Safety Skills

By Michael T. Romeo

Two Women at an Indoor Gun Range

Whether you’re operating a handgun, shotgun or rifle, you should carefully and thoughtfully follow the four rules of gun safety:

  1. Always treat all guns as if they are loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle of a gun cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond (and what might be in front of it).

Law enforcement agencies like the FBI have specific criteria for bullet performance in their protocol testing, and those extensive evaluations are put in place to ensure agents have the right tool—and more specifically the right bullet—when lives are on the line. Those tests prove what experienced shooters already know—choosing a bullet for self-defense is not something that should be taken lightly, and it isn’t a decision that should be based on convenience or price alone. The primary objective in any self-defense situation is to neutralize the attacker, and bullet performance plays a critical role in doing that. Some bullets are simply better at stopping bad guys than others.

These universal rules have unique considerations for those times when you are near or operating a handgun. Since a handgun is generally smaller than a shotgun or rifle, it can be more easily hidden and maneuvered, but it’s often easier for an unauthorized person to access and is more difficult to operate. So, some additional guidance from each of the four rules:

  1. Always Treat All Guns as if They Are Loaded.

    Keep this in mind as you encounter many types of handguns, such as auto-loading pistols, revolvers, derringers and others. Some handguns require different operations to verify they are loaded or unloaded. You can’t always count on seeing a part of a loaded cartridge from outside the gun; sometimes you can’t see any of the cartridge. In the case of some auto-loading pistols, you can see a cartridge through a hole in the slide. On others, you’ll have to pull the slide back to see it. The point: Assume the handgun is loaded, and make sure it is or isn’t through actually seeing the chamber and physically examining it.

  2. Never Let the Muzzle of a Gun Cover Anything You Are Not Willing to Destroy.

    Most shotguns and rifles, by virtue of their size or length, have muzzles that are easier to control than those of handguns. And you’re usually using two hands on a shotgun or rifle. Handguns, on the other hand, are of course smaller and easier to operate with one hand. As such, it’s a bit easier to move that muzzle and point it just about anywhere. The point (pun intended): Be mindful—all the time—of how much more care you need to exercise to keep a handgun muzzle aimed in a safe direction, all the time.

  3. Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Your Sights Are On the Target.

    Even while handguns generally have triggers requiring more pull strength and more travel distance before actually firing, this should not influence how you follow this rule. Whether shotgun, rifle or handgun, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. Put another way, if you have your gun in hand, put your trigger finger up on the slide of the gun, out of the trigger guard and away from the trigger. Do this every time.

  4. Be Sure of Your Target and What Is Beyond (and What Night Be in Front of It).

    Shotguns, rifles and handguns each have unique guidance to be gained from this rule. A shooter with a shotgun firing birdshot has to at least consider the spread of their pattern, no matter the distance to the target. A shooter with a rifle has to at least consider ricochet or if there’s a danger of their round exiting a target and traveling farther. And a shooter with a handgun has to at least consider—especially in close-quarters shooting situations—what might be in front of the target and what’s behind it, as well as the target’s distance and movement.

Memorize and follow the four rules whether you’re shooting a shotgun, rifle or handgun, and be mindful of how they apply to different types of guns.

About the United States Concealed Carry Association

The United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) is a membership organization that provides self-defense education, training and legal protection to responsibly armed Americans like you.

Since its inception in 2003, and together with its flagship publication Concealed Carry magazine, the USCCA has proudly supported a community of hundreds of thousands of patriots from all around the country. It’s the mission of the USCCA to arm our loyal members with the tools they need to safely and confidently protect themselves and their loved ones with the utmost peace of mind.