MODULE 1.1: General Principles of Safety

The following principles are basic but fundamental in safe handling of firearms.

  • Always point a firearm in a safe direction, never at a person unless it is legally justified.
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger, until ready to fire. This is also very important when moving from cover to cover or while investigating something suspicious.  Shooters that were given a fright by an animal or something that moved suddenly have fired many accidental shots.
  • Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded. Firearms must be made safe before and after use and before handing it over to the next person.  Never assume a firearm is safe.
  • Always know your target and what is beyond it. Constantly evaluate your surroundings and movements of people.
  • Always think safety. Never assume that a firearm is safe (see for yourself) and never rely on the mechanical safety.  It is a mechanical device, and it can fail.

Safety Rules

  1. Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction
  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger, until you are ready to fire
  3. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded
  4. Formerly cleaning your firearm, make absolutely sure that it is not loaded
  5. Never use alcohol or other drugs before or when handling a firearm
  6. Know how to use the gun safely
  7. Wear eye and ear protection when you shoot on a shooting range.
  8. Never attempt to modify or repair your firearm yourself. Make use of an accredited gunsmith and remember to get permission from the Registrar of Firearms for certain modifications
  9. If you get a stoppage when shooting, remember basic safety rules
  10. If you did not use your firearm for some time, check the firearm for possible defects.
  11. Keep firearms away from children
  12. Remember a motor vehicle is not a safe place in which to leave your firearm
  13. When your firearm is not under your direct personal and physical control it must be stored in a safe that conforms to SABS standards with your ammunition.
  14. Make safety a habit. Always do it the same way and never allow yourself to be distracted when working with or cleaning your firearms
  15. Always be conscious of your firearm and where it is on your body
  16. When receiving a firearm, inspect it to make sure that it is in a working condition:
    • Make sure the barrel is clean
    • Make sure the safety catch is working
    • Make sure it is clean
    • Make sure that the sights are aligned
    • Make sure the magazine is in working condition
    • Make sure the trigger is in working condition
    • Make sure you have the correct ammunition and that it is in good condition
    • Make sure the ear protection; eye protection and holster are in a good condition.
    • Remember that rules by themselves do not prevent accidents, but when people follow these safety rules it can and will prevent accidents with firearms.

Establishing a Safe Direction

  • A Safe Direction is a non-living object/area that will absorb the bullet in the unlikely event of an             accidental discharge.  This means that should an accidental discharge occur; no person or animal is injured or killed, and no property is damaged in your chosen safe direction.
  • Never use an object that will result in a ricochet as a safe direction. This will be an object like concrete walls, pavement, and roads.  Most hard services will have this result – even water.
  • Know what your target is. Know exactly what you are aiming at, whether you intend killing the target or not, as well as all the implications associated with firing at the target.  A relevant example here would be the question of firing at the surface of an area of water, which would have the same effect as firing at a very hard, flat surface.  The bullet would react in exactly the same  way it would ricochet.
  • Know where your bullet will go. In this case, the weapon handler must take note of what exactly will happen should his bullet hit the target.  No one can call a shot back.  Once a gun fires, you have given up all control over where the shot will go or what it will strike.  Don’t shoot unless you know exactly what your shot is going to strike.  Be sure that your bullet will not injure anyone or anything beyond your target.  Firing at a movement or a noise without being  absolutely certain of what you are shooting at constitutes criminal disregard for the safety of  No target is so important that you cannot take the time before you pull the trigger to be  absolutely certain of your target and where your shot will stop, will it stop                       against or inside the target? Will it ricochet off the target? Will it pass through the target? Determine that you have a safe backstop or background.  Know how far bullets and pellets can travel. 
  • Unload firearms. Know how your equipment operates. Store and transport firearms and              ammunition separately and under lock and key.  Store firearms in cool, dry places.  Use gun  or trigger locks and guards.
  • Know where your bullet will stop. This is the principle most often ignored.  The number of people either injured or killed by stray bullets bear witness to this.  It is this principle, which is best covered by the design of the safety templates of military shooting ranges.
  • Never climb a fence, or tree or a ladder with a loaded firearm. Never face or look down the barrel from the muzzle end.  Be sure the only ammunition you carry correctly matches the gauge or caliber of your weapon.  If you fall, be sure to disassemble the gun and check the barrel from the breech end for obstruction.  Carry a field cleaning kit. Be sure you know where your colleagues/companions are at all times.  Never swing your gun out of your safe zone-of-fire. If  in doubt never take a shot.
  • Pull the firearm towards you by the butt, not the muzzle.

Control your emotions when it comes to safety.

Safe direction in buildings

  • When inside a building point the weapon 45˚ to the skirting where the wall and floor meet. Your safe direction must be able to stop the bullet.  Beware of ricochets.
  • In certain areas, a container (drum) filled with pea gravel or dry sand is used for safe direction.  Containers have a 3/4 – inch plywood or thick rubber matting covering the diameter of the container and fitted directly behind the lid to reinforce it against muzzle blast.  The barrel opening will have an aiming point in the center of the front lid at least 4 inches in diameter and 1inch deep.  The barrel will also have a tray with rubber matting affixed under the aiming point to prevent dropped rounds from falling to the ground.
  • Location and size.  Units will assess each location and determine what size barrel bests suit their needs.  The clearing barrel will be mounted at a height and angel that permits safe and smooth firearms clearing.  A 36-inch safety zone immediately surrounding the barrel will be marked on the ground or floor area with a red 4-inch line.  Paint, colored tape, or colored tiles may be used to mark the 4-inch line.
  • A container filled with pea gravel of dry sand will also be placed inside the arms room, to be used for additional clearing, but rather as an additional safety step during issuing and turning in of weapons.
  • Make sure the safe direction you choose is free of people and property that can be injured or damaged.  You need to have enough space in which to safely load and unload your firearm.
  • Check the walls and floors to make sure it is made out of brick or concrete and not wood or dry wall.  The reason being that dry wall is usually used in office buildings and will not stop the bullet.  If the floor is made out of wood, it will penetrate and may injure people on the floor below.

Safe direction in parking areas

  • When choosing a safe direction in a wide-open space you need to look for something that will stop the bullet like a pavement, thick base of a tree, grass or sand banks.  It none of these are available you may use the wheel of a truck or any other large vehicle.
  • A bullet striking the ground and ricochet off the hard surface can easily cause serious injury or even death when it hit someone.

Safe direction in a shopping mall or crowded place

  • Most shopping malls are a gun free zone, and a safe direction is almost never available.
  • You will probably be escorting money or people. Make sure before you enter the shopping mall or crowded place that you loaded or unloaded your firearm because you should avoid doing this once inside the shopping mall. It is therefore recommended that your firearm remains at all times in a safe carry conditions. 
  • However, if you need to use your firearm in a shopping mall or crowded place determine that you have a safe backstop or background before firing the gun, not to endanger the lives of any people.  Know how far bullets can travel.

Safe direction in vehicles

  • A weapon system need to be mounted in the vehicle out of sighed of the public and with easy access for the user to take control over the firearm.
  • When loading, or unloading a firearm inside a vehicle, the firearm should be pointed straight down at the floor or at the dashboard where the bullet can penetrate and be stopped by the engine.
  • Inside an armored vehicle point the firearm at a 45˚ angle where the wall and floor meet inside the vehicle.  Never at the armored glass.  It the bullet hits the armored glass; fragments of glass will be sent flying inside the vehicle.

Safe direction on a shooting range:

  • This will only be the embankment behind the targets – downrange at the backstop wall.  When arriving at the shooting range, make sure you know where the safe directions are.  If you are not sure ask the assessor or facilitator.  Make sure no one is in front of you.

Personal Safety

  • Be aware of the direction where the muzzle of your firearm is pointing at all times. The muzzle of a firearm should never point towards another person, except if it is your intention to defend yourself
  • Make sure when you handle a firearm that your finger is off the trigger, and that you are in control of the firearm
  • Keep firearms unloaded when not in use
  • A firearm is not a toy; do not play with it. It could lead to accidents
  • A qualified gunsmith must do all modifications to the firearm provided it can be done within the ambit of the Firearm Act
  • Make sure of the direction you are shooting in and what you are shooting at, before squeezing the trigger, you cannot recall or stop the bullet
  • Do not use a firearm when under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Know your own ability and the capability of the firearm you are using
  • Always lock your firearm in a safe when not in use.
  • Try to avoid firing a shot into the air. Projectiles fired into the air, will come down and can injure or even kill a person.
  • Make sure that you know where the bullet is going to stop
  • Do not use modified ammunition in your firearm
  • Ensure that you only use ammunition for the firearm that is licensed in your name
  • Always clean your firearm from excessive oils and obstructions. This should be done before and after each shooting practice.  If you have not used your firearm for a long period of time, clean and inspect it before use.
  • Always use eye and ear protection during training or practice.
  • Firearms should be kept out of sight and out of reach of children
  • Make sure your firearm is always in a good working condition. You must be able to defend yourself with it.
  • Remember – your firearm is either with you or locked in a safe – NOWHERE ELSE

Public Safety

When you carry a firearm in public, you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of others by handling your firearm responsibly, correctly and safely.

  • Never take the firearm out of the holster in public unless it is for self-defense
  • The Firearms Control Act now requires you to carry firearms completely concealed in a holster or other holder and you must have effective control over it
  • Don’t attempt to operate a firearm when you are under the influence of alcohol or any other drugs in a public place
  • Know your target and what is behind it
  • Never leave a firearm unattended. Not even for a second
  • Keep firearms away from untrained people and children
  • Always lock your firearm in a safe when not in use
  • Make sure when you handle a firearm your finger is off the trigger.
Firearm Safety
Safety catch of a self-loading rifle.
In firearms, a safety or safety catch is a mechanism used to prevent the accidental firing of a weapon, ensuring safer handling. Safeties can generally be divided into sub-types such as internal safeties (which typically do not receive input from the user) and external safeties (which typically allow the user to give input, for example, toggling a lever from “on” to “off” or something similar). Firearms with the ability to allow the user to select various fire modes, from 0 (safe/off/no firing) to 1 (semi-automatic fire) to 2 (burst fire) to 3 (full-automatic fire), usually have a dial-type external safety that is called a fire selector, fire mode selector, etc. Many guns manufactured after the late 1990s include mandatory integral locking mechanisms that must be deactivated by a unique key before the gun can be fired. These integral locking mechanisms are intended as child-safety devices during unattended storage of the weapon — not as safety mechanisms while carrying. Other devices in this category are trigger locks, bore locks, and gun safes. Although safeties fulfill their intended purpose, they are never a substitute for gun safety education. Appropriate training is critical to ensure the safe carry of any weapon.
Rifles come with various safeties. Some use a cross-bolt safety button, others a wing safety at the rear. The M1 Garandcreated a safety with a metal rocking lever at the front of the trigger guard that is now called the Garand-style safety. Some rifle safeties have two positions, one which is “safe” which doesn’t allow the gun to fire or the action to open. Some have three positions, one which is “fire”, one which is “safe” and an intermediate which cannot fire but will allow the shooter to open the action in order to empty the rifle.

Safety Drills & Precautions
When do you carry out Safety Procedures? 
  1. When receiving a firearm or removing it from a GUN SAFE.
  2. Before handing a firearm over to someone else.
  3. Before cleaning a firearm
Safety Precautions should be carried out in the following way:
Safety Procedures for a Rifle
  1. Identify a safe direction
  2. Point the firearm in the safe direction, keeping your finger off the trigger.
  3. Remove the magazine
  4. Open the Action
  5. Inspect the Chamber for any ammunition
  6. Close the Action
  7. Dry Fire
  8. Place the rifle on safe and pack it away in a Rifle bag

Range Safety Rules

  1. Contact the range officer beforehand to ensure you understand all special arrangements of that specific range where applicable
  2. When you arrive at the shooting range your firearm must be in a holster, bag or manufacturers’ box. Do not carry your firearm in your hand.  This is unprofessional and will lead to cancellation of your assessment
  3. When you are on the range and need to leave for an emergency you must obtain permission from the range officer
  4. No cellular phones, no alcohol or any form of drugs are allowed on the range.
  5. You will only load your firearm on the command of the range officer
  6. You only fire when the range officer gives his or her commands. It is critical that a shooting exercise is completed orderly.  If you ever find yourself in a position where an exercise is not orderly or safe, rather leave and report this.  Don’t be a part of statistics.
  7. Eye and ear protection is compulsory even if you are not participating in the shooting activities. The ability to have the sense of hearing and seeing is a privilege, “keep it that way”
  8. Do not handle a firearm if someone is in front of you
  9. Firearms must always point downrange at the backstop wall
  10. Know where the designated safe direction is and only use that as a safe direction.
  11. Make sure you know where to shoot from, if not ask the range officer
  12. Never turn around when on the firing line. There is not excuse
  13. Follow the range officer’s commands always
  14. Do all exercises as explained by the range officer. If you don’t understand his or her explanation, it is your responsibility to ask
  15. If your firearm jams or malfunctions go to the kneeling position and correct this. If this is a major malfunction, unload your firearm and wait until the exercise is completed.
  16. No children are allowed on the range.

Range Safety Equipment

Eye Protection

Wear eye protection as required by the Range Officer to protect your eyes against gun residue, backlash or pieces of metal, sand or other target bits.

Ear Protection

  1. This is compulsory. When firing small caliber, you might not feel the need to protect your ears.  You need to understand that the damage caused by a small caliber can affect your years after the incident.
  2. With larger caliber, you might feel the damage there and then
  3. When you use, this equipment ensure that it was manufactured for this purpose.  Ear protection used in the building industry might not give adequate protection
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