By James Altiere, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator (Retired)
A lawful citizen of the United States has the right to own a firearm. This right is guaranteed by the second amendment to the Constitution. The second amendment was established to allow citizens to have firearms not only to survive in the wilderness, but to defend against enemies both foreign and domestic. The right to keep and bear arms is a trust placed on the citizens of the United States, and with this trust comes much responsibility.
One responsibility is the safe handling of a firearm. Imagine the following scenario. A loaded firearm is on a table. Even though the firearm is considered to be in a dangerous condition because it is loaded, it will not hurt anyone just lying on the table. The firearm could remain on the table for a hundred years without being a threat to anyone. If someone picks up the firearm, then it can become a threat in two major ways. One is when a person uses a firearm to intentionally shoot something or someone. The other is when a firearm is in the hands of a person who does not know how to handle it safely, or is mentally incapable of handling it safely.
There are several rules that must be followed to handle a firearm safely. The rules of safe gun handling are called the “10 Commandments of Firearms Safety.” They are as follows:
1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded. This means to respect the firearm even when you know it is unloaded.
2. Control the direction of the muzzle. You should always know where the firearm is being pointed at all times, and always keep it pointed in a safe direction. This should become a habit when handling a firearm.
3. Identify your target and what’s beyond it. This rule is very important when target practicing or hunting. It is even a factor in both military and law enforcement use of firearms.
4. Be sure the barrel and action is clear of obstructions and that you have the proper ammunition for the firearm. This means to be very careful to keep dirt and debris out of the barrel. When a cartridge is fired, tremendous pressures are created to push the projectile through and out the barrel. If the channel that the bullet must travel through is not completely clear, then the pressures that are pushing the bullet down the barrel back up and create a very dangerous condition. It is also imperative that you have the correct ammunition for the firearm. The cartridge must fit the chamber precisely or the same dangerous condition will be created. The correct ammunition used in a firearm is normally stamped on the barrel of the firearm. The same information is stamped on the head of the case of the cartridge or shot shell.
5. Unload firearms when not in use. This rule is very important when transporting firearms. It also is important when at a shooting range where it is mandatory that you have the action open when not shooting. Firearms carried for self-defense or in the defense of the home need to be controlled by the person responsible for the firearm.
6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot. This means no horseplay with a firearm. It also means never use a firearm to threaten a person.
7. Never climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch or log, with a loaded firearm. When moving around with a loaded firearm, always control the muzzle. Even if you trip or fall with the firearm, hold on to it firmly and keep it pointed in a safe direction. Never pull a firearm toward you by the muzzle.
8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat hard surface or water. Bullets traveling at a high velocity that hit water or a hard surface will bounce off at an uncontrollable angle. This is referred to as a ricochet. An earthen bank is the best backstop. Just remember, once you shoot the bullet, you cannot take it back.
9. Store firearms and ammunition separately and beyond the reach of children and careless adults. You should expand that list to include mentally unstable people. This is a very important responsibility of owning a firearm. The best way to fulfill this responsibility is to have a gun safe. With a gun safe, you can control who has access to the firearms, and is the best defense against a burglar. Not only will a safe protect your firearms, but it is a good place to store other valuables as well.
10. Avoid alcoholic beverages or other mood-altering drugs before or while shooting or hunting.
In conclusion, it is the right of every law-abiding citizen of the United States to own a firearm. This right is guaranteed by the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, this right requires responsibility. This means individual responsibility to safely handle a firearm and control the access to the firearm.