Introduction/ Background to Firearm Safety
Too many people die daily in firearm accidents. The Arrive Alive website is well aware of the many firearm incidents to which our paramedics have to respond –and has decided to share safety advice and suggestions with our road users.
It is interesting to note that some 90 million people in the United States have an estimated 200 million guns. Gun deaths in the United States average about 80 a day, 34 of them homicides, according to U.S. government statistics.
With safety from crime a very important consideration for South Africans, many have become firearm owners and are transporting firearms in their vehicles. We would like to assist in creating safety awareness about firearms both when on and away from our roads!
We would like to include some rules and recommendations that can be applied when handling firearms. The purpose of this section is to eliminate or minimize the risks of unintentional death, injury or damage caused by improper handling of firearms.
Fundamentals of Firearm Safety
The Fundamentals of Firearm Safety
- Always assume all guns are loaded. The only unloaded gun in the entire world is the one that you have in your hand and have personally verified as unloaded. If you set it down and take your hand off from it, it becomes a loaded gun again.
- Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
- Control the muzzle - Don't point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. Never point a firearm at yourself or others.
- Know your target and make sure you identify what you are shooting at and know what lies in front of and beyond it.
- Never climb a tree, fence or wall while carrying a loaded gun.
- If you are going to leave a gun, make sure it is unloaded and lying flat or secured in a proper rack.
- Never take alcohol, drugs or medications immediately before or during shooting.
- Never shoot at flat hard surfaces or water which causes ricochets.
- Check ammunition to see if it is the right size.
- Should a gun fail to discharge after the trigger is pulled, keep the gun pointing at the target for at least 30 seconds.
- Never take a gun out of a vehicle by pulling it toward you by the muzzle.
- Secure your guns so they are not readily accessible to unauthorized users.
- Always wear ear plugs or muffs to protect your hearing.
- Shooting glasses should be used to protect your eyes from gas blow back.
Contributing factors to Firearm Accidents
Before offering safety suggestions about firearm usage, we need to investigate firearm accidents and identify the contributing factors to these accidents:
- Many firearm accidents result from the operator mistakenly believing a firearm is emptied, made safe, or otherwise disabled when in fact it is ready to be discharged.
- Such misunderstandings can arise from a number of sources:
*Faulty handling of the firearm. A handler may execute the steps of procedures such as loading, firing and emptying in the wrong order or omit steps of the procedures.
* Misunderstandings about a firearm's status. For instance, a handler may think the safety is on when it is not. A round of ammunition may be in the chamber or in the magazine while the handler thinks it is empty. A handler may receive a firearm and assume it is in a certain state without checking whether that assumption is true.
* Mechanical failures. Wear, faulty assembly, damage or faulty design of the firearm can cause it not to function as intended. For instance, a safety may have been worn down to a point where it is no longer functioning. Broken or worn parts in the trigger, sear or hammer/striker may have given the firearm a "hair trigger" (a very sensitive trigger). A dented or bent body of the firearm may cause jams or premature discharge of ammunition. Sensitivity to impact may cause a firearm to discharge if dropped or struck against another object.
Safety Rules Related to the Operator/ Shooter and his Behaviour.
We should pay close attention to various aspects of safety. The operator is the most important component in the safety chain. The operator should adhere to the following safety rules:
- Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to use it.
- Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm from another person, until the cylinder or action is open and you've personally checked that the weapon is completely unloaded.
- Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
- Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.
- Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger you can't take back the shot you've just fired!
- Handling firearms is dangerous - Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling or using firearms.
- Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or impaired in any way. Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
- Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if you sleepwalk, have nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other sleep problems.
- Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always wear eye and ear protection.
- If you see unsafe behaviour any time when firearms are being handled or used, speak up and take action to correct the unsafe behaviour at once.
Safety Rules Related to Your Target.
The handler should never operate the firearm without close attention to his target. Safety rules include:
- Identify your target and the threat it poses before firing at it.
- Ask yourself - What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot, or a bullet which penetrates its intended target through and through, will be safely stopped.
- Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may glance off, ricochet and injure someone.
- Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate targets which would create a hazard for other persons or damage the environment.
- Never shoot a rifle or handgun directly upwards, or at a high angle of elevation. A bullet fired at an angle into the air can have enough energy to accidentally kill someone far away!
- Never shoot across a highway or other road.
- Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private property) by using it as a target.
Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm.
Proper maintenance and care could prevent many accidents. Safety guidelines should include:
- Making sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before firing it.
- Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of erosion, cracking, or wear by the factory, by a qualified armourer, or by a factory certified gunsmith.
- Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially obstructed barrel.
- Modifications made to a firearm should only be made by a qualified individual, and should not interfere with your firearm's safety features.
- Accessories, such as holsters and grips, must be compatible with the firearm and not interfere with its safe operation.
- It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is always either about your person and under your personal control, or positively secured from access by children or other unauthorized parties. Prevent tragedy: lock down your firearms when they aren't in use.
- When storing a firearm for a long period of time, consider storing the slide, bolt, or other critical components of the firearm separately under separate lock and key.
- Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an inertial firing pin.
- Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
- Avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type firearm with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in de-cocking any external hammer firearm: it is very easy to experience an accidental discharge while doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
- Avoid unloading a firearm by working the cartridges through the action one-at-a-time; drop the magazine and then eject the round which may be left in the chamber, instead, if possible.
- Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting scope: while observing an area you may end up accidentally aiming your firearm at fellow hunters, or other non-targets.
- Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a semiautomatic pistol) by cupping your hand around the ejection port while retracting the slide; doing so may result in an accidental discharge.
Safety Rules Related to Ammunition.
Firearms are generally only a danger when there is ammunition involved as well! Pay close attention to correct and safe ammunition!
- Be sure your gun and ammunition are compatible. Shooting incorrect ammunition in a firearm may cause it to be damaged or even make it blow up.
- Relying on ammunition which doesn't feed reliably in your particular firearm may make your firearm malfunction at a critical juncture.
- Use only ammunition recommended for your firearm by its manufacturer.
- Use reloaded ammunition judiciously. Be aware that many firearms manufacturers specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their products, and will void their product's warranty if you elect to use reloaded ammunition in contravention of their instructions.
- The safety of that reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care, components, equipment, and practices used in preparing it.
- Carry only one calibre of ammunition when shooting. Accidentally grabbing the wrong ammunition while shooting can result in a shooter or third party being injured, or damage or destruction of a firearm.
- Store ammunition that isn't being used under lock and key, inaccessible to unauthorized parties and children.
- Dispose of unwanted ammunition safely.
Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm's Holster and Ammo Carrier.
Road users need to be very aware of how they carry and transport their firearms. We would like to emphasize the importance of the firearm holster in the process of transporting and safe carrying of your firearm:
- Always use a holster which is designed for, and which fits, your handgun.
- Make sure your holster covers the trigger guard of your handgun.
- Purchase a holster which allows you to obtain a secure grip on your handgun while it is still holstered.
- Be sure the thumb break, safety strap, or other firearm retention device on your holster is functional and consistently employed. A good holster should retain your firearm during normal carry and routine physical activity, but no holster can insure that a firearm will be secure against determined attempts at disarmament, or keep a firearm secure during all possible physical activities.
- Avoid clip-on holsters and magazine pouches. These carriers may fail to stay clipped to the belt and end up being drawn along with the firearm or the magazine they still hold, thereby interfering with use of the firearm or with timely reloading.
- Avoid paddle-style holsters, cross draw holsters, and similar holsters which provide poor weapon retention.
- Avoid ankle holsters, shoulder holsters and other types of holsters which can introduce unnecessary delays in accessing a defensive firearm.
- Avoid carrying a defensive firearm in a purse, pocketbook, daypack or briefcase.
Risks to carrying a firearm carried in that fashion are:
- Typically hard to rapidly access due to the presence of slow-to-open zippers, multiple latches, etc.,
- Often hard to find and draw amidst all the other items routinely carried, since few purses or briefcases include a dedicated handgun-carrying compartment,
- Prone to being unavailable when needed, since briefcases, purses and other carriers are routinely set down or put away in a desk drawer where they may or may not be readily accessible and under your physical control,
- Vulnerable to being stolen, since purses, pocketbooks, daypacks and briefcases are prime targets for purse snatchers, pick pockets, muggers and thieves,
- Prone to malfunction in an emergency since materials carried along with your handgun in a purse or brief case may gum up the firearm's mechanism and potentially interfere with its proper operation, and
- Likely to allow your handgun to accidentally become visible to shop clerks, bank tellers or other parties while you are searching for your check book or locating a credit card, and that inadvertent exposure may potentially result in a tense situation or even a tragic over-reaction on the part of an individual noticing the firearm and/or summoning law enforcement officers to the scene.
Safe Firearm Storage
Firearms are dangerous even when it is not in your hands! Pay close attention to the safe storage of your firearm - When you are not using your firearm, you should insure that it is stored safely!
Measures designed to prevent unauthorized access to a defensive firearm by minors, or firearm theft, include:
- Use of a simplex-type locking box for securing firearms which need to be kept loaded yet available for ready-access defensive use, and
- Use of trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms which don't need to be kept immediately available for defensive use.
Also note that:
- Gun security devices which rely solely on physical strength to secure firearms from unauthorized use are generally undesirable since ingenious children can potentially employ leverage or tools to overcome those devices.
- "Hiding" a firearm won't secure it from discovery and possible misuse by curious children or intruders.
- Metal gun cabinets or gun safes can be used to safeguard firearms from unauthorized access or theft in many circumstances and metal gun cabinets or gun safes are generally preferable to open racks or glass-front cabinets.
- Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition when the firearm isn't needed for ready-access defensive use.
- You may want to store critical components of a firearm (such as the gun's bolt or slide) separately from the rest of the firearm when the gun won't be used in the immediate future.
Also consider "gun-proofing" your child by proper training, and by controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce your child's natural unsatisfied curiosity about firearms.
Firearm Training and Courses
Perhaps the best measure to enhance safety is proper training on firearm usage. Training is used to minimize the risk of accidents. If you are considering buying a firearm or already have one in the home, you may want to register for a safety class in your area.
Gun safety training seeks to instil a certain mindset and appropriate habits by following specific rules. The mindset is that firearms are inherently dangerous and must always be 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.
Transporting Firearms Safely
What do you need to know when transferring a firearm from one location to another or from one person to another?
When accepting a firearm from another person:
- Check that the action is opened before touching the firearm. If it isn't, ask the person who is handing you the firearm to open it for you.
- Visually check that the chamber and magazine are empty of ammunition before touching the firearm.
- Grasp the firearm with both hands, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Say thank you to alert the passer to release the firearm.
- Once the firearm is in your control PROVE that it is unloaded and safe to handle.
- Always transport your firearm in a safe, unloaded condition and in accordance with applicable laws.
- Remember, no set of rules can cover all possible situations. The safe and rational use of a firearm depends on the common sense and proper training of the user.
Firearm Safety and Secondary Dangers
We would like to focus not only on the primary danger of being shot, but also secondary dangers threatening both the operator, bystanders and even the environment:
When a firearm is discharged it emits a very loud noise, typically close to the handler's ears. This can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage such as tinnitus. Hearing protection is recommended to prevent this.
- Hot gases and debris
A firearm emits hot gases, powder, and other debris when discharged. Some weapons, such as semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms, typically eject spent cartridge casings at high speed. Casings are also dangerously hot when ejected. Any of these may hurt the handler or bystanders through burning or impact damage. Because eyes are particularly vulnerable to this type of damage, eye protection is recommended to prevent this.
- Toxins and pollutants
In recent years the toxic effects of ammunition and firearm cleaning agents have been highlighted. Avoid polluting the environment!!
Gun safety dictates that a firearm should never be handled while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Since such substances may affect a person's judgment even after consuming relatively small amounts, zero tolerance is advocated by gun safety teachers.
Exhaustion can also constitute a form of impairment, as reaction time, cognitive processing and sensory perception are all impaired by sleep deprivation and/or physical exhaustion. Gun safety therefore discourages using firearms when exhausted.
Gun safety for children
Children who are generally considered too young to be allowed to handle firearms at all can be taught a different set of rules:
- Don't touch.
- Leave the area.
- Tell an adult.
The purpose of these rules is to prevent children from inadvertently handling firearms. Children should be warned to avoid contact with firearms and when older, taught how to behave when coming into contact with firearms.
Firearms and Safety Mechanisms
Most firearms are equipped with a very important safety device. This is usually located near the firearm's action. Common types include the slide, lever, wing, hammer (half cock position), trigger block and button safeties.
Depending on the firearm, a safety's on or off position may be etched next to the safety mechanism. Some firearms use a button safety that is red in color when the safety is off and they are ready to be fired. Consult the owner's manual if you are unsure about how your firearm's safety works or how to tell when the safety is in the on or off position! As a general rule, always keep your safety on until ready to fire your gun!
Most safeties block the trigger but not necessarily the gun's firing mechanism. A hard blow in the right place can still discharge a firearm. Safeties also wear out and break. Never depend on a safety to prevent a gun from firing!
We have discussed the importance of firearm maintenance. Unfortunately too many accidents occur when operators with the best of attentions are negligent when cleaning their firearms.
Proper cleaning of your firearm helps ensure it operates in a safe and reliable manner. Firearms should be cleaned after every use and after they have been stored for a long period of time.
Safety advice when Cleaning Firearms include:
- Make sure the firearm is unloaded!
- Attach a bore brush to the cleaning rod, lightly apply bore solvent, and run the brush through the bore several times to clean out powder residue.
- Replace the bore brush with a patch that is also coated in solvent and run it through the barrel several times.
- Repeat with additional patches until they come out clean.
- Run a lightly oiled patch through the bore. Use only a small amount of oil.
- Wipe the outside of the firearm with a clean cloth and apply a light coat of gun oil to the metal surfaces. The firearm is now ready for storage.
- Consult your owner's manual before you begin.
- Clean from the breech toward the muzzle if possible.
- Minimize the amount of contact between the cleaning rod and the barrel.
- Avoid skin contact with any metal parts of the firearm. Perspiration causes rust.
- If you discover a problem with your firearm while cleaning it, take it to a qualified gunsmith. Don't attempt to repair a firearm yourself even if you think the problem is a minor one!