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Responsible Gun Ownership

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Female hunter in the woods with orange hat and hunting rifle

It doesn't get more important than this! Keeping a firearm around is a colossal, life-or-death responsibility, and should always be taken on with respect and thoughtfulness. Major factors like children in the house, loaded self-defense guns, and mental health concerns can make things even more complicated and risky. Having said that, responsible gun owners are everywhere, and live their whole lives without incident. The fact that you sought out this information at all means you're already well on your way!

In this article:

Safe Storage

Finding a good way to store your gun can be a complex issue, especially when it comes to defensive firearms. However, let's start with best practice and work from there:

Metal safe with dial
Safes are great, but a good locker will work, too.

All guns should be stored at all times in some form of gun locker or gun safe. For those of you with a home-defense pistol or a small budget, there are many small, affordable gun safes out there for pistols that can be accessed very quickly and kept by the bed. If you have a rifle or shotgun but your budget is tight (or you don't want to deal with the hassle of a full-size gun safe), an affordable gun locker can be more than adequate to keep guns away from kids and provide at least a notable obstacle for thieves. While lockers don't offer the same level of fire or theft protection as a gun safe...a real house fire will often destroy the contents of a gun safe regardless due to the extreme heat, and if a determined thief has the means to get into your gun locker, they may have the means to break into your safe, too.

When it comes to choosing a way to lock up your guns, just remember: Anything can be destroyed by fire or stolen, but things like guns are insurable, replaceable, and ultimately dispensable. The lives of you and your loved ones are not. ALWAYS place the priority on keeping humans safe, rather than keeping your firearms safe.

Whenever possible, store your ammo separately from your firearms. This one is especially important when it comes to having kids in the house, and provides one more layer of protection against tragedy; but it once again becomes more complicated in the context of home-defense guns. Many defense-minded gun owners are forced to weigh their risks when comparing the chance of a violent attack with the chance that a child or others may gain access to your loaded firearm -- whether that's a bored kid getting into a cheap safe, or a one-time mistake of leaving the safe unlocked that leads to catastrophe. If you have to have a loaded gun around, do thorough research and make sure you are getting the best possible pistol safe for the job that offers the best chance of keeping others away from your firearm. In all other cases (and for all other firearms), the best practice is to keep your ammo stored separately from firearms, and double check that all guns are safely cleared of ammunition whenever they go in or out of safes, lockers, or cases.

It is bad practice to leave a gun in a vehicle. Cars are notoriously easy to break into, and unfortunately, this is one of the most common bad habits of gun owners, leading to an enormous number of firearm thefts. Not only do you lose a fair amount of invested money this way, but you've put a gun (that's traceable back to you) directly into the hands of a criminal and onto the black market. Also, as we demonstrated above, leaving a gun out can be a very dangerous idea if you have kids or anyone else you'd be worried about gaining access to it. Attempting to hide a gun in your car is nowhere near as secure as a proper locker or safe in your home.

Basic Gun Safety

We all like to think most of this stuff is common sense, but it can be very easy for any of us to make foolish mistakes, lose focus, or slip up, unless we have a few things at the front of our mind whenever we're dealing with a gun (loaded or not). So, let's quickly go over the basics.

You'll hear time and time again the "four golden rules of gun safety," but for new shooters I like to focus on one thing that will keep you and others safe more than anything else: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This is the first (and my personal favorite) of the four rules. It means that the firearm should be pointing safely at the target you intend to shoot, from the moment you get to the firing line at the range and take a gun out of its case or holster. It doesn't matter if you're reloading, picking the gun up, putting it down, clearing a jammed round, or even if the gun is visibly empty - it should always be pointing in a safe direction. Put another way, never point your firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy.

When you're at home cleaning or maintaining the firearm, take extra care to ensure it's completely unloaded (including and especially the chamber), and be constantly aware of the direction the gun is pointing as though it could go off any second.

Now, you may be thinking this sounds like overkill, but it can be shockingly easy to slip up, even for more experienced shooters who tend to grow complacent over time. The best way to solve this is to bring your gun in its case to the firing line (the spot from which you actually plan to be shooting) and never point it in any other direction than at the target.

The remaining three golden rules of gun safety are:

  • Treat every gun like it's loaded and ready to fire, no matter what

  • Know your target and what is beyond it

  • Keep your finger away from the trigger up until the moment you're ready to fire

Greyscale pistol with finger off of trigger
Finger is straight, and off the trigger. This is known as having good "Trigger Discipline"

These are all excellent rules to live by and think about whenever you're in the presence of a firearm. They are not optional, and there are never any exceptions. However, I like to emphasize the first rule (always point the gun in a safe direction) the most because even if you screw up every other rule and actually fire the weapon through outright negligence and carelessness, you're a hell of a lot less likely to do any real damage if you always take care to ensure the gun was aimed at something you planned to shoot anyway.

And it should go without saying, never mix guns with alcohol, drugs, or any other substance or activity that affects motor control, focus, or judgement.

For a more comprehensive look at the four rules and other great info, check out our main gun safety article!

Mental Health

Everyone goes through hardship in their lives, and many of us experience depression and other mental health issues. In a perfect world, there would be no more shame in going through a rough patch or having a mental illness than there would be in catching the flu or being born with a disability -- And yet, there are countless people who sadly never seek help, fear the perception of their community, employer, or loved ones if they did, or feel like they don't have an adequate support system. Unfortunately, when guns are around, a particularly bad day can become a tragedy.

Thankfully, gun owners are increasingly reaching out to their friends, communities, loved ones, and great organizations like, and having them temporarily hang on to their firearms when times are hard for the gun owner or anyone in their household. This is one of the absolute best ways to immediately reduce risk until you're ready to have guns back in your home, in addition of course to seeking professional help.

Struggling to find anyone around you who is gun-friendly, or willing to take on your firearms? A common solution is to instead give them one of the vital operating mechanisms of each firearm, rendering your guns harmless. Depending on the gun, this could be a firing pin, slide, bolt, barrel, and so on. For practically every gun, a part such as the slide or bolt can be removed in just a few seconds. If you need help, simply look up a disassembly video online (there are many such videos for each type of gun on YouTube) or reach out to us here! We'd be more than happy to help out.

If you're still concerned about anonymity and don't feel comfortable contacting someone you know, you can contact us, an organization like Hold My Guns, a local gun store, or simply get rid of your guns, the ammo, or the operating mechanisms mentioned above.

Remember: Inanimate objects are replaceable. You are not.

Range Etiquette

Let's move on how to be responsible, safe, and respectful at the range. There are many types of shooting range (indoor, outdoor, trap/skeet, long range, etc.) but there a few good things to keep in mind wherever you are.

First off, ALWAYS read the rules at your range before shooting there. Rules can vary widely from one to the next, and go far beyond the law in their restrictions. Sometimes these rules can feel unreasonable, but you will absolutely be called out by the range safety officer (RSO) or other staff if you try to ignore them. Most of the time, the rules are there for a very good reason (even if you don't understand their purpose) and help keep everyone safer. Try your best to follow them to the letter during your visit.

A few good universal rules are to only case and uncase your firearms at the firing line, keep your guns pointed downrange at all times, wear eye and ear protection, step away from your firearms during a cease fire, take good care of the facility and any rental equipment, and be mindful of other shooters around you.

Shooting in the wilderness. In addition to the general rules above, shooting in the wilderness can present some unique challenges. Before you choose a spot, you should confirm that the land is legal to shoot at. Federal land (BLM, National Forest, etc.) is usually a good place to start, but always check before shooting there! Even if it's usually allowed, there may be temporary fire restrictions or other circumstances that close it off to shooters for a period of time. RESPECT THESE RESTRICTIONS.

AR-15 balanced on stump in forest
Nothing better than some long-range shooting out in the wilderness.

Another extremely important consideration is finding a good enough backstop to shoot at and knowing who else is in the area. The last thing you want is to fire a round into the wild and unknowingly send bullets at someone a mile or two away. This goes back to one of the golden rules of gun safety: Know your target and what is beyond it. And it should go without saying, but never shoot at the wildlife, plants, structures, signs, etc. Not only is this lousy behavior, but it's also obviously illegal and could get you in a lot of trouble.

Finally, no matter where you are, clean up after yourself. This means brass, trash, targets, unfired ammo, and so on. A good rule of thumb is to always leave the space cleaner than how you found it. Unfortunately, there are many shooters who are terrible about this, and frequently use the wilderness as their personal dump site, doing harm to the local environment and often getting the whole location shut down by local authorities. Don't be one of these people!

Now that we've covered all the major points, give yourself a pat on the back for taking a great step forward in responsible gun ownership, and make sure to check out our other articles for even more useful information!


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