The Four Commandments of Gun Safety (Again)
I. All guns are always loaded.
While this is a bit of an exaggerated rule, in that it is not always literally correct, the attitude and principle are essential. Firearms accidents are all too often connected with a naïve neglect of this rule. The famous and tragic last words: "it's not loaded". It is best to assume at any given point that a gun is loaded, and this informs later rules involving gun handling. Especially with autoloaders (semi-automatics) it is very simple for a beginner to neglect this rule. For example, if a beginner has a semi-automatic pistol, he or she can remove the loaded magazine, and it is common to then assume the pistol is unloaded. It is essential to rack the slide or bolt (preferably multiple times, with visual and tactile confirmation) to ensure there is no round in the chamber, ready to fire. So this is one of the big rules, no matter what sort of gun it is: treat all guns as if they were loaded. Resist the temptation to assume a gun has been made safe; unless you can clearly determine it at the moment, and you understand the gun enough to properly make it safe and fully unload it, assume the gun is loaded and ready to fire, and this will help keep you and those that are around you safe.
II. Do not allow your muzzle to cover anything you do not wish to destroy.
"Muzzle Control" is essential. On a range, keep the barrels pointed down range. No one likes having a gun pointed at them, and if you have a gun pointed at someone and they register displeasure, DO NOT respond with the typical "but it's not loaded" line. We don't care. No one cares that you have assumed the gun not to be loaded. We assume it is loaded (see the First Commandment) and we do not like seeing the business end of your firearm. Whether in a gun shop, or a range, keep that gun pointed in a safe direction and do not point it at people, accidentally or otherwise. Don't take a casual attitude towards muzzle control, or you will end up at best pissing off more safety-conscious shooters, and at worst accidentally discharging your gun, possibly killing someone.
III. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
When you handle, draw, or aim a gun, the proper place for your trigger finger is NOT in the trigger guard resting on the trigger. The proper place for your finger is straight, alongside the edge of the frame, above the trigger guard. I made this mistake regularly when I first started and luckily I didn't have any negligent discharges as a lesson. Keep your trigger finger out of the trigger guard until you have your firearm trained on the target and you are ready to fire. The two times when this is the biggest problem is when handling guns in a store or elsewhere, and when drawing or reholstering a pistol. In the first situation, the gun store attendant and other customers do not at all feel at ease when you're swinging a handgun around with your finger on the trigger. If you need to feel the trigger pull, first ask permission of the owner as many people (myself included) would not want someone to be dry-firing without the use of a snap-cap. Then clear the gun and check, doublecheck, and triplecheck the gun to make sure it is unloaded, and dry fire the gun in a relatively safe direction. Don't do this if you don't really know what you are doing, because if you don't understand the design of a gun you might not clear it correctly and you really are going to prefer a click over a bang in that situation when the hammer falls. And if you try to holster or draw a pistol with your finger in the trigger guard, you may end up shooting yourself in the leg. Particularly on reholstering; I've read about a number of instances where that has happened to cops and other relatively experienced shooters, so be careful!
IV. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Modern pistol and rifle cartridges are very, very powerful. You would be surprised at how many walls a pistol rounds can knife through, and still have enough velocity to severely injure or kill someone. Drywall will not stop anything larger than BBs or birdshot (if that!). Even a solid core door would be hardpressed to stop any of the major centerfire handgun and rifle cartridges. Therefore, you need to know what is beyond any target you fire upon, because you cannot assume a bullet will stop until it hits a reinforced brick wall or an earth berm. And of course, you need to be entirely certain of your target. There was a tragic case in Oregon recently where a young teen was shot by his brother when they were out target shooting, and the older brother shot at what he thought was an inanimate object, and turned out to be his brother. I know the EMT that had the unfortunate duty to respond to this accident onsite. While the tragically preventable nature of this goes without saying, it is worth mentioning to drive home the importance of this fourth rule.
So there you have it. I know I've probably mentioned the Big Four before on here but for those out there that may ever purchase or handle a firearm, it's good to remember these...assume its loaded, keep it pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, and be sure of your target.
That said, I can't speak highly enough of the shooting sports as recreational fun. Once safety rules are trained and ingrained, it is a lot less stressful than maybe I have given the impression of. A Ruger 10/22 makes a great plinker rifle with low recoil, minimal noise, and cheap cost of ammo...an easy recommendation for someone interested in a good target gun.