Preventing Spinal Cord Injury
Through Gun Safety


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Since acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds) are the second largest contributor to spinal cord injuries, we have included this section on gun safety as part of our efforts to prevent or reduce such injuries. If you have sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of a gunshot, either intentional or accidental, click here to learn about your rights.

I. The Fundamentals of Firearm Safety

The three basic general rules of safe gun handling.

1. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; never point a     firearm at anyone or anything you don't want to shoot.
2. Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard     until you are ready to shoot.
3. Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are     ready to use it.

II. Additional specific rules of safe gun handling

Safety Rules Related to the Shooter and His Behavior.

1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
2. Never pass a firearm to another person, or accept a firearm     from another person, until the cylinder or action is open and     you've personally checked that the weapon is completely     unloaded.
3. Before handling any firearm, understand its operation.
4. Never rely on any mechanical device for safety.
5. Think before shooting: once you pull the trigger you can't take      back the shot you've just fired!
6. Never joke around or engage in horseplay while handling or     using firearms.
7. Be alert at all times; never shoot if you're tired, cold or impaired      in any way. Don't mix alcohol or drugs with shooting.
8. Don't sleep with a loaded firearm in your bedroom if you      sleepwalk, have nightmares, sleep restlessly or have other sleep      problems.
9. Safeguard your sight, hearing and health. Always wear eye     and ear protection. Endeavor to limit your exposure to heavy     metal particulates and gases, and minimize your contact with     aromatic organic solvents (such as those commonly used in     gun cleaning products).
10. If you see unsafe behavior any time when firearms are being        handled or used, speak up and take action to correct the        unsafe behavior at once.
11. Receive competent instruction from a qualified person before        beginning to shoot. If questions arise later, after you've been        shooting for a period of time, get answers to those questions        from a competent authority.

Safety Rules Related to Your Target.

1. Positively identify your target and the threat it poses before     firing at it.
2. What's behind your target? Always make sure that a stray shot,      or a bullet which penetrates its intended target through and      through, will be safely stopped.
3.  Never shoot at a hard surface, or at water -- your shot may      glance off, ricochet and injure someone.
4.  Never shoot at glass bottles, living trees, or inappropriate      targets which would create a hazard for other persons or      damage the environment.
5. Never shoot a rifle or handgun directly upwards, or at a high     angle of elevation. Even a rimfire .22 bullet fired at an angle     into the air can have enough energy a mile and a half away to     accidentally kill someone!
6. Never shoot across a highway or other roadway.
7. Never vandalize a road sign (or other public or private      property) by using it as a target.
8. Never poach a game animal out of season, or shoot any game     animal you don't intend to eat.

Safety Rules Related to Your Firearm.

1. Make sure your firearm is in good mechanical condition before     firing it. Periodically have your firearm checked for signs of     erosion, cracking, or wear by the factory, by a qualified     armorer, or by a factory certified gunsmith.
2. Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially     obstructed barrel.
3. Insure that any modifications made to a firearm are made by a     qualified individual, and that those modifications don't     interfere with your firearm's safety features.
4. Be sure all accessories, such as holsters and grips, are     compatible with the firearm and won't interfere with its safe     operation.
5. Remember: a backup firearm carried about your person may     be highly valuable to you in the event your primary firearm is     ever rendered inoperable or is taken from you by an assailant.
6. It is your responsibility to insure that your firearm is always either     about your person and under your personal control, or positively     secured from access by children or other unauthorized parties.
7. Prevent tragedy: lock down your firearms when they aren't in     use.
8. When storing a firearm for a long period of time, consider      storing the slide, bolt, or other critical components of the      firearm separately under separate lock and key.
9. Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the     hammer unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type,     equipped with an inertial firing pin.
10. Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the        pistol has an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial        firing pin.
11. Generally avoid carrying or storing an external hammer-type        firearm with its hammer cocked. Exercise extreme care in       decocking any external hammer firearm: it is very easy to       experience an accidental discharge while doing so if your       thumb slips off the hammer.
12. Generally avoid unloading a firearm by working the        cartridges through the action one-at-a-time; drop the        magazine and then eject the round which may be left in the        chamber, instead, if possible.
13. Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general        purpose spotting scope: while observing an area you may        end up accidentally aiming your firearm at fellow hunters, or        other non-targets.
14. Avoid trying to catch a live round (while unloading a        semiautomatic pistol) by cupping your hand around the        ejection port while retracting the slide; doing so may result in        an accidental discharge.
15. Never ---
       - Climb a tree with a loaded firearm,
       - Cross a fence with a loaded firearm,
       - Jump a ditch or ford a stream with a loaded firearm,
       - Prop or lean a loaded firearm against a tree or other surface           which may allow it to slide, or
       - Transport a cased loaded firearm.
16. Always carry your firearms in a way which will allow you to       control where the muzzle is pointing, should you stumble or fall. 17. Always wear a thousand square inches or more of blaze       orange while in the field during hunting season.

III. Safe Gun Storage.

When you are not using your firearm, you should insure that it is stored safely. Affirmative measures designed to prevent unauthorized access to a defensive firearm by minors, or firearm theft, include:


1. Use of a simplex-type locking box for securing firearms which      need to be kept loaded yet available for ready-access      defensive use, and
2. Use of trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms which don't      need to be kept immediately available for defensive use.
3. Gun security devices which rely solely on physical strength to      secure firearms from unauthorized use are generally      undesirable since ingenious children can potentially employ      leverage or tools to overcome those devices.
4. "Hiding" a firearm won't secure it from discovery and possible      misuse by curious children or intruders.
5. Metal gun cabinets or gun safes can be used to safeguard     firearms from unauthorized access or theft in many     circumstances and metal gun cabinets or gun safes are     generally preferable to open racks or glass-front cabinets.
6. Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from     ammunition when the firearm isn't needed for ready-access     defensive use.
7. You may want to store critical components of a firearm (such      as the gun's bolt or slide) separately from the rest of the firearm      when the gun won't be used in the immediate future.
8. Consider engraving your firearms with your social security     number, driver's license number, or concealed firearms license     number to deter theft and facilitate return of stolen firearms     which may happen to be recovered.
9. Explore "gun-proofing" your child by proper training, and by     controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce     your child's natural unsatisfied curiosity about firearms.


For the names of other organizations that provide gun safety information, please visit our Other Helpful Resources webpage.

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