One of the subjects we teach police officers at the TEEX Firearms Training Range is the safe use and handling of firearms. There are four universal rules of gun handling we work to instill in all of our firearms students. The Four Universal Rules of Gun Handling are included here with a brief explanation of each rule.
First Safety Rule: Treat all guns as if they are loaded ALL the time. A lot of people are injured, or even killed, by the mishandling of supposedly unloaded firearms every year. There is no excuse for this happening. Treat guns properly and with respect, then there should be no problem. If you see a gun and you don’t know what to do with it, leave it alone. Treat it like it’s loaded. Don’t touch it if you’re not sure how to handle it.
Second Safety Rule: Never point the muzzle of a firearm at anything you are not willing to DESTROY. By muzzle, I mean the end where the bullet comes out. That’s where the projectile leaves the weapon. Do not point the gun at anything that can’t be fixed or replaced. Do not point the gun at yourself or someone else unless you intend to shoot them. This means anywhere inside your own home, or wherever you may be that you don’t want the projectile to hit, injure or kill someone. Remember, firearms by their design are inherently dangerous, especially if mishandled. So, don’t point the end of the gun, the muzzle end, at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
Another important point about the second rule: find a safe direction to point the muzzle when handling the firearm. On the TEEX firearms range it is pretty easy to find a safe direction—it’s where we post our targets. If you are handling a firearm inside your own home, you need to be sure what direction is a safe direction. Are the interior walls of your home made of sheetrock? Sheetrock doesn’t stop bullets. Consider what is on the other side of that wall. That might be your children’s bedroom. You might live in an apartment where there are people living on the other side of that interior wall. Do you live on the top floor of an apartment complex? If you do, pointing the weapon down, towards the floor, may not be a good idea. Consequently, if you live on the bottom floor, pointing it up may not be the safest idea either. If an exterior wall is made out of brick—that might be the safest direction to point the gun because the brick might stop a bullet should there be an inadvertent discharge. So, always be aware of where you’re pointing the muzzle and don’t point it at anything you don’t intend to hurt, destroy, or kill.
Third Safety Rule: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re ready to shoot. The vast majority of modern firearms have a variety of safety mechanisms to keep the weapon from firing unless the safety mechanism is disengaged. These safeties also prevent the weapon from firing even if it is accidentally dropped. The gun will only fire when the trigger is depressed. So, when handling weapons, keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to shoot. It’s just a good rule. Whether you are drawing the gun from a holster or putting it back in the holster, getting it out of a gun case, gun cabinet, gun safe, car trunk---WHATEVER, keep your finger off the trigger. Remember, your finger stays off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to shoot.
Fourth Safety Rule: Know your target and what’s beyond your target. On the TEEX Firearms Range where we train the police officers, we have a large bullet trap behind the target line that catches all the bullets. But if you’re going out for recreational firearms use, you may not always have the luxury of a bullet trap. You need to be aware of where you are shooting and where the bullet will stop. Bullets, even small caliber bullets, can travel as far as a mile. Make sure there is a backstop capable of stopping the caliber of bullet you are firing.
Even when training police officers for deadly force confrontations--situations where they may have to shoot a perpetrator committing a violent crim
e--we emphasize the need to know where the bullet will go in the event the bullet passes through the offender. There is no criminal or civil protection for a police officer, in an otherwise justifiable shooting, should an innocent third party be injured by the bullet the officer fired. The officers are always responsible for where those bullets travel and so are you. So, if you’re going out for a day of shooting to practice your skills, make sure you know your target and beyond--know where the bullet will stop.
Lee Santo is the Training Manager with TEEX’s Public Safety & Security Training Division, a part of The Texas A&M University System. After serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Santo has served in law enforcement for 20 years and has worked at TEEX since 2005. He has operational responsibility for the TEEX Central Texas Police Academy and supervises the scheduling and delivery of all law enforcement extension training programs. TEEX offers a variety of courses in the public safety field and law enforcement, including the Central Texas Police Academy’s Basic Peace Officer course. For more information, visit the Law Enforcement page or visit TEEX’s Public Safety & Security division page.