Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

Beginner and advanced shooters should always follow basic safety rules concerning their shotguns and ammunition. These rules are essential if you wish to be taken seriously at any major shooting event. Remember, if not used safely, guns can cause serious injury or even death.

As with any shooting sport, a loaded gun can eventually become comfortable, and the danger is forgotten. However, it’s always necessary to treat your gun and your sport with the respect it deserves. If in doubt, please ask!

Rule 1: Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

This is the most important gun safety rule. A safe direction is one in which an accidental discharge will not cause injury to yourself or others. Never allow your gun to point at anything you don’t intend to shoot.

Be especially careful when you’re loading or unloading. Treat every gun as if it were loaded. Make it a habit to know where your muzzle is pointed at all times, even when your firearm is unloaded. No one will be injured by an accidental discharge if you keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. It’s as simple as that.

Rule 2: Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.

Load your firearm only when you’re  at the station, in the box and ready to fire. Never let a loaded gun out of your sight or out of your hands. Ensure it’s completely unloaded it as soon as you’re finished shooting—before you leave the box and bring it into your car, the club, or home. Remember, unloading your firearm means unloading it completely, so there is no ammunition in the chamber, receiver, or the magazine.

Before handling a firearm or passing it to someone else, visually check the chamber, receiver, and magazine to ensure they do not contain ammunition. Always keep the gun’s action open when not in use. Never assume a gun is unloaded, even if you were the last person to use it. Always check for yourself.

Let common sense rule when you carry a loaded gun. Always unload your gun if you are in any situation that could risk accident discharge Never pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. Never carry a loaded gun in an ATV/UTV, car, truck, or gun case.

Safe storage of firearms is just as critical as safe handling.

Never store guns loaded, and be sure to keep your firearms in a secure place where no one touches them without your knowledge. Take special care if there are children around. Kids are fascinated by guns. It’s a natural curiosity that can have tragic consequences when not properly supervised. Store your firearms in a locked gun safe or another location that physically bars a child from gaining access. Ammunition should be stored and locked in a location separate from your firearms.

Never leave an unsecured firearm or ammunition in a vehicle, closet, dresser drawer, or under the bed. Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure that children and others unfamiliar with firearms cannot get access to your firearms and ammunition.

Rule 3: Don’t rely on your gun’s safety.

Treat every gun as if it can fire at any time, whether or not there’s pressure on the trigger.

Your firearm has been carefully designed to maximize performance and safety. However, a gun’s safety is a mechanical device, and like any mechanical device, it could fail.

Human error is a more likely reason for a gun safety to fail. By mistake, you may think the safety is on when it’s not. The safety may have been disengaged without your knowledge, or you may think your gun is unloaded when there’s actually a cartridge or shell in it.

A safety is not a substitute for common sense. It’s merely a supplement to your proper handling of a firearm.

Don’t touch the trigger on a firearm until you are ready to shoot. Keep your fingers away from the trigger when you’re loading or unloading. And don’t pull the trigger when the safety is engaged or positioned anywhere between safe and fire.

Read your instruction manual to understand the exact location and operation of your firearm’s safety. Even when the safety is on, maintain control of your loaded firearm and control the direction of the muzzle. In other words, don’t rely on your safety to justify careless handling. If your firearm’s internal mechanisms are broken or altered, your firearm may fire even when the safety is on. Remember, you and your safe gun handling practices are your gun’s best safety.

Rule 4: Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.

You can’t stop a shot in mid-air, so do not fire unless you know exactly where your shot is going and what it will strike. Never fire at a sound, a movement, or a patch of color.

A hunter in camouflage can easily be mistaken for a target by an impulsive shooter. Before you pull the trigger, be absolutely sure of your target and what’s behind it. Make sure your shot has a backstop such as a hillside or dense material like sand.

Remember, bullets can travel great distances with tremendous velocity. Know how far your shot will go if you miss your target or the bullet ricochets.

Rule 5: Use proper ammunition.

Every firearm is designed to use a certain caliber or gauge of ammunition. Using the wrong ammunition, mixing ammunition, or improperly reloaded ammunition can cause serious personal injury or death. It only takes one cartridge or shotshell of the incorrect caliber or gauge, or one which has been improperly reloaded to destroy your firearm.

As a gun owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure the ammunition you use exactly matches your gun’s caliber or gauge. Refer to the instruction manual to find out the specific requirements of your firearm. Always read and heed the instructions on ammunition boxes.

Examine your shells and cartridges closely and use only the precise caliber or gauge for your specific firearm.

For example, suppose you accidentally loaded a 20 ga. shell into a 12 ga. shotgun. Because the 20 ga. shell is too small for the chamber, the 20 ga. shell could travel down the barrel and get lodged in the bore. If you then loaded a standard 12 ga. shell behind it and fire, the 12 ga. shot will slam into the lodged 20 ga. shell and may cause the barrel to explode right in your hands. This is commonly called a 12/20 burst, and it can kill you.

Check all ammunition before you load it to make sure it matches your gun’s requirements. Most cartridges and shells are head-stamped with its caliber or gauge for easy identification. Likewise, you’ll find the caliber or gauge of your firearm imprinted on the barrel.

Reloading requires extra diligence.

If you’re an ammunition reloader, you are responsible for personally assuring that the loads and components of your reloaded ammunition meet your gun’s factory-tested standards. Never use ammunition that has been reloaded by someone else.

Many shooters handload as a hobby or to save money on commercial, factory-made ammunition. However, it requires a thorough knowledge of reloading procedures and a deep respect for the explosive potential of gunpowder.

Firearms are designed, manufactured, and proof-tested to standards based on factory-loaded ammunition. Handloaded or reloaded ammunition that deviates, either intentionally or inadequately, from load or component recommendations, can be very dangerous. Reloaders must observe all possible safety precautions and practices related to the proper handling of explosives. Whether you’re a seasoned reloader or just starting out, you should study the subject, watch reloading demonstrations, and talk to experienced reloaders.

The first rule of reloading is to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the components you’re using. They’ll tell you to follow specific guidelines, namely:

  • Don’t mix or substitute powders or primers.
  • Don’t use unknown or substandard components.
  • Use only suitable components that have been factory tested by reputable ammunition, powder, and bullet manufacturers.
  • Always be sure to use the manufacturer’s recommended recipe when reloading.

Not following these guidelines could result in severe damage to your firearm or yourself. Dangerously high pressure and explosions can result from an overcharge of powder, use of the wrong powder, incorrect shot selection, or other deviations from established reloading guidelines. Be very careful.

The process of reloading exposes you to environmentally hazardous materials. Lead is the most common substance in bullets and shot. It is essential to handle lead bullets and shot with extreme care. Work only in a well-ventilated area and always wash your hands after exposure and before eating. Never smoke while reloading.

Primers and powders are also highly toxic and flammable. After reloading, be sure to clean up all materials from your work area. Don’t leave primer or powder spills anywhere on the floor or benchtop. Dispose of all waste materials in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Finally, when reloading or handloading, concentrate on what you’re doing at all times. Do not be distracted by talking to others, listening to the radio, or watching TV. Never reload after or while consuming alcoholic beverages or drugs of any kind. You are working with extremely hazardous materials, and you can’t risk even a few seconds of distraction. Remember, if you reload, you are the ammunition manufacturer, and you are responsible for the performance and safety of your reloaded ammunition.

Rule 6: If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle it with care.

If, for some reason, the ammunition doesn’t fire when you pull the trigger, stop and remember the First Commandment of Firearm Safety—always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

Keep your face away from the breech, then put the safety on, carefully open the action, unload the firearm, and dispose of the cartridge safely. Remember, anytime there’s a shell in the chamber, your gun is loaded and ready to use. Even if you tried to shoot and your gun didn’t fire, treat your firearm as if it could still discharge.

Rule 7: Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.

Your sight and hearing risk injury from shooting and should be protected at all times.

Wear protective shooting glasses to guard against falling shots, clay target chips, powder residue, ruptured cartridge cases, and even twigs and branches in the field. Also, be sure to wear eye protection when you’re disassembling or cleaning a gun so that tensioned parts (like springs) and cleaning solvents don’t come in contact with your eyes.

Continued exposure to shooting noise can permanently damage your hearing. On the range, where shooting volume is the loudest, be sure to use the maximum protection of a headset. Learn to use earplugs in the field, especially in confined locations like duck blinds.

Rule 8: Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.

Before loading your gun, open the action and make sure there’s no ammunition in the chamber or magazine. Check the barrel for any obstructions or debris. Even a small amount of snow, mud, excess lubricant, or grease in the bore can dangerously increase pressure and cause the barrel to bulge or burst when firing.

Use a cleaning rod and patch to wipe away anti-rust compounds, other residues, or obstructions in the barrel. Never try to shoot out an obstruction by loading another shell and firing!

When firing, rely on your instincts. If the noise or recoil from your firearm seems off or weak, stop everything, unload your firearm and be sure nothing is lodged in the barrel. A 12/20 burst can happen when the barrel is obstructed. Always be sure you’re using the correct ammunition in your firearm and that it’s free of obstructions. Watch very carefully for shotgun shell decoupling of the brass and casing when ejecting the shell casing.  This can occur with brand new shells as well as reloads.

Rule 9: Don’t alter or modify your gun and have it serviced regularly

Your firearm has been designed to operate according to certain factory specifications. You’ll jeopardize your safety and that of others around you by attempting to alter its trigger, safety, or other mechanisms. Never alter or modify your firearm in any way.

Like any mechanical device, a firearm is subject to wear. It must be maintained and periodically serviced to assure optimum safety and performance. Don’t allow anyone to service, repair, or modify your firearm unless they are a qualified gunsmith.

Proper cleaning and lubrication are also important to firearm maintenance and are necessary to assure accuracy, safety, and reliability. Before cleaning, always make sure that your gun is completely unloaded. Always clean the barrel from the chamber end to the muzzle when possible.

Make it a practice to clean your bore every time you’re going to shoot. Be sure to clean your entire gun before and after long-term storage, and no less than once a year. It’s also important to clean your gun whenever it has been exposed to adverse conditions such as rain, dirt, mud, snow, sleet, or saltwater.

For the safe and dependable operation of your firearm, all parts of your gun must be properly cleaned and lubricated. Periodically inspect your firearm’s internal workings to be sure they’re clean and free of rust, unwanted dirt, and debris.

Use recommended lubricants on your gun, and do not over-lubricate. Excessive use of a non-recommended lubricant could adversely affect the function and safe operation of your firearm. Remember, you are responsible for the proper care and maintenance of your firearm. Failure to properly maintain your firearm not only can damage or ruin your firearm, but it can also expose you and others to unnecessary risks of personal injury or death.

Rule 10: Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.

Not all guns are alike. They have different mechanical characteristics that dictate how you should carry and handle them. Anyone who plans to use a firearm should first become completely familiar with that type of firearm and the safe handling procedures for loading, unloading, carrying, shooting, and storing it.

Before you even unpack your new firearm, read the instruction manual from cover to cover and familiarize yourself with the different component parts of the gun. Then read, understand, and follow the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety.