By Don Mallicoat-Why is it people ignore the basic rules of gun safety? I’m not talking about 8 – 10 year olds who have never handled a gun before. Adults, many of them experienced hunters and gun owners, do it all the time. There is an old axiom that more people are accidentally killed by unloaded guns than loaded guns. I don’t doubt that it is true. As the owner of a gun store I see it all too often. Not by everyone, but enough that it causes me concern. Hunting season is over and many people will be going to ranges to practice or backyard ranges for some plinking. So let’s look at the basics as a reminder to be safe when handling guns.
First and foremost, treat every gun as if is loaded. Sounds simple doesn’t it? You just don’t know how many people are carrying guns around who think they are unloaded or haven’t even checked to see if they are. Just a couple of weeks ago a man brought a Marlin 39A Lever action .22 LR rifle in the store. A friend of his had passed away and the wife wanted to know how much it was worth so she could sell it. As a rule in our store, the first thing we do with ANY gun is clear the action. When he handed it to me I worked the lever and a live cartridge was ejected. Opening the tubular magazine I found that it was full. He was very apologetic but that caused me to wonder, “Why didn’t he check it when he got it or check it before he brought it in?” Treat every gun as if it is loaded, following the basics of firearm safety, and you and your friends/family will never be injured. Also insist on it with your friends.
Second, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Here’s another big one we see in the store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been swept by the barrel of a handgun when someone is looking at it. Not so much with rifles and shotguns, but what’s the difference? Yes, we check the chamber before we hand it to someone, but it still isn’t safe (see rule one above). We hand the gun to someone with the muzzle pointed perpendicular to us. As soon as it is in their hand they immediately turn it and point it as me. And to make matters worse at the same time they do that they violate the next rule.
Third, don’t put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but hand someone a rifle, shotgun, or pistol and the first thing they do is put their finger on the trigger (no matter where it is pointed). Most modern semi-auto handguns have an indention on the frame where the finger should rest. That is where the trigger finger goes. On rifles and shotguns the trigger finger rests nicely on the trigger guard. If you are looking at a gun for purchase the best thing to do is ask if you can pull the trigger. If so, clear the chamber, point the gun in a safe direction, and only THEN put your finger on the trigger to pull it.
And lastly, when you are on the range or in the field, be sure of your target and what is in front of or behind it. We had an incident in the mountains a couple of years ago where a hunter accidently shot someone who was in the forest picking Galax leaves. He clearly violated this rule. I call it situational awareness.
Several years ago CNBC did a documentary (I call it a hatchet job) on a perceived faulty safety mechanism on the venerable Remington Model 700 centerfire rifle, the most popular deer rifle in the country. They highlighted four cases where someone was killed by an accidental discharge of the rifle when the safety was supposedly engaged. I knew beforehand what CNBC was trying to do, knew it would make me angry, but forced myself to watch it anyway. In every incident, the gun handler had violated one or more of the four basic rules above; primarily, not pointing the muzzle in a safe direction. So if we all observe, and insist among our shooting friends, these basic rules we will all have more fun at the range and in the field.