The Complete Guide to Gun Safety

Gun safety is the responsibility of every person who owns, carries or shoots a gun. The burden is on you to be responsible and safe with your firearm.

A gun has great destructive potential, and failing to respect that potential is what leads to accidents. Negligence and ignorance are dangerous, and negligence and ignorance with a loaded gun can and does get people killed.

For the complete newbie, it can seem intimidating. However, we’re going to give you a comprehensive overview of what you need to know to handle, shoot, and store guns safely.

However, no amount of reading takes the place of instruction from trained professionals. If you are completely new to guns, shooting, concealed carry and otherwise, it is highly recommended that you seek out firearms training from a professional instructor.

Bear in mind that this guide is also for informational purposes only. Alien Gear Holsters disclaims and responsibility, liability or otherwise for any errors, omissions or misunderstandings of this article. The reader assumes all risks when handling or shooting firearms.

What Does Gun Safety Even Mean?

Ultimately, gun safety comes down to a couple of key principles.

A person who owns, handles, carries and shoots guns safely doesn’t put anyone or anything in jeopardy besides range targets, game animals they are hunting or people that mean them deadly harm.

Gun safety practices, which we’re going to cover, are how you keep accidental or negligent discharges from occurring, and from people, animals or things from being injured, destroyed or killed as a result of unsafe handling or shooting.

Good gun safety practices also keep your firearms, be they pistols or long guns, safe when stored.

The good news is that the principles of safe handling and operation of firearms are not complicated. If you learn those principles, and apply them consistently, you’ll drastically reduce your chances of having an accident.

Gun Safety Rules

the rules
                of gun safety in depth

A misfire is when the striker or hammer strikes the cartridge, but it doesn’t discharge the bullet.

The typical cause is the firing pin not hitting with enough force – due to a worn firing pin spring or a broken tip – or a bad round or batch of ammunition.

If a misfire occurs, keep the gun pointed downrange and wait for about 30 seconds in case of a hangfire. Sometimes ignition is just delayed rather than prevented entirely.

If no hangfire occurs, eject the cartridge, inspect your gun and get back to shooting. If the image repeats, the issue is likely the firing pin or firing pin spring.

Other Ammunition Issues

There are a couple of other ammunition issues that can occur, though they are rare.

First is a squib load, which is when a cartridge ignites but the bullet doesn’t have enough pressure behind it to actually exit the barrel. You’ll notice either little or no noise, light or no recoil, gas or other debris coming from the ejection port or a failure to cycle in a semi-auto.

A squib has to be pushed out of the barrel. Your range day will be done, and you may have to visit a gunsmith.

Case head separation is another issue known to happen. This happens when the brass of the cartridge case splits near the rim of the cartridge, venting gases through the ejection port or elsewhere.

A case head separation typically only happens with reloaded or hand loaded ammunition that’s had too much powder added to the case.

In either case, it’s a good idea to have your gun inspected by a gunsmith to check for any structural damage.

Mechanical Malfunctions

mechanical gun

No matter what, if you’re going to carry a gun…you need a holster. Period, no exceptions.

People who put loaded pistols in their pocket get themselves or other people shot…or killed.

People who put a loaded pistol in their waistband get themselves or other people shot…or killed.

People who put a loaded gun in a backpack or purse get themselves or other people shot…or killed.

A holster is a critical piece of safety equipment. It secures the pistol to your person, and – if the holster is made correctly – will protect the trigger guard and retains the pistol inside the holster, whether it’s an IWB holster, OWB holster or an ankle holster.

So if you’re going to carry, get a holster.

What Every Holster Should Have

Whether you’re getting a holster for open carry, concealed carry or just for range use, there are certain things that a holster has to have, certain things it has to do or else it’s useless…or worse, dangerous.

A holster should be made for the firearm that will be put in it. That can be a custom-molded holster shell on something like a hybrid holster, a leather holster or what have you. Failing that, it should be at minimum made for the size class of pistol, such as for single-stack subcompact like a S&W Shield, so the fit is as precise as possible.

The holster should cover the trigger guard. The trigger guard must also be protected; you shouldn’t be able to feel the trigger through the holster.

The holster should make a solid connection to the belt, the waistband or whatever it is it attaches to, in case you’re carrying a drop leg, shoulder or other non-waistband holster. The holster needs to be a stable platform to draw from.

The holster should also be comfortable enough to carry on a regular basis without issue. If your holster isn’t comfortable enough for you to carry all day, every day, then you will find excuses not to carry it.

If you’re going to carry, you also need a strong belt to support the gun and holster. The standard belt from a department store is not enough; you need to get an actual gun belt.

Practice Carrying, And Put In The Work At Concealed Carry Practice

gun grip holster

Another aspect of gun safety is safe gun storage. Firearms should be properly stored in the home, though some disagree on just what that entails. In any case, there are certain universals of gun storage that should be observed.

First, firearms should be kept safe from moisture. Whether loaded or unloaded, moisture can cause rust, which can and will ruin an afflicted gun if left untreated.

Second, they should not be accessible by everyone.

Ammo Storage

Some prefer ammo storage and gun storage to be in the same location, some prefer to keep the two locked up in separate locations.

The latter approach concentrates firearms and their ammunition in one location. Provided sufficient security, such as a gun safe or strong box with access limited to very few people, this approach can be perfectly safe.

However, many subscribe to the notion that separate (locked) ammo storage and gun storage is preferable and in truth is more secure as more layers of security decrease the odds of a tragedy occurring.

Many with children in the home will store ammunition separately from their guns, ensuring that even if they can somehow access the one, they cannot access the other.

Types Of Gun Storage

There are a number of different options one has for gun storage, and tossing a pistol in a dresser or nightstand drawer is not the best among them.

The most basic is a simple lockbox, as they are widely available and cheap. Many are little more than a metal box with a simple lock and key, though models are available with combination locks and even some featuring biometric (thumbprint) locks as well.

If one wants to keep one or two pistols by the bed, they are a decent option. If you want a separate storage container for ammunition, they are also a good choice.

The best lockboxes are also mountable, as many feature bolt holes through which one can mount it to a surface such as a dresser, nightstand or shelf of some kind. This prevents the box from being moved.

Some models can even be mounted to a wall – just make sure those are mounted to a stud.

Be wary of electronic locks, as fresh batteries must be maintained for the lockbox to work.

There are also gun cases.

Many firearms come with a case at the point of purchase (it’s mandatory for pistol purchases in many U.S. states) and most gun cases either feature locking latches or can be locked using a cable or padlock.

Provided solid construction and a good lock, these are perfectly viable methods of storage. Metal cases will often be the most durable, though many plastic cases are just as strongly built if not more so. Look for gun cases that are rated for airline use; these will the most solidly built.

A gun cabinet is exactly what it sounds like – a cabinet for guns. Most have a simple lock on the doors, so make sure to not lose the key once locked. These are the classiest and most elegant, but can be the easiest to break into as many have simple glass doors.

Therefore, you may want to consider purchasing a model that does not have glass doors, as a metal or totally wooden cabinet will not have this weakness.

However, a number of gun cabinets are no longer just simple uprights. Many gun cabinets and lock boxes are taking alternate shapes, as full-on gun storage furniture is becoming proliferate. Many take the shape of common household furniture, such as ottomans, wall shelving, even entire bed frames.

Gun safes are, naturally, the most safe. A gun safe provides the greatest degree of security, as access the most impeded. Additionally, many are fireproof, so your firearms and any other valuables stored in a gun safe can easily survive a fire in your home.

Gun safes range in size, so one need not dedicate an entire closet to it. Small safes are very popular for pistols, and many gun owners install one on a nightstand or in a nightstand drawer.

However, long gun safes do require the requisite space for upright or horizontal storage.

Using a Gun Lock

gun locks

Some prefer to not only lock their firearms away, but employ a gun lock as well. There are different types of gun lock, and each works a little differently.

A cable lock is a type of padlock, but the part of the lock that’s inserted into the main lock housing (the shackle) is on a cable instead of being a piece of solid metal like the padlocks many are used to. Everything else is the same though; insert the shackle, turn the key and it’s locked.

Cable locks can be threaded through a gun’s action and thereby render a gun unfireable, including pistols and many long guns. For those who want to keep a gun locked and inert while in storage, this method can be employed for very little cash and is very effective.

Trigger locks are one of the more popular types of gun lock. They may even be required in some jurisdictions. They are very simple, as trigger locks have two halves – one side with a shackle and one side with a lock cylinder.

The shackle goes through the trigger guard, into the lock cylinder. Push the halves together until the lock “clicks.” Just like a cable lock, open with a key.

However, trigger locks are known for a particular defect, in that the lock shackle sits on top of the trigger.

A loaded pistol can be discharged if the trigger lock has sufficient travel. Therefore, if you are going to use one, do NOT employ a trigger lock on gun that’s loaded.

Rifles of AR-15 designs (and similar semi-automatic rifles) also can use magazine well locks, which range in design to a simple plastic block to mechanical locks.

Cable and trigger locks are the most common, but there are other gun lock designs though they are less common.

Some pistols are manufactured with a locking system that the owner can actuate with a special key, often an Allen wrench (or hex key) or something like it, and there are other evolving gun lock designs. However, cable locks and trigger locks are currently the most prevalent.

Best Practices For Ammunition Safety

ammo safety

The gun itself is not dangerous; what creates any danger is technically the ammunition. The ammunition ignites, sending a bullet out of the barrel.

Things that explode, as it turns out, are inherently dangerous!

Therefore, take steps to store and use ammunition in a safe manner. Here’s the basics of what that entails.

Use Correct Ammunition

You should only use the correct ammunition for your gun. Some chamberings allow for use of multiple calibers, which we’ll cover in a moment, but outside of those exceptions you must take care not to use the wrong ammunition in any firearm.

Most modern firearms have the caliber marked on the barrel or receiver. Check to make sure; do not load or fire the gun if you aren’t sure.

If shooting a shotgun, also make sure you check the chamber length. A modern 12-gauge shotgun, for instance, will have either a 3-inch or 3-½” chamber; older shotguns may have only a 2-¾” chamber.

Centerfire ammunition will have the caliber imprinted on the rim. Rimfire ammunition often will not, so make sure know what caliber it is by keeping it in its box.

Take care to store different calibers separately. This is absolutely critical for people who own AR-platform rifles of multiple calibers. A .300 Blackout cartridge will chamber and headspace in a 5.56mm rifle, and the rifle will detonate if you pull the trigger.

Therefore, make sure that all ammunition is stored separately, and in clearly labeled containers.

Multi-Caliber Firearms

caliber problems

A few firearms have the capability to fire multiple calibers through the same barrel as the projectile is the same size.

For instance, .357 Magnum revolvers can also fire .38 Special, as the projectile itself is the exact same; the difference is a .357 Magnum case is longer and holds more powder. Some .357 Magnum revolvers have a special cylinder that can also use 9mm with use of a moon clip.

This is also true for .44 Magnum revolvers, which can also fire .44 Special. .454 Casull revolvers can also fire .45 Colt. Some .45 Colt revolvers have a special cylinder that can use moon clips, and therefore fire .45 ACP ammunition.

There are also revolvers made for use with .45 Colt and short .410 Gauge shotshells.

The 5.56mm NATO cartridge uses the same projectile as .223 Remington, but is loaded to a higher pressure and has a slightly different shoulder. This means that any rifle chambered for 5.56mm NATO can safely fire .223 Remington, but not the reverse.

The same is true for .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm NATO; the latter is loaded to higher pressures. You can shoot .308 from a 7.62mm rifle, but not the reverse.

Likewise, many .22 Magnum firearms can also fire .22 Long Rifle.

With that said, if using any multi-caliber firearm, make sure that any ammunition you use is of an appropriate pressure level and of the right projectile size.

Overpressure Ammunition, aka +P Ammo


One of the highest risk groups for serious injuries or fatalities due to accidental discharges is children, which is why gun safety is of paramount importance if one has children in the home or they are present while handling firearms.

Safety concerns regarding children and firearms is a sensitive topic. Some people refuse to have guns in their home for this reason, or refuse to allow anyone who carries in their home.

Keeping guns away from children was the genesis of the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1990, which has remained a source of controversy. Likewise, many businesses that cater to children and parents refuse to allow people to carry there when legally permitted, and so on.

Granted, automobiles, heights and water are just as dangerous. Accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control (see the National Vital Statistics Report and this page on child health and mortality) are the leading cause of death for those aged 0 to 14 years and motor vehicle accidents, falls and drowning are the most frequent types of fatal accidents.

However, according to the Brady Campaign (PDF), 2,703 children died as the result of injuries from firearms in 2011.

Suicides by firearm accounted for 61 percent (1,651), 32 percent (850) were due to homicide by firearm, and 5 percent (140) were due to unintentional injury. An additional 16,700 were injured.

Most people have seen horrific news reports of what can happen when children gain access to firearms.

Shooting incidents involving children takes several forms. One is where children shoot people – such as a playmate, sibling or parent – unintentionally, believing the gun wasn’t real or something to that effect or not knowing what they were doing. Another common occurrence is when improper handling leads to a discharge that strikes a child. Yet another is when a child uses a firearm to commit suicide, and then there are homicides by firearms.

The latter two are most common among teenagers.

Teens are more likely to commit suicide by firearm than any other age group from birth to 18 years of age. They are also more likely to commit murder with a firearm, including that of another teen, or conversely be murdered with a firearm than any other age group of people under age 18.

Often enough, the most effective act of gun safety regarding children is merely to store them properly.

Safe Gun Storage Cannot Be Overemphasized

youth gun safety

If there is one action a person can take that will virtually guarantee children will never be harmed by a gun in the home, it’s safe gun storage. Keeping firearms and ammunition locked and out of the reach of children is the best and most reliable method for preventing tragedy.

The EveryTownResearch organization, a pro-Second Amendment organization dedicated to gun safety, found in its research that between December 2012 and 2013, at least 100 children died in unintentional shootings.

Of those, their findings suggest, 70 percent were preventable simply by locking guns away.

Many have likely read a news report where a young child gained access to a loaded firearm and shot themselves, a sibling or playmate or a relative with it.

Often, they didn’t know it was loaded, didn’t think it was real, or didn’t know it was real or loaded. A great deal of these incidents likely would have been prevented had the gun been locked away.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the second most common cause of death for those 10 to 34 years of age in 2014.

Young adults and teenagers have long been one of the highest risk groups – though adults aged 25 to 34 years are a slightly higher risk group – and it is likely that many teen suicides are preventable if firearms were locked away with only parental access being possible.

The Brady Campaign also reported 68 percent of school shooters obtained firearms from their home, typically from a parent or relative.

Ideally, all guns in a home will be stored locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored likewise locked and separately from one’s firearms. However, not everyone is going to. A good deal of people like to have at least one loaded firearm accessed easily in case a defensive need arises, such as a pistol like many keep on or in a nightstand.

If you decide that you need to have a loaded handgun, that isn’t to say it’s unsafe. With proper monitoring, it’s perfectly fine. However, to stay as safe as possible, you should keep your handgun holstered on your person at all possible times.

If you keep some other manner of firearm loaded for defensive or other purposes – many people keep a shotgun or AR-15 for home defense – the weapon should be kept with the safety on and out of reach for children. A gun safe or securely locked cabinet would be ideal.

The NRA has their own safety campaign for children, replete with a mascot called “Eddie the Eagle” and a flock (or rather, convocation) of friends that teach children about the subject.

These materials are widely disseminated, but advocate four rules for children if they see a gun laying around.

These steps, if followed, create a safety protocol and procedure for unattended firearms.

Resolving Child Curiosity About Guns

children and

Children are curious, and child curiosity about firearms is naturally a source of concern.

Curious children have caused accidental discharges, shot playmates, and been involved in other terrible accidents involving firearms, and therefore it behooves parents or people with children constantly in their home to ensure children are made less curious about firearms and/or cannot access them.

The right age for children to be introduced to guns is a matter of debate.

Some hold that numerical age is not a good rubric to go by and stress that emotional maturity is a better gauge of when a child will be ready for being introduced to firearms.

One of the most common recommendations is to perform routine gun maintenance around children. Have them observe guns being cleaned, so they become used to the sight of firearms in the home.

Teaching Gun Safety

teaching gun safety at
                an early age

At some point, parents will have to have “the talk” with their children regarding guns. Naturally, children need to be instructed about the potential for injury or death and therefore to respect firearms as such.

The appropriate age for this, again, is a topic of some debate. Some believe that when observable “gun play” begins – whether in boys or girls – that’s when the discussion is warranted. Some prefer to do so when the child can appreciate and retain the information.

Many people are given a pellet or airsoft gun as their first “firearm.” While many learned gun safety this way, these “guns” are still capable of causing injury.

The common refrain of “shooting your eye out” has a more than modicum of truth, so these “starter guns” should be accompanied with lessons in firearm safety, especially the Four Rules of Gun Safety.

Shooting playmates, siblings, animals or anything other than targets should not be tolerated.

In this manner, a BB, pellet or airsoft gun can be a good teaching tool for the rules of safety. If any of the rules are broken or not observed, confiscate it and return it when you think the child is ready to begin observing them.

Some recommend starting a child off with a toy gun and then graduating them to their first air-powered gun once they’ve demonstrated they can handle the toy gun safely.

When teaching gun safety to children, it may be difficult to drive home the point of how dangerous a gun can be. Some recommend finding an object to shoot to demonstrate the destructive power of ammunition.

A large, fleshy fruit such as a melon of some sort (be it watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew) can be a good visual aid.

A 2012 CNN article quotes a girl named Robin (she didn’t provide her last name) whose father demonstrated the destructive potential using a jar of red Kool-Aid during her childhood.

The jug exploded when shot with a .410-gauge shotgun, which made an impression on her, as did the recoil from his .357 Magnum revolver. She maintains that she got a healthy fear and respect for guns from that point on.

If you feel your child isn’t grasping one or any concept relating to firearms safety, they probably aren’t ready yet.

Additionally, there are also a lot of parents that have children with special needs. While many special needs children are perfectly capable of learning proper firearms safety, some are not. In the case of the latter, safe storage is an absolute must if any guns are to be kept in the home.

Youth Gun Safety Education Outside The Home

                safety for kids

Gun safety in the home is one thing, but what about outside the home?

Range days require safe handling and safe shooting. If your child cannot safely handle, then they cannot safely shoot.

Some people will hold their child whilst they shoot, which certainly can work for young children and help absorb the recoil, though this is totally the choice of the parent. Another school of thought is not to let someone shoot a gun they can’t control.

Before a child should appear on a range, they should be able to properly handle and control a gun. They should also be instructed in safe shooting, such as never shooting at hard, flat surfaces or at any target without knowing what’s beyond it.

What if you and your child are at another home where guns are present, or just your child themselves, such as the home of a friend or a relative?

Naturally, you can’t anticipate everything in advance. If you know what other homes your child may frequent, it’s a good idea to ask if firearms are present in those homes and how they are stored.

If it happens to be the case that firearms in a home your child or children frequent are not stored as securely as in your own, make sure your children know not to touch them and if any are left unattended, to follow the NRA’s steps to stop, don’t touch, leave the area and find an adult and tell them.

If you decide to mention something to another parent, friend or relative about safe storage, do so tactfully. Whilst following best practices for firearm storage are vital, especially when and if children are concerned, some people do not react positively to criticism of what they do in their own home.

Remember that children are naturally curious. They also emulate the behavior of adults, and if you practice improper or cavalier gun safety, they are likely to do the same.

Naturally, parents are human and make mistakes; no one does everything perfectly all the time. However, sticking to and being mindful the basic tenets of gun safety can ensure that your children learn and practice good gun safety themselves.

Summary of Gun Safety

gun safety guide

    Remember the 4 Rules of Gun Safety:

  • Rule 1: Treat Every Gun as If It’s Loaded
  • Rule 2: Never Aim at Something You Don’t Want to Shoot
  • Rule 3: Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until You Intend to Shoot
  • Rule 4: Be Sure of Your Target and What’s Beyond It

Remember to practice only safe shooting.

Remember to use correct ammunition.

Know how your gun works and handle with an abundance of care, as there is no adequate substitution for safe handling.

Only carry in a holster with adequate retention and trigger guard coverage.

“Tedder Industries, LLC d/b/a Alien Gear Holsters (‘Alien Gear’) offers this guide solely for informational purposes and makes no warranty as to the accuracy of the content or information contained herein. All firearms users should obtain training regarding firearm use and safety from certified, professional firearms safety experts, and this guide is not a substitute for such training. Firearms users are required to comply with all applicable legal requirements that come with firearm use and ownership and Alien Gear makes no representations as to those requirements. Alien Gear does not manufacture or sell firearms, and Alien Gear’s products are not designed as, nor are they intended to be used as, firearm safety devices. The owner and user assume all responsibility for firearm safety.”

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