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10 Rules of Safe Firearm Handling

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Whenever and wherever you handle a firearm safety must always come first.

Firearms are dangerous when they are not handled or used properly and can easily injure or kill you, or those around you. Never fool around or play with firearms, since there are no second chances with a firearm and all rules for safe handling must always be followed to avoid accidents.

The following are 10 basic rules of firearms safety and can be heeded as Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety:

Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction

This is the most basic safety rule when handling any firearm. If the muzzle never points at something a person didn’t intend to shoot, there should be virtually no firearms accidents. Never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot, especially when loading or unloading a firearm. A ‘safe’ direction means a direction in which a bullet cannot possibly strike anyone, considering possible ricochets and the fact that bullets can penetrate walls and ceilings.

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Be sure that you stay in control of the direction in which the muzzle is pointing, even if you fall or stumble. Even in case of an accidental discharge, no injury can occur if the muzzle was pointing in a safe direction.

Follow this rule at all times, even if the firearm is in a protective case, then you never need to worry about hurting any other person or damaging property.

Also remember that pointing a gun at someone or discharging in public can lead to criminal charges and you can lose your licence.

Firearms should always be unloaded when not in use

When not in use, firearms and ammunition should be secured in a safe place, separate from each other, to prevent children and unauthorised adults from gaining access to either firearms or ammunition.

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Firearms should only be loaded when you are ready to shoot in the field or on the target range or shooting area and unload your firearm immediately when you have finished shooting, before you bring it into a car, camp or home.

Never run, cross a fence, climb a tree or perform any awkward action with a loaded firearm and don’t pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. Always keep actions open when not in use and don’t ever assume that a firearm is unloaded — check for yourself first! The only time you can be certain that a firearm cannot fire is when the action is open and is completely empty.

Whenever you pick up a firearm, open the action and check to see whether ammunition is present and never accept a firearm from another person unless the firearm is unloaded, and the action is open. Remember that your finger must always be off the trigger when you are not actively shooting.

Don’t rely on a firearm’s “safety”

It is imperative to never touch the trigger on a firearm until you actually intend to shoot. Keep fingers away from the trigger when loading or unloading, regardless of the position of its safety.

The safety on a firearm only supports proper firearm handling but isn’t a substitute for common sense. As a mechanical device the safety can malfunction at the worst possible time, hence, always treat a firearm as though it is ready to fire.

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Keep the safety “on” until you are absolutely ready to fire, but regardless of its position, a strong blow may actuate the firing mechanism of a firearm, even if the trigger is not touched, such as when a firearm is dropped. Therefore, also never rest a loaded firearm against any object from where it may be jarred or slide from position and fall with sufficient force to discharge.

Be sure of your target and aware of everything that is beyond it

Once a firearm fires, you have no more control over where the shot will go or where it will strike. Always identify the target and ensure it is both legal and ethical to shoot before your finger moves to the trigger guard and onto the trigger.

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Always be sure that the bullet cannot injure anyone or anything beyond the target. Take a moment to be absolutely certain of your target and where your shot will stop before you pull the trigger. Be aware of how far the caliber bullet you use can travel if it misses your intended target or ricochets in another direction.

Use only the correct ammunition for a specific firearm

Using incorrect or improper ammunition can destroy a firearm and cause serious personal injury, therefore you must accept serious responsibility for using only the correct ammunition when firing a firearm. Read instructions and heed all warnings in a firearm’s instruction manual and on ammunition boxes.

Be certain that the ammunition you are using matches the specifications in the firearm’s instruction manual and the manufacturer’s markings on the firearm. Do not use improper reloads or ammunition made of unknown components since firearms are designed, manufactured and tested to standards of factory loaded ammunition. Any handloaded or reloaded ammunition that deviates from pressures of factory loads or from component recommendations in reputable handloading manuals, are dangerous and can cause damage to firearms and injury to the shooter.

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Handle proper ammunition with care. Discard ammunition that has become very wet or has been submerged in water and do not spray oil or solvents on ammunition or place it in excessively lubricated firearms.

Adopt the habit of scrutinising every cartridge you put into your firearm to prevent using damaged or substandard ammunition.

Be extra alert and careful if a firearm fails to fire when the trigger is pulled!

If a cartridge does not fire when the trigger is pulled, continue to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, keep your face away from the breech and very carefully open the action, unload the firearm and dispose of the cartridge in a safe way. Remember that the firearm could go off at any time, so remember to watch that muzzle!

Following proper firearm safety rules can prevent firearm malfunctions and limit the damage inflicted by them if they do occur. Proper cleaning and maintenance of a firearm play a big role in preventing malfunctions.

Wear eye and ear protection when shooting

All shooters should wear protective shooting glasses and some form of hearing protectors when shooting, since adequate vision protection is essential and exposure to shooting noise can damage hearing.

Shooting glasses guard against the rare ruptured case or firearm malfunction, as well as twigs, falling shot, clay target chips and more and provide protection when disassembling and cleaning a firearm from a possibility of spring tension parts, solvents or other agents contacting your eyes.

Having your hearing and eyes protected will make shooting easier and can improve your enjoyment of the shooting sports.

Ensure that the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting and have firearms serviced regularly

Any obstruction that blocks the path of a bullet and can cause injury to you or your firearm. If any noise or recoil on firing seems weak or doesn’t seem quite “right,” cease firing and check that no obstruction or projectile has become lodged in the barrel.

Before you load a firearm, open the action and after ensuring that no ammunition is in the chamber or magazine, inspect if the barrel is clear of obstruction, since  even a small bit of mud, excess lubricating oil or grease in the bore can cause dangerously increased pressures and cause the barrel to bulge or even burst on firing.

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If you suspect that your barrel has an obstruction, unload the firearm and clean the barrel with a cleaning jag first. Make a habit of cleaning the bore and check for obstructions with a cleaning rod immediately before you shoot it. Being a mechanical device however, it will also not last forever and is subject to wear. Therefore it requires periodic inspection, adjustment and service by properly qualified technicians. Check with the manufacturer of your firearm for recommended servicing agents in your area.

Never alter or modify a firearm

Firearms are complicated mechanisms that are designed and manufactured by experts to function properly in their original condition.

Any alteration or change made to a firearm after manufacture can make the firearm dangerous apart from voiding any factory warranties. It is not worthwhile to jeopardize your safety or that of others by altering the trigger, safety or other mechanism of any firearm or allowing unqualified persons to repair it.

Firearm modification is usually done to enhance various aspects of the performance of a firearm but can range from purely cosmetic to functional purposes. Only very simple operations can be performed by the owner, but most and definitely all complex operations will require the services of a properly trained and authorised gunsmith.

Get acquainted with the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using

Not all firearms are the same, in fact, their method of carrying and handling vary in accordance with the mechanical characteristics of each type of firearm.

Since firearms can be so different, a person should never try to handle any firearm without first having thoroughly familiarised himself with the particular type of firearm, rules of safe firearm handling in general, and the safe firearm handling rules for loading, unloading, carrying and handling that specific firearm.

In South Africa, the Firearms Control Act prescribes that a person must first obtain the relevant competency certificate to own a specific firearm, which will only be issued, among other things, after the successful completion of relevant training by an accredited training provider and a test on the efficient and safe handling of the specific firearm by the Safety and Security Training Authority.

Further, a person should always read and refer to the instruction manual received with a firearm or contact the manufacturer for a free copy if not in possession of the manual anymore.

Guide: Top Tips for Firearm Safety

Owning and having a firearm in your possession is a full-time job about which you may never forget. You must know how to use, handle and store your firearm safely and never use any firearm without having a complete understanding of its particular characteristics and safe use.

Never consume alcohol before or while you handle a firearm and avoid legal and illegal drugs that can alter your behaviour and mental status.

Only use a firearm when you are in full control of your body.


Don’t be slack where it concerns firearm safety. Not only do you have to adhere to the basic safety rules yourself, but if you observe anyone violating any safety precautions, you have the obligation to insist on safer handling practices, such as those discussed in this article.

Any person can help meet this responsibility by enrolling in safety or shooting safety courses and continue thereafter to constantly stress safety when handling firearms, especially to children and non-shooters.

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Beginners, in particular, must be closely supervised when learning to handle firearms or ones with which they may not be acquainted.

Gun owners and handlers should remember that firearms safety is up to them and follow the safety procedures outlined here and develop safe shooting habits, that include always keep the firearm unloaded until you are ready to use it, always treat a firearm as loaded, always keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to shoot and never point the firearm at anything you don’t intend to destroy.

On top of that, firearms must be stored safely and never be accessible to children or careless adults.

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What is the first rule of gun safety?

The most basic safety rule when handling any firearm is never to allow the muzzle of a firearm to point at anything you don’t intend to shoot, especially when loading or unloading a firearm. A ‘safe’ direction means a direction in which a bullet cannot possibly strike anyone, considering possible ricochets and the fact that bullets can penetrate walls and ceilings.


What is trigger discipline?

It is imperative to never touch the trigger on a firearm until you actually intend to shoot. Keep fingers away from the trigger when loading or unloading, regardless of the position of its safety.


What does a firearm safety do?

The safety on a firearm is a device that blocks the action to prevent the firearm from shooting until the safety is released or pushed to the off position. It only supports proper firearm handling and can malfunction at the worst possible time, hence, always treat a firearm as though it is ready to fire.


Where and when are you allowed to shoot your gun?

Permitted you have a licence for it, a firearm can only be used where it is safe to use and for a lawful purpose. You can only use the weapon to defend your life against an unlawful attack.

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