Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Gunday: Rules of Firearms Safety

It's kind of funny, really; I don't think of myself as a gun blogger, but rather as someone who has diverse nerdy interests which she talks about, one of those things being guns. However, I seem to have established myself within the periphery of the gunblog community, as I am an avid reader and frequent commenter of several guns-and-politics blogs, one of whom was even nice enough to add me to his blog roll (hi, Linoge!)

So because I kind of backed into this niche, and because I talk about guns not as an activist or as a pro shooter but as a hobbyist, and perhaps because I'm female, I seem to have a fair amount of other female readers who read my Monday Gunday posts with a mixture of fascination and mystery.

In other words, I take the scary and the politics and the jargon out of the discussion as much as possible, which has resulted in several female friends asking me questions like "How do guns work?" or "Where can I learn to shoot?"

Now this is cool, because I am very big on self-defense, and traditionally women are at a physical disadvantage compared to men, so any time a woman wants to talk to me about guns I will drop whatever I'm doing to answer her questions.

(As an aside: is there anyone in Indiana near South Bend who is willing to teach a friend of mine how to shoot for little to no cost? I'd gladly do it but there's about a thousand miles between FL and IN.)

Having blogged for a while I understand that for every person who asks me a question or leaves me a comment, there are 5, 10, or more people who are thinking the same thing but for whatever reason don't want to speak up. This tells me that I have a potentially large readership of people who would like to learn how to shoot, but don't really know where to begin and are often intimidated by traditionally male venues.

So if you're a gun virgin but you're still interested in learning how to properly handle a firearm, I'm going to give you a head start on gun safety, so that when you go to the range or to a shooting class you'll already have a leg up on some of the other participants.

Presented for your edification are the Rules of Gun Safety, with commentary by me.


This rule is a bit preposterous when you think about it, because of course not all guns are always loaded at all times; you can't safely clean a loaded gun, for starters. If it helps, think of this as an application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:  Until you verify it for yourself, every gun you ever see is always loaded and ready to fire. When you pick up a gun, it is your responsibility, and you own whatever you shoot! Therefore, unless you are prepared to shoot something the moment you pick it up, it is your duty to check -- both with eyes and with fingers -- that the gun is unloaded (this includes no bullets in the barrel as well as the magazine) and that the safety is on before you may safely consider it unloaded.

Corollary to Rule I: The moment you set a gun down and take your eyes off of it, it is no longer considered unloaded. It is always possible that someone other than yourself loaded it your absence. Imagine that you are constantly being followed by ninjas whose only purpose in life is to load and un-safe any firearms you leave lying around. Having a touch of OCD is actually of use in this case, as you should re-check any firearm you no longer have in your immediate possession.


As stated above, You own what you shoot. It doesn't matter if the gun goes off "accidentally"; it's still your ass if it does, and you are legally responsible for whatever damage or harm that bullet causes. Additionally, this rule keeps YOU safe; if you accidentally aim your gun at someone (this is called "muzzle sweep") you could be construed as threatening them, and be subject to legal action (if not shot by police, or by the sweepee who thinks you intend to kill him/her). Finally, it's just plain and simple courtesy, you know? Guns are like knives and farts: it's rude to aim them at someone else. 

This has been called the Golden Rule of gun safety, so it baffles me why it's #3 on the list. But it's true; 99% of all accidental shootings (called "negligent discharges" or ND in parlance) happen because someone's finger was on the trigger when it shouldn't have been. Unless they have seriously damaged trigger mechanisms, or there is a hot round in the chamber that was struck by the firing pin but somehow failed to fire, guns do not just "go off" on their own. Remember that the word "trigger" is the key component in the phrase "hair trigger"; you would be surprised how little effort it takes to make one go bang. 

There is more to this rule than would first appear. Not only is it telling you to be absolutely sure that what you are aiming at is what you think it is -- i.e., make sure that it's really an intruder in your house and not a drunk relative -- but also to be aware of what is behind your target. Overpenetration is a real thing, and while it's a fine thing to shoot an intruder threatening your family, it's a terrible thing to have your bullet go through them, into a sheetrock wall, out the other side, and into your spouse or child whose bedroom is on the other side. In other words, while you can aim at what you shoot, you don't always shoot what you're aiming at. Always be aware of where those bullets can go.

These are the 4 official rules. I always add two others:

This is sort of a catch-all. It prevents children from picking up guns (assuming you've taught them the rules and they obey you). It also helps prevent you from accusations of theft or menacing. Finally, it's another bit of common courtesy; much like going into someone else's room or driving someone else's car, you don't do it unless you are specifically permitted to do so.

Many, many NDs are the result of people dropping a gun, grabbing for it, and accidentally pulling the trigger due to a combination of finger placement, grip strength, and gravity. You have no control over where the barrel of a falling gun is pointed; don't make it worse by having it fire in that random direction as well. Additionally, nearly all modern firearms won't fire if dropped; most of those have "drop safeties" specifically made for this purpose. It is always better to deal with cosmetic damage to the gun, or replace a broken scope, than to deal with the legal, medical, and financial ramifications of accidentally shooting yourself or someone else.

If you memorize and keep these Rules firmly in your mind, you will observe proper safety at a shooting range (which will make the Rangemasters happy) and you will impress your instructor in class (which will make him happy). Do not be intimidated by these rules! I'm certain that every adult reading this blog knows how to drive a car, which is a far more complicated operation than shooting a gun. If you can drive on the interstate, you can safely observe these rules.

Happy shooting!


  1. Good stuff! Glad to see more ladies learning shooting!

    You might be misconstruing Rule 1. According to Col. Cooper's explanation, you NEVER "safely consider it unloaded". A gun is ALWAYS loaded, even when you KNOW it is not! This may sound self-contradictory, but his point is simple: at some point you may be convinced that the gun is "safely unloaded" but you might be mistaken! When untrained (or ill-trained) folks think a gun is unloaded they often then let the other safe handling rules fly out the window. When they are mistaken about the gun's loaded condition, often a BOOM is the result. 
    Therefore...ALL GUNS ARE ALWAYS handle them that way, even when you KNOW they are not!
    If you have not already done so, I suggest Googling up "Jeff Cooper's Commentaries" and working your way through them. Very good observations on a wide variety of topics. And read his books. I was fortunate to take a couple of his classes before he passed on. Brilliant fellow.

    Get thee to an Appleseed!
    By the way, keep reading rifleslinger's artoftherifle blog...great stuff.
    Colorado Pete

  2. I'm reasonably sure that, when the magazine is detached and I have a cleaning rod down the barrel, the gun is unloaded. If for no other reason than I have rendered it incapable of operation.

  3. True. But, STILL handle it like it's loaded!
    Best wishes on your rifle-woman journey...When you can shoot little groups at 300 from position, you'll be very glad you made the effort to get there.


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