I can still remember being a young child and shooting my first real gun: an old, rusted, single shot .22 rifle at the family ranch. But before I was even allowed to hold the rifle; respect, a healthy amount of fear, and these 4 rules were drilled into my head. Years later I am 25 and extremely comfortable with firearms of all kinds, but my comfortability came from confidence, and my confidence was built by practicing and preaching the following 4 rules.
It's never a bad idea to use "Chamber Flags" to visually indicate a firearm is unloaded, but still check for yourself.
Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
We’ve all heard the stories; a couple of kids--or even an adult--is playing around with a gun that is presumed to be unloaded, when all of a sudden it discharges. The aftermath is always heart breaking, usually resulting in the death of themselves, friends, or family. Whenever handling a firearm, always open the action to inspect for yourself that the gun is unloaded and safe. Often times when looking at guns with friends or family, I check for myself that the gun is safe; even after they have checked it previously. You can never be too sure or too safe when dealing with a tool that has the capability to take a life.
Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
A good rule of thumb, is don’t point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. More often than not the safest place to point a gun is at the ground, so don’t raise your pistol/rifle until you are absolutely sure you are ready to take aim and fire.
A good example of a bad shot, because of what's past the target
Be sure of your target - As well as what is behind it
A 5.56mm bullet is capable of traveling upwards of 3 miles, ending up in who knows what as its final resting point. Even if you are taking a shot at an animal, it is extraordinarily common for pig hunters to shoot one pig, and kill another one behind the intended target. Bullets can easily pass through an animal and keep going until they hit livestock, pets, houses, or cars. Be conscious of the angles, direction, and distance you are shooting at; making sure to take precautions for worst case scenarios. It’s always when you don’t plan for worst case options, that they tend to happen.
Famous Safety Scene From Black Hawk Down.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
Trigger discipline is arguably the most important rule to good firearm safety. Take a look at any picture of law enforcement, military, or even well educated hunters, and you will always see they are holding their rifle or pistol with their index finger off of the trigger. It seems silly to emphasize, but the gun won’t fire without the trigger being pulled. Sure the gun could be on safety, but safety’s fail. The only way to be certain that gun won’t discharge, is to have your finger a safe distance from the trigger until ready to fire.
We are all engulfed in a hobby that while fun, can also be very dangerous. You’re never too busy, too cool, or too experienced to practice good firearm safety. With the gun community under such a microscope lately as it is; be a responsible gun owner, do your part, and practice the above rules. You may save a life, and it may be your own.