As is often the case, it is tragedy which makes us revisit those fundamental rules designed to, ideally, prevent it. Sadly, it is the untimely, accidental passing of a Brother Warrior that motivates me to pen (or type, as the case may be) some thoughts on firearms safety.
Accidental discharges rarely are. Rather, they are almost exclusively representative of a break-down in the application of one or more of the four most basic firearms safety rules.
1) Treat every firearm as if it was loaded.
Simple and concise, this is the mother of all firearms safety dictums. How many people have been negligently shot with a weapon thought to be unloaded? Were it the only firearms safety rule, treating each and every firearm as though it was loaded could still prevent the vast majority of negligent injuries and deaths caused by unintentional firearms discharges. No rational person is going to point a firearm at anything they don’t want to shoot if they believe there is the potential for discharge.
Simply, if you wouldn’t handle it in a particular fashion with a round in the chamber, you shouldn’t handle it in the same fashion ever.
2) Never point a firearm at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
Muzzle awareness and control is crucial to firearms safety. If the muzzle never covers anything you don’t intend to shoot, you’ll generally be safe. Even in the event of a negligent discharge (see Rule #1), controlling the direction of the muzzle will often drastically reduce the risk of injury to self or others.
3) Keep your finger and all other items out of the trigger guard until you are on target and ready to fire.
A firearm, in its designed or correctly altered form, is a system designed to take input and execute an action. With a round in the chamber, a firearm is designed to execute a series of mechanical actions to cause a detonated primer to ignite the powder within the case to propel a bullet down the barrel and toward a target. This series of actions, barring an unforeseen mechanical error, will not occur if the trigger is not pressed. And so, if you do not intend to discharge a round at any given moment, keep your finger out of the trigger guard and off of the trigger. Period.
In addition to preventing a negligent discharge due to flinch or startle response, keeping your trigger finger off of the trigger until you intend to discharge the weapon allows the brain time to identify a given target, confirm it is appropriate to receive a bullet, and execute the actions which allow the brain to tell the finger to get to work. SWAT cops and Soldiers alike train in this fashion. Responsible firearms owners do as well.
4) Know your backstop and what is beyond.
Bullets do not have discriminatory faculties. Rather, they execute an action based solely on physics, flying in a relatively straight line and only diverting from same when gravity and wind act on the projectile. They do not care if the target is missed or hit and will continue their path of flight until stopped by a lack of energy, a bullet resistant object, or both.
As such, one needs to be aware of the entirety of the flight path. A bullet fired at a target will continue on its path until, again, it hits something. Whether “something” is the intended target, the ground, a dirt berm, a target backer, or some other unintentional object (read: person), is the responsibility of the shooter to control.
Firearms safety is the responsibility of each and every gun owner and operator. It is incumbent on you to refrain from becoming complacent and cutting corners when it comes to handling and firing weapons. Make it a habit to observe each of these rules each and every time you handle a firearm. You may get away with violating one or a combination of these dictums one thousand times without harm befalling you or someone else. It is the nature of firearms, however, to be unforgiving when mistakes are made. As such, it only takes one oversight, one moment of complacency, one bad decision, to result in punishment, however undeserved or unintentional, to be meted out.
The consequences of a negligent discharge can be final. Please take the time to observe these rules each and every time you handle a firearm. Impart them on your children, friends, and fellow hunters and shooters. Help keep hunting and shooting safe and enjoyable.