ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. 

ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. 

ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. 

You’ll find these “Big Three” rules on the wall of every gun store and shooting range you visit (and if you don’t, you should). 

You know why: Knowing these rules, following them at all times—and insisting that others do the same—will help keep you and your family safe. 

But gun safety goes well beyond the “Big Three.” 

Here are eight other tips that you should know…and pass on to everyone in your family.

  1.     Know your target and what is beyond it.

Whether you’re at the range or in the woods, if you’re going to shoot, you must know what lies beyond your target. In almost all cases, you must be sure that there is something that will serve as a backstop to capture bullets that miss or go through the target. Some bullets can travel a mile or more once they leave the muzzle.

Another factor to keep in mind is whether what lies beyond your target could potentially cause a ricochet. For example, the surface of a river or lake can act almost like a sheet of solid steel when it’s struck by a bullet, and cause the bullet to deflect in ways you wouldn’t expect. (If you think that water is too soft to cause this to happen, think of the last time you did a cannonball off the high diving board—water can act awfully solid if you hit it fast enough!) Always remember: Think first before you shoot!

  1.     Know how to use the gun safely.

Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Read the owner’s manual. If you don’t have a manual, contact the gun’s manufacturer and ask them to send you one; they’ll be happy to do so. Know your gun’s basic parts, how to safely open and close the action and how to remove ammunition from the gun. No matter how much you know about guns, always take the time to learn the proper way to operate any new or unfamiliar firearm. Never assume that because one gun resembles another, they operate in exactly the same way. Also, remember that a gun’s safety device is a mechanical device that can fail. The best safety device in the world is the one between your ears.

  1.     Be sure your gun is safe to operate.

Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to work. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun’s general upkeep. If there is any question regarding a gun’s ability to function, have it examined by a knowledgeable gunsmith. Some items that should raise a “red flag” about whether a gun is safe to use include age (some guns made before the 20th century are unsafe to use with modern ammunition), visible damage or rust, or if nobody you know has fired the gun in the last few years.

  1.     Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.

Each gun is intended for use with a specific caliber or cartridge. Only cartridges designed for that particular gun can be fired safely. Most guns have the ammunition caliber stamped on the barrel or the slide. The owner’s manual will also list the cartridge or cartridges appropriate for your gun. Ammunition can be identified by information printed on the cartridge box and sometimes stamped on the cartridge head. Using the wrong ammunition in your gun can cause severe damage to the gun…or to the person holding it. Do not shoot the gun unless you know you have the proper ammunition.

  1.     Wear eye and ear protection.

The sound of a gunshot can damage unprotected ears. Worse still, the damage is usually not obvious until much, much later, when you get older. (Have you ever noticed that some older shooters talk really loudly? That may be due to hearing loss from not wearing ear protection.) Also, gun discharges can emit debris and hot gas that can cause injury to your eyes. Take care of yourself: Wear safety glasses and earplugs whenever you shoot.

  1.     Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting.

“Why are you even mentioning this to me?” you may be asking. “I don’t drink or do drugs!” Well, even some legal drugs, like prescription medicine or over-the-counter remedies, can impair your ability to shoot safely. Read the label of any medication you take—and ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects.

  1.     Store guns so they are inaccessible to unauthorized persons.

What does this really mean? It means you need to take all possible steps to make sure that only you and trusted family members are able to get to your firearm. There are a variety of storage options available to you and your family

  1.     Be aware that certain types of guns and shooting activities require additional safety precautions.

There are many different types of firearms, some of which require additional safety rules or procedures for proper operation. These should be in your owner’s manual. Also, most sport-shooting activities have developed a set of rules to ensure safety during competition. The rules may be different from sport to sport, so always listen carefully to your instructor or range safety officer.

Gun safety is everyone’s responsibility, no matter your age or ability level. If you see someone else violating the rules of safety—no matter who it is—you should speak up and get out of the situation immediately. 

Gun Storage and Safety Options

The more features a safe storage system provides, the more it tends to cost. 

Below are some of the more common storage options available.

  1. Trigger Locks – These provide a simple and affordable option to prevent a gun from being loaded or fired by an unauthorized user. 

Whether they are provided by the manufacturer or the dealer, most new guns are now sold with a trigger lock right in the box. These locks take different forms. A trigger shoe clamps down around the trigger or trigger housing to prevent the trigger from being manipulated. Because these devices come into direct contact with the trigger, they should never be installed on loaded guns.

Cable locks block the action of a firearm, preventing the action of rifles and shotguns from being closed. When used with a semi-automatic pistol, they will also prevent a magazine from being loaded into the grip. For revolvers, the cable is looped through the barrel to prevent the cylinder from closing.

If a dedicated gun lock is not available, an ordinary padlock can be used with many guns. Simply slip the hasp of the lock between the backside of the trigger and the trigger guard to prevent the trigger from cycling. Trigger locks are inexpensive (less than $20), or even free through some community programs, and can successfully prevent an unintentional discharge when they are installed properly. However, they do not offer any physical protection for the firearm or a measurable level of theft deterrence.

  1. Gun Cases can be easily found at any local sporting goods stores and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and material options to fit every kind of commercially available firearm. Case options range from padded fabric sleeves to rugged foam-lined plastic containers, with prices from $10 to $150. The primary role of this kind of affordable carry case is to protect one or more firearms from physical damage.

Most soft and hard-side cases can be “legally” locked for firearm transportation to and from shooting events. A padlock through a soft case’s zipper pull or a hard case’s carry handle can do the trick (check your local regulations). Affordable, portable, and easy to store, locked gun cases represent a common and convenient safe gun storage method and a big step up from tossing a bare gun into a drawer or closet. A locked carry case will certainly keep small children from handling a firearm, just as a trigger lock will.

However, their usefulness as safe storage devices is limited by the materials from which they are made. The soft fabrics and plastics used in these cases can be quickly defeated by ordinary edged tools. Because gun cases are designed to be light to carry and handle, they can be carted around just as easily by a thief as their lawful owner. Unless they are secured within some other lockable structure, gun cases may be spirited away, along with their contents, to be opened and pilfered at another location.

  1. Strong Boxes and Security Cases represent an effort by manufacturers to provide gun owners with the anti-theft and gun-finish protection features of a locking gun cabinet while maintaining the portability of handgun and long-gun carry cases. Pricing for these units varies greatly, anywhere from less than $50 to more than $300, based on the level of technology incorporated into the system. Some of the best storage options for those who want quick-access to defensive firearms are found in this category.

When it comes to strong boxes, it’s hard to beat the variety of configurations and lock options provided by GunVault. The MV500-STD Micro Vault is a portable model that’s slim and light enough to carry in a briefcase or to be tucked into a small drawer. The No-Eyes electronic keypad allows the user to enter a customized code by touch so that the box can be opened quickly in total darkness if necessary. The Speedvault SVB 500 mounts to vertical surfaces, such as the interior of a desk or closet. The programmable biometric fingerprint reader allows access to a single pistol or revolver in less than two seconds. Multiple-gun or increased-capacity units, such as the DrawerVault and Multi-Vault, are also available.

Secure Firearms Products provides some of the most rugged security cases available for travel. These metallic cases feature welded corners, heavy-duty plated steel latches, case hardened locking studs and a high-security Medeco Lock. Mounting hardware and cables allow the cases to attach directly to the trunk of a car, the wall of a closet, or the interior of a suitcase when flying with commercial airlines.

  1. Locking Steel Gun Cabinets provide an increased level of storage capacity and internal configuration options when compared to security cases and strong boxes, but they differ from gun safes in several respects. The thinner gauge of steel, a simple locking mechanism, and the absence of fire-resistant insulation keep these units in the $150 to $450 price range and reduces their weight. Because these cabinets are light enough to be moved safely up and downstairs by just one or two people, they can be employed in locations such as apartment buildings or second-floor rooms, where a gun safe would be too large or heavy to install.

An excellent example of this category is the Model GCB-18-C convertible security cabinet from Stack-On. This California DOJ-approved cabinet can hold up to 18 54-inch long guns, or nine long guns and four shelves of storage, or it can be converted to all storage shelves, depending on your needs. The three-point security system features a double-bitted, key-coded lock for greater security. Fastening hardware, for attaching the cabinet to the floor or wall, and foam padding for the shelves and floor of the cabinet are included. If additional storage space is needed, a Model GCB-900 pistol and ammunition cabinet can be mounted on top of the GCB-18-C convertible.

  1. Gun Safes represent the most secure gun storage option available to the average gun owner. A basic, no-frills safe is superior to any other storage option discussed so far in preventing unauthorized access to firearms. The dedicated racks and lined interiors will help to protect the finish of the guns and, most importantly, safes are an effective theft deterrent. A gun safe’s weight, the heavy-gauge steel of the outer box, the complex locking mechanism, and the option to bolt the safe directly to a concrete slab, all work together to frustrate the efforts of burglars. Safes not only fulfill the three-fold mission of safe gun storage, but they can also provide additional protection against flooding, fires, and other disasters. Quality safes are available from American manufacturers, including Cannon, Fort Knox, and Liberty Safe.

The purchase of a gun safe represents a significant financial commitment. Just like other high-end consumer products, safes are available with a wide variety of features, all of which affect the bottom line cost of the unit. With prices ranging from $500 to more than $2,500, it’s important to understand which features are important to you. Here are some of the price-changing details to pay attention to:

  1. Safe Size: The larger a safe is, the more it costs. So the best way to save money is to purchase only as much interior safe space as required. However, it’s common for a first-time buyer to underestimate the amount of space he needs, resulting in added expense purchasing another safe down the road.

Here is a rule-of-thumb to help in avoiding the undersized-safe problem. Take a look at all of the items that will be going into the safe once it arrives. There are the guns you have on hand, including related gear like optics, ammunition, and magazines. Then tally the guns and gear you plan to buy in the future. Now add to that the non-shooting valuables that will make their way into the safe, including computer hard drives, jewelry, documents and so on. Once a minimum storage requirement is calculated, find a safe that meets those needs, and then buy the model that’s one size larger. That should leave you with enough room to maneuver.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting a safe:

Steel Thickness: The overall toughness of a safe is generally quantified by the thickness of the steel used in its construction. The thicker the material, the more it costs. Steel is gauged using a reverse scale, meaning the smaller the number, is the thicker the metal will be. This means 10-ga. steel is thicker than 11, 12, or 14 gauge. Buyers need to pay attention to the thickness of the steel in the shell and the door, since thicknesses may be different in each of these components.

Fire Rating: Because fires in the home are far more common than we would like them to be, some gun safes are sold with a fire rating. This rating is determined by measuring the internal temperatures maintained within an insulated safe as it is exposed to a range of elevated temperatures over a measured period of time. There is no federal or industry-regulated standard, however, for how such temperature tests are conducted, and there is no minimum standard for what a fire rating should be. So it’s up to the buyer to pay close attention to the numbers quoted by the manufacturers.

For example, the average American house will burn to the ground in approximately 60 minutes without emergency service intervention. Let’s suppose firefighters can arrive on-site within 10 to 15 minutes of a fire being reported. This means the fire will likely be cooling off, or even extinguished, within the 60-minute window. The temperature of a burning house can reach as high as 1,100 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit; therefore, if the contents of a safe can survive an hour or more at 1,300 degrees, it has a solid rating.

Other Features: Many of the remaining features of a gun safe can be considered in the same way as those of an automobile. The fancier the paint job and upholstery are, the higher the cost will be. Electronic locks are faster and easier to use than manual (spin dial) locks, but they can be more expensive. When buying a vehicle, we pay close attention to how the configuration of the interior fits our requirements. With a safe, ensure that the shelves and racks will fit the gun collection properly so as to maximize your storage space. And finally, don’t forget to read the fine print on the warranty. Just like a vehicle, safes are expensive to repair if parts of it become smashed up or worn out.

We have a real advantage today over our gun-owning ancestors when it comes to safe gun storage. Not only has the technology changed and improved in so many ways, but there are also more options for responsible gun owners to choose from than ever before. No matter what your storage requirements or financial situation may be, there is a safe gun storage method to meet your needs.