Weapon Safety 101: Handgun Safety

Handguns are a tool for home/self-defense and provide great recreational fun. This could be shooting pop cans in your backyard or during a timed event at a local competition. Guns come in all shapes and sizes, and some are made for different purposes than others. But one thing they all have in common is they shoot bullets and bullets can hurt or even kill someone.

This is why firearm safety is the most important aspect of handling a gun. There are some universal practices that should be followed with any type of gun. However, there are some safety practices and issues relating to specific guns that shooters should be aware of. I have been a firearms instructor for years and a law enforcement officer for even longer. One thing I have found is that people all learn habits when it comes to firearms safety.

Some habits are good, and some are bad, but everyone has them either way. Not all bad habits people have are specific to handguns, but there are a few. Today, we will be looking at weapon safety, specifically with handguns. Because I’m talking about gun safety, I will still cover some of the basic safety tips as well because they also apply to handguns.

Holsters and how they relate to safety

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing someone carrying a $1,000 handgun in a cheap, flimsy holster. A nylon holster can work for IWB (inside the waistband) if that’s what you prefer, but they make awful OWB (outside the waistband) holsters. Most of them have a single belt loop in the middle of the holster which allows the gun to “rock” back and forth when moving around.

Shoulder holster for CCW carry.
Shoulder holsters allow you to carry full-size weapons and conceal them with a jacket. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
The soft nylon holster does not protect the trigger very well either. If you are going to carry a gun, make sure the holster is sturdy and made for that gun. A reliable OWB holster should have some type of retention to keep the gun in place until you intend to draw it. IWB holsters should have a sturdy clip or some way to attach it to the inside of your waist. It’s embarrassing and nothing short of a safety hazard when your gun falls out of your holster and hits the ground.

Whatever holster you select, make sure you practice drawing with that holster. The muzzle of your gun should stay pointing at the ground until it raises in the direction of the target (down range). I have noticed people with cross-draw holsters tend to point the gun to the side as they draw the weapon.

One good way to monitor your habits and look for areas of improvement is to record yourself at the range. Use a tripod for your phone or have a friend record you. Watch closely every move you make and look for any areas that need improvement. Then practice until you correct it and it becomes a good habit.

Muzzle awareness

Muzzle awareness is important with all firearms of course. But the muzzle on a handgun is shorter, making it easier to point in the wrong direction. A rifle with a 20-inch barrel takes more effort to point at someone than a handgun in someone’s hand who is not paying attention. On the range, this is a reoccurring problem with inexperienced shooters when their guns malfunction.

Setting up tactical gear
Remember to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction until you are ready to fire. [Photo Lauralynn Mosher]
They are facing down range when their gun fails to fire. This causes a person to instinctively look at the side of the gun to see what is wrong with it. Instead of shifting their body so the gun stays pointed down range, they turn the gun sideways to look at it. The gun is now pointed at the person standing next to them and not down range.

People often forget about gun safety when the gun is no longer in their hands. “Out of sight out of mind” is not a good philosophy with guns, however. When carrying a gun in your purse, glove box, or anywhere else that is not secured with a holster, keep the muzzle in mind. It’s easy to “toss” a gun in a bag, briefcase, or drawer, but the muzzle should still be pointed in the safest direction possible. Many companies make purses with built-in holsters that keep the muzzle of the gun pointed down.

Don’t forget the basics

Everyone has heard the phrase “Always treat a gun like it is loaded.” We know this, but not everyone practices this common safety tip. Every year, dozens of people across the country are accidentally shot because of someone’s carelessness. These accidents are unfortunate because they could be avoided if people would follow a few simple rules for all types of firearms. These include:

  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire the gun.
  • Always point the gun in a safe direction.
  • Always treat a gun as if it were loaded.
  • If a gun fails to fire, it’s still loaded; keep it pointed down range!
  • When you pick up a gun, always check the chamber to ensure it is unloaded.
  • Check the ammo before shooting and make sure it matches the caliber the gun is designed to shoot.
  • Store guns in a safe place where children cannot access them.
Shooting the Bull Armory at the range.
Gun safety should be practiced on the range and at home. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Always practice gun safety

It doesn’t matter if you are storing an empty gun in a safe or carrying it locked and loaded on your side. Gun safety procedures should be followed regardless. A gun can be used to protect a life, but one moment of carelessness can result in tragedy. If you own a gun or if you are planning to purchase a gun, don’t overlook safety precautions.

Practice makes perfect and gun safety is something you should always practice. If you think you observe safe gun handling procedures, stop from time to time and re-evaluate yourself. A lot of you have seen the video of the DEA agent shooting himself in the foot.

He was not an inexperienced person handling a gun for the first time. He had received a lot of firearms training and he still made several mistakes that led to him shooting his own foot in front of a group of kids and teachers. A live, in-person example is not the best way to teach anyone about gun safety. Gun safety should always be observed, and guns always respected.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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