Basic Firearms Safety

Are you a new gun owner? If so, please take time to educate yourself on firearms safety. The rules that you learn may well save a life, perhaps your own.

The below information comprises what we believe are the absolute minimum safety rules and practices for the new gun owner. What is presented below is in no way comprehensive; being a gun owner is a life-long learning process with regards to both firearms safety and proficient handling. All gun owners should endeavor to take ongoing firearms training courses on a regular basis, train independently with their firearms and keep abreast of firearms developments and news which impacts either safety (e.g., firearms recalls or new safety products) or handling techniques.

You should NOT purchase a firearm and then throw it in the proverbial sock drawer! Using a firearm safely and effectively takes education, practice and strict adherence to the Basic Rules of Firearms Safety.

Basic Rules of Firearms Safety

There are two widely respected sets of firearms safety rules. The NRA Gun Safety Rules, the rules that Revere’s Riders generally uses and teaches, are as follows:

ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

The other set of firearms safety rules are generally referred to as the “Jeff Cooper Rules of Gun Safety” and are as follows:

Following both sets of rules will help ensure the safest environment when handling firearms.

Read the Manual That Came With Your Firearm

The most important step for a new firearm owner is to read the manual that came with their firearm. If you purchased a used, surplus or other firearm that did not come with a manual, you should attempt to find an electronic copy of the manual by searching the internet. Nearly all firearms manufacturers have an archive of manuals that can be freely downloaded and many other websites have manuals for older and surplus firearms as well (for example, the Internet Archive’s Firearms Manuals or Cornell Publications).

The manual will explain the specific “manual of arms” (i.e., how the action of your gun functions) for your firearm. It should also give a detailed set of instructions on how to perform a “field strip” (i.e., disassembly of your gun for cleaning and other purposes). Read through the entire manual and make sure you understand all aspects of the operation of your firearm.

NOTE

The below are general instructions which may or may not apply to your specific firearm.
Consult your firearm’s manual for the specific procedure to be used with your firearm.

Most Firearms “Accidents” Occur During Administrative Handling

One of the more important aspects to firearms safety is to always be aware of whether your firearm has a cartridge chambered (i.e, the gun is “loaded”). This is especially important when performing “administrative tasks” such as cleaning your firearm or handing your firearm to another person.

Clearing Your Firearm

It is crucial that before you attempt to clean your firearm or, in most instances, perform administrative handling that you verify that your firearm is “clear” (i.e., “unloaded”). The proper procedure for clearing various types of firearms and “making it safe” is as described below.

WARNING

Perform ALL of the below steps while observing proper “muzzle discipline” (i.e., ensuring that the muzzle of your firearm is always pointing in a safe direction) and while keeping your finger OFF of the trigger.

NOTE

While a “manual safety” is an important and useful safety feature of any firearm, it is a mechanical device subject to failure and must not be relied upon. The Basic Rules of Firearms Safety should be followed at all times regardless of whether the manual safety of a firearm is engaged or not.

Unloading a Magazine-Fed Firearm

  1. engage the safety, if present
  2. remove the magazine
  3. eject any cartridge from the chamber by cycling the action (cycling the action more than once will help ensure a stuck cartridge is positively ejected)
  4. lock the action open, if possible
  5. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no cartridge is present
  6. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Unloading a Bolt-Action Firearm With a Non-Removable Magazine

  1. engage the safety, if present (some firearms will have a 3-position safety where the middle position will allow bolt manipulation while the trigger is blocked, use this middle position if available; other firearms may not allow the bolt to be manipulated with the safety engaged, in this case you will need to leave the safety off at this point)
  2. open the bolt
  3. remove all cartridges from the firearm’s magazine by performing one of the following:
    • release the magazine bottom plate to eject all cartridges, OR
    • cycle the action until magazine is empty (WITHOUT pulling the trigger; if your firearm’s safety allows, keep it in the position that allows the bolt to be manipulated but still blocks the trigger)
  4. leave bolt open
  5. if you weren’t able to engage the safety in step #1, engage the safety now
  6. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no cartridge is present
  7. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Unloading a Tube-Fed Firearm

  1. engage the safety, if present
  2. lock the action open
  3. release the magazine tube plunger (be careful to keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction and keep your hands away from the muzzle)
  4. turn the firearm so the magazine tube faces downward and any remaining cartridges fall out
  5. keep the tube plunger removed from the magazine
  6. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no cartridge is present
  7. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Unloading a Revolver

  1. release the cylinder latch and swing the cylinder open (if possible on your revolver)
  2. eject all rounds from the cylinder
  3. leave the cylinder open
  4. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no cartridges are present
  5. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Unloading a Semi-Automatic Pistol

  1. engage the safety, if present
  2. remove the magazine
  3. eject any cartridge from the chamber by cycling the action (cycling the action more than once will help ensure a stuck cartridge is positively ejected)
  4. lock the action open
  5. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no cartridges are present
  6. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Unloading a Shotgun

There are several types of shotguns and the method used for safely unloading each one is different.

Semi-Automatic Shotgun

Semi-automatic shotguns often have “manual of arms” that are slightly different from each other making it difficult to describe a generic procedure for safely unloading them. The below procedure will work for some of the more common semi-automatic shotguns, though. As always, the firearm manual is the authoritative resource on the proper method for unloading any firearm.

  1. engage the safety, if present
  2. invert the shotgun so the trigger guard is facing upwards; this will expose the “loading gate”
  3. lock the bolt to the rear
  4. press the loading gate down with the finger while simultaneously depressing the bolt release; this should release one shell from the magazine
  5. repeat steps #3 and #4 until all shells are removed from the magazine
  6. eject any remaining shell from the chamber by cycling the action (cycling the action more than once will help ensure a stuck shell is positively ejected)
  7. lock the action open
  8. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no shells are present
  9. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber
Over/Under Shotgun
  • engage the safety, if present
  • open the action by pushing the lever to one side (if the shotgun has “ejectors”, any shells in the chambers will come flying out so make sure you are ready for this possibility; if the shotgun has “extractors”, the shells will be lifted a fraction of an inch for easy removal from the chambers)
  • remove any shells from the chambers
  • leave the action open
  • visually inspect the chamber to verify that no shells are present
  • insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber
Pump-Action Shotgun
  1. engage the safety, if present
  2. cycle the action keeping your finger away from the trigger until all shells are ejected
  3. keep the action open
  4. visually inspect the chamber to verify that no shells are present
  5. insert an “empty chamber indicator” into the chamber

Once you have verified that your firearm is “safe”, you may proceed with cleaning or other administrative procedures. It is important that we still maintain “muzzle discipline” at all times and treat the firearm as if it were loaded even though we have verified that it is unloaded.

NOTE

The Basic Rules of Firearm Safety should be observed AT ALL TIMES, even when you believe or know a firearm is unloaded and “safe”.

Revere’s Riders Procedure For Clearing a Firearm

If you attend a Revere’s Riders event, you will likely hear the following description of a “safe” firearm:

  • “mags out” (remove the magazine from the firearm)
  • “bolts back” (lock the action open, if possible)
  • “safeties on” (put the safety, if present, on “safe”)
  • “flags in” (place a “chamber flag” in the chamber)
  • “rifles grounded” (place the firearm on the ground)
  • “nobody touching” (no touching of firearms until commanded to do so)

This is identical to the first procedure but with the addition of placing the firearm on the ground or on a table along with the restriction that no one is to touch a firearm for any reason until the “Line Boss” (the person in charge of the firing line) gives the command to do so.

Safely Practicing Your Firearm’s Manual of Arms

You can safely practice your firearm’s “manual of arms” by using what are called “dummy rounds” or “snap caps”. Make sure that you purchase a “snap cap” or “dummy round” in the same caliber as your firearm just the same as you would live ammunition. You should NEVER use live ammunition to practice manipulation of your firearm.

Handing a Firearm to Another Person

As you spend more time around firearms enthusiasts, you will inevitably either be asked by someone if they could see your firearm or you will ask someone to look at their firearm.

As a general rule, you should NEVER offer your firearm to another person or accept a firearm from someone else if there is no possibility of pointing the muzzle in a safe direction (e.g., you are in a crowded room). You may come across this situation when you progress to obtaining a “concealed carry permit” and carry your pistol on your person. If you are concealed carrying and someone asks to see your pistol, the best and safest response is to decline and keep your pistol in its holster.

At other times, for instance at a firing range, a safe direction is easily facilitated to allow the safe transfer of a firearm from one person to another. The transfer should be performed by doing the following:

  1. the firearm should be “cleared” and “made safe” by the person providing the firearm
  2. once the firearm is safe, it may be transferred to the other person while ensuring that the muzzle remains pointed in a safe direction (if a flat surface, like a table, is available the firearm should be placed on it)
  3. the person receiving the firearm should visually inspect it to verify that it is “clear”
  4. the person receiving the firearm can then proceed to load (if desired) while following all safety rules

Firearms Safety Resources

Revere’s Riders teaches basic firearms safety in all of our entry level courses (Rifle 125, Pistol 100, Shotgun 116) and reviews firearm safety in all our other courses.

In addition to taking one of our courses, there are also other excellent sources of firearms safety information:

Iraqveteran8888

Gun Safety for the New Gun Owner

Mrgunsngear

Brand New Handgun Owners: The Basics You Need to Know

Warrior Poet Society

5 Steps for New Gun Owners

Military Arms Channel

COVID-19 NEW HANDGUN OWNERS! This is for you!