by Amy Scholten, MPH
"I didn't know it was loaded!" These are common words after a gun accident. Most firearm accidents can be avoided. It is important to learn and apply basic safety rules for handling and storing firearms.
Being responsible with firearms begins with education. No one should own a rifle or pistol unless they have been trained how to use it. They also need to know how not to use it.
The Basics of Firearm Safety
Firearms education should include:
A class is not just for the person who will be firing the weapon. A firearm safety class is a good idea for anyone who may come in contact with the weapon. Children should be taught the basics, especially if they are going to be around the weapon. They need to learn that firearms are not toys. They need to know that firearms can cause lasting damage. Many states, towns and cities certify weapons instructors. Your local police department may have a list. In some places, education is required before you can get a firearm permit..
Storing Your Weapon
Keep your rifle or pistol away from those who should not be near it. That means locking it up. There are a number of ways to do that. Options include:
Consider the dangers of keeping a loaded weapon around the house. People are rarely hurt or killed by an unloaded firearm.
If you must keep a loaded gun in the house, make sure children cannot get to it. Children may play with it or fire it accidentally. If you plan to buy a new firearm, consider one with a built-in warning that the weapon is loaded. This can alert you to the risk that a gun may fire unexpectedly.
Keep bullets and other ammunition secured. This means locking them away in a location away from where firearms are kept.
Basic Rules for Firearm Use
There are safety rules for different types of firearm use. Here are some basic rules.
Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction. The gun should be pointed so that even if it were to go off, it would not cause an injury. Use this rule whether you are shooting or simply handling a firearm. Never point the firearm at yourself or others. Use common sense. Outdoors, it is generally safe to point the gun toward the ground. If you are on a shooting range, you can point it toward the target. Keep in mind that if you are indoors, a bullet can go through ceilings, floors, walls, windows, and doors.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. When handling a firearm, people tend to put their finger on the trigger. Do not touch the trigger unless you are actually preparing to fire.
Always keep the firearm 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, point it safely, and keep your finger off the trigger. Seek help from someone who knows how to safely handle a firearm.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
National Rifle Association
Canadian Firearms Training
Canada Safety Council
Firearm safety. State of California Department of Justice. Office of Attorney General website. Available at: https://oag.ca.gov/firearms/tips. Accessed November 4, 2021.
Ginshot wounds—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/management/gunshot-wounds-emergency-management. Accessed November 4, 2021.
The 4 basic rules of gun safety. Armed Defense Training Association website. Available at: https://www.armeddefense.org/safety-rules. Accessed November 4, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 11/4/2021
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