So you got a new gun for Christmas or maybe you gave your child his or her first Red Ryder BB gun.

Whether you are a first-time gun owner or seasoned firearms enthusiast, you are in a powerful position of responsibility. As such, we should always be ready to review basic/common sense firearm information and discuss how we can continue to enjoy our firearm responsibly.

If you're the type of person who only reads the first two paragraphs of an article--I understand completely--I'll say the following upfront: practice continuously; be highly knowledgeable of the weapons systems you're using; safety is your new best friend, and do your own research from legitimate sources--don't rely on what you read on some internet forum. There are many misconceptions out there and as responsible gun owners it falls to us to dispel myths and rumors and act as role models for all future shooters.

Though it's no secret, any firearm has the potential to kill. In today's political climate, there's a lot of debate about one firearm being more destructive than another. To put it very simply, all firearms can kill and should be respected and used properly.

As an example of a myth, America's most popular rifle--the AR-15--is often portrayed as being something it is not. Probably one of the more popular myths is that the "AR" stands for "assault rifle" or "automatic rifle." It actually stands for "Armalite Rifle," after the company that developed it in the 1950s.

While it's true that a similar, burst-fire/fully-automatic version of this weapon is used by the military, the AR-15 purchased by civilians is only a semi-automatic firearm, just like many of the pistols on the market today.

According to the Fort Knox Directorate of Emergency Services, there were two accidental discharges that occurred on the installation in the last five years. One of those was committed by a Soldier with formal weapons training. Again, even if you are an experienced gun owner, the info below applies to you as well.

Let's start by reviewing the "10 Rules of Safe Gun Handling" according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. These rules must always be followed to the letter regardless of the owners experience level. Detailed information on each of these rules can be found at www.nssf.org/safety/basics.

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

2. Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use.

3. Don't rely on your gun's "safety."

4. Be sure of your target and what's beyond it.

5. Use correct ammunition.

6. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care!

7. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting

8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting.

9. Don't alter or modify your gun, and have guns serviced regularly.

10. Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using.

And one that I am going to add is "proper storage." I became a father about a year ago, and so came a new responsibility to ensure my firearms were out of my son's grasp. So, I bought a gun safe, or two. In addition to child safety, safes provide a way to organize your firearms and keep them out of the hands of thieves. The type of safe will be depend on your lifestyle and what you consider an acceptable balance of preparedness and risk.

I personally have a large safe that contains the majority of my collection as well as a small fingerprint-activated safe under my nightstand which houses my home defense pistol. The pistol is locked and loaded and is available to me in seconds if needed; however, there is no way for my son to get his hands on it. If you don't have children, you may not feel you need lockable storage, but consider this: what will you do if you have relatives or friends with children over for dinner or the weekend?

Always make sure you are using the right ammo for your firearm. Some firearms can accept several different types of ammo. For instance, a .357 magnum revolver can shoot .357 magnum and .38 special rounds, but a .38 special revolver cannot shoot .357 magnum. In the AR-15, a 5.56 NATO rifle can shoot both 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington cartridges, but a .223 Remington rifle may explode if you load it with a 5.56 cartridge.

Normally, the types of ammo your weapon can accept will be engraved on the firearm's barrel. If there is any doubt in your mind, check the owner's manual or call the firearm manufacturer for guidance. There is no stupid question when it comes to your safety.

An often over looked safety measure is the proper cleaning and maintenance of your firearm. Besides helping to ensure that your gun will function properly, frequent cleaning will preserve your weapon for generations to come and prevent dangerous situations such as overpressure and various mechanical failures. If done incorrectly, cleaning can actually damage the firearm, so it's important to read the manufacturer's directions.

But it's very important to follow one universal rule before handling or cleaning any firearm--check to make sure it unloaded. My father always taught me to remove the magazine and double check to confirm that the gun is unloaded before beginning any cleaning operation. I have had no accidental discharges to date.

You only get one set of eyes, so invest in some good eye protection. I can't count how many times I've been whacked in the glasses with a stray shell. When purchasing a pair, make sure the lenses are actually rated to withstand impact--your reading glasses probably aren't--and that they wrap around, covering the sides of your eyes. They come in clear and tinted varieties and some come with interchangeable lenses. I would highly recommend an anti-fog coating. Get whatever suits your needs and make sure to use them.

Wear hearing protection when you shoot any firearm. Almost all of them have the ability to cause permanent hearing damage--even repetitive shots from a .22 long rifle.

There are really two types--ear plugs and ear muffs and you should check the decibel rating on hearing protection before you buy it--it should be located on the packaging or on the manufacturer's website. Let's say for the purposes of this article that a typical gunshot is about 150 db. If your muffs are rated for 23 db, they will reduce the sound of the gunshot to 127 decibel--still not hearing safe according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 90 decibel requirement. I typically use plugs and muffs simultaneously. This should reduce any sound down to a reasonable level.

If you bought or received a handgun, you might also be considering a concealed carry permit. I encourage gun owners to carry, but only after they are intimately familiar with their weapon, have shot several hundred rounds through it, and have received some formal training on how to use it in real life situations. I am a firm believer in the expression that "an armed society is a polite society," but you must be absolutely sure that you are ready to handle that responsibility and are familiar with all applicable local laws before doing so.

If you're a gun owner and a parent, it is imperative that your children understand the proper safety procedures required when dealing with the weapons in your home as well as other peoples' homes. Just because you keep your weapons locked up, don't assume the same of a person whose home at which your child is spending the night. In addition to discussing with them all of the information here, Projectchildsafe.org offers the following advice on what to tell your children:

*Don't go snooping, or allow other kids to go snooping, for guns in the house.

*If you find a gun in your house, or anywhere else, STOP! Do not touch it or allow anyone else to. Leave the area and be sure to immediately tell an adult.

*Even if a gun looks like a toy, don't touch it. Some real guns look like toy guns, so don't take a chance. Leave the area and immediately tell an adult.

*See more at: www.projectchildsafe.org/safety/safe-storage.

But something else to discuss with children is the reality of weapons verses what they see on T.V and in video games. They should know that even if a weapon is a toy, they should never point it at a living thing, unless they actually intend to destroy it, and to always assume a gun is loaded.

I also encourage you to get your children involved in the shooting sports. Speaking from personal experience, shooting--especially distance shooting--requires discipline, concentration, confidence, precise hand-eye coordination, and mathematics and science skills. Range practice is also a great stress reliever; I like to call it recoil therapy. It's hard to argue that those aren't all traits from which children benefit. From a selfish perspective, it's also a great way to bond with your child.

While this information is a good starting point, I would encourage you to do more research on your own about safety and statistics. Make sure that the classes you take are from reputable, certified weapons instructors. Read as much as you can on the subject and seek out hands-on training opportunities. Pardon my use of the old Army slogan, but it is the only way you can "be all you can be."

Although shooting sports are incredibly enjoyable and rewarding hobbies, it's important to always remember that firearms have to the potential to be incredibly destructive and deadly and must be respected accordingly. Handle them responsibly and you and your family will have a great time.
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