Home Gun Safety and Gun Storage – public perception and your responsibilities

Public misperception about guns

Maybe you heard the news recently that gun related homicides have decreased by 39% from 1993-2011. In fact, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, violent crime in general has decreased by more than 40% over the same period. A Centers for Disease Control report “Deaths: Final Data for 2010” indicates that gun related accidents account for about 0.5% of all accidental death causes.

That’s right, gun accidents account for one-half of one percent of all accidental deaths and are the least common cause of accidental death, and yet public perception seems to be that gun crime is on the rise and that every child is at risk of being killed in a gun accident. You might be asking yourself, “If gun crime is down, and gun accidents are relatively uncommon, what’s causing this misperception?” You may have already answered, “The media.” And you would be correct, at least partially. It’s true that the “Mass Media” skews public perception. Here are a couple of reasons why.

First, tragedy and controversy have always “sold the most newspapers” and reporting has become more sensationalized over the last couple of decades. Guns are a controversial subject and even one accidental or criminal gun death is tragic, so guns ARE going to make the news whenever they are used improperly and somebody dies because of it. One the flipside, the proper and good use of guns will hardly ever be reported by major media outlets – it just doesn’t sell as well.  

Second, the whole world is connected through the internet and satellite. News is often reported within minutes of, or even during, an event and people are able to consume more news from more locations than ever before. Due to these capabilities, people read and hear about events they never would’ve known about 20 years ago. So, because people know about more gun crimes and accidents, many of them perceive that the rates are increasing.

While many of us can agree that the media sensationalizes events, reports inaccurate information, possibly has its own social agenda, etc., etc., we as gun owners are still responsible for how our guns are used. Any time a gun owner unintentionally shoots himself or somebody else, or lets a child or criminal get access to their gun and it’s misused, the gun owner is fueling these sensational stories and public misperception about guns. The fact is, guns are deadly weapons and gun owners have a responsibility to make sure their guns aren’t misused.

The gun owner’s responsibilities in all this

If you’ve ever had formal gun training, you were probably taught that you can be held criminally responsible and civilly liable for any misuse of your firearms. If you’ve never had professional training, I recommend you get some as soon as possible – it will go a long way to increase your proficiency and safety with a gun.

Obviously, you’ll be held accountable if you misuse a gun, whether intentionally or unintentionally. What you may not know is that you can also be held legally responsible for improperly storing your guns if another person gets them and has an accident or commits a crime. Since you are morally and legally responsible for safely storing your guns, it is essential that you know how to store them properly.

What is the proper way to store guns?

In order for a gun to be “stored properly”, it has to be kept in a location where unauthorized and/or untrained people can’t access it, and it has to be kept in a condition that an unauthorized and/or untrained person can’t operate it. The Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training puts it this way – the gun has to be made “inaccessible and inoperable to unauthorized persons.”

Note: If you aren’t familiar with the Four General Rules of Gun Safety, please familiarize yourself with them before you handle any guns.

Making the gun inaccessible

You should store your guns someplace out of sight where unauthorized people can’t get to them. This could be a vault, lock box, or safe with one or more locking devices. I don’t suggest using gun cabinets or cheap metal cabinets to store your firearms, as the locks on these types of cabinets can be easily defeated. Unless the gun is in a lockbox, it is unacceptable to store guns in nightstands, dresser drawers, under the bed, etc., since all these places are easily accessible by unauthorized persons. After you have a secure place to store your guns, you should only give the key or combination to people you can trust to handle the firearms responsibly.

Store your guns unloaded and in separate locked containers from your ammunition. It makes it a lot harder for kids and snooping guests to misuse your guns if the guns and ammunition are in separate locked boxes.

Note: Your defensive gun obviously needs to be already loaded or you need to have the ability to load it quickly. I prefer to keep my defensive pistol in a lock box such as the GunVault MiniVault or the Fort Knox line of pistol safes. With just a little practice, you will easily be able to open either one of these boxes in the dark. You will have to assess your home and family situation and determine the best method to balance availability and security. I will address some considerations and methods in an upcoming post.

Making the gun inoperable

Since 2005, it’s been Federal law that all new guns be sold with either a locking device or lock box. The most common type of security device included with guns is a lock. Some manufacturers have designed internal locks in their guns and some fulfill the requirement by putting a padlock/cable lock or trigger lock in the box. Even if your gun didn’t come with a lock, you can secure it by purchasing a cable lock or trigger lock to meet your needs.

Here’s how you use the different types of locks to make your gun(s) inoperable:

(Remember the Four General Rules of Gun Safety and unload the guns first!!)

Use a padlock or cable lock to disable a revolver by opening the cylinder and securing the lock around the top strap of the frame. This will prevent the cylinder from closing and make it impossible for the gun to fire.

A revolver disabled with a padlock.
A revolver disabled with a padlock.

To disable a semi-automatic pistol, remove the magazine and lock the slide to the rear. Run the cable through the open ejection port and magazine well, then secure the lock. This will prevent a magazine from being inserted and prevent the slide from closing completely. It is impossible for the gun to fire when locked with this configuration.

A semi-automatic pistol disabled with a cable lock
A semi-automatic pistol disabled with a cable lock.

You can use the two methods above to make any gun inoperable as long as you can get the lock through the action. If you can’t lock the action with a padlock or cable lock you will have to use a trigger lock. If you use a trigger lock make sure you secure it tightly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Trigger locks do not prevent most guns from being loaded and improperly installed trigger locks can cause the gun to fire if it happens to be loaded.

Note: The storage techniques discussed above are designed keep curious people such as children and guests from gaining access to your firearms. These methods most likely will not prevent a determined thief from gaining access to your guns. The only exception is a very high quality safe, and even those aren’t 100% effective if the thief is determined enough.


Remember, if you own guns safe handling and safe storage of firearms is your responsibility. You must practice all safety rules until they are engrained in your subconscious. If you violate gun safety rules and somebody is injured or killed you will likely suffer severe civil consequences and possibly criminal consequences. So do the right thing and practice safe gun handling and storage. You might save a life and you won’t contribute to the unfortunate misperception that many folks have about guns and gun owners.


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Basic Gun Safety – The four rules

Why is gun safety and firearms training important?

We regularly see tragic stories in the news about people being killed due to somebody mishandling a firearm. More often than not, these injuries and deaths could have been prevented if basic firearms safety rules would have been followed. Unfortunately, many people handle guns when they have no knowledge about basic gun safety.

Everybody can benefit from knowing basic gun safety rules. If you already own a gun, or are planning on buying a gun, you have a responsibility to learn how to safely handle a firearm. If you don’t like guns, you can benefit from learning how to safely handle firearms as well, in case you ever unexpectedly encounter a gun somewhere. I believe the best way to learn gun safety is through formal firearms training, such as an NRA Basic Pistol Course or Oklahoma Self-Defense Act Course (or similar courses in other states).

In the meantime, if you have a gun it’s essential for you to learn some basic gun safety rules until you get formal training. I’m going to explain the Four Rules of Basic Gun Safety. These rules are simple, and will save lives if followed.

The Four Rules of Basic Gun Safety

Colt Gold Cup - Basic Gun SafetyColonel Jeff Cooper is credited with introducing the four rules of basic gun safety. You might see these rules written differently in various places, but they all mean the same thing. You should follow these rules religiously any time you handle a gun. Practice them until they become second nature.

The four rules of basic gun safety are:

1.       All guns are always loaded.
2.       Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
3.       Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target.
4.       Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

1. All guns are always loaded.

A common statement from people who accidentally shoot someone else is “I didn’t think it was loaded.” Every time you handle a gun you should treat it like it’s loaded, even if you just unloaded it yourself. Obviously, a gun is capable of inflicting deadly injuries. Therefore, it should be treated with the respect that its destructive capability demands. You should follow all four gun safety rules any time you are handling a gun, whether its loaded or unloaded. You should NEVER “play” with a gun or treat it like it’s a toy.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.

If you don’t know, the muzzle is the end of the barrel where the bullet comes out. Cover simply means “point at.” So, Rule #2 could be stated, “Don’t point a gun at anyone you’re not willing to kill.” Imagine that a death ray is coming out of the hole in the end of the barrel and will destroy anything or kill anybody in its path. The only way to keep that from happening is to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target.

Another common excuse for accidental shootings is “I thought it was on ‘safe’.” Your trigger finger is the “primary safety.” Countless accidental shootings would be prevented if Rule #3 were followed.  Mechanical safeties can fail, but properly maintained modern firearms will not fire unless the trigger is pulled. You should keep your finger outside the trigger guard and straight along the frame until your sights are on target and you are ready to shoot.

4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Always make positive target identification and be aware of what is behind your target. Bullets can travel a long distance. You’re criminally responsible and civilly liable for every bullet that leaves your gun. Make sure your shot won’t hit an unintentional target before you shoot.


Safe handling of firearms is a primary responsibility for people who own or use guns. Thousands of tragedies could be prevented every year if people would simply follow the Four Rules of Gun Safety.  You should learn safe gun handling before you ever concern yourself with marksmanship or tactics. The rules listed above will help you be a safe gun handler. Remember to practice them every time you pick up a gun and try to find a basic gun safety course if you haven’t taken one.

Photo Credit: Colt Gold Cup by M&R Glasgow (CC BY-ND 2.0)