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There are a variety of ways of handling a gun. Most of them are the wrong way. Here are some basic rules for handling firearms safely.

The #1 Thing

Keep your booger hooker off the bang thang and watch where you point it!

The Short Version

The below gets into details, but there are four commonly quoted universal rules of gun safety:

  1. Treat a gun as if it's always loaded, especially when it's not.
  2. Never point a gun at anything you aren't willing to kill or destroy.
  3. Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be absolutely sure of your target and what's behind it.

Before you start...

1) Understand a gun is a dangerous tool.

  • A gun is not a toy. It is designed to send small bits of matter in a certain direction at high speed. This makes it very good at damaging whatever gets hit. Even used against non-living things, it will still cause destruction. Always handle a gun as if it is loaded. Especially if it's not -- way too many peoples FamousLastWords have been "... it's not loaded, see?"
    • This has the double-advantage of getting you into the good habit of instinctively holding a gun safely, instead of having to remember to do so.
  • A gun should never be aimed at anything unless the holder is willing to accept the legal, moral, and physical ramifications of pulling the trigger.
    • A gun should never be aimed at anyone simply to intimidate them. If you are not ready to kill the person you are going to aim the gun at, do not aim the gun at them. If they call your bluff you are completely out of options. Plus, trying to do this to someone except in grave self defense is a felony -- the kind you'll spend years in prison for. It isn't funny. It isn't a joke. It isn't badass!
      • Quote from a gun safety instructor: "If you don't know 100% how to use your handgun and simply wish to threaten people with it, you deserve fully for your opponent to take your handgun by force and beat you over the head with it."
    • A gun is not reliably capable of inflicting nonlethal injury. Pulling the trigger means that you have decided you are willing to kill the thing you are firing at.

2) Know your limits.

  • Use a gun only if you are comfortable with it. If you are scared of what a gun is capable of, you shouldn't use it. This applies to not knowing the manual of arms, the controls, or even not being confident in your ability to wield the thing.
  • If you have no experience with guns, do not touch one, unless properly supervised. It is okay to ask for help or to call over the owner, but don't pick it up and wave it around. Media (and this page) are not a substitute for instruction.
    • If you have experience with guns, but come across a new one, find out how it works (either instruction manual or experienced user) thoroughly before using it. NEVER play with live ammo while figuring out how it works.
  • Do not drink alcohol or use any drugs you have not been prescribed by a doctor. Make sure you understand substances and the effect they have on you. If you plan on drinking, put the gun away first. If you've been drinking, don't play with the gun.

Using Guns

1) Be aware of possible collateral damage.

  • A gun should always be pointed in a safe direction.
    • In a shooting range, this means downrange
    • In the field, this means toward the ground or up towards the sky -- pick a direction and stick with it.
  • Always carry your firearm in such a fashion that you can control where it will point if you stumble or fall.
  • Know what is behind and to the side of the targets and assume they will be hit. A projectile can still have lethal force even upon penetrating something. And you can miss.
  • Know what is your target. In a target-shooting situation, this includes being aware of whether your bullets may ricochet or cause spalling. So for shooting steel targets, err with allowing greater distance both to protect the target and you. In self-defense situations, this includes knowing that the figure you're aiming at is actually a threat, and not (for example) your son come home early from a sleepover.
  • There are three ranges for firearms: maximum range, maximum effective range, and point blank range. Maximum range is the farthest the bullet will travel given the right circumstances. Maximum effective range is the farthest a bullet will travel and still retain lethal force. Even if you cleanly miss a target, the bullet may still kill after travelling for hundreds of yards (or even a mile). Point blank range is how far a gun's bullet can travel before the sights need to be adjusted to compensate for the parabolic trajector induced by gravity. One source to read further on this subject is the Gunwiki article on Effective Range.
    • As a corollary, never, under any circumstances, fire into the air. Even in celebration. That bullet WILL come down, and you have no idea of where, into what, or whom, and yes, plunging fire is just as perfectly lethal as direct fire. Also, it's a waste of perfectly good bullets; if you're footing the ammo bill, you'll understand.

2) Maintain trigger and safety discipline.

  • Do not put your finger near the trigger until you are ready to fire the weapon. Keep your trigger finger either securely on the guard, out in the air as if sternly pointing to something, or on the grip with your other fingers. Booger hook off the bang switch! This should be so trained into you by force of habit that you don't even have to think about it.
  • Outside of combat situations, always ensure the safety, if there is one, is in use and enabled until ready to fire. Do not, however, use it as a substitute for proper handling and trigger discipline. A functional safety cannot cause an accident but it can fail to prevent one.
    • Many weapons either do not have a safety, or they're very hard to use. If that's the case, you're better off keeping an empty chamber with the exception of defensive weapons. And quite a few of these namely, revolvers, bolt-action rifles, and muzzle-loaders have a "trigger will do nothing if pressed" state -- do not use this as a safety. Oftentimes, that uncocked state looks a lot like or identical to a cocked state! And then there are many handguns, Glock most famously, which are striker-fired +/ double action. Translation: EVERY trigger pull does something.
    • There are even multiple safety types, but they fall into two categories: mechanical safeties and manual safeties. Mechanical safeties are parts of the engineering which go towards making sure that some random event OTHER than a trigger pull sets the gun off. Most famously, this is the "safe action" multiple safety features in Glock pistols -- the guns are very safe and will ONLY go off if you pull the trigger.
      • These safeties tend to be things like drop safeties, which are there to prevent guns from going off when either dropped or struck, transfer bars / hammer blocks, which prevent the hammer from falling and setting the gun off without the trigger being pulled, magazine safeties, which make a gun unable to fire without a magazine inserted (these usually WON'T work if you begin the trigger pull BEFORE removing the magazine), half cock notches, which are not really safeties but there to make a controlled lowering of the hammer less risky, and firing pin blocks, which get in the way of the firing pin hitting the primer that sets off the round. NONE of these are things you can switch on or off -- they're built into the gun and will be disabled just by operating the gun properly.
    • Manual safeties are even more diverse. These are switches that you use to change the readiness of a gun. Just like with mechanical safeties, don't rely on these! They are cockup insurance-- not a free idiot pass. Pointing a weapon at someone, jokingly or not ,loaded or not, live or not, is DEAD SERIOUS. If you're thinking of making dramatic photos / videos of people using guns dangerously, invest in prop guns! You can still use the deadly weapons for things, but not scenes when they're getting pointed at people.

3) Always keep the gun unloaded when not in use, but treat it as if it still is.

  • Loaded+/ ready guns look a lot like inert guns. And an "unloaded" gun with a round in the chamber looks exactly unlike the same without one in the pipe. If whatever you're doing involves dry fire, like disassembling a Glock or getting some free home practice, make ABSOLUTELY FUCKING SURE the gun is actually clear.
  • In the Famous Last Words of Terry Kath of Chicago fame: "Don't worry, guys. It isn't even loaded. See?"
  • In Things I learn From My Patients http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/things-i-learn-from-my-patients.257985/[1], a suprising number of people decided the best way to check on the condition of the gun was it point it at themselves and pull the trigger. Guess how that turned out.
  • When unloading the gun, remove the magazine or rounds, and pull the slide/bolt back to eject any cartridge(s) and/or visually confirm that the chamber(s) are empty. In that order. Loading device first, then action, then check. If you do the action before the loading device, you'll chamber a round. This is how terrifying numbers of people end up shot with "unloaded" guns.
    • Essential skill for pistols: the press check. Pull back a tiny bit on the slide. If you see a casing, the weapon is hot. If you don't, prod in there gently with you finger just to make sure. Never mind what idiots like James Yeager say about press checks -- they're a core component of making sure things are as they should be.
  • When receiving a firearm from someone, even if you saw them unload it and engage the safety, ensure for yourself that it is safe to handle (magazine ejected, chamber cleared, bolt/slide locked back if possible) before doing anything else with it.

4) Interacting with others.

  • An ignorant person with a weapon is a danger to themselves and others, and should be avoided and disarmed immediately. If they're waving it around, be sure you're close enough and grab the barrel close to the breech for control before confronting them. If they're actually ignorant of gun safety, you calling them out with make them turn to face you, causing them to point the weapon at everyone. For this reason, never let the uninitated handle a weapon without a knowledgeable person close enough to physically intervene.
  • If someone shouts "CEASE FIRE", you stop immediately. No questions, no finishing what you're doing, just stop!
  • When handing a weapon to someone, always check its condition first and inform them of it. Hand it to them with it across your body, muzzle facing either up or down, whichever is safer. If at a range with tables, it is better if you lie it down on the table in a safe direction and then invite them to handle it. Many ranges do not allow handling of firearms behind a certain line and will be very displeased with those who do.
  • Always ask the person if they know how to handle the firearm. If they don't know or you suspect they are BSing you, do not allow them use of the firearm until they are informed of:
    • Where the manual safety is (if it has one), how to operate it, and what's "safe" and "not safe"
    • How to insert and remove a magazine +/ clips +/ rounds.
    • What to do in case of a malfunction.
    • Warn the user of recoil if there's a substantial amount of it, especially with handguns guns, as the user may be more prone to dropping the gun. Keep in mind that if you're experienced with a weapon or just used to rounds that kick, what may seem easily managable to you may seem punishing to them. Make sure they know how to deal with recoil, because even if they don't drop it or lose control of it, the gun make jump and smack them. While that in is own right is also dangerous, it's also painful and embarassing and may very well scare them off shooting. Don't be a jerk -- don't give a novice something chambered in something fierce like 44 Magnum or 10mm Auto. Definitely don't laugh at them, either. For things with scopes, teach them to brace it tightly or else they could get a black eye or a cut from the scope coming back and hitting them.
  • If you never handled the firearm before, or it's been a while, ask the owner about its operations (the above is what you should know),
  • If somebody is uncomfortable with handling a gun for ANY reason, never try to force them to do so, or try to reassure them it's safe. Even if you are 100% sure the gun is unloaded and safe, if they don't want to hold it, don't make them. If you do so, you make them a danger to themselves AND you.
  • Certain "tricks" are okay, like shooting airborne clay pigeons with rifles and handguns at places that allow it, or hitting some difficult moving target. JugglingLoadedGuns, trying to catch flying guns, spinning weapons by the trigger guard, ARE NOT!The life that your stupidity ends may not be your own.

Other Safety Tips

1) Handling Malfunctions

  • Misfires and jams happen, even with proper maintenance, in more ways than you can imagine. Know how to safely clear a firearm.
  • WHATEVER YOU DO, THE SOLUTION TO A MALFUNCTION IS NEVER LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU WERE EXPECTING A BANG! James May of TopGear did this once. He got off easy. Someone else who tried this only survived by the slightest luck!
  • There are three kinds of misfires: hangfire, dud, and squib.
    • Hangfire means the cartridge has a delay before firing. This is anywhere from the time you pulled the trigger to about 60 seconds.
    • A dud is when the cartridge won't ever fire, at least if left alone under proper storage conditions.
    • A squib occurs when there is insufficient expanding gas to expel the bullet from the barrel.
  • What to do in case of misfire:
    • If a cartridge does not fire, try again fire the weapon if you can recock the weapon without having to cycle the action (by cocking the hammer / pulling back the cocking piece / only work the bolt handle up and down / pulling the trigger on firearms that can do this.) Sometimes, round that are old or degraded need a second strike to set them off +/ take a bit of time. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction for 60 seconds in case of a hangfire. Then eject the cartridge and either put it well north of the firing line, or store it in a steel container AWAY FROM LIVE ROUNDS, and dispose of it properly at a later time. Dud cartridges should be treated as a live, and care should be taken when handling them.
      • If on a firing range, the range should always have such a receptacle for these. If it doesn't, you might want to go to a different range.
    • If there is light or no recoil, odd sound, or failure to cycle (with semi-automatic firearms), there's a good chance of a squib. DO NOT TRY TO FIRE ANOTHER ROUND TO PUSH IT OUT! THE BEST POSSIBLE OUTCOME IS RUINING YOUR BARREL! THE WORST IS GETTING KILLED BY YOUR EXPLODING GUN! Proper procedure if you think you have a squib fire is to cease firing and clear the feeding device of any additional ammunition. Clear the chamber.`Use a cleaning rod to clear the stuck bullet from the barrel. Don't worry about little grains of unburnt powder in the barrel -- happens even during perfect operation and it'll mostly blow/burn out the next time you fire.If you believe someone else had a squib fire, immediately call a cease fire and inform them that you believe they had a squib.
  • If there's a bullet in the casing, it's live. Even if there's a huge dent in the primer (dud rounds will often have a dent where the primer is)

2) Ammunition Safety

  • Always ensure that your ammunition is designed for use in your gun. Make sure you get the RIGHT ammunition. Many rounds may look similar, but they do not always work for that gun. Many rounds also have highly similar names but are totally not interchangeable. Some rounds have quite different names but are actually interchangable. Some rounds even go by multiple names! There are various degree of interchangeability. This comes down to design, dimensions, and pressure. Similar design means that the cartridge is of a type compatible with a firearm -- if it'll fit in the feeding device, engage properly with the mechanisms, seat properly in the chamber, extract properly, and so on. .308 Winchester and .307 Winchester have very similar names, but .307 uses a rimmed case and .308 uses a rimless case. They cannot be interchanged, because they are meant to interface with different mechanisms. Dimensions mean that the bullet will fit in the barrel properly. This is usually related to bullet diameter vs bore diameter. This tolerance is actually very tight, so +.01" is about the greatest allowable variance. The barrel and bullet must fit together properly. Too loose and the bullet bounces around inside the barrel, does not engage the rifling properly, and does not get the full benefit of the propellants. Too tight and the whole thing goes kaboom. Oftentimes, official caliber and weapon designations fail to accurately depict things like actual bore diameters and bullet diameters. Infamously, when the law started demanding that AK's be chopped up and reassembled to be sold in the US, the 5.45mm AK's sometimes got 5.56mm barrels, and US companies making 7.62x39 ammo for 7.62mm AK's sometimes used .308" diameter bullets when 7.62x39 demands a .311" bullet. Then there's pressure. Simply put, it's how much force the expanding gas of a gunshot generates inside the weapon. Cartridges of similar dimensions can have wildly different pressures. Too little pressure and you get poor performance or squibs. Too much and you get a kaboom. Now, to complicate things, there are acceptable pressure overlaps, which leads to things like being able to use .38 Special rounds in .357 Magnum revolvers, but not being able to use .357 Magnum ammunition in .38 Special revolvers. Now, there are three kinds of interchangeability.
    • The first kind is also the rarest. As an example, the 5.56x45 and .223 Remington are almost identical except the pressure generated and the gun's chamber shape. Same deal for 308 Winchester and 7.62x51 This is called fully interchangeable.
    • The second kind occurs with a few weapons. Most famously, there is .30 Mauser (7.63x25 - 7.63 is not a typo) and 7.62x25. 7.62x25 generates about 20% more pressure than 7.63x25, so both 7.63x25 and 7.62x25 can be used in weapons chambered for 7.62x25 (.30 Tokarev). However, 30 Tok cannot safely be used in weapons chambered for 30 Mauser. There is also 7.65x25 (30 Borschardt), which can be used in Borschardt pistols (good luck finding them OR their ammo), as well as in 30 Mauser pistols and 7.62x25 pistols, but the other two rounds cannot be used in a 30 Borschardt pistol. You can much more safely go lower pressure round in a higher pressure gun can than you can go higher pressure round in a lower pressure gun. .38 Special rounds can also be used in .357 Magnum weapons, but .357 Magnum rounds CANNOT be used in .38 Special weapons. Lot of .357 Magnum gun owners take advantage of this to train with the much cheaper, gentler, and more abundant .38 Special. This is called limited interchangeability.
    • The third kind occurs when calibers are just not compatible for whatever reason, despite having similar names, looking similar, or even perhaps sharing some names! This is called no interchangeability
      • Most infamously, there are all the 9mm's / 38's and all the 30 cal's / 7.62's. Just for the sake of convenient, I'll only do handgun rounds for the 9's and 38's, and rifle rounds for the 30's and 7.62's. For the 9's, there's 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger, 9mm NATO, 9x19, 9x18, 9mm Makarov, 9mm Ultra, 9x17, 9mm Kurz, 380 ACP, 38 Special, 38 Super, 9mm Largo, 9x23, 9mm Long, 9mm Super, 38 Long Colt, 380/200, 357 Magnum, 357 Sig... Which ones are interchangeable? Well, 9mm Parabellum, Luger, NATO and 9x19 are all the same cartridge. 9x18 and 9mm Makarov are the same round, but 9mm Ultra is also 9x18 but is incompatible with them. 9x17, 380 ACP, and 9x17 are the same round. 9mm Largo is the same as 9x23. The only two compatible rounds out of the whole slew are 38 Special and 357 Magnum, and only in the direction that Special works in Magnum but not the other way round. The rest are all totally separate rounds that cannot interchange whatsoever. For the 30's and 7.62's, there's 7.62x39, 30 Russian, 30 Soviet, 30 Tsar, 7.62x54, 7.62x54R, 7.62x54mmR, 7.62x53, 7.62x51, 308 Winchester, 7.62 NATO, 307 Winchester, 30-06, 7.62x63, 30-30, 30-40 300 AAC, 300 Blackout, 303 British, 7.62x35, 300 Whisper, 7-30 Waters, 7mm Mauser, 7mm08.. To do it again, 7.62x39 and 30 Soviet are the same thing, but 30 Russian can refer to either 7.62x39 or 7.62x54R. 7.62x54R can also be called 7.62x54mmR, 7.62x54, 30 Russian, or 30 Tsar. 7.62x53 is not exactly the same as 7.62x54, but they are fully interchangable. 7.62x54 and 7.62x53 are not compatible with 7.62x51. 7.62x51 is also called 7.62 NATO and is fully interchangeable with 308 Winchester. 308 Winchester is completely uninterchangeable with 307 Winchester. 30-06 is the same thing as 7.62x63. 30-06 and 30-30 and 30-40 are all completely uninterchangeable. 7.62x35 can refer to either 300 Blackout or 300 Whisper, but the two rounds are not completely safe to interchange. All the rest are not even closely related.
  • Store your ammunition properly. Keep it in its box, store it in proper clips and magazines, store it in ammo cans, keep it in its packets, keep it in its container, but do not let there just simply be loose rounds. Protect it from extreme heat and extreme cold. Keep it in a dry place. Be careful about humidity when it comes to ammunition with steel cases -- those cases can rust. Essentially, if you would feel comfortable in a room, it's okay for storing ammo.
  • Don't play with ammunition, especially lead ball ammo or hollow points that expose lead. Lead is still toxic and can harm you. Also, the primers of rounds are meant to explode when subjected to a sudden impact or penetration, but can also be set off by heat. Yes, rounds can go off if they fall from something like a table and land on a hard surface. Yes, rounds will go off if you slam them on their primers. Yes, rounds will go off if you stick something in the primer. Yes, rounds will go off if you throw them in a fire or the oven. Yes, rounds will go off if you stick them in the microwave.
  • Know where your ammunition came from, its age, and its condition. Random gun show reloads might be cheap, but replacing missing fingers is not. Purchase your ammunition from reputable sources. If it's made by a major company within the last 50 years, it's likely fine. Trustworthy ammo brands in no particular order include Wolf, Prvi Partizan, Red Army Standard, Nosler, Winchester, Remington, Sellier & Bellot, Gold Dot, Smith & Wesson, Federal, Fiocchi, Tullaamo, Brown Bear, Silver Bear, Golden Tiger, Barnaul, Colt, American Eagle, Speer, Hornady, Lapua, PMC, Barnes, Sierra, Black Hills, PPU, HSM, and Golden Bear.
    • Be wary of older rounds that are 50 years or older. While modern ammunition has a virtually infinite shell life, the number of dud, hangfire, and squib rounds does go up with age. Check the condition of primers and cases. Rusty cases, dented cases, corroded primers, and damaged primers are unacceptable. Military surplus is usually trustworthy.
  • Blank cartridges are not harmless, even if you are certain that they are blank. Depending on the type of weapon, it is possible for some combination of a jet of flame, burning particles of propellant, the blast of gas, and any foreign bodies in the barrel, to strike a person with enough heat and force to cause severe injury or death -- they are still EXPLOSIVES.[1] The Mythbusters tested the myth that plugging a firearm's barel can make it backfire out the breech end. Turns out not even welding the end shut with solid iron will do that -- the force of the shot still ejected the obstruction from the end of the barrel -- your flesh and bones won't even stand a chance. Never fire a blank cartridge directly at another person, or in close proximity to them, except for reenactments, and even then, just for safety, you're not actually aiming at them. The probability of these type of accidents is why movie and TV actors today undergo actual firearms training before shooting even flash-paper non-guns on set.

2) Maintenance & Modification

  • A new gun bought from the manufacturer will come with a manual as well as some cleaning tools.
  • Lubricate it the first chance you get. This will dramatically make it perform better and reduce the likelihood of having to deal with malfunctions. Transmission fluid works wonders, is cheap, and can also be used for cleaning.
  • Always ensure your gun is properly cleaned and maintained before and after firing. Cleaning kits are normally cheap and can prevent accidents and jams. If using corrosive ammunition, wash out the gun's barrel, chamber, and bolt with water as soon as possible after shooting. Then dry it off with paper towels, and then do your normal cleaning procedure. Failure to wash with water, or to dry the water off, will result in rusting of the firearm, quite possible extensively in the case of even just the first time with the former.
  • Only use cleaning products that are safe for use in your weapon. For example, ammonia based solvents will damage nickel finishes and other products should be used instead. Check the manual or contact the manufacturer if you are unsure if a product, tool, or technique is safe and effective to use on a particular firearm.
  • If there is significant damage to the gun, do not try to fix it yourself unless you are a certified and licensed gunsmith. Take it to a certified and licensed gunsmith for repair and any major maintenance.
  • Do not customize your weapon yourself unless you are knowledgeable enough to be sure that you have done any modifications safely. Some modifications are "drop in" and can be done by just about anyone with a simple guide and maybe some tools. If you are unsure about a given modification, take it to a professional gunsmith and ask a professional's opinion as to the viability and safety in doing so.
    • To clarify, this rule is about doing something such as working with the gas system, the safety, or headspacing. As a general rule, the external modifications such as adding slings and accessories is fine. It's the internal modifications you need to watch out for.
  • When your gun is not in use, store it unloaded (of course) and in a secure location, such as in a locked gun safe. Even if you don't own a safe, make sure you have cases for all your firearms that you don't carry holstered, and keep all your guns not somewhere just anyone could pick it up or walk off with it. If you have children, keep the weapons out of their reach and teach them the rules of gun safety as soon as they are old enough to understand that they must respect guns and handle them properly. Just hiding the guns away from the kids and not ever teaching them safety or giving them experience with them will only serve to motivate the kids to be even more curious about them and to try to get at them unsupervised. Remember, ALL weapons handling by your children must be done either in your PERSONAL supervision, or in the supervision of a RESPONSIBLE adult who takes gun safety seriously. Do not let them take the guns out to show off to their friends, or for show and tell, or take it to school for whatever reason. Be stern and unyielding about gun safety. Same goes for ammo -- don't let them get at it.

Ignore those that decry these rules; you will outlive them.

(Footnote: while we have done our best to make the above information clear, concise, and comprehensive, there is no substitute for actual training with firearms. Such training can be had from many sources, ranging from major organizations like the US National Rifle Association to local shooting clubs. This page is not intended to be used as a substitute for said training.)

Notes

  1. This is what caused the death of Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow, and the death of Jon-Erik Hexum on the set of Cover Up.
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