Let’s get started right by talking about firearm safety. I think everything needs to start there, no matter how experienced or inexperienced you are. There are some very basic rules that you need to keep in mind. When going into your firearm use, I don’t care how confident you are. Everybody messes up. These rules are here to make sure that if you mess any one of them up, something else will be there for you to use as a backup. This should theoretically keep you as safe as humanly possible because we are humans. We do make those mistakes, so keep those in mind.
My rules that I’m going to be going over today are my personal rules. There are generally four basic rules that most people follow. But with some basic common sense, we can expand on these, so we’ll cover those ideas too.
Rule Number One: Always Treat Every Firearm As If It Were Loaded
I don’t care if you know the status of your firearm. I don’t care if you’re very confident that it is not loaded. You need to treat it as if it were loaded. You need to assume that there is a round in the chamber, and the second that you pull that trigger, it will go bang! Always practice good safety, knowing that you need to work on that assumption.
One Caveat: You should know the status of your firearm no matter what. You should be able to clear it and demonstrate and show that it is clear. To do so, you will take your firearm you will remove the source of feed (the magazine) if possible. You will lock back the slide or bolt. You will make sure that you can see that the source of feed is open and clear and that there is no magazine in this gun. You will then inspect the chamber a few times thoroughly, making sure that there is nothing in the chamber. I also like to rack the slide three times just to make sure that if there is anything in there, it should be getting extracted.
Rule Number Two: Never Point the Muzzle at Anything You’re Not Willing to Destroy
If you are to accidentally pull that trigger, you want to make sure that you’re not destroying anything you care about. That means keeping it pointed in the safest possible direction. That doesn’t mean point it at your friends. It doesn’t mean point at your toes. These are things that everyone accidentally does probably at least once, but it is something that we need to actively try to avoid as much as humanly possible.
If you are to point the gun in a direction, you need to make sure that there is nothing in that path that you care about, that means unknowns as well if you are indoors. Don’t point it at a wall where somebody might be on the other side, or the ceiling, or the floor. You don’t know who’s there or who is behind that backstop. Try to point it at the hardest, densest object in your immediate reach and then work from there.
Rule Number Three: Keep Your Finger Off of the Trigger Until You’re Ready to Pull It
I know that we are all human. We make mistakes. These devices are made to be ergonomic, and it feels natural to put your finger on the trigger. So people are naturally inclined to put their finger on the trigger. Don’t do it unless you are actually lined up on target and sure of your target and ready to shoot it. That means don’t put your finger on the trigger when you’re drawing from a holster. Don’t put your finger on the trigger when you’re carelessly pointing it in any other direction. It stays on the outside of that guard of trigger guard, and it does not touch that trigger until you are ready to pull it.
Rule Number Four: Be Sure of What Your Target Is
What is in front of it and what is behind it? This sounds kind of self-explanatory, but I don’t think a lot of people think about especially, what is behind their target when they’re shooting it. I see this all the time when I go to outdoor ranges, especially in the woods, for example. People aren’t actually paying any attention to make sure that there is a good backstop like a berm behind their target. You need to account for that bullet and its entire trajectory. That includes if you’re missing the target and getting close to it but not hitting it. Where will that bullet go? You need to make sure nobody’s in front of that target. There’s a saying: “Every bullet has a lawyer attached to it.” You’re accountable for it the moment it leaves that barrel. It is your problem entirely, so take ownership of that.
Those are the basic rules, but here are some additional rules that make sense too.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
This also means being aware of who is in your surroundings. That means not putting yourself in front of or behind somebody else or too close to them. This is not just common courtesy. It is also a safety hazard, especially because it can be distracting. This is also a liability, meaning that when your SKS with a muzzle bar brake is right next to your friend’s eardrum, it might blow your friend’s eardrum out or will be unpleasant at the least. Establish a firing line making sure that nobody is too far forward or behind each other, that everyone is in line and not too near each other. This makes for a much better shooting experience.
Always Wear Hearing and Eye Protection
I feel like this is generally pretty self-explanatory, especially the hearing part. Guns are loud. They go bang! Protect your ears. Don’t lose them just because you are careless, and don’t lose them because you thought it’d be cool to hear the real sound of a gun. I really like to use some sort of active hearing protection – the Howard Leight impact sports. These are really, really good! They’re not too expensive. They allow me to hear what’s going on around me (the ambient sounds). Yet these still protect my ears, and they just operate on a few AAA batteries, which are cheap. I highly recommend getting these. If you are shooting indoors, I recommend doubling up with some sort of foam ear protection as well. Ear canal insert hearing protection adds to that extra protection against the concussion experienced from indoor shooting. (Because the sound is contained within a small space, it’s more intense.)
The other thing I really insist on is eye protection (also called eye pro.) I really like to use some sort of ANSI spec eye protection. I can’t stress enough how crucial this is and how often it’s ignored. You want to make sure that your eyes – the two softest, most delicate bits of your body, are protected from any sort of fragmentation or spall. I’ve been hit with spall, and I’ve had small embedded in my cheek from people firing and hitting hard objects nearby. Always be extra careful with steel targets or really any hard targets. You never know. It’s not even just for you. It’s to protect you from everything around you that may go wrong. Keep your eyes covered very thoroughly at the range. Some people prefer to just wear things like their prescription glasses to the range, which in a pinch offers some form of protection but can also be a detriment. Glasses like these might have too big of a gap. You don’t want a hot ejected case getting stuck inside your glasses.
Never Handle a Firearm under the Influence of Cognitive or Sensory Impairing Substances like Drugs or Alcohol
I feel like this is a pretty self-explanatory one, too, but I think I really do need to make it known that you are handling something that is a very deadly tool. Negligent discharges (NDs) happen a lot. Please make sure that your mind is focused on the task at hand, that you are not fooling around, that this isn’t some sort of a toy that you’re just playing with. Shooting is fun, but only when done safely.