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These are the foremost important rules for the safe handling of firearms, they should be practiced at all times when handling firearms. The responsible handling of firearms is key to the safety of yourself and those in your proximity, these rules exist so that we may all enjoy shooting sports in safety. Familiarize yourself with, and memorize these fundamental rules so we are all able to enjoy shooting sports in a fun and safe environment.
The purpose of this rule is to prevent the assumption that a firearm may be unloaded. It is paramount that every time a firearm is picked up or handled that it is immediately cleared by opening the action and visually inspecting that the firearm is unloaded and the chamber is clear of any ammunition. The method of clearing a firearm will vary by design, so it is best to refer to the firearms manual, or receive proper training with the firearm you are handling.
Before transferring a firearm to another individual, you would also open the action and verify that the firearm is clear and show the person you are handing the firearm to that the action is open and the chamber is clear. Likewise, when receiving a firearm from another individual they would open the action and verify that the chamber is clear and then show you that the action is open and the firearm is clear before handing it to you, this is always done with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
It may seem redundant to the new shooter to repeatedly clear and verify the state of a firearm, but it is absolutely critical to the safe handling of firearms. It only takes a moment to verify that the firearm is clear and safe to handle to prevent serious injury or death.
Whether you are handling a firearm that you’ve just cleared or are handling a firearm that is known to be loaded, it is critical that you always know the direction that the muzzle is pointed and that it is safe to point the firearm in that direction. This safe direction will change with your environment, when handling firearms indoors or outdoors the muzzle should never be pointed in the direction of people, or objects that a bullet could pass through or ricochet off of. It is always important to know where your bullet will stop if a round is discharged. When outdoors it is most common to point a firearm down toward the ground or down range toward a backstop. Indoors this rule can sometime be difficult to apply depending on your location. For example, if you are in an apartment building on a floor other than the first, there is virtually no safe direction to point a firearm. Use your best judgement and extreme caution in these circumstances, bullets can easily travel through walls, ceilings and floors and injure or kill someone.
This rule applies when handling a firearm that has malfunctioned as well. In some instances, for example, if you’ve pulled the trigger and the round did not discharge, you should keep the firearm pointed downrange for several seconds to make sure that the round is not a hang fire (a round that discharges late). Once you feel it is safe, you may clear the malfunction with the firearm still pointed in a safe direction. If you are unfamiliar with the proper procedure to clear your malfunction, place the firearm on your shooting bench still facing down range and notify someone that knows how to safely clear the malfunction.
Whether you are shooting recreationally, hunting, or using your firearm in a self defense situation it is your duty to know that the path of your bullet is clear of everything except your intended target. That means, you must know what is between you and your target, what is beyond your target, what is around your target and what could potentially cross in front of, or behind your target. This also means that you should be aware of any objects that could change the trajectory of your bullet. Objects made from hard materials provide a surface that bullets may ricochet off of and change direction.
Never place your finger on or near the trigger while handling a firearm until you are ready to shoot. Many things can happen while handling a firearm that may cause you to unintentionally pull the trigger, whether you stumble or are startled, if your finger is not on, or near the trigger it is unlikely that you will pull the trigger. Likewise, never rely on a firearms safety mechanism to prevent a discharge. Safeties may malfunction and should never be relied upon to prevent discharge. The only way to prevent unintentional discharge is to keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.