So you’ve made the decision – you’re ready to think about getting a gun.
Welcome to Guns 101, an ongoing series written by myself and presented by Lincoln Tactical. During this series, I’ll discuss firearms safety, various reasons people decide to purchase a firearm, dispel some of the common myths about gun ownership, explore the ideal options for first-time shooters, discuss the ethical and practical implications of gun ownership, and address shooters with special considerations, such as those with children and those with little or no experience with firearms.
While this series is directed at the beginning shooter, we welcome Lincoln Tactical’s experienced shooters to follow along and contribute to the series, helping to fill in gaps we’ve forgotten and share their own helpful experiences about when they were new to the sport.
The Four Rules of Gun Safety – The Foundation of the Shooting Sports
The most rational and sensible place to start with a firearm is safety. Even before you understand and set upon the reason you’ve decided to purchase a firearm, it’s critical to understand that the mainstream media has done a gross disservice to the non-shooting public, often portraying gun owners as reckless, shooting-in-the-air rednecks, who view guns as toys for amusement more than serious the tools they are. While, as in all participants in any hobby, there are those who treat the subject matter with carelessness and neglect, this could not be more distant from the truth for most shooters.
The true shooting community – that is to say, the silent, responsible majority the media has no desire to portray – has a deep and respected code of safety that is strictly enforced at all reputable ranges and shooting sports events, such as those by the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation.
The zero-exceptions code of gun safety can be simplified into what is called “The Four Rules”.
Rule 1: Treat all guns as if they are loaded
The phrasing of this rule in the classic formulation is too soft and forgiving to me. Not only is a shooter to treat guns like they are loaded, the shooter must create the mindset that all guns ARE loaded, not just as a safety fiction but as a fact. It doesn’t matter if you just released the semiautomatic’s magazine and cleared the chambered round, or if you’ve cleared the cylinders of a revolver only a second ago. Even as you see with your own eyes the empty gun, you must never believe the gun is empty. Guns that are “unloaded” have caused a tragic amount of death. Even if you’ve never purchased a round of ammunition, even if the gun is stored separately from ammunition, the gun is always loaded.
Rule 2: Never point the muzzle of your gun at anything you are not willing to destroy or kill
This is arguably the rule most commonly broken by new shooters. The muzzle of the gun (the front of the firearm, from which the barrel fires the bullet), must always point downrange or at the floor or ceiling. Never, under any circumstances, allow the muzzle to “sweep” other people. Be especially mindful of this rule examining guns in gun stores for your first purchase or when shooting at a gun range. Gun store owners or range masters who are especially strict interpreters of the Four Rules (the right approach, in my humble opinion) may eject you from their establishments for violation of this rule.
Rule 3: Never allow your finger to enter the trigger guard until you are ready to fire
The trigger guard is the round or squared-off area surrounding the trigger. For many novice shooters, the natural motion of the finger when grabbing the gun is to allow the finger to slip into the guard. This is a habit that must be broken through practice and firm mental discipline. A shooter’s natural position on the gun should be with the finger pointing straight and riding along the right side of the gun (or left, for left-handed people). On a pistol, this will be along the frame of the gun above the trigger guard. Well-trained police officers can be seen exhibiting this habit, sometimes even seconds before an officer-involved shooting. Only once the conscious decision has been made to fire the gun should the finger bend and be allowed to enter the trigger guard. This will prevent accidental discharges due to nervousness, stress, or tripping and falling. For those shooters with children or spouses, this is especially important, since a target must be identified before firing.
Rule 4: Be absolutely sure of your target, and what is behind it
The news frequently reports stories of hunters who believed their friend was a deer or other game animal, as well as stories of stray bullets that fly over highways or into residential homes. While many times these incidents are harmless, they often tragically result in the death of an innocent party due to a shooter’s negligence. Never fire your gun without quadruple-checking that you are firing at exactly what you think you are, and that your shooting target is well “backstopped”, meaning there is a wall (in an indoor shooting range) or a hill or the ground (when outside) that can stop any bullets without allowing them to fly further.
While these four rules are the core guideline of shooting safety, and guarantee safe shooting when followed, a fifth I like to mention is thoroughly make sure that the gun is empty when cleaning it. A huge number of negligent discharges occur when an individual is cleaning their gun. While shooters have their own safety techniques, mine are as follows for semiautomatic firearms:
1) Drop the magazine out of the weapon using the magazine release button.
2) Rack the slide of the gun, allowing the chambered cartridge (if applicable) to be ejected from the gun.
3) Use the gun’s slide lock (a feature on semiautomatic firearms that locks the action of the weapon in the open position) to lock the gun open
4) Physically insert a finger to ensure the magazine well is empty and the chamber is also empty
5) Shine a flashlight or pen light both down the magazine well and up the barrel
6) Proceed with the gun’s disassembly as per the user manual
While following such exhaustive safety procedures may sometimes be an irritation, it is nothing compared to the pain and loss of a negligent weapon discharge and the possible loss of a life. It is also nothing more than the duty you owe to those around you when you decide to become a firearms owner.
The media will often use the term “accidental discharge” when referring to such incidents. Ignore that term and replace it with a more fitting one: “negligent discharge”. Properly followed, the rules listed above will ensure a lifetime of safe and happy gun ownership.
For the next entry of Guns 101, we’ll discuss the positive reasons to own a firearm, and debunk some of the most pervasive myths argued as fact by advocates for gun control and gun prohibition.
Thanks for reading.