Gun Safety in the Home

Safety is the most important issue regarding gun ownership, possession and use. A gun accident can happen in a fraction of a second, and may result in a tragic injury or death. Safe handling of guns can reduce gun accidents. Safe gun handling can be learned and incorporated into gun handling and shooting procedures. Gun safety rules must always be practiced, there is never an exception.

Adults who own a gun should learn and practice gun safety every time you handle a gun: in your home to store it, clean it, or put it into a case to take to the range, in a vehicle to transport a gun to the range or hunting area, and when shooting at a range or when hunting.

1. Learn Gun Safety Rules

There are many rules for safe gun handling. Two very important gun safety rules are:

  1. Always control the direction of the muzzle and point it in a safe direction.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

Always control the direction of the muzzle means that whenever you pick up, put down, shoot, clean, store, transport, or touch a gun in any way, make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction.

A safe direction is any direction away from people and animals and away from any object you don’t want to shoot. At a range it is down range or towards the berm or backstop. At home it means away from walls, ceilings, or floors that are between you and other people.

A safe direction always depends on where you are and where other people are. If you don’t know, or aren’t sure, where other people are, assume people will be in places that people normally are or might be. For example, if there is a building in sight, assume people are in it; if there is a wooded area, assume people are hiking in it.

You need to check safe directions before handling a gun. The reason for this rule is, if the gun goes off accidentally it is less likely to hurt anyone if it is pointed in a safe direction.

Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot means just that. Don’t put your finger on the trigger, or even into the trigger guard, as you pick up a gun. Keep your finger out straight along the frame of the gun.

When you are on the firing line at a shooting range, in your shooting stance and have the gun up pointed at the target, then you can put your finger on the trigger. If you aren’t ready to shoot a target at a shooting range or ready to shoot while hunting, you have no reason to have your finger on the trigger. The reason for this rule is, if you don’t have your finger on the trigger, the gun is not likely to go off accidentally.

There are many other rules for safe gun handling and they can be found in hunter safety, gun and shooting books and pamphlets. They are all important and should be followed. The range where you practice will also have some of its own safety rules. You must read and observe all of these. Gun safety saves lives and accidental shootings. Gun safety is the responsibility of every person who owns, possesses or uses a gun.

Gun Safety Rules

These are not all the rules that should be followed to be safe with a gun. They are, however, many of the basic rules. Add to this list when you find new rules in other books and material. Keep incorporating into your safe gun handling practice new gun safety rules as you learn them.

  • Always control the direction of the muzzle, and keep it pointed in a safe direction away from any person, animal, thing or direction you don’t want to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Treat all gun as though they are loaded.
  • Keep the gun’s safety on until you are ready to shoot.
  • Keep guns unloaded when you aren’t using them.
  • Lock guns and ammunition away from children and careless adults.
  • Never point a gun at anything that you do not intend to shoot.
  • Never treat guns as toys.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs (including non-prescription drugs) when you are using a gun.
  • Never pull a gun toward you by the muzzle.

Range safety rules

  • Always keep the muzzle pointed down range.
  • Always wear eye and ear protection.
  • Obey all posted range rules.
  • Leave the action open when you put your gun down for any reason.
  • Don’t handle your gun or any of your equipment when the range is cold or when anyone is downrange changing targets.
  • If you need to clear a malfunction, turn your body, not your gun, so you can keep the muzzle downrange at all times.
  • Immediately follow all commands of the range officer.
  • Avoid talking on the firing line, so everyone can hear the range officer.
  • Carry guns to and from the range in a carrying case.
  • Only take ammunition for the gun you are using.
  • Know how to safely decock your gun.
  • Practice with an experienced and knowledgeable shooter for safety and coaching.
  • Never step or reach in front of the firing line to pick up your empty cases if the line is hot (people are still shooting).
  • Make sure the barrel and action of your gun are clean and free from any obstructions.

2. Read the Gun’s Manual

New guns come with a manual. Thoroughly read the manual for each gun you own or are going to shoot. They contain safety information about the particular gun you have. There usually is some information about the safety features and mechanisms on the particular gun the manual is describing.

Pay particular attention to this because some models have special safety features that you will need to know about. Knowing, and using, the safety features of the gun you have is as important as the general safety rules.

3. Take Courses

Take as many shooting courses as you can. Each course you take will reinforce the general safety rules and will give you an opportunity to practice them under supervision. Courses will also let you practice different shooting techniques and styles and let you see how the safety rules are integrated into each. The more you shoot, the safer you should become.

Consider taking a hunter safety class, even if you aren’t a hunter. These classes generally provide good information about gun safety, gun handling, gun laws and how guns work. In addition you will likely learn interesting things about the environment, ecology, wildlife and other topics.

Owning a gun comes with the responsibility to be safe and obey gun laws.

Gun laws don’t just regulate criminal behavior, some of them are aimed at safety. Most states have laws that regulate how guns should be stored in a home to keep them away from children. There is often a stiff penalty for gun owners who don’t store guns properly and allow children access to guns. Federal laws also regulate storage of guns. Transporting guns in vehicles is regulated in every state, often to inhibit crime, but sometimes to add a safety factor to transportation of guns.

It can be difficult to find the laws relating to guns. You can find your state government’s web site and locate the firearms law. Or, you can go to an ATF site and get the same thing.

4. Practice Shooting

Practice shooting whenever you can. The more you handle your gun, load and unload it, and shoot it, the more comfortable you will be with it and the safer you will become. If you leave your gun in a case from one year to the next, you won’t be familiar with it and its safety devices the next time you take it out of the case.

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about handling the gun, you won’t be as safe with it. If it has been a long time since you handled your gun, take it in its case to a course or gun club and get some more instruction and help with handling it.

5. Join a Gun Club

Gun clubs generally stress safety. They are a great place for you to practice shooting in a safe place with people who appreciate your gun-safety attitude. Before you join a gun club attend one or more meetings, visit their gun range and notice how they practice and enforce gun safety and talk to members of the club to learn their attitudes about gun safety. If the club practices good gun safety, join it.

Joining a gun club can give you the opportunity to make shooting a hobby, let you meet other people with a common interest and can lead you to opportunities for competition if you like to compete.

6. Teach your family gun safety

Teach gun safety to everyone living in your home. The rules will be different for other adults who may use the gun from time to time and for children, who should never handle a gun without adult training and supervision.

Teach your children gun safety rules and that they should never handle a gun, no matter where or when they see one, but they should always tell a trusted adult about seeing a gun. Talk to your children about the dangers of guns and how they can be safe.

Teaching Young Children Gun Safety

Safety rules for children

Gun safety for young children should include the basic gun safety rules:

    If you find a gun don’t touch it.

    Go and tell an adult you trust that you found a gun.

These rules, if followed, can keep a child from picking up a gun, get them away from the gun (in case a playmate picks it up), and will alert an adult to the situation.

Rules for teaching children gun safety

Follow basic rules for teaching children gun safety:


Teaching gun safety

Role playing can be used to teach gun safety rules to children. Here is one way to do this.

1. Cut out photos of guns from magazines to use as props. If you don’t have gun magazines in your home, ask a friend for an old issue or buy a gun magazine at the news stand. (It’s a small investment to help keep your child safe.) Choose photos of different looking handguns that are approximately the size of real guns. Cut around the outline of the gun removing the background from the photo.

2. Set a time to talk to your child about guns and gun safety. 

If you are a gun owner

Explain your views on guns (you are a hunter and enjoy a sport that provides food for the family, you have a gun for protection, you have a gun as a tool required for your law enforcement job, you are a gun collector, gun dealer, or gunsmith, or whatever). Also explain that other people have different views about guns and that some people don’t like guns and feel they are bad things.

If you don’t own a gun

Explain why you don’t have a gun in your home (you don’t like guns and think they are dangerous items, you don’t think guns should be in homes with children, or what ever your reason is). Also explain that other people have different views about guns than you have and that they may have guns for some lawful reason (even if you don’t agree with it) and that your child may be in a friend’s home where the parents do own guns.

Explain that guns are not toys and that they can cause very serious injury and can kill people and that children should never touch or play with guns. (Each parent must decide if they want their child to learn how to shoot a BB gun or air gun under appropriate training and supervision, but this is a different topic.) Explain that gun accidents can happen very quickly and easily.

Explain that what they see on television isn’t real and that violence isn’t glamorous or fun.

Ask your child what he or she knows about guns. If your child has questions about guns, that you can’t answer, find a hunter safety class or gun safety class that is appropriate for the age of your child and attend it together, even if you don’t own guns the more you know about them the safer you and your child can be if you encounter a gun at a friend’s home.

3. Explain the gun safety rules to your child. Get your child to repeat the rule back to you. Ask if he or she has any questions about the rule.

Prepare ahead of time how you will address issues such as:

  • Will your child get into trouble for “snooping” in your home or that of a friend or neighbor? Will this fear prevent your child from reporting finding a gun? Will you punish your child for snooping or reward him or her for reporting finding a gun?
  • If your child is at a friend’s home and find a gun, should your child tell his or her friend’s parents or come home and tell you?
  • If your child finds a gun outside, on the street, in a park, or any place at all, should your child tell you, a teacher, a police officer, or someone else? What situations will help your child make the decision who to go to and tell about finding the gun?
  • If your child is with friends who want to play with a gun, how can your child leave and tell on their friends without being viewed as a tattle-tale or afraid?
  • If your child can’t find an adult, or an adult they trust, what should she or he do?

4. Set a time to role play. Show your child the photos of the guns you cut from the magazine. Don’t let the child hold the photos, treat the photos like guns, keeping them pointed away from yourself and the child. Explain that you are going to put these “guns” in places that people may keep guns and when the child sees one, he or she must not touch it and immediately come and tell you or another adult in your home.

For young children you can start the practice by putting the “gun” in an obvious place in the room you are in and let them practice seeing it and coming to tell you. Then place it in a different room and let them go and discover it and come and tell you. Make sure the child never touches the gun. You can do this by having him or her say aloud “Don’t touch” when they see the gun. Repeat the role play two or three times a day, a couple days a week, for a month or so. Repeat it every few weeks for a few more months. Then monthly thereafter.

If your child picks up the gun during the game, immediately, calmly say “Stop, gently put the gun on the floor, come here to me.” Then talk about the danger of touching guns and repeat the gun safety rule. Have your child repeat the rule and answer any questions about the rule. Do the role play again.

When you think your child has learned the safety rule, put the gun photo in a place the child will likely come across it at a time when you haven’t set up a role playing session. If your child comes and tells you he or she found a gun, congratulate him or her. If he or she comes to you carrying the gun, you need to start over from the guns-are-dangerous lesson.


You can use toy guns instead of cut-out magazine photos of guns. If you do this, whenever you handle the gun you must follow basic gun safety rules of:

  • Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction when you pick up, hold, and set down the gun.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger.
  • Treat it like a real gun.
  • Store it in a safe place when it isn’t being used for learning the gun safety rules.
  • Never let your child play with the gun as a toy.

Your child will see how you handle the gun. If you are careless and let the muzzle hang down and point at your leg as you walk, put your finger on the trigger, point it at the dog and say “bang,” or some other un-safe behavior, that is what your child will learn.

7. Safe gun storage in the Home

Don’t dismiss the need to store guns safely.  The consequences can cause serious injury or death.

While it might be difficult to control kids’ actions outside the home, there’s no excuse for kids to be allowed access to their parents’ weapons, says Jennifer Koehn, a spokesperson for the National Safety Council in Washington. “There are measures you can take to reduce your risk.”

First, all firearms should be kept unloaded and stored separately from the ammunition. Both the gun and the ammunition should be securely locked. Then, think of creative ways to keep the keys away from children. That might mean storing the keys outside the home or keeping them with you.

Store weapons in cabinets and containers that are not self-contained. In other words, children should not be able to pick up the container and carry it off to school.

Another critical step is talking to your children about guns. “You cannot not talk to your child,” says Judy Shaw at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “Pretty soon, your young kid will be out in the world, with other people, and in other people’s homes.”

Taking into account that 40 percent of American homes have guns and that a third of those guns are unlocked and loaded (according to statistics provided by Stop Handgun Violence), the reality is that your child, at some point, will probably play in a home that contains a firearm.

To that end, pediatricians and activists agree that parents should not allow their children to play at friends’ homes unless they have asked the other parents whether there is a gun in the home and how it is stored.

“Parents need to be asking other parents if they have guns,” Shaw says. “Because, unfortunately, any small child who picks up a gun, no matter how much you talk to him or her about it, is going to put a finger on the trigger and click it.”

Follow these guidelines to keep firearms away from all unauthorized persons.

  • Always remove ammunition from guns.
  • If a gun is kept in the house for protection, ensure no unauthorized persons have access to the firearm.
  • Place ammunition in a locked location, separate from guns.  When deciding where to store ammunition, remember to select a secure place that is out of sight and reach of children.
  • Secure unloaded firearms with a gun lock, gun alarm or other tamper-proof device which helps prevent unauthorized use and tampering or renders the gun inoperable.
  • Store unloaded guns in a locked gun cabinet, safe or locked gun vault.  Remember to place a locked storage case where children won’t be able to see or find it.
  • Keep gun storage keys hidden in a separate location from regularly used keys.

Gun safety In the Home.  You can make it happen.

A gun in the home is not uncommon considering they are in almost half of all households.  When gun safety isn’t practiced in these homes, lives can be destroyed and lost: husbands, wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren, friends.  Often times, these needless deaths can be prevented.

You can help save lives.  Practice gun safety in your home. Tell your neighbors, friends and relatives.  Spread the message throughout your community.

Larry Pearson is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

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