Failure to follow these guidelines increases your chance of incurring serious injury or death to yourself or others.
There are many versions of firearms safety rules. First, we'll go over the basic rules recommended by the NRA which you can find here. The first three are the most important:
Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
Always keep the gun unloaded until it's ready to use.
There are many variations of these rules recommended by a variety of people, but if you follow any version of them you are off to the right start. I won't cover the variations here, simply put "gun safety rules" into a search engine and you'll experience the variety first hand. Here are some variations:
Jeff Cooper's Rules of Gun Safety
Wikipedia on Gun Safety
Armchair Gun Show Rules
Great Safety Article on Leverguns.com
Doctor Ocks excellent Safety post, add your ideas here
Other tips I'd like to offer:
-Adjust your mindset - Firearms injuries are not caused by accidents, they are caused by negligence. If you are handling a firearm that discharges unintentionally, it's your fault. You caused the negligent discharge. Any injury caused by a negligent discharge is your fault, and you should be prosecuted and convicted by a jury of your peers for assault. If you have this mindset you will be more likely to take handling firearms as seriously as you should.
-Get some Training! - Training and practice reduce the chances you will do something stupid. Get trained on the right methods of safe handling and practice them. People make mistakes, but the more you practice and train, the less likely you are to make a mistake that could have deadly consequences. Check with your local range or gun shop for local classes. The NRA offers a tool to search for local classes.
- RTFM - Read your manual. Pay attention to the warnings. Know how to operate your firearm safely in all situations. Even if you are a gun guru, new innovations and mechanisms are introduced each year. Know how to load, operate, fire, unload, maintain, clear jams, and maintain your gun. If you gun doesn't have a manual, most manufacturers provide a copy for free. This is the age of information, there is no excuse to not be knowledgeable. Some firearms don't shoot well with steel-cased ammunition, or lead bullets, or sealed primers, or certain bullet types. Know this before you handle that firearm. Google is your friend!
- You are Responsible for Your Firearms - It is your responsibility to secure your firearms. This includes securing them from children; telling a 10 year old to stay away from your "Secret Closet of Mystery" isn't enough. This also includes securing them against theft, or handling by untrained parties. Treat each firearm like it's a stack of hundreds with a poisonous bite. There are many ways to lock up or disable firearms, research and select a method that is appropriate to your firearms and lifestyle. More information on firearm storage can be found here and here.
Other safety notes:
- Ammunition contains toxic substances. Proper ventilation is required. Wash hands before touching mouth, smoking, or eating after handling ammunition.
- Follow the rules of your range. They will likely include rules not captured in the above links or text. Know and follow them both for safety, and to avoid looking like a noob. If the place you shoot is not safe, don't shoot there. It is not worth the risk.
- Always wear hearing and eye protection. Gloves and sturdy clothing is also recommended. Make sure these items are available for other people you may go shooting with.
- Be aware of people around you any time you handle a firearm. This applies for any place you handle a gun. Someone can disrupt you when you are ready to fire. Someone else at the range can be operating in an unsafe manner. Be aware of your surroundings, and if you can't make them safe, remove yourself or the firearm, as appropriate.
- Be wary of handloads or reloads. Handloading (or reloading) is an excellent hobby and offers a potential source for reliable, affordable and accurate ammunition. I've also been made aware of two people who have sustained disfiguring injuries from reloads that were misloaded. Don't use handloads that you don't trust.
- Be aware of the dangerous parts of your gun. This is more than the muzzle end. Hot gasses can escape from the chamber that can cause severe injury. Hammers can break skin and trap a hand. Moving parts can cut hands and break noses. Scopes on some rifles draw more blood than the bullets shot from them.
- Don't shoot while you are drinking, dumbass. In fact, food, beverages, smoking implements should not be in the area where firearms are handled, and hands should we washed thoroughly before handling any of these items after handling firearms or ammunition.
- Keep your guns clean. This will help them maintain good working order, their beauty and their value. When cleaning guns you may notice something that is not in proper working order that you otherwise may not. A good thread on gun cleaning on the ZS forums can be found here.
This is not a conclusive list. Get out and research on your own. If you feel there is something glaring I have missed, PM me and I'll add it here.
Be safe out there people!