The “10 Commandments of Gun Safety” are a valuable expansion to the classic 4 rules of gun safety. While these rules may appear common sense at face value, every new shooter should do well to abide by them in order to always stay safe when handling a firearm, and limit/reduce your chances of an accident to be virtually zero.
So… “What are the 10 commandments of gun safety?”
1st Commandment: Always keep the muzzle of your firearm pointed in a safe direction!
This is perhaps the most important rule of gun safety, because it eliminates almost all other threats due to other forms of improper handling. You can’t accidentally kill someone if your gun isn’t pointed at them in the first place. So, no fooling around! Always be in the habit of pointing your gun in a safe direction and it will become second nature!
2nd Commandment: Firearms should be unloaded when not in use, and secured from unauthorized access!
This is especially important when you have kids in the house. It’s also an important reason to teach everyone in your home to handle firearms safely and responsibly as well! Likewise, in the case of a burglary, at least you’ve made it a little harder for the thieves. In a home defense scenario, a gun that is not immediately in sight but ready to use is ideal. Biometric safes are a great option to keep guns both ready to deploy, as well as out of immediate reach from unauthorized users. They’ve also become much more reliable in recent years.
3rd Commandment: Never rely on a firearm’s manual safety mechanism, or use it to justify bad/unsafe gun handling!
It is often said that your gun’s best safety, is your common sense, and using your head. When you’re handling a firearm safely and properly, pointing it in a safe direction, keeping your finger off the trigger and so on, there’s no true need for a manual safety. This is evident in extremely safe modern designs, such as Glock handguns. For other handguns, the addition of a manual safety can just be a bonus. And whether your safety is on, or whether your gun has a manual safety or not, it is NO EXCUSE to mess around. NO pretending to play Russian Roulette, NO pointing your gun at your buddies as a joke. And of course, no excuses like, “But the safety is on, bro!” Moving parts fail, and out of negligence in picking up a loaded gun that you don’t know is loaded, you could end someone’s life in an instant. Be safe.
4th Commandment: Know your target, and what’s beyond it!
It’s not only important to consider what you’re aiming, but also important to consider what is behind your target. Whether your shot penetrates through the target, or you miss, whatever is beyond the target won’t care. It will be hit. God forbid it end up being a person, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best places to shoot are into a good, sturdy backstop. Sand, steel, into a hill where the bullet will end up in the ground and so on, are great things to consider. One thing you should avoid doing is shooting upward, towards the peak of a hill. Bullets can travel incredible distances when shot in an upward arc, but this should be obvious. You just never know where it could end up.
5th Commandment: Use proper ammunition for your firearm!
Your gun is designed to fire a specific cartridge, so always be sure you’re loading the right ammunition! There exist many, many examples of calibers that will fit and chamber in a firearm of a different caliber, only to potentially cause a catastrophic failure. One deadly example, would be to mix 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells. Someone, either through lack of knowledge, or negligence, could load a 20 gauge shell into a 12 gauge shotgun, only to hear a “click”. Forgetting the 20 gauge shell is stuck in the barrel, they fire a proper 12 gauge shell. Boom. People have died this way. Never mix your ammo, and if you’re not sure what cartridge a gun is designed for, read the markings! If that doesn’t help, read the manual. Past that, take the time to do the research! Always take care, because mistakes can lead to deadly results. Another example would be loading .22 Long Rifle, into a .22 Magnum (WMR) gun. They are NOT interchangeable cartridges! On the other hand, you can fire a .38 special round, in a firearm chambered for .357 magnum, unless instructed otherwise. This is because a .357 Magnum is simply an extended .38 Special. Again, do the research and take proper care for your own safety!
6th Commandment: If your gun fails to fire, handle it with care!!
Sometimes, a chambered round will not fire properly. If this occurs, just stay where you are, and keep your gun pointed down range. There is a possibility that the round could still fire. Wait at least 30 seconds before ejecting the round, if possible. There are several ways to tackle this issue. In the case of a double-action semi-auto firearm, if you know for certain that you caused the malfunction, you should be okay to attempt to strike the round again. If this happens unexpectedly, again, wait 30 seconds, take out the firearm magazine, and eject the cartridge. Dispose of it promptly and safely.
7th Commandment: Always wear eye and ear protection!
Far too often, people look at eye and hearing protection as a joke, especially when firing something like a .22 rifle. Make no mistake, while a few shots without hearing protection from a .22 will not cause significant damage to your hearing, it will certainly add up. When firing larger calibers, even a single shot is enough to cause measurable damage to your hearing, so just don’t do it!
“But what about when I’m hunting?”
Yes it’s true, in a hunting scenario, you’ll want to have full access to your hearing and keep your wits about you. I think most will make an exception to only a shot or two out in the field. But when you can control for these things, always be sure to wear hearing protection.
As for eye protection, I have a personal anecdote. I was at a small range a few years ago. They had steal at a few different distances, but warned rangegoers to only shoot the 50 yard steel with .22’s. Obviously, someone didn’t listen. Upon shooting my .22 at the steel, I felt a significant strike/pinch on my arm. I thought a wasp had stung me, but when I didn’t see anything, I ignored it. The second shot? dead at the center of my eye, striking my glasses. The steel targets had cratered and sent fragments of lead and copper back at me. Since my eyeglasses are made of polycarbonate, there’s little reason for me to wear eye protection. But had they not protected me, who knows if I’d be blind?
Moral of the story? Get yourself a pair of protective glasses, as well as some hearing protection. Neither are expensive, and they could save you a lot of trouble.
8th Commandment: Ensure the barrel is clear of obstructions before firing!
This one is a little tougher to stay on top of, but again, a mistake here could lead to deadly results, so always take proper care! First, I’d like to go back to Commandment 6. In extremely rare circumstances, you may feel the round in the chamber go off, but it may seem weak. Either it somehow wasn’t fully loaded in the factory, or somehow the full powder charge did not ignite. This can perhaps be caused by ammunition stored in excessively damp/wet conditions. If you experience something like this, ALWAYS be sure to clear your chamber, take out your magazine, and take a look down the barrel of your gun. If something went wrong, you’ll see a bullet stuck in the barrel. You can imagine what would happen if you tried firing another… This is a pretty easy fix, usually with a good push of a cleaning rod. Another common cause of barrel obstruction is in the field, where you may accidentally rest your muzzle into the dirt, clogging the barrel. Easy to avoid, but easy to miss. The fix is the same in this case. Clear it, check your barrel, and confirm it’s clear.
9th Commandment: Never alter or modify your firearms, and always clean (and service) them as needed!
Among the best ways to avoid issues, or even potential safety hazards is to avoid making any major modifications to your firearms. This especially goes for trigger and safety modifications! If you are looking to do these modifications, please be sure to do extensive research on the parts you’re looking to install/switch out. Likewise, be sure to test your modified gun in the safest possible setting before carrying them, taking them into the field and so on. If you want your gun modified but don’t feel confident in getting it done safely and properly, have a professional look at it!
10th Commandment: Learn how your gun operates!
Each firearm you pick up will be a little (or very) different from one another. For this reason, it is important to familiarize yourself with the way a gun operates before you shoot it. If you acquire a used firearm, especially a surplus one, you should ideally have it inspected by a competent gunsmith. You should also try to request an owner’s manual, or find one online. Should you sell the firearm, include the manual with it if possible.
An additional, “11th Commandment”: ALWAYS operate firearms when SOBER, with absolutely no mental impairment whatsoever.
Alcohol (or any other impairing substance) does NOT mix well with guns. Always be of sound mind and conscience when operating a gun. The fun of shooting is not worth the additional risks of operating a firearm while mentally impaired. Just don’t do it!!
One thing I’ve seen far too often online, are idiots handing their girlfriend, child (or anyone with little or no firearm experience) a gun that is way too powerful for them. If you’re with a new shooter, always start with a reasonable caliber! If not, it will usually end badly. Best case scenario, they have a bad experience and you’ve turned them off to shooting entirely. Worst case scenario, either they or a bystander are seriously injured or killed because of your gross negligence. This shouldn’t be an issue, but it is, and it seriously needs to stop.
Remember: Failing to follow and take these rules into serious consideration could lead to high risk of property damage, serious injury, or even death of either the shooter, or bystander(s). In the end, all of this really just comes down to personal responsibility, and simply using common sense.
Owning a gun is your constitutional right, but with great power also comes great responsibility. If you’re still feeling nervous about using a firearm but are still interested in purchasing one, call up some local dealers! They’ll know where you can get quality firearms training, so you can be safe, and confident with your new tool.
I truly hope that this post proved helpful to either you, or the new shooter in your life! Any time you head out to the range, or into the field, always keep the 10 commandments of gun safety in mind.