Montana Department of Gun Common Sense

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10 Commandments of Firearm Safety

Always Keep the Muzzle Pointed in a Safe Direction.

This is the most important gun safety rule. A safe direction is one in which an accidental discharge will not  cause injury to yourself or others.  Never allow your gun to point at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Be  especially careful when you’re loading or unloading. Treat every gun as if it were loaded. And make it a habit to know where the muzzle is pointed at all times, even when your firearm is unloaded. No one will be injured by an accidental discharge if you keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. It’s as simple as that.

Firearms Should be Unloaded When Not in Use and Secured from Unauthorized Use.

Load your firearm only when you are in the field or on the range and ready to shoot. Unload your firearm as soon as you are finished shooting. Never bring a loaded firearm into your camp, home or vehicle. Unloading means unloading both the chamber and the magazine. Before handling a firearm or passing it on to someone else, visually check the chamber, receiver, and magazine to make sure there is no ammunition anywhere in the firearm. Never assume a firearm is unloaded, and never take someone’s word for it – look for yourself. When you are finished shooting and have completely unloaded the firearm, leave its action open.

Whenever you are carrying a loaded firearm in the field, you must unload it before crossing a fence, climbing into a tree stand or blind or in any other situation where you may not be able to fully control the firearm. Never pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. Store your firearms unloaded in a secure place where unauthorized persons cannot gain access to them. Store firearms and ammunition separately. If you use an external security device such as a cable lock or trigger lock, you must still keep the firearm unloaded when locked.  Whether you utilize a locked gun safe or external locking device, it is your responsibility to make sure that children and other unauthorized persons cannot gain access to your firearm and ammunition.

Never Rely on Your Firearm’s Safety Mechanism to Justify Careless Handling.

If your firearm is equipped with a manual safety mechanism, do not rely on the safety as an excuse for improper or careless handling of the firearm. The safety mechanism is merely a supplement to your proper handling of the firearm. The safety mechanism may be broken or altered. Even if you think you have previously engaged the safety in the “safe” position, it may have been inadvertently disengaged without your knowledge while being carried. Never assume that the safety mechanism is engaged in the “safe” position. Your assumption may be wrong or mistaken. Treat your firearms safety mechanism like you would treat any other mechanical device – as something that could break or fail.  Not all safety mechanisms operate in the same manner. Before using any firearm, know and understand precisely how the safety mechanism on that particular firearm operates. Never pull the trigger when the safety mechanism is in the “safe” position, and keep your fingers away from the trigger while loading, unloading, and engaging or disengaging the safety mechanism.

Know Your Target and What’s Beyond It.

Never fire a shot unless you know exactly where the shot is going and what it will strike. Bullets and shot can travel great distances with deadly velocity. When hunting game, never fire at a sound, a movement or a patch of color – an impulsive shot can have tragic consequences. A fellow hunter in camouflage may be mistaken for game by an impulsive shooter.  In addition to being sure of your target, you must know what lies beyond the target. In other words, make sure of your backstop. Also, beware of ricochets – never shoot at water or a hard surface.

Use Proper Ammunition.

Every firearm is designed to use only a specified caliber, gauge or length of ammunition. Use of the wrong ammunition can cause serious personal injury or death. It is your responsibility to make sure the ammunition exactly matches the specifications for your firearm.  Use of improperly reloaded ammunition can also be dangerous. Firearms are designed, manufactured, and proof-tested to specified industry standards. Handloaded or reloaded ammunition that deviates, either intentionally or accidentally, from specified loadings can be extremely hazardous. It is strongly recommended, therefore, that you use only factory ammunition from a reputable ammunition manufacturer. If you do reload, you have assumed the risks and responsibilities of an ammunition manufacturer.

If Your Firearm Fails to Fire When You Pull the Trigger, Handle With Care.

If a chambered round of ammunition does not fire when you pull the trigger, stop and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Treat your firearm as if it could still discharge. Keep your face away from the breech. Slowly and carefully open the action, return the safety mechanism to the “safe” position, and unload the cartridge from the chamber. Dispose of the cartridge safely. If your firearm repeatedly fails to fire when you pull the trigger, take your firearm and ammunition to a competent gunsmith or return the firearm to the manufacturer for inspection.

Always Wear Eye and Ear Protection.

Wear protective shooting glasses and hearing protection when shooting. Be sure to wear eye protection when disassembling or cleaning a firearm to protect your eyes from springs and other tensioned parts. Continued exposure to shooting noise can permanently damage your hearing.

Be Sure the Barrel is Clear of Obstructions Before Shooting.

With your firearm completely unloaded, open the action and make sure there are no obstructions or debris in the barrel. Even a small obstruction such as snow or mud in the barrel can cause the barrel or receiver to burst when the next round is fired. Use a cleaning rod to remove obstructions and residues from the barrel. If the firing noise or recoil seems weak, stop and completely unload your firearm to check for obstructions before firing another shot. NEVER try to shoot out an obstruction by loading and firing another round of ammunition.

Never Alter or Modify Your Firearm and Have it Cleaned and Serviced Regularly.

Your firearm has been carefully designed and manufactured to operate according to certain factory specifications. NEVER alter or modify your firearm, especially its trigger or safety mechanism, in any way. Such alterations or modifications can adversely affect the safe operation of your firearm, endangering you and those around you. As with any mechanical device, the parts of a firearm are subject to wear or breakage. To assure optimum safety and performance, your firearm must be maintained and serviced on a regular basis. Only a competent gunsmith should service or repair your firearm. Proper cleaning and lubrication are also important to maintain the safe and proper functioning of your firearm. Follow the cleaning and lubrication instructions set forth in the owner’s manual for your firearm. NEVER attempt to clean or lubricate a loaded firearm.

Learn How Your Firearm Operates.

Not all firearms are alike. Before you use any firearm for the first time, you must become totally familiar with how that firearm operates. When you receive a new firearm, read and understand the owner’s manual before assembling the firearm for the first time. If you acquire a used firearm, request an owner’s manual and have the rifle inspected by a competent gunsmith to determine whether it is in good working order. If you do not have an owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer to obtain one. If you are selling or trading your firearm to someone else, be sure to transfer the owner’s manual to the new owner.


Guns and alcohol or drugs don’t mix. Never consume anything that would even mildly impair your judgment or physical coordination while handling a firearm.


Discharging firearms in poorly ventilated areas, cleaning firearms or handling ammunition may result in exposure to lead, a substance known to cause birth defects, reproductive harm, cancer and other serious physical injury. Have adequate ventilation at all times. Wash hands thoroughly after exposure.


Failure to follow any of these safety rules may cause personal injury or death to the shooter or bystander and damage to property. Do not use a firearm until you fully understand and practice the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety. If you have any questions about the safe use of a firearm, seek advice from your local firearms dealer as to where you can get training.


Now that you’re a gun owner you have the obligation to help ensure that shooting sports are safe for everyone– participants and bystanders alike. You can do that by practicing these principles of firearm safety and passing them on to others – especially new shooters. Set an example for beginners. Be a guide to their safe entry into the exciting world of shooting sports. Invest your time and patience for the love of the sport and for its future. After all, it’s your love of the sport that led you to buy your gun. Firearm ownership is a right and privilege. It’s a right guaranteed in this nation’s Constitution. It’s a privilege which carries with it a personal responsibility to use your firearm in a way which will ensure your safety and the safety of others. The preservation of this right and privilege depends on the personal commitment of you and your fellow shooters to the safe and responsible use of firearms. Let the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety outlined in the book guide you at all times. Teach and promote these rules whenever you can. Remember, firearm safety depends on you! That’s the only way to really enjoy your firearm and to preserve sport shooting as we know it today.