It is an established truth that guns can't do anything by themselves. They were mere object and left alone will sit there, passive, inert.
In order for a gun to inflict harm, it must be acted upon.
Because they carry so much danger, guns must be treated with respect. Happily, years of experience have given us three basic rules for gun safety:
1. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
2. Always point them in a safe direction.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
These are the Big Three. But there subsets of each of these.
For example, before someone hands you a gun, ask them to show you it is unloaded. Never trust them on this. Look with your own eyes and confirm the chamber is empty.
For experienced, safety-minded shooters this desire becomes something akin to a nervous tic. You will see them open a firearm, close it, and then open it again each time they reference it. It is a good habit to have.
Similarly, keeping the firearm pointed in a safe direction can also become an obsession. Sometimes called "muzzle awareness," it is of paramount importance on the firing range, but is a good habit to develop. When not at a range, "down" is generally a safer direction than "up."
The ergonomic design of guns can make the last prohibition difficult. The trigger is placed in a position to be comfortable and natural. It is entirely reflexive for your finger to rest on the trigger.
That is why training is essential. The finger should rest elsewhere, usually along the frame above the trigger. Alternatively, the grip might be altered so that the finger lies below the trigger guard. In fact, one will often see experience shooters moving firearms holding them by the bottom of the grip or (in the cast of revolvers) with their hand through the open cylinder.
These carries are there to purposefully keep the weapon safe by using an non-intuitive carry.
There are some additional rules of safety that also apply. Know your target and what is behind and around it. What happens if you miss? What happens if the bullet passes through the target and hits something behind it?
When cleaning and maintaining a firearm, unload it and put the ammunition away. Remember the first rule: ensure it is unloaded by checking it personally. Only then can you proceed with your work.
Whenever there is an accidental shooting, it is always a result of unsafe behavior. These rules are redundant, so one usually has to violate multiple rules to get a disastrous result.
Consider an idiot who has no sense of muzzle awareness. He casually points a handgun at his friend. This is stupid behavior and in many social circles he might expect a harsh word or physical pain for his foolishness.
Even so, if the other rules were followed, no harm can come (other than to his reputation and friendship). If the firearm was loaded, at least he kept his finger off the trigger.
Similarly, a moron who can't keep his finger off the trigger will mitigate his stupidity by at least practicing muzzle awareness.
True gun safety is not difficult and it is why there are so few accidents involving firearms today.
There is of course another kind of "gun safety." This is the kind preached by people who believe in banning firearms but are too ashamed to admit it. They know that theirs is a losing cause and that "gun control" is overwhelmingly rejected by the American public.
So they changed the name of their organization and utter platitudes about making guns safe.
What is interesting to me about these people is that they take no practical action to improve safety other than advocating gun prohibition.
I've never yet seen these people hand out flyers on fundamentals of gun safety, nor do they provide instruction to children on what to do if they find an unattended gun.
By contrast, the gun rights organizations and sporting clubs - supposedly bloody-minded killers - do all of that.
I've blogged about this quite a bit over the years, but it bears repeating: some of the worst gun safety violations I have ever seen came from gun prohibitionists waving around scary-looking firearms at news conferences. They have no muzzle awareness, their fingers are wrapped carelessly around the trigger and they are too ignorant to know if they are loaded or not.
Imagine an advocate for automotive safety who has never driven a car, who has no idea how to start the vehicle and can't even tell the difference between the gear selector and the windshield wiper control.
Whenever I encounter one of these fools, I engage them on whether they support gun safety education in the schools. "Shouldn't children be taught the fundamentals of gun safety?" I ask.
They are horrified and mutter something about teaching them to stay away from guns. My go-to response: "Ah, so you think ignorance will protect them. I assume your organization is opposed to sex education as well?"
(Long-time readers will recall a favorite quip of mine to gun control supporters from years ago: "If we treated teen pregnancy the same way you treat gun violence, we'd have banned condoms years ago.")
Gun safety is something that all gun rights supporters fervently believe in. Children need to be educated in the safe care and use of firearms. At first they need to know that guns are not toys and what to do if they find one: Stop. Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.
At the same time we as adults need to demystify firearms. When the Younger Posse Members are curious about what is in the vault, I show them and demonstrate safety. When children understand that guns aren't magical and are just tools, the desire for them to have illicit access fades.