Friday, June 03, 2005

Rule 1 - don't scratch your ear with the barrel 

Since I'm contemplating a trip to the range for my bachelorette party, I thought I'd post my rules of gun safety. Really, I couldn't care less if the people I'm shooting with hit the bull's eye as long as they don't shoot me.

So people who are knowledgable, feel free to add to this list. People who aren't - learn at least the big four if you expect to come shooting with me, or even visit my apartment and look at my "toys."


Rules of gun safety

(because you should know these, even if you don't ever plan on touching a gun)

These are the "simple" rules. I'll explain the reasons and potential exceptions in a minute:

1. Treat all guns as if they were loaded.
2. Never point the gun at something you aren't willing to shoot.
3. Know your target and what's behind it.
4. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

Explanations and exceptions:
1. "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." There's a saying that the epitaph for too many people is "But I thought it was unloaded." Never assume a gun is unloaded unless you see for yourself. Even then, treat it as if it were loaded (don't touch the trigger or point it at anybody). R. A. Heinlein worded this rule "Never believe what anyone tells you about the status of a gun." It's just as dangerous (if less likely) that you'll need to use a gun in self-defense. Then you shuldn't just assume it's loaded; you should know it is. That's an embarrassing way to die.

2. "Never point the gun at something you aren't willing to shoot." Simple enough, but this can be difficult to remember your first time on the range when someone's giving you instructions and you turn your whole body to look at him (and in the process point the gun at him). Safe on a range means down range. Safe in other situations depends on where you are. See the next rule.

3. "Know your target and what's behind it." Bullets don't stop when they hit the target (especially if the target is paper). You're reponsible for knowing what happens to that bullet if you miss the target or if it goes through the target. This is related to rule 2, since the safe direction for a gun to point in depends on the strength of what you're pointing at. Many bullets can go through doors or drywall or shower curtains. Bullets fired into the air invariably come down and sometimes hit things. Some can go through car doors. Some can go through bad guys and hit bystanders. This problem is mitigated a little by what some call "cop killer bullets" or hollow-points. These rounds expand when they hit something, doing more damage to what they hit, and are less likely to come out the other side. At a range, the people working there will tell you what kind of ammunition you can use, and then you can safey assume that the backdrop is safe to shoot. Just remember if there are any people in front of the firing line (collecting bullets and shell casings or whatever) they are NOT moving targets. They're just idiots.

4. "Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot." Or, as one blogger put it, "Keep your booger hook off the bang switch." Guns are mechanical devices. They don't fire without reason. The biggest cause of accidental discharges is pulling the trigger at the wrong time. This is impossible if your finger is not on the trigger. (It's also possible for a gun to go off if you pull back the hammer and let it fall, but this is less likely and much more deliberate). The index finger (the trigger finger) stays on the side of the gun, along the barrel, fully extended like you were miming a gun with your hand. Once you see your target and make the decision to shoot, you move your finger to the trigger (your grip should be such that only your finger needs to move to make this happen).

Those are the basic rules. There are others, invovling safety and politeness:
- Use only ammunition made for your caliber gun (don't shoot a .22 round from a .45 gun.)
- Store guns where kids can't find them.
- Keep guns unloaded with ammunition in a separate place unless you plan to use the gun.
- Don't cross your thumbs when shooting a semi-automatic. When the slide recoils, it could scrape the top of your hand.
- If you fire a gun and no bullet comes out, you have either a hang-fire or a dud round. In case it's a hang-fire, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction for at least 30 seconds (a hang-fire is when the bullet takes a few seconds to fire instead of firing immediately). Only then should you manually eject the round.
- Clean firearms after using them. No ammunition should be present when cleaning.
- Wash your hands and face after shooting - the chemicals in gunpowder include lead.
- Don't eat while shooting (for the same reason as above).
- Guns and drugs do not mix. At all. Drugs include alcohol, cold medicine, PCP, crack, etc. It's up to you and how well you know your body to decide if you're safe shooting while taking prescription medicines or caffeine or nicotine. Basically, if you'd hesitate before driving, then put off shooting until you feel better.
- If you don't know how to use a particular gun, then get someone to show you. Don't try to figure it out yourself. Every gun is different, and it's difficult to figure out how mechanical safeties work, how to lock back the slide, or how to open the cylindar on a revolver if you've never seen it before.
- Always wear eye and ear protection.
- Always wear a hat (especially when shooting a semi-auto, which automatically ejects spent shell casings. These tend to bounce off the wall beside me and then off the top of my head. Don't ask why).
- When handing a gun to someone, open the action to show him whether it's loaded or not. That's just polite.

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