Gun safety depends solely on its owner

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2000

It was a cold, wet, December morning, nearly two years ago. We rolled along the muddy road on my four-wheeler, headed for a duck blind. I was hunting with an old friend — a fellow I have known for years.

Growing up, our fathers taught us how to hunt. And I guess I assumed he received the same education I did. There was really know way for me to know; we had not hunted together since we chased rabbits behind beagles as teenagers.

It was his first duck hunt and, as we climbed into the duck blind, I explained to him how we would set up, where to take a shot and when to simply let the bird go, for safety’s sake. But a fellow’s first real duck hunt is pretty exciting and when the second group passed over my end of the blind, his gun barrel passed with it and he fired&160;– right over my head.

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My ears rang for a week. And, though the shot was not necessarily unsafe (he was basically pointing his gun barrel straight up), taking it was bad etiquette for a duck hunter. He still apologizes to me about it to this day.

Almost every hunter I know is a safe hunter. I have walked miles and miles, chasing pheasant, quail, mule deer and who knows what else, sat for hours in duck blinds with dozens of other hunters. And I can honestly say that the shot my friend took over my head was the only time in recent memory I had reason to be nervous.

So, the majority of hunters who will read the information I am about to share will find it boring or redundant. I hope so. But with Mississippi’s gun deer season opening this weekend along with Louisiana’s duck season, it seems impossible to put too much emphasis on being safe.

First, there’s good news on the hunting safety front. Accidental firearms fatalities declined to an all-time low of 700 in 1999, according to the National Safety Council Injury Facts Report. This total, the lowest since record keeping began in 1903, represents a 13 percent drop from the previous year and more than a 50 percent decrease since 1989.

The success is due largely to the work of good, responsible sportsmen (and women), of state game and fish agencies and organizations like The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has done an excellent job of paring the rules of firearms safety down to the basics.

The NSSF approach is simple: From the time you pick up a firearm, you become part of a system over which you have complete control. You are the only part of the system that can make a gun safe — or unsafe.

Here’s a condensed outline of the NSSF’s rules for firearms safety. For more information, you can visit their Web site at

4Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

This is the most basic safety rule. If everyone handled a firearm so carefully that the muzzle never pointed at something they didn’t intend to shoot, there would be virtually no firearms accidents.

4Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use. Firearms should be loaded only when you are in the field or on the target range or shooting area, ready to shoot.

4Don’t rely on your gun’s &uot;safety.&uot; Treat every gun as though it can fire at any time, regardless of pressure on the trigger. The &uot;safety&uot; on any gun is a mechanical device which, like any such device, can become inoperable at the worst possible time.

4Be sure of Your target and what’s beyond it. 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. Be aware that even a 22 short bullet can travel over 1-1/4 miles and a high velocity cartridge, such as a 30-06, can send its bullet more than 3 miles. Shotgun pellets can travel 500 yards, and shotgun slugs have a range of over half a mile.

Todd Carpenter is publisher of The Democrat. He can be reached at 446-5172 ext. 218 or by e-mail at