Their purpose is to eliminate or minimize the risks of unintentional death, injury or property damage caused by improper possession, storage or handling of firearms. There were 47, unintentional firearm deaths worldwide in Gun safety training seeks to instill a certain mindset and appropriate habits by following specific rules. The mindset is that firearms are inherently dangerous and must always be stored carefully and handled with care.
Handlers are taught to treat firearms with respect for their destructive capabilities, and strongly discouraged from playing or toying with firearms, a common cause of accidents. The rules of gun safety follow from this mindset. In , the English politician and game shooting enthusiast Mark Hanbury Beaufoy wrote some much-quoted verses on gun safety, including many salient points.
His verses "A Father's Advice" begin with the following:  . If a sportsman true you'd be Listen carefully to me: Never, never, let your gun Pointed be at anyone Ira L. Various version of the "Ten Commandments of Gun Safety" have been published. This one is from the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia : .
Jeff Cooper , an influential figure in modern firearms training, formalized and popularized "Four Rules" of safe firearm handling. Prior lists of gun safety rules included as few as three basic safety rules or as many as ten rules including gun safety and sporting etiquette rules. Jeff Cooper's Four Rules are: .
The National Rifle Association provides a similar set of rules: . Project Appleseed provides similar rules for their rifle marksmanship clinics: . Blank ammunition, which is a primed casing filled with gunpowder, either crimped or covered with a wad, is dangerous up to 15 feet. In the past, people have injured or killed themselves believing that blanks were not dangerous. Therefore, gun safety rules apply even to guns loaded with blanks. This rule is a matter of keeping a vigilant mindset.
The purpose is to create safe handling habits, and to discourage presumptive reasoning along the lines of, "I know my gun is unloaded so certain unsafe practices are OK". The proposition "the gun is always loaded" means that, even though it may be known that this is not true of a particular firearm, that knowledge is never trusted or relied upon until definitively proven. Thus even if the firearm turned out to be loaded when the handler thought it was not, treating it as loaded would avoid an "unintentional discharge", and if one should occur anyway, avoiding damage, injury or death. Many firearm accidents result from the handler mistakenly believing a firearm is emptied, safetied, or otherwise disarmed when in fact it is ready to be discharged.
Such misunderstandings can arise from a number of sources. If a handler always treats firearms as capable of being discharged at any time, the handler is more likely to take precautions to prevent an unintentional discharge and to avoid damage or injury if one does occur. Also known as muzzle discipline , this rule is intended to minimize the potential damage caused by an unintended discharge. While the first rule teaches that a firearm must be assumed to be ready to fire, this second rule goes beyond that and says, "Since the firearm might fire, assume that it will and make sure no harm occurs when it does.
A consequence of this rule is that any kind of playing or "toying" with firearms is prohibited. To discourage this kind of behavior, the rule is sometimes alternately stated, "Never point a firearm at anything unless you intend to destroy it.
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Two natural "safe" directions to point the muzzle are up at the sky and down at the ground. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Firing at the ground may result in a ricochet or cause hazardous fragments to be flung at people or objects. Aiming upward eliminates this risk but replaces it with the risk that the bullet may cause damage when it comes down to the ground again. A bullet fired straight up only returns at the terminal velocity of the bullet. In cases where the firearm is being handled indoors, up and down may not be safe directions. For example, a bullet fired upward or downward may travel through the ceiling, floor and plenum between adjacent floors of a multi-story building.
In indoor areas where firearms will be handled often, a suitably safe direction should be designated.
Firing ranges often designate a direction in which it is safe to point a firearm; almost universally this is downrange into a backstop which is designed to contain bullets and eliminate potential ricochets. In armories or other areas where weapons must be handled, a container filled with sand known as a "clearing barrel" or "clearing can" is often used for this purpose; bullets unintentionally discharged into the barrel will be safely stopped and contained by the sand. Also known as trigger discipline , this rule is intended to prevent an undesired discharge.
Normally a firearm is discharged by depressing its trigger. A handler's finger may involuntarily move for any of several reasons: the handler is startled, a lack of full attention on body movements, physiological reasons beyond conscious control such as a spasm, stumbling or falling, or the finger being pushed by something as when trying to holster a handgun with one's finger on the trigger. Handlers are therefore taught to minimize the harmful effects of such a motion by keeping their finger off and far away from the trigger until the muzzle is pointing at the target and the handler wishes to discharge the firearm.
The trigger guard and the receiver area above the trigger of a firearm presents a natural point for a handler to keep their finger out straight alongside the weapon, so as not to violate this rule. Another recommendation is to keep the trigger finger above the trigger guard, so that there is less chance of the finger involuntarily slipping into the guard when startled.
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In popular culture , such as movies and TV shows , this rule is often violated, even by characters who should be trained in gun safety such as military personnel or law enforcement officers. This rule is intended to eliminate or minimize collateral damage to non-targets when a firearm is intentionally discharged. Unintended damage may occur if a non-target is misidentified as a target, if the target is missed, or if the bullet hits something or someone other than the intended target.
Handlers are taught that they must positively identify and verify their target. Additionally, they learn that even when firing at a valid target, unintended targets may still be hit, for three reasons:. Therefore, this rule requires a handler to "always be sure of your target; not just the target itself, but above, below, to the left, to the right, in front of, and behind the target". This may create situations that present dilemmas for a handler.
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Such situations are for instance a police officer in a riot with bystanders, a civilian facing a possible intruder at night, or a soldier in a confrontation where civilians are near the enemy. Indecision or misjudgment of the handler's abilities in such a situation may cause undesired outcomes, such as injury to the handler due to hesitation, or the handler violating rules of engagement and causing unintended damage.
Hunters are commonly prohibited from shooting across roads and trails, or after dusk and before dawn, due to the risk of inadvertently hitting an unintended target. All discharge of firearms is prohibited in some cities, in part due to the possibility of hitting unseen targets.
Training is used to minimize the risk of such outcomes. Target practice increases the precision with which the handler can discharge the firearm and thus increase the chances that the intended target is hit. Education about terminal ballistics gives the handler knowledge about the characteristics of a bullet after a target is hit.
Ammunition can be chosen to reduce the risk of overpenetration; see Terminal ballistics , Stopping power , and Hollow point bullet. Ranges and organized shoots may impose additional safety rules on participants. For example, at its marksmanship clinics, Project Appleseed requires that a range safety officer RSO uses a weed trimmer line to check each rifle's bore for obstructions prior to its first use for the day.
Six steps are then always followed when a round of shooting is complete and the line is ready to go "cold" to allow posting or checking targets, or when a rifle is ready to be removed from the line: 1 magazine out; 2 bolt back; 3 safety on; 4 chamber flag in; 5 ground the rifle; 6 step back; no one touching the rifle. Open bolt indicators, or chamber flags, such as the yellow safety flag distributed by the Civilian Marksmanship Program or the green chamber flag distributed by Project Appleseed, may be required to be inserted in the chamber to show the chamber is empty.
Ranges may limit the type of ammunition used, such as prohibiting the use of incendiary, tracer, or armor-piercing rounds, or more powerful rounds than a range is equipped to handle.
Some ranges impose a waiting period for shooters who wish to rent a firearm, or require them to bring a friend, in order to reduce the incidence of suicides. Ranges must be designed with safety in mind, including the use of proper backstops for the intended type of shooting. A misfire is when the cartridge does not fire after it is struck by the firing pin.
A hangfire is when the firing pin strikes the cartridge, but there is a delay of some seconds before the cartridge finally fires. A squib is when an underpowered round is fired, perhaps with an insufficient amount of powder in the case, and the bullet lodges in the bore. If the firearm is fired again, the barrel can peel back, severely damaging the weapon and injuring the shooter.
In each case, the shooter should wait for a period of time, commonly recommended between 25 seconds, up to two minutes, with the firearm pointed in a safe direction, then carefully remove the magazine, extract any mis-fed or misfired cartridge s , and, with the breech opened carefully, check to ensure there is not a bullet or other obstruction lodged in the bore of the barrel. If there is an obstruction, and a subsequent round is fired, the firearm can fail explosively resulting in serious injury.
Misfired rounds should be disposed of properly, usually in a special container for live ammo that failed to fire after ejecting round; such rounds should not be simply disposed of in the trash. Mechanical malfunctions of firearms include slamfires , jams, accidental release of the firing pin, and failure of the breech or barrel to contain the propellant.