The 33 Essential Rules of Gun Safety for Concealed Carry

Firearm safety training typically emphasizes four inviolable rules since that’s all most people will bother to remember. But we count 33 rules that provide a truly comprehensive approach to concealed carry safety. Our lawyers point out there is no such thing as a definitive list. But we are pretty sure this is the closest you can find.

These first four rules should be committed to memory and to total compliance by anyone handling firearms. Surely you know these already:

1. Treat every gun as if it is loaded, at all times.

2. Muzzle discipline. Never point a gun at anything you are unwilling to destroy. Always keep it pointed in a safe direction.

3. Trigger discipline. Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are on target and you intend to fire.

4. Target discipline. Be sure of your target and what might come into the path to your intended target and beyond that target.

In addition to these four pillars of gun safety there are 29 other critical points that should be known and respected:

5. Never rely on your firearm's safety devices to bypass any of the first four rules. Safety devices are extra layers of protection, but they are never a substitute for following the first four rules of gun safety.

6. If a shot sounds weak or abnormal it is possible that the bullet could have lodged part way down the barrel. Firing a subsequent bullet into the obstructed barrel can explode the firearm and cause serious injury to the shooter and bystanders. This ‘squib round’ must be cleared before continuing to fire. It is necessary to unload the firearm, take it apart, and look through the bore. It is not sufficient to look in the chamber since a bullet may be lodged in the barrel where you cannot easily see it. Squib rounds are rare if shooting factory ammo, but proper response is a matter of life and death. And do not shoot if you suspect there may be some other obstruction in the barrel, for example mud or snow packed into the barrel from an accidental fall outdoors.

7. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled and the primer has been struck – rare but possible – then handle with care. It could be a delayed detonation. Wait for at least one minute before removing the failed round.

8. Always wear eye protection. By design, a semiauto pistol forcefully ejects hot casings near your face. And there is always the remote chance of a gun malfunction or bullet ricochet – from you or from others – that can launch unintended fragments in your vicinity. Be sure to select eyewear that is at least rated as Z87.1+. This refers to a standard from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). To meet this standard, the eyewear must be tested to protect the wearer from a standard projectile traveling at 150 ft/sec. Glasses and goggle designs that pass this testing are marked Z87.1+. The U.S. military has a more rigorous standard, MIL-PRF 32432. This testing validates protection from a projectile impact at up to 650 ft/sec. There is no marking requirement for MIL-spec ballistic eyewear. If you want to seek out this level of protection then you can consult the ‘Authorized Protective Eyewear List’ (APEL) from the military.

9. Always wear ear protection. The peak sound of a 9mm gunshot is around 160dB at the shooter. This is certain to cause irreversible ‘noise-induced hearing loss’ (NIHL) if unprotected. In an indoor range the reverberations from walls and ceiling amplify the peak sound pressure. For this reason, it is recommended to wear double protection (internal plugs and external muffs) in indoor ranges to avoid NIHL. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that shooters use double hearing protection every time a weapon is fired, even outdoors. Cumulative NIHL also depends on exposure durations. Your level of protection becomes more important if you shoot more often.

Proper fit of hearing protection is critical to its performance. Attention must be taken to ensure that the external muff is properly sealed against the head when safety glasses are worn. For in-ear plugs, be sure of proper insertion depth and sealing according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Options for internal and external protection range from passive low-cost protection to premium electronic protection with active noise-filtering. Electronic protection includes a microphone that picks up the surrounding sound and provides input to an amplifier circuit. The amplifier controls a speaker and allows the wearer to hear ambient sounds at a safe level while filtering noise above a maximum cutoff. This allows for the user to hear conversations clearly while protecting the ears from loud gunshots.

Noise exposure at the range can damage hearing of an unborn baby, so don’t go shooting if you are pregnant.

10. Do not mix alcohol or drugs with handling or carrying firearms.

11. Invest the time to learn how a particular gun operates before shooting it. Much like driving a different car make or model, take the time to figure out the controls before you jump into using a different gun.

12. Practice on a regular basis since firearm skills are perishable with time. If you ever find yourself in a stressful self-defense situation, your skills will revert to your level of training. For concealed carry, one of the most neglected skills to practice is drawing from the holster. This is the task that people are most likely to fumble under stress and it can lead to self-injury. Consider that most gun ranges ban drawing from the holster for liability reasons. Reinforce your muscle memory even if your practice is at home with an unloaded gun. There’s no universal prescription on minimum training frequency, but we recommend at least once a month to focus on firearm handling with no ammo. And at least four times a year shooting live ammo at a range.

13. Maintain your guns with regular cleaning to avoid hazardous malfunctions.

14. Verify that ammunition is compatible with your gun and be methodical about avoiding dangerous mix-ups if shooting guns of multiple calibers. Don’t shoot +P ammo if the gun is not rated for it.

15. Store guns in a secure manner, ideally locked and preventing access for all unauthorized people – especially children.

16. Keep guns unloaded until ready to use. Exceptions are keeping guns loaded for concealed carry and for home defense.

17. Always verify that a gun is unloaded before handling. This includes preparing a gun for cleaning, handing a gun over to another person, or receiving a gun from another person. To check that a gun is unloaded: Remove the magazine. Pull the slide back – if there is ammo in the chamber, remove it. Check visually that no bullet is in the chamber and that there is no magazine. In addition, confirm with your finger that there is not a bullet in the chamber. Leave the action open (i.e. slide locked back) when handing a cleared gun to another person. Even with the action open do not point the muzzle at anyone. Make sure that no ammo is present in the area where you clean your gun, or in the area where you practice dry-fire training.

18. Never trust a loaded chamber indicator to tell you if a gun is unloaded. Verify as above.

19. Keep your hands and face away from the slide when firing to avoid slide bite as the slide recoils. Proper grip technique will ensure this never happens.

20. Be aware of potential ricochet. Glancing shots on flat surfaces or on bodies of water will ricochet. If shooting steel targets always use hard alloy steel targets in a flat shape with crisp edges. Verify that there are no craters on the surface and no right angles on the supports. Hang steel targets so they are not fixed in place and they are able to swing freely. Shoot steel targets from an adequate distance, at least 20 yards for 9mm pistols.

21. Be aware that discharging your firearm near an animal may cause a startled reaction unless it is trained to accept the noise. This is of primary concern for horses where the reaction can be dangerous to people in close proximity.

22. It is risky to drop the hammer on a hammer-fired pistol when there is a live round in the chamber (unless the gun includes a decocker mechanism to do this safely, or if you are at a shooting range where a discharge pointed down range would be acceptable). “Dropping the hammer" means holding the hammer with your fingers so it can’t move, pulling the trigger, and then lowering the hammer slowly to prevent it from striking the round. The gun would fire if your grip were to slip. It's safer if you remove ammo from the gun before dropping the hammer. If not, be careful and know the risks.

23. Be cautious to avoid thermal burns. The barrel can be hot after extended rapid shooting. Wait until it cools before taking your gun apart for cleaning. And realize that spent casings ejected from the gun during shooting will be hot. Temperature of a 9mm brass casing is 145°F as it flies out of the gun (Forensic Science Intl, 2010). If you ever have the misfortune of a casing tumbling down inside your collar, it can feel like a sting as the hot brass presses on bare skin. Some folks start dancing and forget to control their gun. It won’t leave a scar, so if you realize what's happenning then you can stay calm. Also dress to minimize the potential. On the range there is no need for low-cut cleavage, funnel-shaped collars, or open-toed shoes.

24. Never fire a gun into the air, the bullet can cause fatal injury on its way back down. This is a variant of rule #4. A 9mm bullet fired straight up can reach an altitude of 4000 ft and it will return to the ground in about half a minute at a speed around 100 mph.

25. Have a first aid kit on hand whenever shooting. Seconds count if someone gets hurt.

26. Wash your hands after handling firearms and ammo. The point is to clean off lead residue before you eat, touch your mouth, or cross-contaminate other surfaces. If pregnant or nursing then it’s recommended to avoid shooting altogether to prevent lead poisoning. Shooting inevitably releases lead particulates into the air, and this is deemed as minimal risk for adults but questionable for a mother who can transfer the metal to her developing baby.

27. Be extremely wary of using reloaded ammo unless you trust the source. The person that is hand loading should be competent, experienced, and meticulous. If they mess up a load it can lead to malfunctions with your gun, or worse it may damage your gun and put your life in danger.

28. Never attempt to draw a gun on someone who has a gun drawn on you (unless they are far enough away that they are likely to miss). This is called ‘drawing on the drop.’ Nobody is fast enough to pull this off, it will get you killed. Wait for your turn and take it only if the opportunity presents. If the person gets adequately distracted, then make your move. In the meantime use your brain to problem solve and maybe your mouth if you think there is an angle where talking can buy you some options.

29. If faced with an active shooter threat, stay at least an arm’s length away from hard walls if you happen to be located between the wall and the shooter. When a bullet hits a hard wall the lead will spray sideways in all directions and can be lethal. It is fine to be right up against a wall if you are taking cover behind it.

30. When interacting with law enforcement keep your hands in plain sight and do not make any sudden moves -- whether you have a gun in possession or not. In a traffic stop it’s good courtesy to roll down both front windows before an officer approaches your vehicle so they have maximum visibility to your lack of threat. Keep your hands up on the top of the steering wheel until told otherwise. If dark outside, consider turning on your interior light. This behavior is important for safety even if you have no weapons.

In many states if you have a gun that is accessible you are required to let this be known. Even if not required, it may be a good idea to share this in a calm and respectful manner depending on the nature of the interaction. Start by saying you have a permit to carry (if permits are applicable in your state) and that you are carrying. It’s best not to lead in with “I’ve got a gun" as that wording can be alarming. Be ready to tell them where it is, what it is, and if it is loaded. Don’t reach for anything until you are given permission to do so. This is all common sense, but good to think through before an encounter happens.

31. Be aware of drawing your gun in close range in personal defense situations and think through how an aggressor may swat your gun or take it away.

32. A gun that has a manual safety requires one extra manipulation that needs to be practiced: flip the safety lever before you can shoot. This is simple to incorporate as part of the draw stroke, but it is important to train frequently enough that it becomes second nature even during stressful situations. Think of an analogy to the mute button on a conference call. How many times have you started talking only to realize that you forgot to un-mute yourself? If you fumble to disengage the safety you will lose critical moments in a life-or-death struggle that is decided in fractions of a second.

33. Safety is everyone's responsibility. Speak up if you see unsafe practices.

We’ll end with a few clarifying points on safety terminology:

Referring back to rule #2 on muzzle discipline, there are two common terms you should know in shooting lingo: Never flag people with your gun, never sweep people with your gun. These are both ways of describing unsafe muzzle discipline.

Negligent discharge is unintentional firing of a shot due to violation of any of the safety rules, or any other improper weapon handling.

Accidental discharge is unintentional firing of a shot that is not due to improper gun handling. It is no fault of the person, but due to mechanical failure or equipment malfunction. There is no practical risk of accidental discharge when using modern firearms that are well-maintained.

Enjoy shooting with a peace of mind that your safety knowledge stretches far beyond four basic rules.

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