Lesson 6: Handgun Safety

Erica Fisher CWL Courses

Safety is paramount to all firearm handling, regardless of what firearm system is being used (handgun, rifle or shotgun). There are basic firearm safety rules that, when followed, mitigate negligent discharges of a firearm.

The 4 Cardinal Firearms Safety Rules are designed to give the firearm user a basis for secure and safe weapon handling and use. These 4 rules should be followed whenever a firearm is handled.

  1. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded until you have verified personally that the firearm is not loaded. Never take a firearm from another person and assume it is unloaded. Check it yourself.
  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger, outside the trigger guard and along the slide or frame until you are on target and have decided to shoot.
  3. Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction (muzzle control).
  4. When discharging your firearm, be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.

While these 4 rules are for “hands on” use of the firearm, there are other considerations to think about for safe firearm handling.

When you clean your firearm, you should follow these basic guidelines:

Unloading Firearms

Unload the firearm in the following manner:

  • Revolvers
  1. Open the cylinder and swing it out from the barrel.
  2. Then remove the ammunition from the weapon.
  • Semi Auto Pistols
  1. Point the firearm in a safe direction.
  2. Remove the magazine and set it aside.
  3. Cycle the action several times by pulling the slide to the rear and ejecting any live round that may be in the chamber. Note: You must first remove the magazine or cycling the slide will place another round in the chamber.
  4. With the slide in the rear position, look and feel both in the chamber at the back of the barrel (breach) and down the magazine well to assure there is no live ammunition in the weapon. Look and feel three times and then let the slide move forward.

Using those procedures, check your firearm to make sure it is unloaded prior to cleaning. Know your firearm and how it comes apart for cleaning. For example, on some models of handguns the trigger must be pressed to release the slide and take the firearm apart. Note: Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction (muzzle control).

Never leave the firearm unattended during cleaning. Do all your cleaning at one time and if you leave, secure the firearm. Also, it is wise to keep live ammunition out of the area used for gun cleaning. Keeping the cleaning area sterile of live ammo diminishes the chances of a negligent discharge.

Firearm Handling

Take firearm handling seriously and protect yourself, your family and friends:

    • Assume every safety on your firearm will fail. Therefore, it is important to follow the 4 fundamental firearms safety rules.
    • Never shoot a firearm that has been in the dirt or has had the barrel shoved into the ground because this blockage could destroy the weapon and cause you or others injury. If a firearm has been in the dirt or has had the barrel shoved into the ground, have your weapon checked by a certified armorer.
    • Never display your firearm at social gatherings.
    • Never carry or handle a firearm if you have consumed an alcoholic beverage or taken prescription or illegal narcotics.
    • Always store and lock your firearm in a place that is not accessible to any children or other unauthorized persons.
    • Always store your firearm unloaded and uncocked.
  • Never throw out live ammunition in the trash. Most Sheriff’s Offices will take small amounts for safe disposal. Check with your local Sheriff’s Office for disposal sites.

Firearms Storage and Security

Remember, you could be held criminally responsible and/or civilly liable for any damage or injury that occurs because of the misuse or abuse of your firearm. Store your firearms unloaded, and secure the ammunition in a separate location. If you have a gun safe, it would be acceptable to store both the unloaded firearm and ammunition in the same gun safe.

While keeping the firearm close at hand such as in a night stand drawer or under the pillow/mattress assures quick and easy access, this presents numerous safety problems.

  1. The firearm is not secure and anyone in the room has access to it.
  1. Should you need to use the firearm in the middle of the night, it is recommended that     you get up to access it. Most of us take a minute to wake up and the last thing you want to do is shoot someone unintentionally because you were still in a “sleep fog” and were not fully awake.

Methods of Storage and Security

    1. The most secure way to store your firearm is in a quality constructed gun safe. There are many models and styles to choose from. A gun safe allows you control over who has access to your firearms.  If you are going to own firearms this is the preferred method to store them. All other methods can be easily defeated.
      • Keep the keys away from the safe and only tell those who need to know where the keys are, or what the combination is. If you do not use a gun safe, consider using a trigger lock, cable lock or hinged – cover safety device on your firearms to keep them safe. As with a safe, keep any keys for these devices in a safe place away from the firearm.
    1. A cable lock (usually vinyl covered) is an external safety device. These are inserted through the barrel or the action of a firearm to ensure that ammunition cannot be loaded or the action manipulated to discharge the firearm. Cable locks can also be used to secure the frame or receiver of a disassembled firearm to prevent it from being reassembled. Cable locks should be used with caution, as a persistent adult or child can defeat them.
    1. Hinged-Cover safety devices are mechanisms that fit completely around the frame of an unloaded firearm to ensure that the action cannot be manipulated to discharge the firearm. This device encloses or jackets the entire trigger guard and most of the frame. These should be used with caution, as a persistent adult or child can open inferior and flimsy hinged – cover safety devices.
    1. Trigger locks are safety devices that anchor the trigger within the trigger guard to prevent the firearm from being discharged. They are designed to render the firearm inoperable by preventing movement of the trigger. These locks are opened with either a key or by use of a combination. Trigger locks should be used with caution, as a persistent adult or child can open inferior and flimsy trigger locks. On some models trigger locks do not fully prevent movement of the trigger. Never put a trigger lock on a loaded gun as firearms should not be stored loaded.
  1. Some handguns have integrated mechanical safety devices built into them. They are designed to prevent the handgun from being discharged unless the device has been deactivated. Even though these firearms have integrated mechanical safety devices you should still assume they will fail. You should also securely store the firearm in another safe manner.

Safe Transport of Firearms

Carrying and transporting a firearm must be done safely and within the limits of the law. If you are going to transport your firearm it should be in an unloaded condition with the magazine removed and stored in a suitable locked container.

Firearm Selection

Now that you are aware of the safety concerns and are ready to buy a firearm, there are some things to consider. There is no other person who is an expert on what type of firearm you should buy. The only person who is an expert on what type of firearm you should buy is you. You are the one shooting it and you are the one that must feel comfortable with the firearm. You can use the following suggestions as a guide to assist you in purchasing a firearm.

    • Shoot numerous firearms. Find one that fits your hands, style and comfort level. Shoot friends’ firearms and experiment with what feels right to you. If possible, go to a range where they rent firearms and shoot many different types of firearms.
    • If the firearm does not feel comfortable to you, you will not practice with it and your shooting skills will perish. Shooting skills are perishable; you must practice continually to retain the basic marksmanship skills.
    • Don’t buy a firearm to protect yourself “in case you need it.” Buy a firearm that you like to shoot and will be proficient with. Then you will be better prepared to protect yourself if you ever find yourself in a situation where it is necessary to use it.
  • Seek professional training.

Ammunition Considerations

Buy factory ammunition to use in your firearms for personal protection. Use of reloaded or hand-loaded ammunition exposes you to possible liability and safety concerns.

    • Use of jacketed hollow point ammunition is recommended over a conical ball shaped “training type” round. The hollow point is designed to enter the body and mushroom, causing the maximum stopping power and slowing the projectile so that it stays in the intended target and does not penetrate another object.
  • Some firearms work better with certain types or brands of ammunition than others. Test your firearm and make sure it will reliably fire the ammunition you are planning on using in it.

Holsters and Carry Options

As with ammunition and firearms, there are many different styles and carry options. Keep in mind, that you will get what you pay for with holsters. Buy a good quality holster system that will positively retain your firearm.

    • Molded leather holsters should be checked periodically for wear and deformities that could hinder the ability to re-holster the firearm. Also look to make sure the leather is in good condition and is unable to enter the trigger housing when re-holstering causing a negligent discharge.
    • Check molded plastic or other material holsters for cracks and keep the holster in good working order. Make sure any screws remain tight.
    • Do not carry a firearm in a fanny pack or purse unless it has a specific holster arrangement for securing the firearm. Throwing it in the bottom of a purse, backpack or fanny pack is dangerous as many things could cause the firearm to discharge.
  • Remember, you may need the weapon quickly when the time comes to use it. Having to dig through numerous other items in a purse, backpack or fanny pack to locate your firearm is counterproductive and unsafe.

NRA Eddie Eagle Program

When teaching your children about firearms safety you can utilize the Eddie Eagle Program  sponsored by the National Rifle Association. The principles of the Eddie Eagle Program state that parents should teach children to do the following if they ever find a firearm:

    • Stop!
    • Don’t touch the firearm
    • Leave the area
  • Tell an adult

These directions will help ensure that the child and others remain safe, and that the firearm can be secured by a responsible adult.

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