1. TREAT ALL FIREARMS AS IF THEY ARE LOADED. "I didn't know it was loaded" is the first excuse used for an accidental discharge. While a weapon may indeed be empty, always assume that it isn't. When you pick up a weapon, or someone hands you one, clear it immediately before anything else. To clear a weapon means to open its action, and visually check to make sure it is unloaded. Even if you saw someone else clear a weapon, you clear it as soon as you handle it. Needless to say, do not put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire.
2. ALWAYS KEEP THE MUZZLE POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION. Do not point a weapon at anything you couldn't live with putting a hole in. Pointing a weapon at another human being implies that you are prepared to see him dead. This has nothing to do with whether or not the piece is loaded, because you assume that it is always loaded. Always be aware of where your weapon is pointed. This must become automatic. Distraction is no excuse for an accident. If someone steps in front of your weapon, immediately point it up or down.
3. BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND THE BACKGROUND. Do not shoot at anything you have not positively identified. Shooting at sounds or shadows is criminally irresponsible. Hunters who shoot other hunters by mistake are violators of this principle. Such people are guilty of negligent homicide, not the innocent victims of a tragic accident. Not only must you identify your target, you must also be sure that there is a safe backstop for the shot.
If these three simple rules were always observed, there could be no firearm accidents. All accidental discharges can be attributed to a combination of ignorance and disrespect for the weapon.
A large percentage of firearm accidents involve attempts to clear a malfunction. There is a tendency for otherwise responsible shooters to get hysterical when a weapon fails to operate correctly, and to start working feverishly with the action in total disregard of their surroundings. In a mortal emergency this may be justified, but on the range it is not. When a piece hangs up, Stop. Keep the muzzle downrange, get your finger out of the trigger guard, and then consider the problem. Do not leave the firing line until have you have cleared the weapon. All of this seems obvious, but apparently it is not.
There are a greater percentage of accidents with handguns than with long guns. This is probably because handguns are easier to point and they are more likely to be kept loaded. You must exercise awareness with all firearms.
Do not tolerate unsafe gun handling by anyone around you or yours.
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