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gun safety guide

The Ultimate Guide To Gun Safety

Gun Safety Rules The 4 Rules of Gun Safety
Other Gun Safety Rules Gun Safety While Shooting
Handle Misfires or Malfunctionswith Extreme Care Mechanical Malfunctions
Gun Safety While Carrying Holster Safety
Safe Gun Storage Best Practices forAmmunition Safety
Children and Gun Safety Summary of Gun Safety

It is the responsibility of the carrier or owner of a firearm to properly observe gun safety. Firearms have destructive potential, and safe gun handling cannot be overstated. Whether you are a seasoned pro or a complete novice looking to get a handle on safe firearms practices, this guide from has the tips, tricks and knowledge that you need to understand basic firearm safety.

Those seeking instruction should do so from qualified professionals. This guide is solely for informational purposes, and Alien Gear Holsters disclaims any responsibility, liability or otherwise from any inadvertent errors contained herein. The reader assumes all risks when handling firearms.

Gun Safety Rules

the rules
                of gun safety in depth

Whilst there are no set-in-stone actual "gun safety rules," it isn't uncommon to find mentions of the "4 Rules of Gun Safety," or the "4 Laws of Gun Safety" or at least something to that effect. The rules enumerated by the oft-repeated list are by no means comprehensive, but are the most widely repeated.

The four rules of gun safety are largely attributed to Jeff Cooper. Cooper, a Marine Corps officer and combat veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, became a firearms instructor and competitive shooter after his retirement from military service. Cooper is a legend in the firearms community, and while he hardly invented the rules of gun safety, most people learned the four rules he taught or some variation thereof.

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety

the 4 rules of
                gun safety

The 4 Rules of Gun Safety are as follows:

Treat Every Gun As If It's Loaded.

Even if you know a gun is not loaded, act as if it is at all times. Relying on your knowledge that a pistol is unloaded CAN result in accidents being avoided...until you get it wrong. If you don't take chances, then nothing will go wrong.

Never Aim at Something You Don't Intend To Shoot

The muzzle should never be pointed at something that you wouldn't want to be shot, killed or destroyed. Definitely DO NOT aim a firearm at a person unless you are defending yourself or someone else from mortal danger. Doing so outside of those circumstances, even as a joke, is a crime known as brandishing in many jurisdictions.

Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until You Intend To Shoot

Just as with the previous rules, take no chances. A negligent discharge CAN kill. One way a negligent discharge can occur is by actuating the trigger accidentally. Remember: keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to fire.

Be Sure Of Your Target And What's Beyond It

Make sure that what you're shooting at is what you want to shoot at. If you aren't sure of the target, you probably shouldn't fire to avoid any possible collateral damage.

The preceding rules are the most-oft repeated, and for good reason. The idea behind each of them is to take every precaution to not discharge a gun unless you mean to do it. Naturally, there are many more things to consider regarding firearm safety, but the 4 rules of gun safety listed here are the best starting point.

Other Gun Safety Rules

gun safety rules

Besides the classic four gun safety rules, there are a few more to always bear in mind.

Know Your Gun

You should familiarize yourself with your firearm, whether it's a rifle, shotgun, pellet gun, pistol, or whatever it might be. The onus is on you to be safe with a firearm and that begins with knowing the ins and outs of how your gun works. Give the owner's manual a good read. Observe how easily any safety mechanisms are engaged or disengaged. Learn how it handles regarding recoil, when being loaded and so forth.

Just like how a person learns how their car handles, a person should learn how their gun handles. The safest operator of a car or a firearm is a person who knows exactly how it works and any of its quirks, foibles and peculiarities.

Don't Rely On The Safety Mechanism

It is a fallacy to believe that a mechanical safety is foolproof. It isn't that a mechanical safety does nothing, but it's best to rely on an active focus on and attention to practical safety rather than rely on a mechanical safety net. Viewing a mechanical safety that way can lead to carelessness, which can lead to tragedy.

As a corollary to learning the ins and outs of your firearm, learn the intricacies of the mechanical safety features on your gun as well. Safety mechanisms take a variety of forms, so it behooves you to know how your gun's safety works.

Be Careful With Gun Mods

Gun mods are very popular. Since so many accessories and upgrades are available for every type of firearm available, a lot of people will get tempted to accessorize or upgrade various parts. Be very careful. Just like with modifying a car, a lot can go wrong with amateur modifications of working parts such as the trigger, firing or safety mechanisms. Just like with modifying a car, a dire result can occur if a modification goes sideways.

It's not that gun modifications can't be perfectly functional; they can. It's also not that one should just buy a factory model with the desired upgrades. However, a factory model will, in all likelihood, work better and do so more often than a modified model. Just like cars, the quality of the person doing the upgrade affects the efficacy of the upgrade.

With that said, if you intend on having a modification done, be sure that the work is done by a reputable gunsmith and is tested for function.

Keep Your Gun In Good Working Order

Just like with a car, a maintained firearm is a more reliable, safer firearm. Clean regularly, even if you haven't fired it in a while. Regular lubrication will keep a pistol in good working order and will keep rust away. If you carry a pistol everyday, especially in an IWB holster, rust is even more of a danger due to regular contact with sweat; EDC guns should be cleaned at least weekly.

Have your pistol serviced regularly by a gunsmith. A basic cleaning - i.e. a field strip and cleaning, the most basic cleaning - is easily enough done by the amateur, but anything beyond that should be done by a qualified technician if one lacks the requisite knowledge and skills. Firearms, much like watches, use much smaller moving parts than automobiles. The average person should not even attempt to disassemble and reassemble a watch and likewise should avoid the same with their gun.

Gun Safety While Shooting

gun safety while

There are also principles of gun safety to observe while at the range or in the field. Careless shooting can easily result in tragedy, so it behooves anyone and everyone to observe proper shooting safety as well as safe handling.

Be Sure Of Your Target And What's Beyond It

As a corollary to the rule of not covering anything with the muzzle that you don't want destroyed, make sure you know what your target is, and what is behind it. Part of good shooting safety is taking the consequences of the shot into account. Does the target have adequate backstop? Is there anything behind the target or close to it that could cause a ricochet or any other negative consequences? Account for these things before pulling the trigger.

Avoid Shooting At Hard, Flat Surfaces

Don't shoot at hard, flat surfaces. These are the most likely to cause a ricochet, which can injure or kill anyone (or any living thing) that a ricocheting projectile strikes. Therefore, avoid shooting at rocks, road surfaces and so on. A soft backstop is best, such as dirt or sand. Avoid shooting at water, as bullets or shot pellets can skip off the surface, unless shot at a steep downward angle. Naturally, this a corollary to being sure of your target and what's behind it, but it bears further explanation.

Make Sure The Barrel Is Clear Of Obstructions

Before you shoot, make sure that there isn't anything obstructing the barrel. Inspect your gun before going to the range, and if you have time, give it a decent lubing. It will perform better. If any obstructions remain in the barrel, serious injuries or worse can occur.

There are a few ways to check for obstructions, and all are very easy to perform. First, ensure that the firearm is not loaded. Once you know that all ammunition is removed, if possible, open the action. Some firearms will allow this, such as most semi-auto pistols and long guns, but revolvers do not. One way is to shine an adequate light through the barrel to see if there are any obstructions. A penlight may be sufficient, though you may need a stronger light source.

The other method, and in truth is not the most highly recommended, is to stick something down the barrel. Once you see object emerge into the action, you know there aren't any obstructions. A pencil is sufficient for most pistols; you'll need something different for long guns.

If you find an obstruction, DO NOT attempt to dislodge it. Bullets are close to exactly the same diameter as the barrel, if not slightly larger by a few thousandths of an inch. This is so the barrel's rifling scores the bullet as it travels down the barrel and causes it to spin. Take your gun to a gunsmith and have them remove the obstruction.

Use Correct Ammunition

ammo handing

Naturally, a person should ensure they use correct ammunition. With centerfire ammunition - the bulk of pistols, shotguns and rifles - this is easily done. Look at the barrel of the gun - somewhere on the barrel, the caliber that the firearm is chambered for will be engraved or otherwise imprinted on it. To check your ammunition, look at the back of the cartridge case, and it should be printed on the rim of the cartridge.

If you are unsure of a gun's caliber, take it to a qualified gunsmith to find out. Do NOT take any chances. The least of the consequences can be ruining the firearm; injury or death can also result from using incorrect ammunition.

Are you planning to fire any ammunition that's rated as +P, or +P+? Check to see if your gun is rated for it. Some are, some aren't, and some recommend limited use of +P ammunition. If you don't know if your gun is rated for +P or +P+ rounds, don't use it.

Rimfire cartridges, such as the .22 family, require some attention. Almost all guns shooting a .22 caliber bullet are .22 long rifle (or .22 LR) but some can fire both .22 LR and .22 Magnum (or .22 WMR) and some fire only .22 Short, an extremely rare round. Ensure which your firearm is chambered for and use only that ammunition.

Shotgunners should note the chamber length, especially with older guns. A shell that's too short for a gun's chamber length won't pattern well, and a shell that's too long won't chamber. The most common chamber lengths are 2 ¾-inch, 3-inch, and 3 ½-inch, though other shell lengths are available despite being less common.

A chamber length of 3 inches is the most common among shotguns across all bore sizes, and most 3-inch chambers can fire 3-inch and 2 3/4"-inch shells. A 3 ½" chamber and shell, generally only found in 12 gauge shotguns, are for magnum loads, as a 3 ½" shell is a 10-gauge shotgun load in a 12-gauge shell.

On most modern shotguns, the chamber length will be engraved on the barrel, and you should only use ammunition that will work for that chamber length. Older shotguns may not. If you aren't sure, take it to a gunsmith for inspection.

Additionally, take care with cartridge-converted revolvers. These are black powder percussion cap revolvers such as an 1858 Remington or Colt Dragoon, that have a special cylinder installed to fire cartridges, as these pistols were made prior to the advent of cartridges. High-quality working reproductions of these pistols are made by a number of firms, as are conversion cylinders.

Make sure you use the correct caliber. The conversion cylinder will either be marked or come with literature alerting the owner to the converted caliber;.44-70 pistols such as the Dragoon, Walker and Army Colt revolvers, for instance, are usually converted to shoot .45 Long Colt. These firearms also require special ammunition. The original models used black powder instead of modern smokeless powders, which are more potent and generate far more chamber pressure than black powder.

When shooting a cartridge pistol, use only black powder cartridges or "Cowboy Action" loads, which use the equivalent amount of smokeless powder to the standard black powder charge for that cartridge. A cartridge with 70 grains of smokeless powder could rupture the cylinder walls in a pistol rated for 70 grains of black powder due to the much greater chamber pressures created by some smokeless powders.

When Shooting, Eye Protection Is Necessary

eye protection
                shooting safety

If shooting, eye protection is necessary and should be worn without exception if you can help it. While one needn't worry if shooting in defense of yourself (naturally) it is the case that the effort SHOULD be taken at the range and afield hunting if possible. Shooting is a wonderful activity for those that enjoy it as a hobby, and time spent at the range is never really wasted. However, residual damage can occur to the shooter as a result, especially to the eyes and ears.

A lot of things can go wrong when shooting. One could easily be hit in the eye by a spent shell casing (and they are hot) or debris. If a person leans far forward while shooting a scoped long gun, they can be hit in or around the eye area by the scope due to recoil. Debris can be kicked up, projectiles can fragment and ricochet, and so on. You only get one pair of eyes and once damage has occurred, it's not as if you can get new ones.

Eye protection rating is governed by the American National Standards Institute (a non-governmental body that establishes engineering standards) and is covered under ANSI code Z87.1, which is the standard adopted by the Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration (OSHA) for eye protection. Therefore, any eye protection should have at least an ANSI Z87.1 rating.

Shooting Requires Ear Protection

                protection shooting safety

When shooting, ear protection is necessary as well. Hearing damage not only CAN occur with every shot, it DOES happen every time you shoot without it. Ever hear ringing after a shot? That's tinnitus, which occurs after hearing damage has occurred. Hearing damage occurs instantaneously at 140 decibels; the typical gunshot produces 160 db or more. Unless one wants to be deaf or thinks needing to wear hearing aids is a good thing, attenuating the noise from shooting is critical.

Ear protection comes either in plugs or earmuffs. What you want to look for is the Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR. The NRR does not attenuate sound by the equivalent number of decibels, however, so a set of plugs with an NRR of 20 wouldn't reduce a 120 db concert to 100 db. The formula for actual reduction is to subtract 7 from the NRR and divide by 2. A set of ear plugs with an NRR of 20 would thus reduce noise exposure (20-7 = 13, 13/2) by 6.5 db.

If you wear two sets of hearing protection simultaneously, add a further 5 db of attenuation to the highest NRR rating. Thus, if you wear a set of earmuffs and earplugs, both having an NRR of 34, you get a total NRR of 39, and therefore, a noise reduction of 16.5 db.

Best practice for shooting is to wear plugs and earmuffs simultaneously to gain the highest reduction of noise exposure possible. If doing so, at least one (if not both) piece of ear protection should have an NRR in excess of 30. Often, the highest you'll find is 34; having plugs AND muffs with an NRR of 34 is the best you can get.

Handle Misfires or Malfunctions With Extreme Care


Something may go wrong, either as the result of a mechanical malfunction or worse, a misfire. In either case, handle with extreme caution.

Mechanical handgun malfunctions, such as a failure to feed or failure to return to battery, are much more common in semi-automatics, such as pistols, shotguns and rifles. As with any mechanical system, more parts means more complexity and therefore more that can go wrong. Do NOT attempt to force the gun to return to battery.

The best method of dealing with these issues is to completely unload the gun, then safely reload. See if the issue repeats. Insufficient lubrication is the most common cause; apply lubrication before you take the gun to the range next time. Magazines are another common culprit; clean and lubricate to see if that is the issue. If multiple instances occur, take the gun to a gunsmith, as it may need servicing.

If a misfire occurs, be extremely cautious. Clear the gun of any misfired rounds and walk away. Do NOT attempt to pick up or take away any rounds that were struck but didn't fire.

Safety is Critical Dealing With Misfires

gun james

A misfire is when a round is struck by the hammer, striker or firing pin and something other than a normal discharge occurs. Typically, the round's primer is struck causing an immediate discharge, propelling the bullet out of the barrel and causing recoil. In semi-automatics, this will also cause the action to cycle, ejecting the spent case. If anything other than that happens when the trigger is pulled, that's a misfire.

There are three types of firing malfunctions, true misfires, hangfires, and squibs. Each has it's own distinct causes, symptoms and resolutions. If a gun goes "click," when a round should have fired, there are a few things to do.

Pause To Allow For Hangfire

If a round does not fire when struck, first pause in case of a hangfire. Keep the muzzle on target; do NOT attempt to put the muzzle anywhere else.

The reason to do this is to allow for the possibility of a hangfire, which occurs when a round is struck but discharge is delayed. The delay may be less than a second, though it can be longer. Generally, pause for about 30 seconds if a round fails. If the round hasn't discharged after a good 30 seconds or so, it isn't likely to.

Hangfires usually occur to due to a bad round. The primer may not have been properly seated or the powder may have degraded or have been from a bad batch of gunpowder. There may have also been a malfunction of a firing pin that caused it to insufficiently strike the primer.

After a hangfire, examine the round. You should see a deep indentation in the primer. If you want to tell the difference, find a case that was normally expended, and compare the striker marks. If you notice the normally discharged round has a deeper mark than the hangfire round, that's a problem with the gun. Cease firing and take it to a gunsmith.

If it was the round, this may have been a defect with that round or the batch of ammunition it was part of. Fire another round to see if that's the case. If no other hangfire occurs with that box or boxes, then it was likely a bad bullet. However, if it repeats, and the issue clearly isn't the pistol, it's likely a bad batch of ammunition.

Take special care with hangfire from a revolver. Do NOT cycle the cylinder; be sure to eject the round after a misfire. A hangfire that occurs in a revolver cylinder, without the cylinder chamber being in battery behind the barrel, will likely do fatal damage to the pistol. Therefore, if a misfire occurs when shooting a revolver, allow some time so a hangfire can safely discharge. If a misfire occurs, remove the round from the pistol if not all ammunition entirely.

Dealing With A True Misfire

handing gun jams

A true misfire is when a round is struck by the hammer, striker or firing pin and does not discharge. Misfires pose the greatest danger, as the round has not discharged and therefore might. Thus, treat these with great caution.

If a round fails to fire, give it some time in case of a hangfire. If no discharge occurs, eject the cartridge and back away. If the round is still inert after a misfire, it generally will not go off if a few minutes have elapsed. Try to visually examine the round but don't try to pick it up or examine it too closely.

Misfires occur due to largely the same reasons as hangfires - bad ammunition or a malfunctioning firearm. Treat the same as a hangfire. If you can cycle other cartridges of the same ammunition, then you likely had a dud, which does - albeit rarely - occur. If not, then there was likely a mechanical malfunction.

In the latter case, take your gun to a reputable gunsmith for servicing.

The Squib Load: Worst of All Malfunctions

The worse malfunction is a squib load. How guns work is that sufficient pressure is generated by the explosion of propellant to send a bullet out of the barrel at high velocities. A squib load occurs when a round generates insufficient pressure to do so.

A squib load occurs when insufficient primer or propellant or bad primer or propellant(s) are put in the cartridge when it is loaded, either by hand or in a factory. This causes a dull discharge.

    Signs of a squib are:
  1. Quieter or odd noise at discharge
  2. Lighter or no recoil
  3. Discharge from ejection port or other applicable area
  4. Failure to cycle (in semi-autos)

The report will not be as loud, there won't be any or as much recoil as normal, and a semi-auto will often fail to cycle after a squib. Discharge of gases may also occur from parts of the pistol that normally emit none.

Hangfires and squib loads are more common in older firearms - especially black powder guns that have a flash pan. Additionally, poorly-made handloaded ammunition can result in a squib as well. Bad ammunition can also come from a factory, so even factory ammunition can produce a squib.

If a squib occurs, cease firing immediately. Many squibs leave a projectile in the barrel; firing again can easily result in a catastrophic failure of the firearm, including a possible barrel explosion. This can result in serious injury or death. Should you ever experience a squib, cease firing, unload the gun and take it to a gunsmith.

Some may recommend that a punch and a mallet be used to drive the squibbed bullet from the barrel. You can attempt this fix, but if you encounter considerable resistance, stop - and take the gun to a gunsmith.

Case Head Separation

gun malfunction

A related phenomenon is case head separation. A case head separation is where part of a cartridge case splits when fired. This causes exhaust gases that are normally expended out of the barrel (and propel the projectile) to come out elsewhere.

Often, a person notice gases escaping from where they normally do not. Bolt-action rifle shooters will often feel the exhaust gases from discharge against their face, semi-auto pistol shooters will see a visible discharge from ejection port. While some case head separations result in just a bit of off-gassing, they can also result in permanent damage to a firearm or worse.

Case head failures almost never occur with factory ammunition, as the most common cause is recycled brass that has weakened with reuse. Handloaders/reloaders can prevent this by annealing (heating and then cooling) cases (or having them annealed by the appropriate service provider) and by monitoring their brass.

Generally, standard rifle cartridge case (rimmed, narrow neck) will only be able to go through a few reloadings before a case head separation becomes a serious danger. Straight-walled cartridges (pistols, old rifle calibers) can last a little longer. Look for a shining "ring" in any area of a cartridge; that's an area that has weakened.

If a case head separation occurs, extract the separated cartridge if possible along with any remaining ammunition, and take your firearm to a gunsmith. If not, remove any remaining ammunition and still take your gun to a gunsmith.

Mechanical Malfunctions

mechanical gun

The most common mechanical malfunctions in firearms are a failure to feed, failure to return to battery and a failure to eject. Each has their own causes. Additionally, every design of firearm - such as pump action, lever action, bolt action, revolver or semi-automatic - is uniquely prone to one or all as a result of their mechanical design.

The most common cause of mechanical malfunctions is insufficient lubrication. Guns are, after all, machines, and the moving parts require lubrication to function smoothly. However, there can be mechanical defects or poor shooting technique(s) that can cause a mechanical malfunction.

Failure To Return To Battery

Battery is the condition where a firearm has been cocked and is ready to fire, and a failure to return to battery is where this does not occur after a round has been discharged.

The most common cause is insufficient cleaning and/or lubrication. Unload the firearm, field strip, apply lubricant and wipe away the excess. Thoroughly clean after shooting. A gun that sits idle (such as in a safe) should be given a good cleaning and lubrication every month or so, and also before a trip to the range. A gun that is carried on a daily basis should be cleaned and lubricated every week at the least.

Another cause is using improper shooting technique, especially "limp wristing," or not sufficiently gripping the pistol. Inertial movement is required for semi-automatic firearms, and if the gun is not sufficiently held, this can cause the action to incompletely or improperly cycle. Reposition your grip for greater strength, if this is the case, after returning the pistol to battery.

Other causes of failures to return to battery include faulty magazine or recoil springs. A malfunctioning magazine can send a round into the chamber at too shallow or too steep an angle, causing the slide on automatics to jam on an improperly-seated round. Unload, disassemble, clean and lubricate the magazine to see if this is the culprit. If the issue continues, you should invest in new magazines.

A weakened or faulty recoil spring lacks the requisite force to return the pistol to full battery. Start by cleaning and lubricating the spring. If the issue continues, replace the spring. If the issue continues, the issue likely lies elsewhere.

Other causes can include faulty magazine or recoil springs, burrs on metal components (such as the frame or the barrel feed ramp) and ammunition issues.

Not all firearms tolerate all types of ammunition; some 1911 pistols, for instance, are notorious for not accepting hollow point rounds. Some pistols also don't react well to steel cases. To see if the ammunition is the culprit, try using a different type. If ammunition turns out to be the cause, use only ammunition that your gun accepts easily. Firearms are machines and while machines are merely collections of parts, they do acquire peculiarities of function that the owner/operator must pay attention to. Many car owners, for instance, notice better operation when using a particular brand of oil or gasoline and will only use those brands. Likewise, many gun owners will only use certain brands of ammunition.

However, if cleaning or lubrication of the pistol and/or magazines, better shooting technique or use of ammunition known to be reliable do not resolve failures to battery, there may be a deeper issue. Take your gun to a qualified gunsmith.

Failure To Feed

                feed failure

Failures to feed occur when the next round fails to cycle after a discharge, which can have a number of causes. Don't force the firearm to load; extract the cartridge and attempt to cycle the next round. If it doesn't work the second time, don't force it, and address the cause before attempting to shoot again.

Often, semi-automatics can fail to feed if the owner is using a faulty magazine or hasn't inserted the magazine sufficiently. Check to see if the magazine is fully inserted, and fully seat it if this is the case. If a faulty magazine is the culprit, clean and lubricate the magazine. If a faulty spring or magazine follower is the culprit, replace the faulty part or purchase a new magazine.

Another cause, common to semi-auto pistols, is insufficiently racking the slide when cocking the pistol. Pull the slide completely to the rear and release or guide back into battery. The feed ramp and throat of the barrel, which the round is inserted into when the action cycles, may require "polishing" (smoothing the metal) to remove any burrs or resolve manufacturing or material defects as well. Though the amateur CAN do this, the goal is to smooth rather than remove excess material. It is a very delicate part, which is why most people should consider having a gunsmith perform this operation.

Lever, bolt and pump action firearms - in other words, guns that much be cycled manually - can likewise fail to feed for the same reasons, namely insufficient cleaning and lubrication, insufficient manual cycling, or the feed mechanism requiring a gunsmith's attention. Clean and lubricate, or cycle more vigorously to resolve the issue. If this does not resolve the issue, take the gun to a gunsmith to have it inspected.

If the issue is not due to one of these issues, take it to a gunsmith for a diagnosis and repair.

Failure To Eject

A failure to eject is typically caused by a faulty ejector, or, for manually cycled firearms such as bolt, pump and lever actions, insufficient cycling. If improper cycling is the cause, do so correctly and the issue should resolve itself. If an ejector is the culprit, have it addressed by a gunsmith.

Gun Safety While Carrying

                carry gun safety

Gun safety while at the range is one thing, but gun safety while carrying is something else entirely. That introduces a whole new set of guidelines and rules to follow, as a firearm must be kept securely in place...until it has to be used.

As a result, that means more elements that have to be accounted for in order to safely carry a firearm. Whether one is open carrying or concealed carrying, there are some safety considerations to bear in mind.

One In The Chamber or Not

There are a lot of people who are torn on the issue of carrying with one in the chamber or not. A great deal of discussion goes on regarding this topic amongst gun owners, in magazines and on internet forums. Many feel that there's no point in carrying a gun for self-defense if it isn't going to have one in the chamber, though many feel that carrying with an empty chamber is safer.

The argument goes something like this: if you have one in the chamber, you won't have to worry about having to rack the slide (if carrying an auto) or getting to the next chamber (if carrying a revolver) if a self-defense scenario emerges and besides you probably won't have the time if one does. But, say those who think it's a bad idea, having a round in the chamber could allow a negligent or accidental discharge to occur due to improper handling. Carrying without a chambered round is therefore safer.

Both are correct. Most gunfights or self-defense shootings occur in a matter of seconds, so you may not have time to rack the slide or get to the next chamber. However, an accidental or negligent discharge will not occur if you carry with an empty chamber.

A drop fire, where a pistol fires if dropped, is one of the primary concerns people have in this area. However, drop firing (a form of slam fire) is less common in modern firearms. Many modern guns (including revolvers) include a drop safety that blocks the firing pin to keep the gun from discharging unless the trigger is deliberately pulled. There are additional safety mechanisms that can likewise keep a discharge from happening as well.

Carrying one in the chamber or not is up to the individual carrier. It's your choice, and you'll have to decide what you wish to do.

Holster Safety

gun holster

Holster safety involves a number of factors. Primary among them is retention. Not every design offers the same amount of holster retention. The easier it is to get a gun out of the holster, the easier it is for it to come out when a person didn't mean it.

Some holsters feature a retention feature of some sort, such as a thumb break strap. Some holster makers create models with multiple retention features, for maximum security.

The individual carrier will have to decide what retention level they are comfortable with. Some holsters are adjustable, so the owner can set the retention level they want. A lighter retention level means easier access, but also makes it easier for either someone to grab the gun against the owners' wishes, or for it to fall out. Tight retention makes drawing and reholstering more difficult, but a grab or a fall less likely.

Trigger guard coverage is likewise a concern. Many modern semi-auto pistols feature only an integrated trigger safety; the gun can thus only fire if the trigger is pulled. A holster that doesn't cover the full trigger guard can potentially snag on the trigger while being drawn or even with moderate movement, which can cause an accidental discharge. Unless one is going to carry a gun that has either a long trigger pull or additional safety mechanisms, anything less than full trigger coverage should be avoided.

Holster Materials

holster materials

Holster materials generally are either plastic, leather or synthetic, though hybrid designs incorporating all materials are available as well as holster design has evolved greatly in recent years. Whereas once a simple leather pancake was all that was available, now there are a myriad of options.

Leather holsters can, like any holster, pose certain risks. Reholstering in many leather pancake holsters can be awkward, as the lack of structural rigidity will cause the holster to "wilt" once drawn from the holster. Additionally, some belt slide leather holsters - which consist of little more than a leather loop an inch or two in width that partially covers the trigger guard - can cause an accidental discharge with some pistols, as the material can snag and engage the trigger. This is especially a danger in pistols with a light trigger pull that have only passive trigger safety systems.

Composite or Plastic holsters are widely popular, with many being marketed as "tactical" holsters and/or "duty holsters" for military and police personnel. These holsters are made out of durable, low-friction plastics such as Boltaron or Kydex. The latter has become almost synonymous with holster use and some refuse to even consider purchasing a holster made from any other material despite there being no difference functionally between Kydex and comparable polymers. Some manufacturers have begun making holsters from carbon fiber as well.

Kydex holsters, or holsters made from other composites, are quite safe, as many ARE employed as duty holsters by police and military personnel. However, added safety measures can add complexities that aren't easy to navigate. Pressure-activated retention systems, which require a specific action release the pistol, can be very difficult to operate under stress and accidental discharges are known to have occurred with such retention systems.

Nylon holsters and holsters made from other synthetic materials are extant as well. Like leather, these holsters are made with a thick, heavy-duty cloth. Many of these are budget models, though many are perfectly functional despite the perceived lack of quality due to price. Despite many of these holsters are perfectly safe despite sometimes lacking as much retention as other designs, posing a danger of allowing a firearm to slip out of the holster during physical activity, which can lead to a drop-fire with older firearms or those lacking a drop safety.

Lastly, there are hybrid holsters. Hybrid holsters combine materials, usually with a cloth backer (such as leather, neoprene, nylon or multilayer design) combined with a plastic (often Kydex, Boltaron or carbon fiber) holster retention shell.

Some hybrid holsters feature adjustable retention, wherein the retention shell can be adjusted up or down to provide greater or lesser tension against the gun's surface. Many such holster shells are custom-molded to fit a specific make and model of pistol, and such holsters will provide much better retention than designs that are not. However, the lack of other retention features (such as a thumb-break strap) can turn some people away from these holsters.

Types of Holster

Every type of holster has benefits and drawbacks; it's up to the carrier to decide which they want to employ. Some people have several and alternate depending on circumstances.

Waistband holsters are the most popular. The reason is that they are the easiest to wear and access if need be. Inside the waistband or IWB holsters are worn tucked into the waistband, and can be easily concealed under an untucked shirt or with a shirt tucked over them, though some wear them for open carry as well. Outside the waistband or OWB holsters are typically worn on the belt. While they can be concealed - often easily with a jacket or untucked longtail shirt - they are most popular for open carrying. All but the largest of pistols can be carried in this manner, including concealed.

Ankle holsters are likewise easily concealed, though only if one is wearing long pants. Many find them awkward and quick access is not possible. Many consider ankle holsters only fit for a backup gun and are only feasible for small pistols. Jogging is also not recommended while wearing them.

Shoulder holsters are only concealable under outerwear, and do not easily conceal bulkier pistols. However, many people find shoulder holsters don't distribute the weight of the pistol the best. As a result, not everyone considers them the most comfortable. Some may, but a lot of people don't. This plus the additional expense of shoulder holsters is part of why many avoid the Bond rig.

Thigh holsters have become wildly popular in recent years, as they are highly "tacticool" and are very popular in the open carry crowd. Concealment is impossible unless one wears a trench coat. Thigh holsters are easily and naturally accessed, though, which is why they are so highly regarded and also used by the military and elite law enforcement units.

Pocket carry is possible with small pistols as well, though the use of a pocket holster is absolutely recommended. Pocket carry makes for very easy concealment in some cases, though it can wear one's pants pockets out much sooner than they intended.

Off-body holsters, such as concealed carry purses and fanny pack carry, have a certain amount of traction as well.

Gun Grip Holster Access

gun grip holster

One of the biggest aspects of safety while carrying is controlling for grip access. If gaining access to your pistol grip is easy for anyone other than yourself, that is an unsafe situation as someone other than yourself could take your firearm away from you and use it to commit criminal acts.

This is especially a concern for those who want to open carry. As more states have begun allowing people to carry their guns openly for all to see, those who desire to do so have become highly visible to malefactors present in the general population. Many open carriers believe that visibly armed people deter criminals, but an externality of open carry has been a growing number of incidents where an open carrier is forcibly deprived of their weapon by hoodlums.

Grip access, therefore, should ideally be only possible for the person carrying the firearm. If one is to open carry, a holster with a retention device such as a thumb break strap should be seriously considered.

Trigger Guard Safety

                trigger guard

Naturally, the need to safely guard the trigger guard speaks for itself, and especially for any firearm that is being carried loaded. One should never, ever, carry a loaded firearm with a finger on the trigger. The pressure required for a trigger to "break" - meaning to engage the firing mechanism and discharge a round - is easily exerted, even by children; carrying a loaded weapon with a finger on the trigger is invitation to disaster, as even a slight jolt caused by a misstep, accidental collision with a person or inanimate object, can cause an accidental discharge.

Naturally, this goes back to the 4 rules of gun safety - namely keeping one's finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

There is a reason why carrying with one's finger off the trigger is taught in every hunter's safety course for carrying long guns in the field, as well as other best practices for carrying a loaded shotgun or rifle.

For those carrying a pistol for defensive purposes, one's holster should include sufficient trigger guard coverage, meaning that the entire trigger guard should be covered. Trigger guard holsters, which only cover the trigger guard, often don't cover the entire area. This can lead to snags on the trigger, which can lead to accidental discharges.

This is a significant danger if carrying double action pistols that lack a positive safety or are carried without a positive safety engaged. Pistols with a passive trigger safety system, such as Glocks and their many clones, need only a trigger to be pulled to fire and an insufficiently covered trigger guard can easily result in a trigger snag and accidental discharge.

Additionally, pocket carry can pose a similar danger, as a pistol's trigger can be easily pulled by snagging in a pocket. However, this can be easily avoided by employing a pocket holster. They are often very low cost, so there are few excuses for pocket carrying without one.

There are also some people who employ off-body carry, such as in a purse, fanny pack or messenger bag. The same rules apply, as the trigger guard should be totally covered. If one is going to carry in this manner, a pocket holster should be employed as well. Those carrying in a fanny pack should also be aware that the 90s called and want their fanny packs back.

Practice Carrying

                wearing gun

If a person does not already carry, they should practice doing so before actually carrying a gun. Carry an unloaded firearm in a holster first, and in as unpopulated an area as possible, such as a nature trail or other area. If you have access to a blue gun (dense plastic dummy guns) then carry that instead.

This will get a person used to the weight of the pistol, how it wears, how it responds to activity and so on. That way, once a person is carrying with a loaded pistol, they will know how to do so more safely.

Finger Placement While Drawing

                placement drawing from holster

Naturally, one should keep their hand off the trigger until ready to shoot, but one can easily slip their finger into the trigger guard while drawing. Doing so is dangerous, as it can easily lead to an accidental discharge.

When drawing a pistol, the index finger of the shooting hand - or the trigger finger - should be straight until the pistol is presented and aimed. Some prefer to rest the trigger finger on the trigger guard, others prefer the slide (for a semi-automatic) or cylinder of a revolver. The trigger finger should not enter the trigger guard until the pistol is presented toward the target, aimed and the shooter is ready to fire.

The concealed carrier should practice their draw often to inculcate the correct draw. Police officers and military personnel do, as should a person who intends to carry for self-defense.

Safe Gun Storage

gun safe storage

Another aspect of gun safety is safe gun storage. Firearms should be properly stored in the home, though some disagree on just what that entails. In any case, there are certain universals of gun storage that should be observed.

First, firearms should be kept safe from moisture. Whether loaded or unloaded, moisture can cause rust, which can and will ruin an afflicted gun if left untreated.

Second, they should not be accessible by everyone.

Ammo Storage

Some prefer ammo storage and gun storage to be in the same location, some prefer to keep the two locked up in separate locations. The latter approach concentrates firearms and their ammunition in one location. Provided sufficient security, such as a gun safe or strong box with access limited to very few people, this approach can be perfectly safe.

However, many subscribe to the notion that separate, locked ammo storage and gun storage is preferable and in truth is more secure as more layers of security decrease the odds of a tragedy occurring. Many with children in the home will store ammunition separately from their guns, ensuring that even if they can somehow access the one, they cannot access the other.

Types Of Gun Storage

There are a number of different options one has for gun storage, and tossing a pistol in a dresser or nightstand drawer is not the best among them.

The most basic is a simple lockbox, as they are widely available and cheap. Many are little more than a metal box with a simple lock and key, though models are available with combination locks and even some featuring biometric (thumbprint) locks as well. If one wants to keep one or two pistols by the bed, they are a decent option. If you want a separate storage container for ammunition, they are also a good choice.

The best lockboxes are also mountable, as many feature bolt holes through which one can mount it to a surface such as a dresser, nightstand or shelf of some kind. This prevents the box from being moved. Some models can even be mounted to a wall - just make sure those are mounted to a stud.

Be wary of electronic locks, as fresh batteries must be maintained for the lockbox to work.

There are also gun cases. Many firearms come with a case at the point of purchase (it's mandatory for pistol purchases in many U.S. states) and most gun cases either feature locking latches or can be locked using a cable or padlock. Provided solid construction and a good lock, these are perfectly viable methods of storage. Metal cases will often be the most durable, though many plastic cases are just as strongly built if not more so. Look for gun cases that are rated for airline use; these will the most solidly built.

A gun cabinet is exactly what it sounds like - a cabinet for guns. Most have a simple lock on the doors, so make sure to not lose the key once locked. These are the classiest and most elegant, but can be the easiest to break into as many have simple glass doors. Therefore, you may want to consider purchasing a model that does not have glass doors, as a metal or totally wooden cabinet will not have this weakness.

However, a number of gun cabinets are no longer just simple uprights. Many gun cabinets and lock boxes are taking alternate shapes, as full-on gun storage furniture is becoming proliferate. Many take the shape of common household furniture, such as ottomans, wall shelving, even entire bed frames.

Gun safes are, naturally, the most safe. A gun safe provides the greatest degree of security, as access the most impeded. Additionally, many are fireproof, so your firearms and any other valuables stored in a gun safe can easily survive a fire in your home.

Gun safes range in size, so one need not dedicate an entire closet to it. Small safes are very popular for pistols, and many gun owners install one on a nightstand or in a nightstand drawer. However, long gun safes do require the requisite space for upright or horizontal storage.

Using a Gun Lock

gun locks

Some prefer to not only lock their firearms away, but employ a gun lock as well. There are different types of gun lock, and each works a little differently.

A cable lock is a type of padlock, but the part of the lock that's inserted into the main lock housing (the shackle) is on a cable instead of being a piece of solid metal like the padlocks many are used to. Everything else is the same though; insert the shackle, turn the key and it's locked.

Cable locks can be threaded through a gun's action and thereby render a gun unfireable, including pistols and many long guns. For those who want to keep a gun locked and inert while in storage, this method can be employed for very little cash and is very effective.

Trigger locks are one of the more popular types of gun lock. They may even be required in some jurisdictions. They are very simple, as trigger locks have two halves - one side with a shackle and one side with a lock cylinder. The shackle goes through the trigger guard, into the lock cylinder. Push the halves together until the lock "clicks." Just like a cable lock, open with a key.

However, trigger locks are known for a particular defect, in that the lock shackle sits on top of the trigger. A loaded pistol can be discharged if the trigger lock has sufficient travel, which a number of parents' groups, firearms and sporting advocacy groups, municipal and state governments are aware of. Some forswear against trigger locks for this very reason. With that said, every trigger lock comes with a manufacturer's warning not to employ a trigger lock on a loaded gun. Therefore, if you are going to use one, do NOT employ a trigger lock on gun that's loaded.

Rifles of AR-15 designs (and similar semi-automatic rifles) also can use magazine well locks, which range in design to a simple plastic block to mechanical locks.

Cable and trigger locks are the most common, but there are other gun lock designs though they are less common. Some pistols are manufactured with a locking system that the owner can actuate with a special key, often an Allen wrench (or hex key) or something like it, and there are other evolving gun lock designs. However, cable locks and trigger locks are currently the most prevalent.

Best Practices For Ammunition Safety

ammo safety

Ammunition safety is likewise important, as proper storage and use is paramount. A gun, in and of itself, is an inert machine; basically a gun is little more than a dead weight until it's loaded. Ammunition is what poses the actual proximate danger, as bullets fly very fast and do a lot of damage once they enter tissue. A bullet is basically a tiny bomb that sends a piece of metal flying, so it behooves a person to use it safely and give it the respect it deserves.

Use Correct Ammunition

Naturally, you want to use the correct ammunition. Incorrect ammunition will either not work or can cause a catastrophic failure which can ruin a weapon or cause serious injuries and/or death. It is of paramount importance that any firearm be loaded only for the ammunition it is chambered for.

The easiest way to see what sort of ammunition you should be using, look on or around the barrel of the firearm, and the chambering should engraved on the barrel. For shotguns, the chamber length should also be indicated. Once you have determined what ammunition you're supposed to be using, use ONLY that kind of ammunition.

If you are unsure about a gun's caliber, do not shoot it until you find out. Take it to a qualified gunsmith and they should be able to find out for you.

For shotgun ammunition, note the length of the shell. Most shotguns found in the United States are chambered for 2-¾ inch and 3-inch shells. Some are chambered for 3-½-inch shells, which are magnum rounds. Do not fire a round that is not supposed to be fired from your gun. Just like with rifles and pistols, a shotgun should have the bore (gauge) and chamber length engraved on the gun. If unsure, take it to a qualified gunsmith to find out.

After you have determined what caliber of ammunition your gun uses, ensure that you have the right bullets. Most of the time you can just read the box. However, if no box is available - for whatever reason - there are other ways to tell.

Centerfire firearms, which includes basically all shotguns, most rifles and pistols, use a cartridge that has the primer (a charge of shock-sensitive powder that sparks the main propellant charge upon being impacted by a striker or hammer) in the center of the round. Around the rim of the cartridge - the outside ring on the bottom of the bullet case - you should notice the caliber has been imprinted there.

Rimfire cartridges will not. However, there are only only a few common rimfire calibers - .22 WMR aka .22 Magnum, .22 long rifle or .22LR, and .17 HMR. Bear in mind that there are more than just these rimfire calibers, such as .17 HM2, .22 Short, and .22 PPC, but these are exceedingly rare. If you aren't sure of the caliber of the round, don't use it.

Do NOT use .22WMR in a gun chambered for .22LR only. A fatal malfunction can occur as a firearm chambered for .22LR is not likely rated for the chamber pressure created by a .22WMR round.

The .357 Magnum and .38 Special Conundrum

caliber problems

While there are many cartridges, a wide number of them - believe it or not - actually fire the same size projectile, such as .357 Magnum and .38 Special. A number of other calibers share the same size projectile as well, but the best known are these two.

Often, the creation of a new caliber is to "neck down" a cartridge to accept a smaller projectile. Said smaller projectile flies faster, farther and straighter than the parent case. Alternately, a larger case is created to hold more propellant, which shoots the same projectile as a different round at a higher velocity. This is exactly what led to the creation of the .357 Magnum, as the projectile (having a diameter of 0.357") is the same size as that of the .38 Special cartridge.

It is true that virtually every revolver chambered for .357 Magnum will shoot .38 Special ammunition. However, consult the owner's manual before doing so to ensure the manufacturer's recommendation.

There are a small number of automatics chambered for .357 Magnum, though they are rare and exceedingly expensive. These will NOT cycle .38 Special.

However, some .357 Magnum revolvers may not be able to fire some .38 Special rounds, such as some hollowpoints, wadcutters, +P or +P+ ammunition and so on. If you purchase a .357 Magnum and wish to practice using .38 Special ammunition, consult the manufacturer to learn which .38 Special rounds it is rated to shoot.

+P Ammo


For those who have never encountered it, +P ammo is ammunition rated as a personal protection round. Largely, the difference is that +P ammo has been overloaded, producing much higher chamber pressures once fired. This gives the projectile much higher velocity and deeper penetration upon hitting the target. Rounds that are rated +P+ are loaded even "hotter" than standard +P rounds.

Such ammunition takes a toll on a gun. The serviceable life of a pistol is reduced with use of +P rounds, and not every pistol (or rifle in some cases) is rated to fire +P ammo. Check the owner's manual or contact the manufacturer to determine if +P rounds can be safely used. If you cannot determine if the use of such rounds is safe, do not use them.

A pistol that is not rated for +P can malfunction if such ammunition is used. Semi-automatics depend on recoil to cycle each round; if the recoil is greater than the pistol can tolerate, it won't cycle properly. Chamber walls can seriously weaken or rupture, which poses significant risk to the shooter and anyone in the immediate vicinity.

Safe Ammo Storage

                safe storage

For safe ammo storage, you should stow it somewhere that is relatively temperature controlled and dry. It isn't necessary to invest in a humidor like you would get for cigars, but merely store where it can't easily get wet. People who live in high humidity areas should find some sort of enclosed storage. A stout lockbox or safe should suffice.

Likewise, total temperature control isn't necessary, as normal temperature levels in the typical home are perfectly tolerable. So long as a cartridge isn't subjected to wild temperature fluctuations and moisture, it can be stored for decades without issue.

However, unused rounds from a hunting trip or range day can get wet due to inclement weather or other sources of moisture. Therefore, take care to dry ammunition prior to returning them to storage, else corrosion will occur and the rounds will deactivate.

Take care to keep ammunition from suffering sharp knocks and dropping, so store it in a location where it isn't likely to be knocked over and preferably well out of the reach of children. A fireproof storage container is also recommended, as the last thing you'll want to worry about in the event of a house fire is dodging bullets.

Mechanical Gun Safety Features

handgun safety

Most firearms have some sort of mechanical gun safety. Exact safety features vary from firearm to firearm, and across all types of guns from handguns to long guns. There are a number of different types of mechanical gun safety, and each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Generally, safety mechanisms come in two varieties - passive and positive.

A positive safety is a safety device that requires some sort of user input and a passive safety is a safety device that is engaged by default.

Every safety device does something different. Trigger safety systems will lock the trigger assembly and disengage it from the firing mechanism. Firing pin safeties block the firing pin, thereby making it impossible for pin to strike the cartridge. Slide block safeties lock the slide in place. Some guns feature a total lock, which completely locks the firing pin, trigger and other parts of the firing mechanism until unlocked. These are typically actuated via a key provided by the manufacturer.

That said, there are several common varieties of safety feature, namely manual safeties, trigger safeties and grip safeties. Regardless of what type of safety mechanism a gun has, it should be stored unloaded with the safety on.

Manual Safety

manual safety

One of the most common safety features is a manual safety, meaning a safety device that has to be manually actuated to engage or disengage. This term is colloquially used to refer to a positive safety on a handgun. Handguns with a manual safety will usually have the safety located just above the grip (such as on 1911 pistols) or on the slide. Some are ambidextrous, with a safety catch located on both sides of the pistol.

However, many long guns have a manual safety as well, including most rifles and shotguns.

Most manual safeties are two-position safeties, as they are either on or off. However, on some handguns, the manual safety can only be engaged if the hammer is cocked, such as 1911 pistols.

Many bolt action rifles have a three-position safety, especially those using a Mauser or Mauser-derived action. Three-position safeties are either fully-locked (action is locked and the gun cannot be fired) half-locked (gun cannot be fired but the bolt can be opened and closed) or off, wherein the bolt can be opened or closed and the gun can be fired.

Most shotguns and many .22 LR rifles have a very simple manual trigger safety, a small button located on the trigger guard. When engaged, the trigger is locked and can't engage the firing pin. Once disengaged, the gun is ready to fire.

Decocker or Decocking Lever

Related to the manual safety is the decocker, or decocking lever. These are typically found only on double/single action pistols with a hammer, though a small number of double action only pistols have decockers as well.

A decocker uncocks a hammer, bringing it from the fully rearward position to forward. Single action and double action/single action pistols almost universally have a safety notch, which is a hammer position slightly before the forward position, which a decocker moves the hammer to in most decocker-equipped pistols, as well as a firing pin block, which is actuated via the trigger - requiring the trigger be pulled to fire.

Some older DA/SA pistols with a decocking lever lack the firing pin block, and decocking can cause an accidental discharge. If one has an older pistol where this is a concern, do not use the decocker with the pistol loaded or ensure that it is pointed in a safe direction.

After decocking, a full double-action trigger pull is required to fire, which requires a heavier trigger pull than some may be able to tolerate. Typically, the amount of pressure one must exert in a double action pistol is around ten or more pounds of pressure to get the trigger to "break" or engage the firing mechanism. Single action pulls, when the hammer is fully cocked, are closer to five or fewer pounds.

Some feel this is a sufficient safety mechanism, as the heavy trigger pull required can prevent situations where a single-action pistol would be accidentally discharged, such as the trigger snagging on a piece of clothing.

Some manufacturers have an integrated decocker AND manual safety, such as Beretta, which makes a manual safety and decocker available on multiple models. Some manufacturers, such as CZ, have made the safety features interchangeable, and the owner can change from a decocking lever to a manual safety and back again at will.

Trigger Safety

trigger safety

Another very common type of safety mechanism is the trigger safety. A trigger safety can take several forms; one type is a where the safety mechanism locks the trigger and blocks it from the rest of the firing mechanism. This type of trigger safety is often manually actuated, but is nonetheless a trigger safety.

Many handguns feature an integrated trigger safety system. These are especially common on polymer-framed, striker fired pistols, with Glocks being the archetype of the breed. Naturally, there are many derivatives of Glock's design available today, almost all of which feature a similar integrated trigger safety.

Glock did not develop this system, however; a similar design was released in the 1890s by Iver Johnson, on the Safety line of revolvers produced by that company. The integrated transfer bar safety on those pistols likewise functioned as a drop safety as the Glock's does today.

A Glock trigger safety uses a lever that protrudes forward of the rest of the lower half of the trigger when at rest, which engages the safety features. To engage the lever and deactivate the safety, one has to begin pressing the trigger until the lever is depressed and the trigger is made whole.

The way Glock's safety works is that while the trigger safety is engaged, the trigger assembly doesn't engage the striker mechanism and the firing pin (which the striker strikes) is likewise blocked.

Therefore, a Glock cannot be drop-fired nor slam-fired, nor can many other pistols with a trigger safety derived from the Glock design. It can only be fired by pulling the trigger, nor can any pistol with this type of safety.

Grip Safety

A grip safety mechanism, much like an Iver Johnson/Glock trigger safety system, uses a passive safety design to block the firing mechanism until a lever is depressed on the grip of the pistol. These are almost entirely relegated to semi-automatic pistols and at that, only a few designs.

Almost all pistols featuring a grip safety are 1911-type pistols or 1911 derivatives. There are others, such as Springfield's XD line of polymer pistols, but these safety devices are almost exclusive to 1911 pistols. While not being handled, one should notice a piece at the rear of the grip, which is integrated into the rear thumb rest, sticks out while not being handled. This is the grip safety. This lever must be depressed or the gun will not be able to fire.

Magazine Disconnect Safety

A magazine disconnect safety is a safety mechanism that engages a trigger or firing pin block when a magazine is not inserted in the pistol, so the pistol cannot be fired. This safety feature is somewhat controversial, as some feel that the lack of firing ability without a magazine can pose a tactical disadvantage in self-defense situations.

The idea behind them is that the operator can render the gun unfireable if they suspect they are about to be disarmed by an opponent and thus can't be shot with their own weapon. These mechanisms are required by many European countries, and aren't widely common in the U.S., but are present.

Drop Safety

A drop safety is a safety mechanism that prevents a gun from being discharged if dropped. These are mostly found on more modern firearms, as drop fires and slam fires (where hitting the firearm could cause a discharge) were a serious danger in previous eras.

In the 19th century, revolvers could easily fire if dropped, as the hammer rested over the cartridge primer. A hard enough knock could thus cause a discharge. This was also the case with lever-action and other rifles of the era as well. Revolver carriers avoided the danger by carrying with the hammer lowered over an empty chamber. It was also common for lever-action rifles to be carried at half-cock, which would not allow a drop or slam-fire discharge.

Eventually, manufacturers devised methods such as firing pin blocks and transfer bars that didn't allow for the hammer to drop on the cartridge or the cartridge being struck unless the trigger was pulled. Most modern revolvers and nearly all semi-automatics now feature a drop safety. Modern lever action rifles likewise now feature a drop safety.

Older firearms may lack this feature, so it is imperative that they be handled with an abundance of caution.

Rely On Gun Safety Instead Of A Gun Safety

While many firearms have a gun safety device that can certainly make the gun in question "safe" to a degree, one should not totally rely on a gun safety device. The reason is that proper handling and storage will go further than a mechanical device can.

Ideally, one should treat a safety mechanism as more of an insurance policy rather than a safety net; disaster can result if it fails once. If you safely handle a firearm, you won't need a safety.

Children And Gun Safety

child gun safety

One of the highest risk groups for serious injuries or fatalities due to accidental discharges is children, which is why gun safety is of paramount importance if one has children in the home or they are present while handling firearms.

Safety concerns regarding children and firearms is a sensitive topic. Some people refuse to have guns in their home for this reason, or refuse to allow anyone who carries in their home. Keeping guns away from children was the genesis of the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1990, which has remained a source of controversy. Likewise, many businesses that cater to children and parents refuse to allow people to carry there when legally permitted, and so on.

Granted, automobiles, heights and water are equally dangerous. Accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control (see the National Vital Statistics Report and this page on child health and mortality) are the leading cause of death for those aged 0 to 14 years and motor vehicle accidents, falls and drowning are the most frequent types of fatal accidents.

However, according to the Brady Campaign (PDF), 2,703 children died as the result of injuries from firearms in 2011. Suicides by firearm accounted for 61 percent (1,651), 32 percent (850) were due to homicide by firearm, and 5 percent (140) were due to unintentional injury. An additional 16,700 were injured.

Most people have seen horrific news reports of what can happen when children gain access to firearms.

Shooting incidents involving children takes several forms. One is where children shoot people - such as a playmate, sibling or parent - unintentionally, believing the gun wasn't real or something to that effect or not knowing what they were doing. Another common occurrence is when improper handling leads to a discharge that strikes a child. Yet another is when a child uses a firearm to commit suicide, and then there are homicides by firearms.

The latter two are most common among teenagers. Teens are more likely to commit suicide by firearm than any other age group from birth to 18 years of age. They are also more likely to commit murder with a firearm, including that of another teen, or conversely be murdered with a firearm than any other age group of people under age 18.

Often enough, the most effective act of gun safety regarding children is merely to store them properly.

Safe Gun Storage Cannot Be Overemphasized

youth gun safety

If there is one action a person can take that will virtually guarantee children will never be harmed by a gun in the home, it's safe gun storage. Keeping firearms and ammunition locked and out of the reach of children is the best and most reliable method for preventing tragedy.

The EveryTownResearch organization, a pro-Second Amendment organization dedicated to gun safety, found in its research that between December 2012 and 2013, at least 100 children died in unintentional shootings. Of those, their findings suggest, 70 percent were preventable simply by locking guns away.

Many have likely read a news report where a young child gained access to a loaded firearm and shot themselves, a sibling or playmate or a relative with it. Often, they didn't know it was loaded, or didn't think it was real. A great deal of these incidents likely would have been prevented had the gun been locked away.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the second most common cause of death for those 10 to 34 years of age in 2014. Young adults and teenagers have long been one of the highest risk groups - though adults aged 25 to 34 years are a slightly higher risk group - and it is likely that many teen suicides are preventable if firearms were locked away with only parental access being possible.

The Brady Campaign also reported 68 percent of school shooters obtained firearms from their home, typically from a parent or relative.

Ideally, all guns in a home will be stored locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored likewise locked and separately from one's firearms. However, not everyone is going to. A good deal of people like to have at least one loaded firearm accessed easily in case a defensive need arises, such as a pistol like many keep on or in a nightstand.

If you decide that you need to have a loaded handgun, that isn't to say it's unsafe. With proper monitoring, it's perfectly fine. However, to stay as safe as possible, you should keep your handgun holstered on your person at all possible times.

If you keep some other manner of firearm loaded for defensive or other purposes - many people keep a shotgun or AR-15 for home defense - the weapon should be kept with the safety on and out of reach for children. A gun safe or securely locked cabinet would be ideal.

The NRA has their own safety campaign for children, replete with a mascot called "Eddie the Eagle" and a flock (or rather, convocation) of friends that teach children about the subject. These materials are widely disseminated, but advocate four rules for children if they see a gun laying around.

  • Stop!
  • Don't Touch!
  • Run Away
  • Tell An Adult

These steps, if followed, create a safety protocol and procedure for unattended firearms.

Resolving Child Curiosity About Guns

children and

Children are curious, and child curiosity about firearms is naturally a source of concern. Curious children have caused accidental discharges, shot playmates, and been involved in other terrible accidents involving firearms, and therefore it behooves parents or people with children constantly in their home to ensure children are made less curious about firearms and/or cannot access them.

The right age for children to be introduced to guns is a matter of debate. Some hold that numerical age is not a good rubric to go by and stress that emotional maturity is a better gauge of when a child will be ready for being introduced to firearms.

One of the most common recommendations is to perform routine gun maintenance around children. Have them observe guns being cleaned, so they become used to the sight of firearms in the home.

Teaching Gun Safety

teaching gun safety at
                an early age

At some point, parents will have to have "the talk" with their children regarding guns. Naturally, children need to be instructed about the potential for injury or death and therefore to respect firearms as such. The appropriate age for this, again, is a topic of some debate. Some believe that when observable "gun play" begins - whether in boys or girls - that's when the discussion is warranted.

Many people are given a pellet or airsoft gun as their first "firearm." While many learned gun safety this way, these "guns" are still capable of causing injury. The common refrain of "shooting your eye out" has a more than modicum of truth, so these "starter guns" should be accompanied with lessons in firearm safety, especially the Four Rules of Gun Safety. Shooting playmates, siblings, animals or anything other than targets should not be tolerated.

In this manner, a BB, pellet or airsoft gun can be a good teaching tool for the rules of safety. If any of the rules are broken or not observed, confiscate it and return it when you think the child is ready to begin observing them. Some recommend starting a child off with a toy gun and then graduating them to their first air-powered gun once they've demonstrated they can handle the toy gun safely.

When teaching gun safety to children, it may be difficult to drive home the point of how dangerous a gun can be. Some recommend finding an object to shoot to demonstrate the destructive power of ammunition. A large, fleshy fruit such as a melon of some sort (be it watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew) can be a good visual aid.

A 2012 CNN article quotes a girl named Robin (she didn't provide her last name) whose father demonstrated the destructive potential using a jar of red Kool-Aid during her childhood. The jug exploded when shot with a .410-gauge shotgun, which made an impression on her, as did the recoil from his .357 Magnum revolver. She maintains that she got a healthy fear and respect for guns from that point on.

If you feel your child isn't grasping one or any concept relating to firearms safety, they probably aren't ready yet.

Additionally, there are also a lot of parents that have children with special needs. While many special needs children are perfectly capable of learning proper firearms safety, some are not. In the case of the latter, safe storage is an absolute must if any guns are to be kept in the home.

Youth Gun Safety Education Outside The Home

                safety for kids

Gun safety in the home is one thing, but what about outside the home?

Range days require safe handling and safe shooting. If your child cannot safely handle, then they cannot safely shoot. Some people will hold their child whilst they shoot, which certainly can work for young children and help absorb the recoil, though this is totally the choice of the parent. One school of thought holds that if a child cannot handle the recoil of a firearm, they shouldn't shoot that firearm.

Before a child should appear on a range, they should be able to properly handle and control a gun. They should also be instructed in safe shooting, such as never shooting at hard, flat surfaces or at any target without knowing what's beyond it.

What if you and your child are at another home where guns are present, or just your child themselves, such as the home of a friend or a relative?

Naturally, one cannot anticipate everything in advance. If you know what other homes your child may frequent, it's a good idea to ask if firearms are present in those homes and how they are stored.

If it happens to be the case that firearms in a home your child or children frequent are not stored as securely as in your own, make sure your children know not to touch them and if any are left unattended, to follow the NRA's steps to stop, don't touch, leave the area and find an adult and tell them.

If you decide to mention something to another parent, friend or relative about safe storage, do so tactfully. Whilst following best practices for firearm storage are vital, especially when and if children are concerned, some people do not react positively to criticism of what they do in their own home.

Remember that children are naturally curious. They also emulate the behavior of adults, and if you practice improper or cavalier gun safety, they are likely to do the same. Naturally, parents are human and make mistakes; no one does everything perfectly all the time. However, assiduous adherence and mindfulness to the basic tenets of gun safety can ensure that your children learn and practice good gun safety themselves.

Summary of Gun Safety

gun safety guide
    Remember the 4 Rules of Gun Safety:
  • Rule 1: Treat Every Gun as If It's Loaded
  • Rule 2: Never Aim at Something You Don't Want to Shoot
  • Rule 3: Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until You Intend to Shoot
  • Rule 4: Be Sure of Your Target and What's Beyond It

Remember to practice only safe shooting.

Remember to use correct ammunition.

Know how your gun works and handle with an abundance of care, as there is no adequate substitution for safe handling.

Only carry in a holster with adequate retention and trigger guard coverage.

"Tedder Industries, LLC d/b/a Alien Gear Holsters ('Alien Gear') offers this guide solely for informational purposes and makes no warranty as to the accuracy of the content or information contained herein. All firearms users should obtain training regarding firearm use and safety from certified, professional firearms safety experts, and this guide is not a substitute for such training. Firearms users are required to comply with all applicable legal requirements that come with firearm use and ownership and Alien Gear makes no representations as to those requirements. Alien Gear does not manufacture or sell firearms, and Alien Gear's products are not designed as, nor are they intended to be used as, firearm safety devices. The owner and user assume all responsibility for firearm safety."