This is the single most important page on this website. Every gun accident is 100% avoidable. By the time you reach the end of this list you may believe the C&Rsenal team is paranoid but the truth is gun safety is a big deal and attention to detail is critical. Please review this information below. If you see anything missing please email the team so we can make this as comprehensive as possible.
The primary goal of proper gun handling in a combat or defensive scenario is to put one or more of your bullets into another person. Interestingly, our goal at the shooting range is the exact opposite. The primary goal in range gun handling is to keep all of your bullets outside of everyone present. Jeff Cooper summed safe handling up nicely in four rules:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
While it is best to always treat your gun as if it is loaded, you should also do your best to keep it unloaded at the range until you’re ready to shoot it. To confirm this check your guns, a lot. When thinking about a loaded gun people may imagine magazines full of rounds but the chamber is the thing. Open your bolt/slide/cylinder and look directly in the chamber first. Make sure it is empty. Poke your finger in there. Nothing? Good! Now remove the magazine/en-bloc/loose rounds. Now check the chamber again. Yes again. If you have a magazine-fed semi-automatic, check the magazine well for any loose rounds that might have been overlooked.
Now leave it open. If you aren’t shooting it the bolt should be open. On bolt-action rifles this is easy to see. Leave revolver cylinders open. On semi-automatic rifles and pistols lock the bolt/slide back and leave it. This is an additional safety step but it is also a courtesy to everyone around you. It lets anyone see your gun is unloaded and they will appreciate it.
All guns should be pointed down range. If you need to move a gun off the line and someone is rangeward of you, point it at the ground. Imagine a solid laser beam or wicked cool infinitely long lightsaber projecting from your barrel. Do not let this beam contact anyone. Assume anything you point your gun at is something you’re willing to destroy. Pointing your barrel at someone as you move the gun is called “sweeping” and it is very, very bad.
When you pickup your gun, be very conscious of your trigger finger. Many of us grew up playing cowboys, soldier, deranged post man, etc… We had toy guns and we have something of a natural grip and point of aim from it going into this. Forget it. Your childhood conditioning is going to get someone killed. If you don’t think about it, you’ll put your finger right on that trigger every time. It’s a conditioned habit; break it. Your finger must stay off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are pointed at your target and ready to fire. No twirling either.
Be very aware of just where your shots may land. There are too many horror stories of property and people getting hurt by rounds thrown carelessly down a range over a mile away. Your responsibility extends beyond the horizon. Indoor ranges are setup in rows with traps at the end. Outdoors the rows may not be so obvious but they are there. Know your shooting corridor and stay within it. Do not shoot too high, too low, or at a target in another corridor. Indoors this is terrible and affects the bullet traps, outdoors you may miss the backstop and hit someone a thousand or more yards away. This is the same reason you should never fire into the sky. It is not harmless. That round will fall somewhere, with lethal velocity.
There will be some slight differences between indoor and outdoor ranges. This set of information is an overall guideline and generally geared towards the public outdoor range. Commercial ranges or clubs usually have their own guidelines and you should always understand these fully before you shoot there. I know of at least one gun shop that does a poor job of proactively teaching safety to their new shooters. If something were to go wrong they would take a lion’s share of blame but I still hold new shooters accountable for doing their own safety research. You know guns are dangerous by design. Do your homework.
If you are a glasses-wearer, whose glasses have plastic lenses, and whose lens is of adequate size to cover your whole eye and more: they will be generally accepted as enough. Many believe you should still wear safety glasses over them and there is much to this argument, but it is your discretion.
The rest of you get over to Home Depot or your local gun shop and get a good, thick pair of safety glasses. Wear these whenever you are handling your firearm, range or not. I’d also recommend them for handling ammo to discourage yourself from rubbing your eyes. More on that under the Lead section.
Firearms cause permanent hearing loss. Every time you hear that ringing you’ve chipped away at your own ability to hear just a little more. You cannot gain this back and hearing is very important. Many shooters recommend wearing two layers of hearing protection: earplugs inside of earmuffs. There are some fancy electronic rigs that can filter out only certain loud noises and still allow normal conversation but that is a personal choice. The C&Rsenal team, so far, has been comfortably using the $3 headsets from Harbor Freight. We even carry extra to the public range to loan out.
Lead is bad for you. The long term affects are a steady decline in your IQ score and that can’t be a good thing to combine with firearms. Bullets contain lead and it will get all over you. When you are done shooting wash your everything: hands, forearms, face, hair, and clothing. Try to wash your range clothes separate from your everyday wear. When cleaning your firearms follow these same procedures. The C&Rsenal team recommends nitrile gloves as they stand up a little bit better than latex and are disposable and clean. The CDC has a document about Lead and Hearing hazards for people working with firearms.
Pack a basic first-aid kit with your range bag. The C&Rsenal team carries a basic kit available from most retailers but we are looking to develop an appropriate list of components with the help of medical professionals. Depending on your own personal training you may choose to carry more. It is also very advisable when shooting outdoors to know the nearest emergency services available and their contact number.
Dress appropriate for the weather but try to cover as much as possible. Shorts aren’t the biggest threat but Suzie can tell you the dangers or low-cut tops and hot casings.
Talk to the people around. If you’re new to a range, ask about the rules or find them if they are posted. Never be afraid to admit something you don’t know, never assume. Pride should not be an excuse for ignorance. Know your safety rules and keep to them. Just because the guy in the next lane is doing it, that doesn’t mean you can too.
Outdoor ranges use a “Hot or Cold” system. Be aware of what people are doing and saying around you. If you hear “Cold” called, even if you think it is a question, stop firing and see what is going on. Often you can agree to finish your shots and then go cold but never assume you can just keep shooting. Wait for everyone to get behind the line before asking to go “Hot.” Wait for everyone to put on their eyes and ears and to show they recognize the call.
If there is no range master: you’re it. Everyone should be responsible for watching everyone else. If you see someone’s kid sweeping everyone with his .22 don’t just turn away and grumble. Head right over there and calmly and politely point out the issue. If they become irate report it to the operators or just walk away. It is not worth the risk. Little Billy will shoot you and they will leave you there to avoid prosecution.
In summary: Pay attention. Make sure you cover your butt and everyone else’s too. Lots of people get out on the range and try to look cool or act like a know-it-all. The truth is these idiots can get you killed. Be modest, be vigilant, and be communicative.
I know plenty of C&R collectors who shoot from the hip when it comes to firearm safety. They observe all the range rules and etiquette but they still endanger themselves and others. All old guns are unreliable until proven otherwise. All C&R guns should ideally be reviewed by a gunsmith before firing. Plenty of us have skipped this step but we should be well aware of the consequences.
Rifles and pistols can fail in many ways. Always strip and inspect your firearms before firing. You want to be especially sure of the strength and tolerance of any gun you intend to shoot. Generally Headspace is the preferred metric for assessing a rifle or pistol’s safety. This is a measure of the chamber length in the gun and determines how much room a casing has to expand or move around. If the casing is allowed to over-expand or thrust itself backwards with force, it may damage the gun. This can also be a sign that a gun was rechambered at some point and should not be shot with its original ammunition.
Additionally hot or overloaded ammo can damage the gun. Rifles and pistols that use the same ammunition might not have used it in the same era and the changes in gunpowder charge could be devastating. Also, make sure you know the differences between similar ammo types like .38/200 and .38 special. Or why early Spanish Mausers in 7.62 Nato should not fire .308. If you have ammo hand loaded by an individual make certain they use a strict process and know their track record. One mistake is all it takes.
Manufacture or Metallurgy is another concern. Chinese Mausers, for example, are rarely trusted. Many were made in factories with German supervision but others were manufactured with inferior and often rushed processes in varied arsenals. On some semiautomatic rifles and pistols the slides may not be properly fitted and could bind or skip and cause damage. There is even one blowback operated WWI pistol that, should a screw in the rear loosen, the entire slide can come free and blow right into the shooter’s face!
Finally, stocks and grips can be common failing points as they grow old and begin to chip or crack. Inspect any firearm inside and out for the beginnings of cracks.