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OUTDOORS: With gun ownership comes responsibility

Training, practice, and adhering to the 10 Commandments of Firearms Safety are vital components of responsible gun ownership. (Ala. DCNR/Special to The Herald)

Training, practice, and adhering to the 10 Commandments of Firearms Safety are vital components of responsible gun ownership. (Ala. DCNR/Special to The Herald)

Every 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. Realizing and seriously considering the responsibility of gun ownership is especially important in an age when privately owned firearms are ever increasingly a large facet of the social and political agenda.

“One responsibility of gun ownership is the safe handling of a firearm,” said hunter education expert James Altiere. “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.”

According to Altiere, there are several rules that must be followed to handle a firearm safely. The rules of safe gun handling are generally called the “10 Commandments of Firearms Safety.” Knowing and following these basic rules are of supreme importance.

  1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded. Respect a gun even when you know it contains no ammunition.

  2. Control the direction of the muzzle. You should always know where the firearm is pointed at all times and always keep it pointed in a safe direction. This should be a habit when handling a firearm for any purpose.

  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 military and law enforcement use of firearms.

  4. Be sure the barrel and action is clear of obstructions and that the proper ammunition is being used. 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, the pressures that are pushing the bullet down the barrel can reverse and create a dangerous condition. Additionally, 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 and the same information is stamped on the head of the case of the cartridge or shot shell.

  5. Always unload firearms when not in use. This rule is very important when transporting guns and at shooting ranges 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 and no playful, “harmless” threats.

  7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump over an obstacle with a loaded firearm. When moving around with a loaded gun, always control the muzzle. If you trip or fall, hold onto the gun 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 can easily ricochet at an uncontrollable angle.

  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. The best way to fulfill this responsibility is with a gun safe. With a gun safe, one can completely control who has access to the firearms, including gun thieves. 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.

“There’s likely not a gun owner or prospective gun owner anywhere who hasn’t been exposed to the ‘10 Commandments,’” Altiere concluded. “However, when it comes to firearms safety and responsibility, they can’t be overemphasized. Everyone needs to be reminded that once a bullet or shotgun shell has been fired, it cannot be recalled.”