"I didn't think it was loaded." Tragically, first responders are all too familiar with hearing these words when they arrive on the scene of an accidental shooting. Most gun accidents are avoidable with proper education and safety precautions. No one should have a rifle or pistol in the house unless they have been trained how to use it—and how not to use it. By learning and applying basic safety rules for proper firearm handling and storage, you can avoid the grief that follows the severe injury or death of a loved one who was accidentally shot with a gun.
The Basics of Firearm Safety
According to a recent Johns Hopkins study in JAMA Pediatrics, more than 8,300 gunshot victims visit emergency rooms each year. Of those, 40 percent are the result of accidental shootings. The study found that the cost of these ER visits amounts to more than $1 billion a year, not including “costs of long-term therapy and rehabilitation and expenses associated for lost work for the parents after the kids are sent home.”
Understanding the basics of firearm safety is key to saving lives and avoiding a devastating financial loss to families. Follow these rules to help keep you and your loved ones safe:
1. Be trained to use a firearm.
Many states and municipalities certify gun instructors. Check your local police department for a list. Be aware that states with right-to-carry laws require a minimum number of training hours before issuing a right-to-carry permit. Classes that teach gun safety are not just for the person learning to fire a weapon. Anyone who could come in contact with a firearm, even accidentally, should take a safety class.
2. Teach children the danger of guns.
Children, especially those who live in a house with a gun, need to learn that guns are not toys. The injury or death they cause is permanent. According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, firearm-related deaths are the 3rd leading cause of death overall among American children between the ages of 1 and 17. The authors of the study found that, “Nearly 1300 children die and 5790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected.” In addition, “The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children.”
3. Always treat a gun as if it is loaded.
Never point a gun at a person or put your finger on the trigger.
4. Properly store all firearms.
Keep your rifle, pistol, and ammunition locked up at all times. JAMA Pediatrics research shows that “6 percent to 32 percent of youth firearm deaths (by suicide and unintentional firearm injury) could be prevented, depending on the probability that an intervention motivates adults who currently do not lock all household firearms to instead lock all guns in their home.”
There are a number of options for securing firearms, including:
- Use a gun safe.
- Keep guns locked in an attic or basement, or in a drawer or cabinet that can be locked. Safeguard the key from children and adolescents.
- Use a trigger lock, which keeps the weapon from firing without first unlocking it.
- Keep the gun in a locked trunk when transporting it. Never leave it unattended or unlocked in your car.
5. Do not keep a loaded weapon in the house.
People are rarely hurt or killed by an unloaded firearm. If there is no ammunition in the gun's chamber, clip, or magazine, the worst that could happen by improperly handling a firearm is inadvertently dropping it on your foot.
If you must keep a loaded gun in the house, make sure that children cannot get to it to play with it or fire it accidentally. If you are planning to purchase a new firearm, consider buying one with a built-in indicator that shows when the firing chamber is loaded. It will alert you if a supposedly unloaded gun could discharge unexpectedly.
Practice as much care with your ammunition as you do with a rifle or pistol. Keep bullets and magazines securely locked in a location separate from where guns are kept.
3 Fundamental rules for handling firearms
Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) has complete gun safety rules available for specific types of firearm use, the following 3 rules are fundamental in any situation. Whether or not you own a gun, it is important to know these rules so that you can insist that others follow them:
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This is the primary rule of gun safety. Safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off, it would not cause an injury. Whether you are shooting or simply handling a gun, never point it at yourself or others. Common sense will tell you which direction is the safest. Outdoors, it is generally safe to point the gun toward the ground, or, if you are on a shooting range, toward the target. Indoors, be mindful of the fact that a bullet can penetrate ceilings, floors, walls, windows, and doors.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. When handling a gun, people have a natural tendency to put their finger on the trigger. Do not touch the trigger unless you are actually preparing to fire the gun.
- Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. If you do not know how to check to see if a gun is unloaded, leave it alone. Carefully secure it by pointing it safely and to keeping your finger off the trigger, and seek competent assistance.
Knowing these few simple rules and teaching them to others may mean the difference between life and death.