Teaching the 10 Commandments - Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)

Teaching the 10 Commandments

The “Four Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety” are:

1. Always treat every firearm as if it were loaded.

2. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

3. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

4. Be certain of your target and what is beyond.

The following additional rules are part of a larger list, altogether known as the 10 Commandments, whose values vary slightly, depending on whom you ask or whose instructor program you ascribe to. They are:

5. Always keep your gun unloaded until ready to use.

6. Know how to use and operate your firearm safely.

7. Always wear proper eye and ear protection whenever you will be shooting.

8. Never use alcohol, prescription, or non-prescription drugs before or while shooting.

9. Use only the correct and proper ammunition for your firearm.

10. Never rely on a gun’s safety as anything but a backup to your safe handling.

Each of these 10 commandments is ESSENTIAL to ensure your and your pupil’s safety while using and being in the presence of firearms, both on the range and off. Let’s evaluate the commandments one by one.


The following is an excerpt from “Growing Up with Guns,” by Steve Sorensen, copyright 2013, page 35. Used by permission. See if you recognize references pertinent to some of the commandments in it.

The Wrong Hands for Guns

I’ve never been shot, but maybe I’ve been lucky.

A close call came when I was a teenager. A buddy and I were walking up the trail alongside Hemlock Run. He tripped, and as he lurched forward to catch his balance he jammed the barrel of his .22 rifle into the soft spot just under my earlobe.

Call me lucky—if there’s such a thing as luck. I was lucky his finger wasn’t on the trigger. If his finger was on the trigger, I was lucky he didn’t pull it as he instinctively tightened his grip. If he did pull it, I was lucky the safety was on.

Years later I met a local surgeon in the woods who looked at my shotgun and said, “Guns scare me. I’ve seen what they can do.” I’ve also seen what guns can do, and they scare me, too. Guns by themselves don’t scare me, but guns in the wrong hands do.

Careless hands are the wrong hands for guns. Careless hands are hands attached to an unthinking mind. On the day my friend jammed the barrel of his gun into my ear, he was carrying the gun in a cross-body position. Had he (or I) been thinking, he would have been pointing the gun the opposite way. The thinking gunner considers whether he should carry cross-body, or on the shoulder, or pointed down and forward, or up and away in front.

The hands of a person influenced by alcohol are the wrong hands for guns. Excess alcohol impairs judgment, and handicaps one’s ability to assess his impairment. When I see beer in a camp it bothers me, but not because I oppose alcohol. It bothers me in the same way beer cans on the floor of a car bother me. Just as alcohol should have nothing to do with driving, it should have nothing to do with carrying and using guns. Alcohol can weaponize a person.

The hands of bullies and show-offs are the wrong hands for guns. Some people are victims of their own machismo, thinking they are as invulnerable as Muhammad Ali. There’s a story about him refusing to buckle his seatbelt and telling a flight attendant, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She calmly whispered, “Superman don’t need no airplane either.” All men sometimes need to be reminded, especially when around firearms, that we’re not Superman.

The hands of an angry person are the wrong hands for guns. A chip on your shoulder is best left home when hunting or target shooting. A fight with the wife or the boss isn’t a good prelude to hunting. Anger can cloud judgment.

The hands of a poacher are the wrong hands for guns. There is a good reason for poachers and felons to lose their gun rights. Lawbreakers can be motivated to attack a person who might reveal their lawlessness.

The hands of a person who doesn’t respect others are the wrong hands for guns. The inability to consider the rights of others, the lack of common courtesy, and the notion that anyone who is in the woods is in my way all reveal attitudes that invite trouble.

The hands of a person who doesn’t respect guns are the wrong hands for guns. People must be taught respect for guns, especially in a day when young people see hundreds of murders on television and in the movies and are desensitized to the seriousness of firearms.

That’s a good reason for gun safety to be mandated as part of our school curriculum. But now I’m dreaming.

Come to think of it, guns don’t scare me as much as hands scare me. It is the hands that are unpredictable. In the proper hands, a firearm is a tool that can bring challenge and enjoyment to you. In the wrong hands, it can bring suffering and tragedy to many. So, whenever you pick up a gun, ask yourself, “What kind of hands are mine?” That’s not a dream. It should be a reality for all of us.


I extend this rule during instruction to “until you have personally checked it yourself, and then STILL treat it as a loaded firearm.”

Before we begin, read through the following news reports and see if you can detect a pattern.

BLACKMAN TWP., MI — Police said a 16-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his brother, thinking a handgun was unloaded when he pointed it at the 21-year-old.

The younger brother told authorities he took the handgun into his brother’s room, and said something to the effect of, “Do you feel lucky?” before pulling the trigger, Blackman-Leoni Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Jon Johnston said in an email.

Police have not released any names.

Johnston said the parents were at the grocery store and the brothers were the only people at the residence on the 5000 block of Big Rock Street in Stonegate Farms.

The 21-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene close to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6.

“This is clearly a tragic situation for the family,” Johnston said. “We’ll complete an in-depth investigation and determine what actions are appropriate from there.”


MASON COUNTY, Wash. -- The Skokomish tribe near Shelton is mourning the death of 14-year-old Ciqala Miller. Deputies believe he was accidentally shot to death by his 13-year-old friend as both boys pointed hunting rifles at each other believing they weren’t loaded. In court documents, the boy said he and Ciqala had spent the day fishing and were playing around at Ciqala’s house on Skokomish tribal land north of Shelton Tuesday evening.

“They were even arguing over who caught the bigger fish and playing and they both grabbed rifles and were playing and one of the rifles went off,” said Mason county chief criminal deputy Ryan Spurling.

The 13-year-old immediately went looking for help.

“The young boy come running out and was asking us to call 911 and was really panicky,” said neighbor Annette Smith. Smith said she was first at the house to find Ciqala on the floor of the hallway taking his last breaths with little chance of saving him.

“There was no way,” she said.

Ciqala is from a prominent Skokomish family. His uncle is the tribal chairman. His father, Rick, is a prominent hunter. No word yet on whether the prosecutor will pursue the fact that hunting rifles were so easily accessible. “There are different firearms rules as far as has a child had a hunter-safety class, have they hunted, that type of thing. Handguns are different than long guns in some of those respects,” Spurling said.

Smith is also a member of the tribal council.

“There are also accidents that do happen and this one here was a really bad accident,” she said. “I really feel bad for both families.”


PACIFIC BEACH, Calif. - Police said a Navy SEAL is on life support after accidentally shooting himself in the head with what he thought was an unloaded gun.

CBS Affiliate KFMB reports that the unnamed 22-year-old was gravely wounded early Thursday at his Pacific Beach home while trying to convince a female companion that the pistol he was showing off was safe to handle.

The shooting left the sailor on life support at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, according to San Diego police. Authorities initially reported that the man had died.

The serviceman, who had been drinking with a woman at a bar before they returned to his residence, was showing her his 9mm handgun when the accident occurred, San Diego Police Officer Frank Cali told KFMB.

The man (who mistakenly believed the gun was unloaded) offered to let his friend hold the weapon, according to Cali. When she declined, he tried to demonstrate how safe it was by putting it to his head and pulling the trigger.

The sailor, whose name was not released, had recently graduated from the Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams program, which trains elite special-operations tactical units.


The national news is full of thousands of incidents where someone is injured or even killed by what is thought to be an unloaded firearm. The key point here is “thought.”

You see, it is impossible for an unloaded gun to shoot someone or something. Every firearm has to have its projectile at least loaded in order for it to fire. Yet these accidents continue to occur. Too often, people are too confident in what they or somebody else has done, said or “thought” regarding a firearm. It takes a couple of seconds to check a firearm, and a firearm that is pointed in a safe direction while checking it will only hurt the ground, a tree, a wall or floor, which leads nicely into…


If you meant for them to happen, they would never be called accidents.

I’m sure that the people in the stories previously shared would change both their actions and the outcome in 100% of the situations, had they known what would happen.

Things happen. People forget things. People slip and fall. Mechanical safeties fail. Ammunition can be faulty.

These and a myriad of other things can cause a firearm to discharge at the least desirable times. If every time your gun goes off you have it with absolute certainty pointed in a safe direction, you will never have a situation that you may regret for the rest of your life.

The most important thing to remember with this commandment is that “safe direction” varies depending on your situation. People move unexpectedly. Pets and children do inexplicable things sometimes.

If you are on the main level of your home and your child’s bedroom is upstairs, pointing your muzzle straight up is not a safe direction. That same rifle, when taken outside, can be pointed up in the air and be considered safe. Conversely, pointing the muzzle of your firearm at the ground can be the only safe option at times, but not if you are standing on a rock!

Always, always, always be aware of your muzzle and what it is pointed at. When introducing a youth to firearms, there is no such thing as too many times to remind them, “keep your muzzle safe” or “make sure you pay attention to where your muzzle is pointing.”

Finally, never be afraid to quickly and forcefully take immediate control of a firearm and the situation.

A forceful “STOP!” and a redirecting of an unsafe action is always better than an accident.


Firearms are designed to operate via a rather complicated mechanism called a trigger. The trigger is where man and muscle meet mechanics in a single point of control.

Remember our definition of “accident.” Especially when instructing use in firearm use and safety, a moment of mental lapse can mean a serious consequence. Because a firearm is designed to fire when you pull the trigger, keeping your finger off of it will prevent an accidental discharge.


According to a Wisconsin hunting incident report from 2012, one of the most common causes of firearm accidents in the field is when somebody shoots and does not know what is beyond their target.

Lead shot fired from a shotgun easily travels several hundred yards and retains enough energy to embed in skin or damage an eye. A .22-caliber rifle bullet can travel well over a mile. Once you start firing larger caliber rifles, such as a .243 or a .30-06, that distance can extend to several miles.

Remember, once a bullet is fired it can never be taken back. Always know where your bullet might be, or might go, and err on the side of caution.


As the examples showed, many accidents occur with an “unloaded” gun that isn’t really unloaded.

It takes only several seconds to load your gun for use, so there is no reason to have your gun loaded before you are ready to fire it. At the range, we always have firearms that are not actively being shot placed safely on their side or, if available, in a gun rack designed to hold them safely with actions open and, if neither option is practical AND safe, unloaded in a case.


Firearms differ in their type (rifle, shotgun, or handgun); make (brand such as Winchester, Remington, or Browning); model and action type (single-shot, revolver, semi-automatic, bolt-action, etc.). Whenever you change firearms while introducing them to youth, you should revisit all of the areas and mechanisms of that particular firearm. Why is this important?

Imagine the following scenario. You have been working with a particular pupil for several sessions at the range with a bolt-action, single-shot .22 rifle. The safety on this rifle is located at the rear of the trigger guard. They have shown great enthusiasm and desire to fire a different type of gun. The rifle you hand them next is a bolt-action .223 that has a telescopic sight, and the safety is located on the rear of the action and is also a three-position safety.

Your pupil picks up the weapon, is rather excited, begins to go through the motions of checking it and searches for the safety. They immediately, when they realize that it is not where they expect it to be, turn the gun over and look at the trigger guard. In the meantime, they turn to you looking for instruction and at the same time sweep the barrel in an arc…

You can see where trouble can occur.

Every time you switch firearms, review the rules of safety, review the anatomy of that particular gun, and make certain they understand before you ever let them shoot it.

Thanks to advances in technology, you can now protect your hearing while hunting and not sacrifice your ability to hear what is happening around you, like you would if using foam ear plugs. The cost of these products has come down substantially.

Always wear the proper eye and ear protection when shooting.


You only get two eyes and two ears in your lifetime. Protecting them is essential.

Like today’s computers and cell phones, the cost of quality equipment continues to drop as technology advances. Foam ear plugs cost about $0.50. You can buy a pair of electronic earplugs or shooting muffs that allow you to hear regular conversation yet block out loud noises such as gunfire instantaneously for between $30 and $40. If you wear prescription glasses, you will not need additional eye protection, but a high-quality, protective lens that meets ANSI Specifications can be had for under $10.

Are your eyes and ears (as well as those of your student/child) worth $50? I would happily pay 100 times that amount to regain the hearing I have lost from years in duck blinds and pheasant fields before electronic hearing protection.

Prescription and non-prescription medications can interfere with your ability to function properly, something that is not acceptable when handling a firearm.


I am so adamant about this rule that I have been known to step off of the firing line at a trap club if I have seen someone consume an alcoholic beverage prior to shooting. I have heard many different excuses along these lines.

“I only had one (or a few) beer(s).”

“Relax… I can handle it. I’ve been shooting for a long time, even longer than I’ve been drinking.”

“Don’t be such a worrier.”

That’s the one that really gets me. I worry, even if it’s just a little, every time I have a firearm in my hand, am near someone with a firearm, or even in the presence of a firearm standing against the wall, in a rack or on a table.

If I can’t see that the action is open and the chamber clear from where I am, I will walk over, safely pick up the firearm, check it, check it again, and then put it down safely and only pointed in a safe direction.

Shooting a gun is a very serious responsibility that, if a momentary lapse of judgment has been made, can have serious and even deadly consequences.

Save the celebratory drinks for long after your guns have been cleaned and put away in storage.

The students and teenagers that I have taught get this rule repeated to them over and over throughout their instruction. Alcohol, drugs, and gunpowder don’t mix!


Even common pain-relieving medications can have unintended and unexpected reactions in certain people. Yes, you are unlikely to fall over from taking a Tylenol, but, again, stranger things have happened.

Common Analgesics:

The three most commonly used analgesics are Tylenol (Acetaminophen), Advil (Ibuprofen), Aleve (Naproxen Sodium) and Aspirin.

In addition, the following NSAID analgesics are commonly prescribed for chronic pain.











Combining any of these medications with alcohol can exaggerate and compound the effects. Drugs, alcohol, and gunpowder DON’T MIX!


Remember, a firearm is a precision a piece of machinery. I use analogies with younger kids, depending on their age, to explain the different types of ammunition and different firearms. “You can’t play an Xbox game on a PlayStation 3, right? This is even more important than that, because this can cause a serious accident.”

They get it right away.


Safeties are mechanical devices used to prevent the trigger from being pulled. Mechanical devices can and do fail, and often at the worst possible times.

I consider the safety of a firearm to be the “backup to the backup.” You are already treating the gun as if it was loaded and you already are ensuring it is pointed in a safe direction. It is as simple as that.

Fortunately, by adhering to the rest of the 10 Commandments of safety, the safety is a welcome backup.