Most people are familiar with the four rules of gun safety. It doesn't take long for these to get into your brain permanently, and you've probably heard them in some form or fashion if you've owned a gun for more than a few minutes.
As a reminder these rules are:
- Treat every gun as if it's loaded.
- Never let your muzzle cover anything you're not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you're on target and ready to shoot.
- Be sure of your target and what's behind it.
By adhering to those four basic rules, you can act with increased safety in any firearms activity. But that's not the end: there are other safety considerations to keep in mind. For this post, we’ve chosen 7 additional gun safety tips that every shooter should know.
1. Always Wear Hearing and Eye Protection
Even if you're a seasoned professional, it's worth being reminded that you need to protect your hearing and sight. It's easy to forget to do one of the two, especially if you're enjoying having a conversation on the range. You see it all the time: People forget to put something on and stop just prior to shooting so they can do so. Sometimes, though, people don't stop and make the correction.
In a lot of situations, people think "I'll be okay just this once" or even "It's fine, I don't do it all the time." But even just one time can be all it takes to do permanent damage to your eyes or ears. Multiple occasions of not wearing protection can have a cumulative effect, even when spread out over time. All it takes is one shot to ruin your hearing permanently and one mishap with some bad ammo to leave you totally blind. It just isn’t worth the risk; take the time to purchase and wear the appropriate hearing and eye protection.
To that end, ensure you're buying appropriately rated protection. For hearing, all protective products have to have what's called an NRR rating. For firearms, a 28 to 31 NRR is recommended. The highest possible is 33. You can get either earmuffs or earplugs, although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health actually recommends combining both earplugs and earmuffs.
For eye protection, one of the most important factors is that the lenses are shatter proof. It does no good to stop an impact only for the lenses themselves to damage your eye. Do not wear regular sunglasses. While you may find certain glasses that are tinted, you want to be sure that these meet either American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or U.S. military ballistic standards. Look for options that meet ANSI standard Z87.1 or U.S. military standard MIL-V-43511C. Ballistic lens eye protection should have these clearly marked on the packaging.
2. Beware of Barrel Obstructions
You've probably seen this in a cartoon. A character puts something into a barrel, and when the trigger is pulled, the gun explodes like a flower opening. It peels back and throws black marks onto the face of the character pulling the trigger. While this is done comedically, it actually isn't that far from the truth.
Explosions, like water, always take the path of least resistance. If something gets in your barrel and blocks the round from freely traveling forward, that path of least resistance will be through the barrel and back toward you. It doesn't take much of an obstruction, either. Anything in the barrel, no matter how small, has the potential to block the round in some capacity. If that happens, you're likely looking at permanent damage. It can destroy your firearm and seriously injure you.
Before you take your guns to shoot, take a moment to verify their operation. Do a function check on the gun and visually inspect the barrel for any damage or obstructions while it's unloaded. Taking that extra time to ensure the guns are ready is well worth it if it means extending your ability to keep on shooting — not to mention living.
3. Use Correct Ammo
One of the major points of failure for guns is using the wrong ammunition. It's a far more common occurrence than you might think. And it doesn't always come from ignorance or being new to guns — it can happen to people who've been shooting for years.
For example, there are multiple types of 9mm ammunition. Some guns can handle all types, but some can't handle the pressure caused by certain variations. Similarly, an AR-15 chambered for 5.56mm ammunition can also shoot .223 Remington. However, due to higher chamber pressures a AR made specifically for .223 should not shoot 5.56. You can see how issues could occur.
Firing the wrong ammunition can be catastrophic to a gun and its owner. The result can be similar to what happens when a barrel is obstructed. Even if it doesn’t lead to serious injury right away, it can cause lesser malfunctions that are dangerous but less immediately obvious. Be sure you understand what your gun shoots and make sure you buy that exact ammo. It doesn't take much to do so, and a little effort goes a long way here.
4. Beware of Misfires
Misfires happen for a variety of reasons, and finding the exact cause isn't always easy. It could be bad ammo, an issue with the gun, or just that specific round. Regardless of what the cause of the misfire is, it's something that must be addressed with the utmost care.
If you pull the trigger and no bang happens, one of the first things you want to do is put the gun down. Ensure you have the muzzle pointed in a safe direction away from anything that could be damaged, and place the firearm on a secure structure — preferably the ground. If the ground isn't an option, place the gun on a table or other flat surface that's sturdy enough to hold it. At that point, leave the gun alone for a few minutes to give the round a chance to fire in case the powder just took a minute to ignite. Once you're sure the round isn't going to fire, perform your regular malfunction check and eject the round to dispose of it.
If this repeatedly occurs, especially with different ammunition, have someone take a look at your gun. You can do this by sending it to the factory or taking it to a certified armorer for your type of gun. Most gunsmiths can at least diagnose the issue so you know what steps to take to get it fixed.
5. Learn Your Gun's Mechanics
Every gun operates in its own way. Each gun has a unique method of mechanically functioning to fire, chamber rounds, and cycle new rounds. Disassembly is also unique for each gun. Learning how your gun performs makes you more intimately familiar with it, which makes you safer.
Understanding your gun's operation helps you avoid making mistakes because you thought the gun was not going to fire when it could. It can also provide you with a safer method for clearing malfunctions, dealing with misfires, and even fixing broken parts that could be points of catastrophic failure later.
6. Store Guns Unloaded
This specifically applies to guns you're not carrying every day. If the gun isn't your primary self-defense weapon, there's absolutely no reason for you to keep it loaded. Storage is exactly that: there's no point in storing a gun with ammunition in it.
There are many reasons storing guns unloaded is a good practice. You won't run the risk of someone else accidentally pulling the trigger or causing an accident because they were unaware the gun was loaded. Your family members or friends may grab the gun upon seeing it, completely unaware the gun is loaded, and inadvertently pull the trigger. Worse still, an untrained person may intentionally pull the trigger when playing around because they don't know any better. Plus, if the gun is stored in a place where it could fall or otherwise get jostled, that could cause an accidental discharge. This could damage other guns being stored or your storage method and in worst case scenarios, it can injure or kill.
7. Don't Rely on Your Gun's Safety
The safety on a gun can be a valuable piece of your gun's operation. Ensuring it doesn't fire when it isn't supposed to is important. However, that particular portion of the gun is still a mechanical device, and as such, it can fail.
Maybe it wasn't properly engaged the last time the gun was used. Maybe the gun is old, and the safety is worn down. Maybe the gun was stored in an area where it could become rusted or corroded. Numerous possibilities for safety failure make it obvious why you shouldn't rely solely on it.
Because of this, you can't act as though the safety will protect you. Even with the safety on, treat the gun as if it will fire. This goes back to the four rules of firearms safety, but it's still worth treating as its own requirement. Safeties can fail — never trust your life to one on its own.
Owning guns is fun but requires constant vigilance when it comes to safety. They can never be treated as toys or handled haphazardly. Treat them with the respect they deserve and use the four rules of firearms safety and these other tips to create a system in your mind for thinking about and enacting safe operation at all times. Remember: Safety first, always!