Firearm Safety

"I didn't know it was loaded!" are tragic words often uttered after a gun accident. Accidents with firearms are usually avoidable. By learning and applying the basic safety rules for proper firearm handling and storage, you can avoid the pain, agony, and potential loss that result from a gun accident.

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.

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. Be aware that states with right-to-carry laws require a minimum number of hours of education before issuing a right-to-carry permit.

Storing Your Weapon

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. 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 your foot.

If you must must keep a loaded gun in the house, make sure children cannot get to the loaded weapon to play with it or fire it accidentally. If you are planning to purchase 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 a supposedly unloaded gun may discharge unexpectedly.


Practice as much care with your ammunition as you do with rifle or pistol. Keep bullets and magazines secured. This means locking them away in a location away from where guns are kept.

Three Fundamental Rules for Firearm Use

Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has complete gun safety rules available for specific types of firearm use, 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.


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
National Rifle Association


Canadian Firearms Training
Canada Safety Council


Firearm safety—10 rules of safe gun handling. National Shooting Sports Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed April 17, 2017.
NRA firearm training. National Rifle Association of America website. Available at:
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Accessed April 12, 2017.
NRA gun safety rules. National Rifle Association of America website. Available at:
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Accessed April 17, 2017.
Tips for gun owners. State of California Department of Justice. Office of Attorney General website. Available at:
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Accessed April 17, 2017.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 4/22/2015

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