10 Commandments of firearm safety

1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

This is undoubtedly the most crucial rule when handling firearms.  A safe direction is one in which an accidental discharge occurred would not cause injury to yourself or to other people.  Never point a firearm at another person even if you know it is unloaded.


2. Firearms should be unloaded when not in use

Load your firearm only when you are using it, either in the field or on the range.  Never allow a loaded firearm to venture out of your sight or out of your hands.  Unload your firearm immediately after use.  Remember this means to ensure the chamber and magazine is clear and free of ammunition. 

Never hand someone a loaded firearm and never assume a firearm in unloaded.  Always check for yourself to ensure a firearm in unloaded even if you have been told it’s clear.

Pay particular attention when climbing over a wire fence.  Unload your firearm, lay it safely on the ground ensuring it is pointed in a safe direction, climb over the fence then retrieve your firearm.


3. Never rely on your gun’s safety

Modern firearms incorporate a mechanical safety lever, button or other method to minimize the likelihood of accidental discharge.  Like all mechanical devices they sometimes fail and should never be relied upon.  Treat every firearm as if it were capable of being discharged at anytime regardless of whether or not there is pressure on the trigger.  A safety is never a substitute for common sense but is there to assist your safe handling practices of a firearm.

Never touch or rest your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot, even if the safety is on.  Be sure to keep your fingers free from the trigger when loading and unloading.  Read the instruction manual for the specific design of firearm you are using.


4. Be sure of your target and know what’s beyond it

Never discharge a firearm unless you are absolutely sure what the projectile will strike.  A fellow hunter, especially in camouflage could be mistaken for your target by an over zealous shooter.  Never discharge a firearm until you can accurately identify what the target is.  Never shoot at sound, movement or a flash of color.  Always be sure of what is behind your target.  If you miss or the bullet over penetrates your target you must be confident that the projectile will stop safely and will not injure someone or damage someone’s property. Pay attention to the potential for ricochet should you miss your target or the bullet over penetrates.  Never shoot at rocks or targets in front of rocks.  The potential for ricochet is real.  Be sure to anticipate where your bullet will likely end up.  Bullets can travel vast distances (sometimes many kilometers) and at tremendous speed.  A substantial back stop like a sand mound or hillside will help to ensure your bullet stops safely.


5. Use proper ammunition

Firearms are designed to use a specific gauge or caliber of ammunition.  Using the wrong ammunition or incorrectly loaded ammunition is capable of causing serious injury or even death.  Not all firearms were designed to use modern smokeless powders.  When shooting antique firearms, be sure they are capable of being used with smokeless powder.  Pay particular attention to powder charge weights before shooting modern loads in antique firearms.  These modern powders are more energetic than their traditional black powder equivalent. 

Hand loaders must be especially attentive. 

Always consult a current reloading manual specific to the caliber you are shooting paying particular attention to powder charge weights.  Never overload a cartridge or shell with propellant powder.  It is capable of exploding your entire firearm in your hand and has the potential to take you with it.  Always start with the minimum charge weight outlined in your manual that is suitable to the specific powder, caliber and bullet weight you are reloading.  Never exceed the maximum charge weight set out in your reloading manual.  Never mix or substitute powders or primers. 
Don’t allow yourself to be distracted while reloading, eg. Television, interruptions, conversation etc.  Do not reload while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Dangerously high pressure from an overcharge is capable of exploding your firearm and you.  Be careful of “squib loads”.  A squib load is where little to no powder is deposited in the cartridge case. When fired, the primer and/or minimal powder has enough charge to propel the bullet but not enough to allow it to exit the barrel.  This can be highly dangerous especially when a fully charged cartridge propels a second bullet into an obstructed barrel.

Never smoke while reloading, propellant powder is highly flammable.  A dominant component of the reloading process is the lead projectile.  Lead is toxic and should never be ingested.  Pay particular attention to lead vapor and dust.  It is especially poisonous and can enter the blood stream much easier.  Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after reloading and handling lead.


6. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care

If for some reason your firearm does not discharge when you pull the trigger, proceed with caution.  Always revert to the first commandment of firearms safety – “Point the muzzle in a safe direction”.  Keep your face away from the breech, engage the safety, carefully open the action and unload the firearm.  Be sure to dispose of the unfired cartridge safely.  Remember, just because the firearm failed to discharge, always treat it as if it can.  If there’s a round in the chamber it is loaded and should be treated as if it is capable of firing.


7. Always wear ear and eye protection when shooting

Your hearing and eye sight should be protected at all times.  It’s the only set you’ve got.  The loud crack of a firearm discharge can damage the fine hairs in the inner ear called cilia.  These convert sound into electrical impulses that is sent to the brain.  Once they are damaged they do not grow back.

Shatterproof protective eye wear should always be worn when shooting.  They should help to protect your valuable eyes against clay target chips, falling shot, ricochets, ejections of hot gas, ruptured cartridges and branches in the field.  Be sure to wear eye protection when disassembling or cleaning a firearm as tensioned parts like springs and solvents are potentially dangerous to your eyes.


8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting

Before loading your firearm, be sure to check the chamber and magazine are unloaded and free from ammunition.  Inspect the barrel for any debris or obstruction.  Even a small amount of mud or excess grease/lubricant can cause excessive pressure upon discharge.  Excessive pressure can cause the barrel to bulge or even explode when firing.  Never try to shoot out an obstruction.  You can clean your firearm with a cleaning rod and patch using anti rust cleaners and solvents.


9. Do not alter or modify your gun and service it regularly

Your firearm has been designed to function safely in accordance with specific factory settings and design criteria.  Modifying your firearm can interfere with these factory specific settings, tolerances and potentially jeopardize your safety and those around you.  Should you insist on modifying your firearm, be sure to have all work completed by a qualified gunsmith.  A firearm is a mechanical devise like any other and as such is subject to wear.

Adequate cleaning and maintenance is essential to the safe operation, reliability and accuracy of your firearm.  When cleaning, always check to confirm that your firearm is completely unloaded.  Where possible, always clean the barrel from the breech to the muzzle.  Inadequate maintenance of your firearm can not only expose it to damage, you run the risk of life threatening damage to yourself.  Maintain it regularly and it will likely serve you well for generations.


10. Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the gun you are using.

Not every firearm is identical.  With different actions, lengths, weights and recoil to name a few, you should always familiarize yourself with the safe handling procedures like loading, unloading, shooting, carrying and storing specific to your firearm.

Most modern firearms come with an instruction manual.  Make yourself familiar with the manual before using the firearm.


The 11th Commandment

Never handle or discharge a firearm whilst under the influence of any form of drug or alcohol.  Always shoot sober.  The combination of guns and booze or guns and drugs make for a lethal combination.  Never handle a firearm after consuming any substance that could impair your judgment, coordination or reason.   Don’t be stupid.  Be sober, be safe and enjoy the shooting sports.