"I didn't know it was loaded!" are tragic words often uttered after a friend or family member has been involved in a gun accident. Accidents with firearms are often 100% avoidable. By learning and applying the basic safety rules for proper firearm handling and storage, you can avoid the pain and agony that result from a gun accident.
The first rule of firearm safety is as simple as it is important: Know why you have a weapon in the house, and act accordingly. That means keeping the weapon secured where no one can get at it who is not supposed to. After all, how often are you going to hunt deer or shoot targets in your home?
Education: How to Use and NOT Use Guns
Becoming more responsible with firearms begins with education. No one should have a rifle or pistol in the house unless they have been trained in how to use it—and how not to use it.
In the United States alone:
- There are nearly 30,000 firearm-related deaths each year, and twice that many non-fatal gunshot wounds.
- In 2004, of all the firearm-related deaths, 57% were due to suicides, 39% from homicides, and 2% from unintentional cause.
- A National Health Interview Survey estimates that approximately 35% of US households with children less than 18 years own at least one firearm. Moreover, about 43% of these homes had one or more unlocked firearm.
- A Department of Justice study found that 72% of homicide victims age 12 or older were killed with a firearm.
Children are not immune from firearm-related injuries and death:
- A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that about 3,000 children age 14 and under are treated in emergency departments each year in the US for gunshot wounds. One in five of these children die. Four out of five are shot by themselves, a friend, a relative, or another person known to them.
- Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at school-associated violent deaths and found that in 60% of firearms-related homicides or suicides by students, the source of the gun was the student’s home, friend, or relative.
The Basics of Firearm Safety
Firearms education should include a number of basics:
Classes are not necessarily just for the person who will be firing the weapon. It is a good idea for anyone who may come in contact with the gun to take a safety class. Children should be taught the basics, especially if they are going to be around the weapon. They need to learn that guns are not toys, and that the damage they can cause is permanent. Many states and municipalities certify gun instructors. Your local police department may have a list. Know, too, that states with right-to-carry laws require a minimum number of hours of education before issuing a right-to-carry permit.
Keep your rifle or pistol where no one can get to it who is not supposed to get to it. That means locking it up, and there are a number of ways to do that. Options include:
- A gun safe
- Keeping it in a locked attic or basement. It is also possible to keep it in a drawer or cabinet that can be locked.
- A trigger lock, which resembles the locks used on the dial on rotary telephones. If the weapon has a trigger lock, it cannot be fired without first unlocking it.
- Locked trunk. If you have to transport the weapon, keep it in a locked trunk, and never leave it unattended or unlocked in your car.
Think long and hard about keeping a loaded weapon around the house. People are rarely hurt or killed by an unloaded firearm. If there is no ammunition in the gun's chamber, clip or magazine, the most that could happen by improperly handling a firearm is inadvertently dropping it on a toe.
If you must must keep a loaded gun in the house, make sure small children cannot get to the loaded weapon to play with it or fire it accidentally. If you are planning the purchase of a new firearm, consider buying one with a built-in indicator that the firing chamber is loaded. This can alert you to the risk that an unloaded gun may discharge unexpectedly.
Practice as much care with your ammunition as you do with rifle or pistol. Keep bullets and magazines secured, following the same sort of procedure that you use for the weapons.
Three Fundamental Rules for Firearm Use
Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has complete gun safety rules available for specific types of firearm use (hunting and competition, for example), the following three rules are fundamental in any situation. Whether or not you own a gun, it is important to know these rules so that you can insist that others follow them.
Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This is the primary rule of gun safety. "Safe Direction" means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off, it would not cause an injury. Whether you are shooting or simply handling a gun, never point it at yourself or others. Common sense will tell you which direction is the safest. Outdoors, it is generally safe to point the gun toward the ground, or, if you are on a shooting range, toward the target. Indoors, be mindful of the fact that a bullet can penetrate ceilings, floors, walls, windows, and doors.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. When handling a gun, people have a natural tendency to put their finger on the trigger. Do not touch the trigger unless you are actually preparing to fire the gun.
Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. If you do not know how to check to see if a gun is unloaded, leave it alone. Carefully secure it, being certain to point it safely and to keep your finger off the trigger, and seek competent assistance.
- Reviewer: Brian P. Randall, MD
- Review Date: 10/2010 -
- Update Date: 10/19/2010 -