Thursday, September 15, 2011

Firearms Handling and Shooting 101 – Lesson 1

I am feeling the need to shore up my gun blogger cred today. So, I thought I'd take a moment to share a little something I prepared for a friend who is interested in learning to shoot. Enjoy.

The Four Rules

1. All guns are loaded.
2. Never point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot.
4. Know your target and what’s beyond it.

Memorize these four rules. They are the basis of all firearms safety. It is highly unlikely to the point of being statistically impossible to be hurt by or hurt someone else with a firearm when obeying the four rules. Further, there is no such thing as an “accidental discharge” when properly handling a modern firearm in accordance with the rules. More importantly, no matter how many safety features that are designed into a firearm, the most important safety feature a firearm can have is the trained mind of the person holding it.

Further explanation of the Rules:

  1. The longer version of Rule 1 is “Treat All Guns AS IF They Are Loaded.” Every time you pick up or are handed a firearm, you personally should check its chamber or cylinder to verify whether or not it is loaded before doing anything else with the firearm. If someone else is handing the firearm to you, it is not a matter of trust/distrust to verify that the firearm is unloaded. It is a signal to responsible shooters that you are not a fool who will waive a gun around indiscriminately, that you respect firearms as tools that must be handled mindfully in the same way that you would operate power tools and respect your life and the lives of others. Responsible gun owners/shooters EXPECT you to verify the condition (i.e. loaded versus unloaded) of the firearm. 
  2. Rule 2 is fairly straight forward. Bullets come out of the muzzle end of the barrel. They come out fast and have a lot of kinetic energy that they are just waiting to dump into something, anything in their way. So, don’t point the barrel at anything you don’t want a bullet to hit or go through. Such as your wife and child, your car’s engine, the neighbor’s house, etc. If you would like some examples of what bullets will do, go to: for plenty of examples with photos. 
  3. Rule 3 is also pretty straightforward. If your finger is on the trigger, Mr. Firearm is no one’s friend whether it’s loaded or not. If your finger is not on the trigger, the chances of a loaded firearm discharging are significantly reduced. Most modern firearms have been designed and tested such that you can literally hammer nails or tent stakes or small children with them and still not discharge; however, smart people follow the rules religiously and don’t tempt Murphy’s Law. 
  4. Rule 4 typically gives people the most fits. Once a bullet is fired, it does not stop until its kinetic energy is completely dissipated. Where and how that energy gets dissipated depends on several variables including bullet design, muzzle velocity, trajectory, target density, gravity, etc. For instance, a 230 grain .45 caliber bullet fired at 1000 feet per second (which is a typical bullet weight and speed for a 1911 style handgun) parallel to the ground at a shoulder height of 5 feet will travel approximately 156 feet before impacting the ground due to gravity assuming it hits nothing else in its path. If the bullet hits a rock at impact, it could ricochet in unpredictable directions with unknown consequences. That same bullet fired straight up at 90 degrees to the ground will climb to over 15,000 feet before coming back down. Big difference. For this reason, most firearms ranges have some sort of ballistically proven back stop material to safely dissipate the energy of a bullet and secondary measures to prevent you from inadvertently shooting someone in the next town. A huge pile of dirt works very well which is why it’s used almost exclusively at outdoor ranges. Concrete and/or ½ inch to inch thick steel works well with some caveats. Sheet metal doesn’t work too well which is why cars do not provide very effective cover in shootouts despite what Hollywood has portrayed.

Last thoughts on safety:

  1. Obey the rules and no one gets hurt.
  2. Disobeying the rules might get you shot and not necessarily by someone else.
  3. Do not fear the firearm. It is only a tool used to hit a target in the same way a saw is used to cut wood. They are neither good nor evil. They just are.
  4. If you are not sure, ask questions. There are no stupid questions.


  1. Excellent! I like the conversational and easy to read clarifications of the four rules.

  2. North, thanks. Easy to read and understand was the goal.

  3. That was great! Wonderful conversational explanations of the rules.

    Before I go out to the range for live fire with students I tell them: "Shoot me by accident I will shoot you on purpose"!

    Mind if I use some of this for my next new shooter class?

  4. Keads, by all means...feel free to use it in your next class.

  5. I love the four gun rules so much that I adapted them for use by my phlebotomy students. Dirty needles will kill you a whole lot slower than guns will :)

    I really like that you emphasized that responsible gun owners/shooters EXPECT that you will verify the condition of the gun. Boy, have I hurt some feelings *cough* inlaws *cough* by visually checking the chamber and locking the action open when they've handed me a gun. But they didn't do it before they handed it off, you can damn sure I'm going to do it once it's into my hands.

  6. GunDiva, you are right. I'd much rather bend some feelers over checking the chamber than have to apologize to someone for wounding or killing their loved one. It just takes once for someone to forget to clear a chamber for something bad to happen.

  7. That sums it up very nicely. You can't drill that stuff in enough.

  8. Brigid, absolutely. I had it reinforced for me a while back when someone handed me a Commander 1911 that still had one in the chamber. I think all four of us on the shooting line had a collective "Oh Crap!!" moment when the round popped out after I racked the slide.


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