More specific rules of safe gun handling

Safety Rules Related to the Shooter and His or Her Behavior

  1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
  2. Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm from another person, until the cylinder or action is open and you've personally checked that the weapon is completely unloaded.
  3. Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
  4. Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.  The primary safety is the individual's actions and behavior!
  5. Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger you can't take back the shot you've just fired! You are personally and LEGALLY responsible for the bullet from the moment it leaves the gun until it stops moving. 
  6. Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling or using firearms.
  7. Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or impaired in any way. Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
  8. Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if you sleepwalk, have nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other sleep problems.
  9. Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always wear eye and ear protection. Endeavor to limit your exposure to heavy metal particulates and gases and minimize your contact with aromatic organic solvents (such as those commonly used in gun cleaning products).
  10. If you see unsafe behavior any time when firearms are being handled or used, speak up and take action to correct the unsafe behavior at once.  Leave the scene if you have to!
  11. Receive competent instruction from a qualified person before beginning to shoot. If questions arise later, after you've been shooting for a period of time, get answers to those questions from a competent authority.

Safety Rules Related to Your Target

  1. Positively identify your target and the threat that it poses - before firing at it.
  2. What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot, or a bullet which penetrates the target through and through, will be safely stopped.
  3. Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may glance off, ricochet and injure someone.
  4. Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate targets which would create a hazard for other persons or damage the environment.
  5. Never shoot directly upwards into the sky, or at a high angle of elevation.  Even a 22 rimfire bullet fired at an angle into the air has enough residual energy 1-1/2 miles away to kill a person!
  6. Never shoot across a highway or other roadway.
  7. Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private property) by using it as a target.  Not only is this reckless but it is illegal!
  8. Never poach a game animal out of season, or shoot any game animal you do not intend to eat.

Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm

  1. Make sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before firing it. Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of erosion, cracking, or wear by the factory, a qualified armorer or a compitent gunsmith.
  2. Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially obstructed barrel.
  3. Insure that any modifications made to a firearm are made by a qualified individual, and that those modifications do not interfere with safety features.
  4. Be sure all accessories such as holsters and grips are compatible with the firearm and do not interfere with its safe operation.
  5. It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is always either about your person and under your personal control.  All firearms must be positively secured from access by children or other unauthorized parties. Prevent tragedy: lock down your firearms when they aren't in use.
  6. Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an inertial firing pin.
  7. Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
  8. Generally avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type firearm with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in decocking any external hammer firearm: it is very easy to experience an negligent discharge while doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
  9. Generally avoid unloading a firearm by working the cartridges through the action one-at-a-time; drop the magazine and then eject the round which may be left in the chamber, instead, if possible.
  10. Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting scope; while observing an area you may end up accidentally aiming your firearm at fellow hunters, or other non-targets.
  11. Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a semiautomatic pistol) by cupping your hand around the ejection port while retracting the slide; doing so may result in an negligent discharge.

Safety Rules Related to Ammunition

  1. Be sure your gun and ammunition are compatible. Shooting incorrect ammunition in a firearm may cause it to be damaged or even make it blow up.
  2. Relying on ammunition which doesn't feed reliably in your particular firearm may make your firearm malfunction at a critical juncture; get experience with a particular lot of ammunition in your firearm before relying on it for defensive purposes.
  3. Use only ammunition recommended for your firearm by its manufacturer. Never fire ammunition which exceeds industry standard pressure specifications. Over-pressure ammunition will reduce the service life of your handgunand puts you and those around you at risk of injury from a catastrophic firearm failure.
  4. Use reloaded ammunition judiciously. Be aware that many firearms manufacturers specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their products, and will void their product's warranty if you elect to use reloaded ammunition. 
  5. Use only FACTORY LOADED ammunition for your daily carry firearm.  Never use reloaded ammunition! First, factory ammo is statistically MORE RELIABLE, they load millions of trouble free rounds each year; Secondly, if you ever have to use your firearm in a self-defense situatiuon, at least until the details are sorted out, you WILL be detained, your gun WILL be confiscated and you WILL have to appear in court (even if it is a justified shooting).  The prosecuting attorney WILL use the fact that you used reloaded ammo AGAINST YOU and claim that you just weren't satisfied with factory ammo, you had to cook up MORE DEADLY reloads.  Always use factory ammunition and avoid this situation all together!
  6. Also remember that a cartridge which has the wrong powder, no powder charge, too large/low a powder charge, inverted primer, mis-seated primer, the wrong primer, an inert primer, a mis-seated, inverted, or mis-sized bullet, a collapsed, weakened, improperly sized or mis-crimped case, incorrect overall length, or any of a host of other defects may seriously jeopardize your safety, and that of those around you, and/or the reliability of your firearm in a defensive situation.
  7. Many shooters prepare and safely use reloaded ammunition each day, and it can be an economical way to stretch your ammunition budget, but the safety of that reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care, components, equipment, and practices used in preparing it.
  8. Insure you carry sufficient spare ammunition for your defensive firearm, and make sure you carry it in a readily employable fashion (such as in spare magazines or in speedloaders).
  9. Store ammunition that isn't being used under lock and key, inaccessible to unauthorized parties and children.
  10. Dispose of unwanted ammunition safely.

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BASIC GUN SAFETY - rules that should be followed at all times!

1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

(For those who insist that this particular gun is unloaded, see Rule 1)

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

This is the Golden Rule. Its violation is directly responsible for about 60 % of inadvertent discharges.

4. Identify your target, and what is behind it. Never shoot at anything that you have not positively identified.


VIDEO - Introduction to Range Safety and Etiquette (general audience) view online

A general-audience program is a great introduction to firearms safety rules and etiquette at the indoor range for those visiting for the first time and a great reminder for experienced shooters.

What if a child were to encounter a firearm in an unsupervised situation?

NSSF addresses this safety concern through educational video programs appropriate for school safety programs.

Teachers: A print discussion guide for the two school video programs is included.

  • VIDEO - McGruff the Crime Dog on Gun Safety (grades K-6)  view online

PDF downloads for this video: Teacher's Guide | Safety Pledge | Brochure

  • VIDEO - It's Your Call: Playing It Safe Around Guns (grades 6-9)  view online

PDF downloads for this video: Teacher's Guide | Safety Pledge | Brochure

  • ​VIDEO - Firearms Safety Depends On You (general audience) view online

PDF downloads from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) for general firearms safety with kids.

Parents Guide to Recreation Shooting for Youngsters  |  Firearms Responsibility in the Home  |  The Ethical Hunter

​​Project ChildSafe Printable Bookmark  |  Project ChildSafe Pledge


The Smart Parent's Guide to Firearm Safety

Is is safe to put LIVE ammo in a tumbler?

The DANGERS of Bullets Fired Straight Up Into The Air

Why the Winchester 9mm NATO Bulk Ammo May be Bad for Your Pistol  -  9MM Luger and 9MM NATO are very different!

Claude Werner Avoiding Negative Outcomes - Part 1 of 3

Claude Werner Avoiding Negative Outcomes, Self-Inflicted Gun Shot Wounds - Part 2 of 3

Claude Werner Avoiding Negative Outcomes, Self-Inflicted Gun Shot Wounds - Part 3 of 3