People are going to make mistakes no matter what.
But there’s a vast difference between putting a little too much sugar in your coffee and assuming a gun is unloaded and safe. Sure, it’s helpful to teach the mantra “A gun is always loaded!” to both young and old alike, but that’s only part of the equation in what should be muscle memory for even the most casual shooter. There is a lot of do’s and don’ts involved in the safe handling firearms but they are - for the most part - delightfully simple and will stick with you for a lifetime.
It was this musing that made me realize I don’t have any sort of Gun Safety Tip posts anywhere on my blog - so, we’re going to be covering everything from safety basics in semi-auto handguns (this post); to dealing with scary moments such as Fail To Fires and bore obstructions; to safely firing large caliber pistols which can be intimidating to a new shooter but, if handled right, can be a lot of fun.
These aren’t All-Encompassing posts spanning every type of safety situation imaginable - for instance, we’re not going to delve into single shot pistols or single-action semi-autos; those we’ll leave for another day. These are just to give you a good solid idea of why, what, and how. The rest is just putting these tips to work in everyday life and using common sense for the rest. A gun won’t leap off the table and bite you, for instance, but it could very well be knocked off and accidentally discharge if not made safe first.
The Semi-Auto Pistol: Lock, Drop, And Rack
Remember that mantra we just talked about? “A gun is always loaded!” ? While this is a good basis to start on, there are ways to ensure that your firearm is unloaded and safe to handle in a casual situation or after firing. A lot of newer firearms include some sort of Loaded Chamber Indicator which is supposed to tell you if there’s a bullet locked in and ready to fire, but never ever trust these. Like with anything mechanical, they can fail and what you may assume is an empty chamber is, in fact, one with a round in it despite the ‘indicator’ indicating otherwise.
And, of course, with any gun - freshly unloaded or not - always keep it pointed in a safe direction, even if you set it down.
Loaded chamber indicator on a Ruger MKIII. Your pistol may or may not have one of these.
The Semi-Auto pistol are one of things that may seem a bit complicated at a glance, but mechanically are pretty straightforward. At their simplest a semi automatic pistol will:
1. Eject the spent shell casing
2. Cock the weapon (move the hammer back into the firing position)
3. Chamber the next round in the magazine
These three things put together means that a semi-auto pistol is ‘always ready’, meaning beyond initially loading the firearm, the shooter does not have to do anything to make the gun ready to fire. If the shooter pulls the trigger, the gun will discharge. This is another reason why you should always follow some sort of Lock, Drop, Rack procedure. Externally speaking, unless you have a loaded chamber indicator (which as I mentioned before, should not be counted on 100%), there is really no way to tell if a semi-automatic pistol is actually loaded or not.
Clearing your pistol is ridiculously simple, though, all you gotta do is:
This safety is in the ‘Safe’ position, meaning it will not allow the gun to fire under normal circumstances. Do NOT rely on a safety it is mechanical and can fail, but when put to use with other Safe Gun Practices it can make a world of difference. If you’re using any kind of holster, be sure to double check that your safety is still properly engaged after removing your gun, as the lever can snare and disengage in some cases.
Hit the magazine release and drop the mag out. The release button on this Tanfoglio Force 99r is located near the trigger, just above my thumb. Dropping the magazine ensures that, even if there is another round ready to go, it won’t be loaded into the chamber accidentally or otherwise.
And rack the slide to clear the chamber
An empty chamber is a happy chamber.
In that order?Pistols can vary widely from model to model, but these steps should be followed in some order whenever you’re handing a firearm off to someone to be looked at or immediately after shooting. On your gun, you may have to drop the magazine and rack the slide before setting the safety. Always drop the magazine before racking the slide, never unload a gun by repeatedly racking it unless some kind of malfunction forces you to.
Is setting the safety necessary? Say for some reason as you get ready to shoot, your trigger finger does the unholy and actually manages to catch the trigger when suddenly, you’re startled! A pistol with a properly functioning safety can and will prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot or leg. Safety off? Say hello to an intensely embarrassing trip to the ER you will probably never live down. And don’t be afraid to check to make sure it’s still on.
Even if you’re intending to shoot your pistol a minute later the safety should always be engaged when a gun is not in immediate use. Can it fail? Of course it can, improper cleaning (or no cleaning at all) can gum it up and cause it - among other things - to malfunction and misbehave, but using it in conjunction with other basic safety practices is the mark of a responsible shooter.
All the time?Absolutely. Even if you’re absolutely, positively, 100% cross your heart sure that the gun is unloaded, it won’t take but a few seconds to double check. I was recently at John’s Sport Center in Pittsburg, Kansas and was delighted by each of the staff members at the gun counter that, before handing a gun off to a customer, cycled the firearm to ensure the chamber was empty and above all, safe. This is something I’d love to see more often, not only in gun stores and shops, but in everyday gun handling life.
See how easy that was? Stay tuned ‘cause next time on Lady With Guns we’ll be talking Pros and Cons on my brand new Tanfoglio Witness Pavona chambered in .40 S&W.