Owning a firearm for many homesteaders is merely a matter of course. Farmers and ranchers have been keeping guns to guard livestock even before life in the 1800’s, albeit a lot of things have changed since then.
To those of us new to the farm life, owning a firearm can be a significant change in lifestyle or at least a change in mindset. Guns are a tool, and like any misused tool can cause severe repercussions. It’s up to you as the owner to treat your firearm with respect and protect against incidents. Here’s a handful of safety tips to start.
First and foremost, it is entirely your responsibility to follow the law, including federal, state, and local laws regarding firearms. Be sure that you understand the laws on owning a firearm where you live. Seek a knowledgeable professional or trusted source to get your information. Firearm laws across the United States are a patchwork of contradictions at best, so be sure to understand your rights and responsibilities.
Owning a Firearm
Owning a firearm puts you in a position of liability and responsibility. Because of the potential for misuse, accidents, theft, and unlawful use, it behooves you to be conscious of how you handle a firearm, and how you store them when not in your possession.
Learn about guns before buying one. Take a National Rifle Association safety course or a state hunter safety course. Ask a knowledgeable professional, such as a friend who has military or police experience, to talk to you about owning a firearm. When purchasing a gun, ask the person behind the counter to walk you through the features and how to break it down safely, and always read the manufacturer’s booklet!
Every Gun Is Loaded
No, every gun in the world is not loaded, nor should you store a firearm in a loaded condition. The mantra shared among firearm owners is “every gun is loaded,” which is a reminder that, even if you know it’s unloaded, you should treat it as if it was.
Responsible owners will never point the muzzle of a firearm at something or someone they are unwilling to put a hole in. This is known as muzzle control. Unfortunately, some people don’t take this to heart. If every firearm owner followed this simple mantra, nearly all firearm accidents could be avoided.
Finger Off the Trigger
The only time your finger should enter the trigger guard is when you are prepared to fire. People who mindlessly leave their finger on a trigger are a disaster waiting for an accident to happen. Be mindful of where your trigger finger is at all times.
Don’t Transport a Loaded Firearm
Most individuals who carry a pistol on their person carry their firearm loaded and chambered. Because of the very purpose of carrying a pistol, it stands to reason. Long guns, and pistols not holstered, should not be moved in a loaded condition, especially when cased, in a safe, or in transit.
Walk With an Empty Chamber
Hunter safety classes advocate carrying long guns in a safe and unchambered condition, which I encourage you to do. It’s not uncommon for a hunter, homesteader, or farmer to accidentally discharge a long gun while crossing a stone wall, climbing a tree ladder, or crossing an obstruction in the path. Falling, striking an obstacle, or dropping a firearm offers the potential to discharge a firearm in a loaded condition, so keep your chamber empty while you walk.
All new firearms come from the factory with a locking mechanism. This mechanism may be a cable lock, trigger guard shield, a unique device, or an internal lock inside the firearm itself. If you’re casing a firearm in a case that does not lock, use this mechanism to prevent unauthorized use.
A far better alternative to locking individual firearms is securing them in a firearm safe or cabinet. Safes and security cabinets serve the same purpose. However, the level of perceived security is significantly different. Safes are what the average individual envisions; a sturdy, apparently impenetrable container. These safes also may provide fire resistance to save the contents in the event of a structure fire. Safes are expensive, especially nice safes.
Security cabinets are the cheap alternative to the classic safe. You can think of these as a step up from a locking filing cabinet. They don’t give the impression of impenetrability a safe may provide, but they offer a similar degree of security, minus the fire resistance. Owning a firearm will burden you with a few responsibilities, including adequately securing your firearm. A locking security cabinet is a cost-effective way to meet that obligation.
Ammunition is part and parcel of owning a firearm, and if you intend to store more than a few boxes, I suggest a separate locker for your ammo. Some states and localities may require you to lock the munition separate from the firearm, so having a dedicated cabinet or locking container for ammo will be important. Some security cabinet makers offer a munition-specific model to make things easy, so do some research before buying one.
Storing a firearm in a loaded condition is dangerous, and in many places, illegal. I never suggest leaving a loaded firearm in a safe, but there are ways you can safely store your gun while still being quick to employ.
Firearms that use a detachable magazine can be stored with the action open. Keeping a loaded magazine near the firearm, within the letter of the law, will enable you to load and ready the gun quickly. When the fox comes calling, insert your loaded magazine, close your action and go. Simple as that. For firearms that have tube-fed or fixed magazines, this does not work.
Be sure to rotate what magazines you leave loaded. I usually empty my magazines every two months and load different magazines to give the follower spring in the magazine a chance to relax. A magazine that stays loaded for long periods of time will eventually experience a spring failure, which means your cartridges don’t make it to the action of your firearm, and your firearm will make a click instead of a bang.
I am a big proponent of chamber flags. Chamber flags are a plastic insert that, when placed in the action of a firearm, gives the action something soft to sit on. The big bonus to a chamber flag is, you know for sure that the chamber is clear of cartridges and you’re not stressing the springs of your action by leaving the bolt in the locked open position. Many gun stores use them as an added safety flag, and they’re readily available online. These are good for firearms not in at-the-ready condition.
Most accidental discharge injuries I hear of are self-inflicted. Most of those accidents occurred when someone was cleaning a gun that they thought was unloaded but was not. When you clean a firearm, keep ammunition far away, preferably in another room or locked away. Triple check that your gun is unloaded by working the action and emptying all magazines, fixed or removable. Even if you are certain the gun is empty, still keep it pointed in a safe direction. Proceed with the task of breaking down your firearm for cleaning once you’ve verified that it’s empty.
Not everyone is willing, comfortable, or interested in owning a firearm to protect their livestock. It’s okay if you decide it’s too much responsibility because there are other options out there. Better fences, deterrent devices, and even guard dogs like a livestock guardian dog. If you still think it’s a good idea, welcome to the club! Just be sure to pay your dues, in the form of firearm safety.