Every shooting range you’ll visit has a long list of rules, many of which may be specific to that range. However, every range will emphasize the 4 Rules of Gun Safety, or at least they should, every time all the time. The rules don’t change just because you’re at a shooting range; however, they do take on some additional importance and meaning. Part of that importance is helping every shooter – new and experienced – know and understand what is expected of them and of everyone else on the range.
The 4 Rules of Gun Safety
- Always treat every gun as if it’s loaded. Always.
- Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Always keep your finger OFF the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.
- Always positively identify your target and what is beyond your target
Are the 4 Rules of Gun Safety Different at a Shooting Range?
No, but they do take on more meaning. Let’s have a look at each rule, and what else it means when you’re at a shooting range.
1. Every gun is loaded.
This rule goes to several points while you’re in a range. You don’t walk into the facility (retail store, range checkin, etc.) with a loaded gun, and your gun should be in a proper case. When someone walks into a range or gun store holding a gun, that sets off alarms.
If you rent a gun from the range, the range check-in associate should check the gun to make sure it’s clear (empty chamber, no mag) before they hand it to you. Check it again yourself. Then check it again. A few years back, someone accidentally discharged a weapon here in the store. The individual chambered a round, then dropped the mag, and thought the gun was empty. It wasn’t. Thank God nobody was hurt. Just a cabinet door.
Finally, this rule especially applies after you’re done shooting on the range. Did you empty your magazine at the target? Check your weapon for clear? Did you insert a chamber flag? That last point is really a simple concept that can be both safe and reassuring to you and to others around you. Chamber flags are simple and cheap. We’ve got tons of them. Want one? Two? Sure, if it’ll help you or someone else make absolutely sure there’s no round in the chamber, take ’em.
Make sure your gun is empty, and always assume it is loaded, so you make sure again. And again.
2. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy
“Flagging” keeps Range Safety Officers (RSO) on their toes more than anything else. Getting “flagged” means someone pointed a gun at you. Notice I said “gun” and not “loaded gun”, because of rule #1: every gun is loaded. Even if you’ve got a chamber flag in the chamber and no magazine, you still never, ever point a gun at anyone or anything that you do not want to kill.
When you’re entering or leaving the range with your own gun, after you’ve made sure it’s clear, put it in its case, zipped up and secure. When you’re entering or leaving the range with a rented gun, make sure it’s clear, and then carry it in some sort of “caddy” or other carrying device. The image to the right is similar to what we use on the range at SharpShooters.
When you’re actually on the range, two things that will make sure you never flag anyone:
- Always, always, always point your gun downrange. When you’re loading it, shooting it, changing your target, or checking your target for accuracy. When you’re investigating a misfire or malfunction. Always, always, always point it downrange.
- Only handle your gun inside the shooting booth. Load and unload it there. Shoot it there. Change one gun for another there. Do not handle your gun anywhere except inside the shooting booth. The glass there is not “bullet proof”, but it is ballistic material, and will help mitigate an accidental discharge. But if you’re in your booth, and you have the gun pointed downrange, you don’t have to worry about that.
3. Always keep your finger OFF the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire
Until you have your target acquired, you’re aware of what’s behind your target, your breathing is steady, and you are ready to fire, your trigger finger goes in one place, and one place only: outside the trigger guard. Period, end of discussion, no questions. The picture below is an excellent illustration of proper safe trigger finger position prior to firing.
If your trigger finger is not on or near the trigger, the changes of an accidental discharge are far less likely. It really is as simple as that. Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire the gun.
4. Always positively identify your target and what is beyond your target
Lots of accidents happen on deer hunting outings because a hunter gets excited because he thinks he sees a 250lb deer so he shoots it. When it turns out to be his hunting buddy or his dad or son or grandad, the only question that should be asked is, “Did you positively identify your target before you fired your gun?” That’s a horrible situation, but it happens more often than it should for that one very clear reason.
If you cannot absolutely without a doubt know exactly what you’re aiming at, you do not shoot. Period. Then, once you do have positively identified your target, you’re not done. What’s behind your target? If you miss, what’s behind your target becomes your unintentional target.
On a shooting range, that’s a little different, but still pertinent. Behind your target at a shooting range is one of three things:
- A mound of dirt, if you’re at an outdoor range
- A steel bullet trap
- A rubber bullet trap
Why does this matter? Because of rule #4. If you’re at an outdoor range, and you fire your gun over said mound of dirt, where does that projectile go? Exactly. You don’t know.
If you’re at an indoor range, it’s helpful to understand what’s happening to that projectile after it goes through that paper target. It’s either getting absorbed into a pile of shredded tires, or it’s getting redirected into a bullet trap made of 1/2″ plates of steel. In the first case you may see a little movement where your bullet hit. Probably not, if you hit your paper target, since you won’t be able to see directly behind that target; however, you might see little movements when other shooters’ bullets hit the rubber.
In a steel trap range, you may see a spark when the lead hits the steel. If you’re not expecting to see that, it may surprise you.
The 4 Rules of Gun Safety Summarized
Your gun is always loaded, so don’t point it at anything you don’t want to shoot, and keep your finger off the trigger until you’ve identified your target and what’s behind it. In a shooting range, the only place your gun should ever point is downrange.
The purpose of this article is to help new shooters and new gun owners become slightly more confident when they go shooting. When you know the rules and the expectations of others around you, you can focus more clearly on the task at hand.