Owning a firearm is serious business and the possible outcome of not following safety precautions can be deadly.

There are things every responsible firearm owner should do to avoid an unintentional shooting, especially if a gun is kept in a home where children are present.

Take simple safety steps

Keep the gun pointed away from yourself and others. If it is discharged by mistake it might damage something in your home, but at least it won’t be you. “Away from yourself” means your feet, too.

Don’t put your finger on the trigger of a gun until you plan to shoot. Most weapons come with a trigger guard. Keep your finger outside that guard or along the side of the weapon until it is time to fire. Touching the trigger can spell trouble if you are not intending to shoot.

Proper storage is important

It is best to keep your firearms in a locked gun vault. That means that even an intruder won’t be able to access it. A locked cabinet, safe or storage space can also be used. Safely storing firearms prevents children and others from using your gun without your permission.

You can also purchase a gun lock that makes it impossible to fire the gun unless it is first unlocked. That does not mean you don’t need to properly store the firearm, but it does give you another level of protection.

Talk with those you live with

Make sure your family members and everyone you live with understand how important firearm safety is. That is especially important if young children are around. Children have a natural curiosity, so keeping your firearms stored in a secure location is crucial.

You should also explain to children to never touch or play with a firearm they may find. While you might take the right precautions to store your guns, that doesn’t mean a neighbor is following the same guidelines.

Don’t store a loaded gun

Someone cannot be shot unintentionally by a gun that is not loaded. That is why when not in use, a firearm, be it a pistol or a rifle, should not be loaded. While some gun owners might feel the need to keep a firearm loaded when not in use, that only increases the chances that someone might unintentionally be injured, including yourself.

Picture this scenario: You reach into the top shelf to get a loaded gun, but you drop it. Will it go off? You or someone you love might be injured if it does. You can keep ammunition nearby in a locked cabinet, drawer or closet, but it is advised that you keep your guns and ammo separate.

Know how it works

If you bought your gun new, it probably came with an owner’s manual. Some people might skip reading an owner’s manual when they buy something new. That might be OK if you bought an electric toothbrush but not when you have just purchased a deadly weapon. Read the manual thoroughly. It will tell you how it should be safely operated, stored and cleaned.

Make sure you know how to safely load, unload, cock or arm the weapon and how to remove any type of ammunition from the gun and its magazine.

And remember, if you buy a used weapon that does not have a manual, you can likely find one online. If that doesn’t work, visit a local gun shop. They can probably help you.

A gun is like any other tool and requires regular maintenance to operate the way it should. That means you need to clean it regularly and make sure it is stored correctly as well. Clean it well if it has not been fired for a long time to ensure it works properly.

Hunt safely

Don’t load your gun until you are near the area where you plan to hunt. Avoid stepping over obstacles in the woods or climbing into a tree stand with a loaded gun. A stumble in the wrong place could cause you to drop the gun and it might go off. Also, keep the safety in place until you intend to shoot.

Most cities do not allow the discharge of weapons within their limits. Make sure you know where you are in relation to other people and buildings. Ultimately it is up to you to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.

When it is time to shoot, be sure you can see your target and what is immediately behind it. A bullet can travel a long distance and can injure someone you might not even be able to see. Don’t fire in the direction of people or buildings.

Take a class

A gun safety class can go far in making sure you know how to safely own and use a firearm. No matter where you live, you can probably find one that is both convenient and affordable.

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