Oh where to begin on such a subject without sounding like a kindergarten teacher. Well at the risk of sounding like just that, I will start where anyone who teaches about firearms should start, and that is on safety.
Many folks out there who teach others how to shoot, will tell you there are what they call "The 4 Rules". They will try to convince you, and probably will convince you if you are a newcomer to the world of firearms, that these 4 rules are the bedrock of firearms safety. They may tell you how Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote them up in one of his books. Then they will tell you all about Colonel Cooper. Then they also may tell you these 4 rules are all you need to be concerned with concerning firearms safety. If they tell you that these rules are all you need be concerned with, or are primarily all you need to be concerned with, then they are, in my opinion, absolutely wrong! There are quite a few more cardinal rules of firearms safety to which you need to adhere devoutly.
Now before any of you firearms aficionados, and lovers of the recently deceased Colonel Jeff Cooper, get all bent out of shape thinking that I am debasing your idol or hero; or that I am not qualified to speak about firearms safety, allow me to give you some of my background relative the subject. I have been shooting since I was about 9 years old. I learned the rules of firearms safety way back then, which would be about 42 years ago. There were quite a few more rules being taught back then than now. In 1979, I entered the federal service as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. I have also been employed as a Customs Patrol officer, Customs Investigator, Customs Special Agent, and am currently an ICE Agent. I have done temporary duties with the U.S. Secret Service, and with the Federal Air Marshals (this right after 9/11). I have been in armed, and other life threatening, encounters at work. Thankfully not where anyone has shot at me, but I have been whacked with quite a few hard objects, and had one guy try to slice and dice me; and I had one guy take a small chunk out of my arm by biting me after he tried to grab my own revolver to shoot me. (Hmm, I guess there was one time at work then when someone did try to point a gun at me, but was not successful.) As part of my collateral duties I was assigned as a firearms instructor for about 14 years. I was also assigned as a Confrontational Safety Awareness Instructor (hand to hand defensive maneuvers, and how to avoid confrontation if possible) for several years; and was assigned as a Chemical Spray Instructor for several years. As to firearms, I instructed other agents in how to shoot: revolvers, pistols, shotguns, rifles, and sub-machineguns.
I do not instruct any loner, and have not done so for about 5 years now because I apparently pissed off a boss and they removed me from the job I liked best. It had nothing to do with anything I had done at the range or in my duties as a firearms instructor as far as I am aware, and was more likely to do with my big mouth in the office. I often tell bosses what they do not like to hear, which is the truth about how things are being done at work. When it sucks, I let them know in no uncertain terms. I can only imagine this is why I was told not to report to the range any longer, because it happened right after a conflict with one of my bosses under the newly formed agency known as ICE, and there was plenty about which I was remarking at the time, therefore there were a few bosses pissed off at me. They still refuse to give me a reason for all this, and I have stopped asking. Just wanted to get that out of the way.
Despite no longer giving instruction on my job, I still train relentlessly with firearms. I also teach my son how t shoot rifle and shotgun. Last year he went on his first ever big game hunt. We went to Maine on a semi guided bear hunt. When the guide had everyone in camp shoot at a target to make sure they knew what they were doing, Brendan (my son) shot right through the center of the bulls eye. He was the youngest hunter in the group. I could see that the guide thought it was a fluke and he asked him to shoot at the target again. Right after the 2nd shot, the guides dad sounded off with two words: "he's ready". Brendan had another shot that had touched the first. He got a bear on that hunt, shot it exactly in the kill zone, right through the heart. In addition to a successful hunt, let me tell you he handled the firearm safely at all times. This was commented upon to me by the guides more than once, and I can assure you had he been unsafe, the hunt of a lifetime would have ended immediately. I am a stickler for safety with guns. As you will learn, I have made my own mistakes with them, and you can bet I have learned from them.
I digress. Okay, back on subject a little more directly.
Firearms safety is the responsibility of almost anyone who picks up a firearm, who stores a firearm, who displays a firearm, or who simply owns a firearm. Note I said almost anyone. If a toddler picks up a firearm, well then firearms safety is not his/her responsibility is it. Yet someone is responsible for safety with said firearm, and is responsible for allowing the baby to get hold of it. Think about it.
Whenever you handle, store, display a firearm, or firearms, there are certain safety rules to follow in order to help assure that no one is These rules have been around for many, many years. They are not difficult to learn, and they are not that numerous that you cannot learn them all relatively quickly. You will see there are quite a few more than 4 of them; and with all due respect to the departed Colonel Cooper, how anyone could have reduced them to 4 seems irresponsible to me.
Here are the rules that I believe we must follow each time we are involved with firearms:
1. Learn the rules of firearms safety before handling any firearm or ammunition. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
2. Get proper training about the particular firearm, that you are about to handle, before you handle it. (That means before you touch a firearm in any way shape or form. Such could just be a briefing from the person handing it to you, or such could be reading the manual that comes with a new gun.) Funny how often people leave out this rule, but it is not funny when you are at the range and see a guy who is totally flummoxed on how to operate the firearms he is handling, and then violates some of the other rules while trying to figure it out. Having such a person point a gun at you is a sobering experience. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life..
3. Each time you handle a weapon, treat it as if it were loaded.
If you are about to do anything but shoot from the draw out of a holster, then check to see if it is loaded or not before you do anything else (hopefully if you are in a shooting from the draw situation you have checked to make sure it was indeed loaded before getting to that point of shooting it). This means even if you already checked, know it is unloaded, and you put it down - even for only a second or two - when you pick it back up you must treat it as if loaded and check again to see if it is loaded or not. In fact you always treat a gun as a loaded weapon in any shooting, showing, handling situation except in certain circumstances such as cleaning it, but even then, each time you handle it, you handle it as if it were loaded and check to make sure if it is or not. When you check the firearm, remove the ammunition - this includes any in a magazine, the cylinder, or in the chamber. Then look and feel to make sure it is empty, do this at least twice. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life..
4. Always point a firearm in the relatively safest direction - and this applies whether it is loaded or not. (I am sure you have heard the excuse, after someone got shot, that the shooter did not know the gun was loaded. Well the accidental shooter just violated rule number 1 and rule number 2; and as you will see, likely rule number 3 too.) Remember too that a safe direction is not always up, or down, or to the right or to the left, or straight ahead. A safe direction depends upon the circumstances in which you find yourself, and some directions may be relatively safer than others in this regard, use the direction you think is safest. Point the firearm in the safest direction of which you can think. Of course there can be exceptions, such as if checking for a barrel obstruction and you have to look down the barrel, but then make sure to follow rules 1, 2 and 4, and even follow this rule until you actually have to look and only do so in a safe place, don't start doing this by turning the gun around with other people in the potential line of fire. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life..
5. Always keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Most guns, in good working order, will not go off unless you squeeze the trigger; some guns in good working order can though, and others with malfunctioning parts can too, so again you see the importance of rules 1 & 2 above. Again, there are exceptions since some guns require you to squeeze the trigger to make them safe or disassemble them (like many Glocks), but then again follow the other safety rules. Carry out this rule concurrently with rule 3 and 2.
For example, you are at a range, you finished shooting, and you have unloaded your gun. You place it on the bench pointed downrange. You get your gun case. You pick up the weapon and point it not downrange but to the right to get it into your gun case. As you do so, you fiddle with the safety, the gun goes bang and shoots the guy next to you. You unloaded the gun, you did not have your finger on the trigger, you were putting it away. What did you do wrong? First of all, you forgot to remove the bullet in the chamber when you thought you unloaded it by removing the magazine full of bullets. This happens, even to well experienced shooters, call it a brain fart - one that can be deadly. Then you laid it down and picked it up again without checking again to see if it was loaded; and it was indeed loaded. Then you pointed it in an unsafe direction while handling and operating it (even if only operating the safety). Then it went bang. Now you are in jail, and someone is dead. Don't think this could happen, just inquire about certain Remington bolt action firearms, because other people swear this is just about what happened to them. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
6. Make sure that any firearm you are handling is in proper working order before attempting to shoot it. Common sense, you can bet it is not because people assume too much. When going to the range it is always a good idea to make sure the barrel is unobstructed before shooting it. Of course this sometimes requires looking down the barrel, so you had better make sure that you have checked and double checked to see that the gun was unloaded before doing so. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
7. Always use the correct ammunition for the firearms you are shooting. Again, this sounds like common sense, but it is a confusing subject to the new comer what with all the calibers out there. Most guns are marked with what caliber they shoot, but if in doubt ask the manufacturer if possible, otherwise ask a competent gunsmith. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
8. Never mix alcohol or illicit mind altering drugs with firearms; and make sure that prescription drugs do not affect you to the point where you cannot safely handle a firearm. Is this common sense, it should be, but you might be surprised just how many people have a few drinks, or smoke just one, while or before they shoot. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
9. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond. Some may wonder why it took me so long to get to this rule. Well if you are out shooting, and you have not already followed the other rules, chances are you are wounded or dead by now, or that you have wounded or killed someone else.
For example, you are out target shooting, you find a nice hill, and you place your targets along the bottom of the hill, using the hill as a back stop. Not bad, but did you ever check to see what was on the other side of the hill. People often shoot over backstops either because of poor shooting habits, or because of ricochets. Another example is you are out hunting, you see a deer, It walks behind a bush, but then its head emerges. You know your deer, and you can easily figure where its body is located behind the bush. You decide to shoot. The shot misses, passes through the bush and hits the other hunter who was 50 yards away behind the bush and obstructed from your view. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
10. Wear eye and ear protection while shooting or observing someone shoot. Again you would think this is common sense, but I can assure you such is not the case. All too many folks hear a constant ringing in their ears because of gun shot noise. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
11. Always keep your gun unloaded when not in use. In other words when put into storage, even if only for the short term. This is a good idea just in case you screw up on rule number 2 the next time you handle it. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
12. Always store guns and ammunition securely. This can mean either locked away in a safe, or a gun cabinet. It can also mean out in plain view but with a secure trigger or action lock in place. It is best to store ammunition away from firearms. Keep storage as safe as practical, but make sure it is safe. You don't need non-informed persons picking up your own gun and shooting you, or themselves, with it. It also keeps the kiddies safe. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
13. Make absolutely certain that anyone else with whom you shoot, or to whom you allow access to a firearms, observes these rules. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life.
14. Think firearms safety, whenever around firearms, it could save a life. This phrase appears 13 times above. The word ‘think’ appears about 20 times. There really is a good reason I repeated them so many times: The life I save by teaching you to be safe, and to think about firearms safety, may be my own. Think about that regarding your own life, or that of your spouse, your children, your friends, and the stranger next to you at the range - he could be me.
You may want to abide by 4 rules (which are in essence included in the above 14 rules) thinking they are enough, but if you really want to make sure you shoot safely, my advice would be to follow the other rules too. It would take all of about 5 minutes to explain 4 rules to someone, and all of about 15 or 20 minutes to explain the above to someone. Really think about it, and ask yourself: "Would it be worth taking that little extra time, and effort, to make sure the person handling the firearms knows how to do it safer than by just the 4 rules? I think the answer is a no brainer; and I am often surprised at just how many folks disagree with me. You have to decide for yourself. Safe shooting, handling, gunsmithing, collecting - or whatever is our responsibility.
All the best,