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Firearms safety rules are essential for ensuring the safety of everyone on a shooting range. However, firearms safety on a firing range consists of additional rules and commands. Here’s what those are.
A firing range is an indoor or outdoor location designated specifically to fire handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, and other weapons at targets. In addition to basic or core firearms safety rules, there may also be additional gun range rules to learn to protect yourself, instructors/range safety officers, and fellow shooters.
If you own or plan to own a firearm, you owe it to yourself and others to become intimately acquainted with firearms safety rules.
Your strict adherence to these rules minimizes your risk of causing unintended injury when handling firearms. However, firearms safety in the context of a firing range has a few nuances you should be aware of.
Basic Rules of Firearms Safety
The best way to dive into any discussion of firearms safety is with the four basic or core rules. These rules consist of the following:
1. Assume that all guns are always loaded
This is the cardinal rule. Never assume that a gun is unloaded. Whenever you handle a firearm, always check its status by opening the breech and checking the chamber, even if the person who handed you the gun cleared it first.
If you can’t reliably verify whether the chamber is empty visually, such as low light, insert the little finger of your dominant hand into the chamber. If you don’t know how to clear a particular firearm, ask someone more knowledgeable than you for assistance. Once you have cleared a firearm and it remains in your hand, you can dry fire or field strip it.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not prepared to destroy.
Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, either at the ground or downrange, and know where it is pointed at all times. In the case of rifles slung over a shoulder, the muzzle should point at the sky. Muzzle awareness is essential.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target
When you align your sights on the target and are ready to fire, you may place your index finger on the trigger. When your sights are off the target, your index finger should remain straight alongside the trigger guard or frame/receiver. Your consistent adherence to this practice is called “trigger discipline.”
4. Be aware of your target and what is behind it
Never fire at a target that you have not positively identified. In addition, you should know what will stop your bullets if they pass through the intended target.
Secondary Safety Rules
A secondary set of rules reflect the needs and interests of gun owners more generally. These include the following:
1. Don’t rely on the safety
You will often see this warning in owner’s manuals for firearms. Safety catches, being mechanical devices, can break or wear out. Applying a safety catch is not a substitute for observing firearms safety rules.
2. Always use the correct ammunition for your firearm
Always ensure that you only use good-quality ammunition of the caliber that your firearm is designed for.
3. Handle failures to fire with care
A failure to fire, or misfire, occurs when the firing pin fails to detonate the cartridge primer. Light primer strikes or defective primers typically cause failures to fire. However, it’s also possible that you have experienced one of two others types of failure.
A hangfire, in which there is a delay between the firing pin striking the primer and primer detonation or propellant ignition. You will usually hear a “click.” When this occurs, you should wait between 30 seconds and 5 minutes before opening the breech, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations. If this is a hang fire rather than a defective primer, this will allow the cartridge sufficient time to fire. If you open the breech prematurely, you may experience an out-of-battery ignition, which can cause a catastrophic failure.
A squib load, in which the cartridge case contains a primer but no propellant powder or an insufficient powder charge. Primer detonation can be sufficient to force the bullet out of the case mouth and into the barrel. If the bullet remains inside the barrel, firing another round can cause a catastrophic failure.
4. Ensure the barrel is free from obstructions
If you keep firearms in storage for protracted periods, you should always ensure that the barrel is free from any obstructions before attempting to fire it. Dirt or debris in the barrel can cause it to bulge or burst when firing, destroying the weapon and potentially injuring you.
5. Always wearing eye and hearing protection
Always wear eye and hearing protection when discharging firearms on ranges. This should consist of high-quality shooting glasses and earplugs or muffs.
Next are rules specific to a firing range. These gun range rules are often enforced by range personnel.
1. Cease firing
If a range safety officer, instructor, or shooter issues the command to cease firing, you should stop firing your weapon immediately and place it on the table or bench in front of you.
2. Cold range
When the range is “cold,” all firearms must be unloaded and laid on the shooting bench or table, preferably with their actions open. No range participant is allowed to stand at the firing line or to touch or manipulate firearms. When the range is cold, range participants may check and replace targets downrange.
3. Hot range
When either a range safety officer or range participant declares the range “hot,” shooters may commence firing. No one should declare the range hot until a range safety officer has determined that there is no one downrange. In some ranges, whether the status of the range is “hot” or “cold” will be indicated by a red or green flag.
4. Always respect the range
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are shooting at your target only and are keeping your rounds within the confines of the shooting lane or boundaries. Don’t shoot over the berm — that’s necessary for the protection of others. You should also clean up after yourself, no matter whether this is a dedicated or improvised firing range.
Understanding Your Gun
In addition to the three sets of safety rules — basic, general handling, and range specific — you should also learn how your particular firearm operates. Understanding the mechanical characteristics of your firearm and how to disassemble and reassemble it are not only necessary for routine maintenance — they allow you to handle it confidently and efficiently.
A Safe Shooter is an Effective Shooter
Gun safety is critical when handling or discharging firearms. Learn and follow the rules, on and off the range, and you will be a safe and responsible gun owner.