Be Gun Safe: The 4 Essential Laws of Firearms Handling

Before we talk about anything else, we need to cover the absolute basics. As with most hobbies that include an element of danger, that means safety. Don’t let this dredge up memories of grueling, mind-numbing, monotonous sermons preached in front of a Powerpoint! We’ll keep this light, and there honestly isn’t that much to go over in the first place.

We in the the firearms world have 4 main laws that constitute the backbone of safe gun handling (Keep in mind that this is only how you HOLD a firearm, not how you SHOOT one. We’ll cover that in a later post.) Each one plays into the other, so they form a web of safe behaviors. They’re pretty simple too, so don’t worry about having trouble remembering them! They are:

1: Treat every firearm as though it is loaded.

2: Never point a firearm at something you’re not willing to destroy.

3: Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

4: Keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared to fire!

Pretty basic, right? We’ll cover each one in more detail below, just to make sure we’ve got them down.


This is #1 on the list for a reason. Every time you pick up a firearm, you should ALWAYS be aware of whether or not the gun is loaded. That means checking the magazine, racking the slide, opening the action, whatever you have to do to check the loaded status of the gun. This is personal to YOU. What I mean by that is you should go through these motions any time you first pick up a firearm. If a buddy hands you his handgun to look at, even if you watched him clear the weapon, check the magazine and rack the slide a few times to make sure there’s nothing in the chamber. If you pick a rifle up off the counter, ensure the bolt is open or the action is locked back.

What you’re doing is building good habits for the one time someone hands you a loaded gun by accident. People make mistakes, and this rule is there to mitigate those mistakes.


Let’s face facts. Firearms destroy things. That’s their purpose. We, as responsible firearm owners, only use that effect in safe, controlled ways. #2 is all about target awareness. What this means for you as a shooter is that you should always keep your firearms pointed away from the important things, like your car, yourself, your dog, or your friends on the line.

Where do we put the unimportant things we don’t care about shooting? Downrange. So, where should the barrel of your firearm be pointed? Downrange. The ground/floor is another good option. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, point a loaded gun up into the air. Bullets can travel an amazing distance with lethal velocity, and this completely ignores rule #3. We’re building a web of safe behaviors, remember? If your gun fires up into the air, there’s no way that you can:


Being sure of your target is critical. Always know what it is you’re shooting, whether that’s a steel plate, a deer, or a bad guy. Also, ensure what you’re aiming at is the correct target, i.e., the big ten point buck instead of the off limits doe, the white steel plate instead of the paper target, the guy with the gun instead of his hostage, you get the point. KNOW YOUR TARGET. There are lots of drills you can practice once you get further into shooting that enhance this ability.

Okay, we know what we want to shoot at, and we’ve got our sights on it.  Why would we care what’s behind it? Misses and over-penetration. If we miss the target, we want our bullet to impact something else we’re willing to destroy. (See the web forming?) That’s why shooting ranges have those giant berms behind the target line. They’re bullet catchers.

Over-penetration is usually only something you’ll have to be cognizant of in a self-defense or tactical situation.  Fired projectiles have an insane amount of kinetic energy, which is what makes them so deadly. That also makes them very difficult to stop. Over-penetration occurs when the bullet you fire impacts your target and sails right through it, continuing out the back with lethal energy. This is why we need to be sure of both what we’re shooting, and what’s behind what we’re shooting. No matter what happens, we only want our bullets impacting things we’re willing to destroy.


This last law is a behavior you need to cultivate from the very first moment you pick up a firearm. Let’s talk about something you’ll hear often in the firearms world, Accidental Discharge. Accidental discharge (Or AD), is defined (in Lehman’s terms) as a gun firing when you don’t want it to. How does this happen? The #1 reason is having your finger on the trigger when it shouldn’t be. There are a few other ways it can happen, but for our purposes, 90% of ADs occur because you’re pulling the trigger accidentally. How do we prevent this? KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER. Out of the trigger guard, lying flat against the slide/action is a good place for that trusty trigger finger.

The second part of this law is “Prepared to fire.” What does that mean? When you’re “prepared to fire”, your firearms sights should be on the target, you should be in a proper stance, and you should be cognizant of all the previous laws we’ve talked about. Only then should your finger rest on that trigger. You’ll see this defined in other places as “making the decision to fire”. Placing your finger inside the trigger guard begins the firing process, which should only be undertaken after committing to shooting whatever you’re aiming for.


Have you noticed that these laws have an order to them? They’re the stages of firing a gun. Know your firearm is loaded, point it at a target you’re sure of and are willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire, commence the firing process. Safety, safety, safety. Each one of them builds upon and covers the other. Think about it. Even if you neglect one or two of the laws, the others are there to prevent harm to you. Forget to keep your finger off the trigger? The gun should either be unloaded, or pointed downrange toward something you’re okay with shooting. Forget to check if the gun was loaded? Your finger shouldn’t be touching that trigger, and even if it is, again, you should be pointing the firearm in a safe direction. Pointing the firearm at something you shouldn’t? Shame on you, but it should be unloaded, and your finger absolutely should not be on that trigger. See the web?

Commit these 4 simple laws to memory, and practice them every time you handle a firearm. Soon, they’ll be second nature, as easy as breathing, and you’ll be counted among the millions of safe, responsible gun owners.

Have fun, stay safe, and shoot straight!


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