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7 Gun Safety Basics for First Time Gun Buyers

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

As a firearm owner, it is your responsibility to ensure you have thoroughly researched and learned the correct safety methods for handling a firearm. The measures and techniques discussed in today's article are mandatory to follow at all times to guarantee both your safety and the safety of others around you.

gun safety, eye and ear protection, four rules of gun safety
Man firing a gun with proper eye and ear protection, and a safe backstop behind his target.

1. The Four Primary Rules Of Firearm Safety

Every shooter should analyze the four primary gun handling rules developed by Jeff Cooper (Expert Firearm Safety Instructor):

  1. Always treat firearms as if they are loaded, even after clearing the gun or checking for loaded ammunition. Treating the firearm as if it was loaded at all times will help prevent any negligent discharges.

  2. Make sure to keep your index finger away from the trigger until you have aligned your sights onto your target. This rule will help you to avoid firing the gun by accident.

  3. Always be sure of your target and what lies behind it. Always ensure the backstop and surroundings are safe. Never point the barrel at another person unless you intend to fire upon them in self defense.

  4. Keep alert. Make sure to be aware of your target's surroundings. When firing on a range, be observant that no one has entered beyond the firing line.

2. Trigger Discipline

Proper trigger discipline is the act of keeping your index finger off the trigger at all times. The finger should rest above and away from the trigger, on the frame of the gun. Doing so will help prevent unsafe handling. Your finger should run parallel to the barrel to assist in your control of the firearm.

When wishing to fire your gun, once you have aligned your sights on your intended target, you should lower your index finger and gently rest it on the trigger. Following appropriate trigger discipline will help you to remain safe when handling a firearm.

3. Ammunition

Many individuals do not view ammunition as a significant safety concern, but is one of the most challenging subjects for beginners. If the wrong type of ammunition is fired from a gun, it may malfunction or explode, shattering the gun into many pieces causing serious bodily injury or even death. Make sure to select the exact cartridge required for your firearm. If you have any questions please give us a call for advice on proper ammunition for your firearm.

There is a wide range of calibers, and the same caliber often has different variations. Often, these variations are not interchangeable. Also, rounds may appear visually similar, but can vary slightly in caliber (9mm vs .40S&W). Rightly so, it is intimidating for new shooters. It is best to do your research and talk to experts to make sure you are using the correct ammunition in your firearm.

Examples of similar ammunition names that are not interchangeable:

.38 Super, .38 Special,.380 ACP - these three are completely different rounds and are not interchangeable.

.45 ACP, .45 Long Colt, .45 GAP - these three are completely different rounds and are not interchangeable.

Example of rounds being similar in appearance but not always interchangeable are:

Most modern AR15s chambered in 5.56 can shoot 5.56 NATO and .223 - .223 has lower chamber pressure than 5.56 NATO, and can be fired from guns chambered in .223 and 5.56 NATO (with the exception of bolt action guns, where you should only shoot the round the firearm was originally chambered in).

However the inverse is very unsafe - You should never shoot 5.56NATO from a gun chambered in .223 (with the exception of .223 WYLDE which was designed to shoot both .223 and 5.56NATO).

Many names for 9mm, with a few exceptions

9mm is the most popular round for semi-automatic handguns. There are many names for the same round and can be used interchangeably: 9mm, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, 9x19mm. With that said, there are exceptions. 9mm NATO is loaded hotter than the standard 9mm and cannot be used in some 9mm handguns that were not made for the increased chamber pressure. This is a similar concept to "+P" ammo, covered below.

These rounds are different from standard 9mm and are dangerous if mixed up: 9x18mm Markarov, 9mm Browning, 9x21mm, 9x23mm.

Other common ammo mixups are:

9mm and .40S&W. These two calibers appear very similar in size, but it is dangerous to fire .40S&W out of a 9mm firearm because it is a slightly larger caliber.

12gauge and 20gauge.

20 gauge shotshells are universally yellow as a safety precaution. Why? Inadvertent hunters can and have accidentally loaded their 12 gauge shotgun with a 20gauge round, then loaded a 12gauge round into the gun because the 20gauge round fed into the barrel. When the firearm is discharged, the barrel will likely blow up and cause serious injury to the shooter.

+P ammo

It has become popular for ammo designed for self defense application to be loaded with more powder for improved velocity and stopping power. These rounds are labeled with "+P" designation. Not all guns are designed to handle these "hot" rounds, especially older guns. Always make sure your firearm is rated for the ammo you are going to shoot, when in doubt refer to manufacture owner manual.

The above ammunition can be easily confused and if used in the wrong type of firearm, can cause explosions and serious injury. Ammunition can be categorized into three main sections—shotgun shells, rifle and handgun ammunition. Shotgun shells include bird shots, buckshot, and slugs. Rifle and handgun ammunition can be broken down into two subsections; rimfire and centerfire. Learning the types of ammunition that apply to you is necessary for safe operation of your firearm.

4. Gun Range Safety

Range rules vary range to range but the fundamentals of safety, including the four basic rules of firearms safety, will always be present. A "Range Master" should be on almost all firing ranges. Range masters will provide you with strict instructions on how to shoot on their range. Make sure to speak to the Range Safety Officer and review rules before firing at a new range.

You should only insert or remove your magazine into your firearm at the firing line.

When putting a firearm down on a range, you should place the barrel towards the firing zone. Having the firearm's barrel continually pointing down range will ensure no harm to any range members or staff. Check out our whole article about basic gun range rules.

Always use proper Eye and Ear Protection when firing a gun

All ranges will require you to wear eye and ear protection. Eye protection helps prevent your eyes from becoming damaged from ejected cartridges, lead or other debris. Shooting without ear protection can cause immediate and long term hearing loss.

5. Hunting Safety

  • When using a firearm as a tool for hunting, it is vital to learn the appropriate etiquette and safety measures needed.

  • When carrying your firearm, keep the gun's safety on the "safe" function.

  • Before climbing over any structure, make sure to place the firearm in a secure location. Failure to do so may cause the firearm to malfunction.

  • If you accidentally drop the firearm or hit it on any obstructions, complete a safety check for any damage before continuing your hunt. Damage to a firearm can cause it to malfunction.

  • When hunting, do not use the scope of your firearm as a magnifier or binoculars.

  • When hunting in groups, it is essential to assign an individual in command of all appropriate safety measures. This individual's role should be to maintain and share everyone's zone of fire and location at all times. This will prevent crossfire and avoid anyone becoming injured or killed.

6. Intoxicants

You should never, under any circumstances, operate a firearm while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Intoxicants slow reaction times, impair judgment and decrease coordination. All of these side effects can be detrimental to your safety and others safety when shooting.

7. Storing Your Firearm

There are many variables to consider when choosing how to store your firearm(s). Safety, accessibility, protection from extreme humidity, and logistical considerations all come into play. See our blog post about proper firearm storage in your home.

Finishing Notes

Overall, it is clear there are many safety measures required when shooting. Being able to remain calm and composed is vital when handling a gun. Once you have learned basic ammunition types and the above safety techniques, you will become confident in your capabilities as a marksman. It is critical to remember at all times when in doubt, don't shoot.

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