a restaurant, sit with your gun side away from the person sitting by your side. When hugging someone, keep your arms low so that the other person puts theirs high and has no contact with the firearm.
  • Use a good holster and a rigid gun belt specifically designed for the gun. Use holsters made of Kydex or leather and fitted to the individual gun model. Holsters made of cloth and generic one-size-fits-all holsters don’t hold a gun as they should, and should be avoided at all possible costs.
  • Use belts made of leather or nylon. Regular belts are too flimsy to hold a gun throughout the day.
  • Consider using a retention holster with a locking mechanism to protect your gun from unauthorized access and theft.​
  • Small children tend to climb their parents, so a retention holster is a must. Be it while wrestling on the floor, or running across the yard, the holster needs to protect your gun from children – and vice versa – at all times.

Keeping a finger near the trigger, and not checking to see if the gun is loaded is a route to disaster.

Practice, practice, practice

  • Practice correct finger placement while drawing your gun – off the trigger. This is paramount to prevention of accidental discharge.
  • Keep the index finger of the shooting hand should be straight during correct gun drawing.
  • Minimize unnecessary handling when the weapon is in a ready state to avoid a negligent discharge. Definitely don’t show it off to your friends at a barbecue.​

Driving with a gun

​When driving with a gun, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Sit properly. Correct seating position improves your driving abilities and also makes it easier to draw your weapon, if needed.
  • Practice your seated draw.
  • Maintain situational awareness and control your emotions. An emotional response on the road can have devastating consequences if both drivers are armed. So, whenever facing danger or confrontation on the road, try to avoid it.
  • Defensive driving is more effective – and important – than defensive gun use.
  • There’s no reason to access the gun while out and about, except for self-defense. So, put it in your holster when leaving home, and don’t touch it again until you’re putting it back in the safe box at night.
  • Sometimes, when entering restricted areas, gun owners must remove their weapon and lock it in a secured container inside their vehicle. If this happens to you, do it without distraction. Then, upon returning to your vehicle, re-holster the gun safely.

Gun violence statistics

infographic: gun violence stats

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Useful resources

Firearm Safety videos from NSSF

Guns in the House

NSSF Ten Tips for Firearm Safety in Your Home

Firearms Responsibility in The Home

Safe Handling

Tips for Safely Carrying your Handgun – Concealed Nation

Concealed Carry Training Is Not The Same As Target Practice

Four Tips for Driving While Armed

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