The Sixgun Journal

A Collection of Firearms Articles & Campfire Tales

Safety Tips for the Semi-Automatic Pistol

Proper gun-handling seems to be a lost art these days, and there’s no excuse for it. Anyone handling any firearm bears the responsibility to handle that gun safely, and how well each of us accomplishes that task reflects on the rest of us. We are ambassadors of firearms ownership, and we would do well to remember that.

The safe handling of semiautomatic pistols requires that the user pay particular attention to a few absolutes. The current crop of “point-shoot” pistols, without manual safeties, make it even more important that we absolutely, positively know where our muzzles are pointed; where our trigger finger is; where that magazine is at; and whether the chamber is loaded.

Here are some basics that many Law Enforcement trainers implemented when copshops switched, in droves, to Glocks. They are nothing new; 1911 shooters were doing this stuff since, well, 1911. Commit it to memory- the life you save might be your own.

ON Target/ON Trigger,

OFF target/OFF trigger

Burn this mantra into your brain, and repeat it out loud at least once, every time you pick up a gun. When it becomes second nature, you can stop saying it out loud. Once ingrained, the thought will register in your brain whether you say it out loud or not.

The idea is that you never touch the trigger until your sights are aligned- on something you actually intend to shoot.

When working drills on the range, practice raising the gun on target and firing up to 3 shots; and then lowering the gun about 45 degrees to “low ready.” Remove your finger from the trigger-guard, and place it alongside the frame, before you start lowering the gun. Repeat this 3-4 times. Do not touch the trigger until your sights swing back up into your line of sight- to the target.

Always make sure your finger is away from the trigger, and your thumb is away from the grip safety, when re-holstering.

Once you have mastered this, have a shooting buddy stand behind you while you repeat this exercise. At the moment of his/her choosing, have them yell “Challenge!” as you are bring the gun on target. When this happens, keep your sights on the target yell “Stop or I’ll shoot!”… and do NOT fire at that point.

The idea is that you do not condition yourself to fire the gun EVERY time it comes onto a target.

Anytime you handle a semi-automatic pistol, particularly indoors, always make a habit of doing the following-

1. Insure gun is pointed in a safe direction.

2. Remove the magazine and set it down- get it out of your hands.

3. Immediately retract the slide and lock it open using the slide stop. Let any ejected round fall onto the floor- you can pick it up later. Step on it so you can feel it, and know where it is.

4. Look down through the open ejection port and out through the magazine well– make sure the magazine is out, and that you can see daylight all the way down.

5. Tip the muzzle down slightly, and look into the chamber to insure that it is empty. Check it with your little finger. (Be careful not to drop the slide while you’re doing this. One time will be enough to teach you better.)

If you close the slide for any reason, repeat this process and check the chamber again before dryfiring, disassembly, etc.

If my guns are loaded, they are fully loaded and in the holsters I carry them in.

If I have them out for any reason, they are unloaded and locked open until the magazine(s) & all ammo are removed from the area. Then and only then do I dry fire, strip for cleaning, etc.

And ALWAYS observe the FOUR RULES:

Rule 1: ALL guns are ALWAYS loaded.

Rule 2: NEVER let your muzzle cover ANYTHING or ANYONE you are not willing to destroy.

Rule 3: Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are ON the target.

Rule 4: Be SURE of your target, and what is behind it.

On a closing note- 5 years ago, I lost my nephew, who was close as a brother and my long-time hunting buddy, to a stupid gun accident. He had been raised around guns (including handguns) and he was as safe as anybody I knew. We were both serious handgun hunters. He got excited over calling a coyote in close-real close-and he got careless, ONE time.

He is gone now, and I never walk the woods we hunted together without thinking about him. Be careful, and then be EXTRA careful.

Once it’s done- you can’t call it back.

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2 Comments

  1. what would be a safe/reliable/good trigger gun for first time gun users? Thanks

    • The Smith & Wesson MP series pistols are available with a safety lever, Chris. Don’t get obsessed with the trigger on any handgun. Drive yourself to master the trigger you have.

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