The safety on any firearm is an important device, not just a push button near the trigger. It is a mechanical device intended to prevent the unintentional discharge of ammunition intentionally placed in the firearm’s chamber. This does not mean that a safety’s purpose is guaranteed, so you should never rely on a safety to keep a firearm from firing.
In amongst all the handling of firearms our students do, being able to location and operate a safety on any firearm is expected. A fair amount of firearms have a button near the trigger that operates as the safety. If it is pushed one way, generally it will show some degree of red, meaning that is the position the safety must be in when the shooter is intending to squeeze the trigger. Other firearms may have a slide button of some sort and will show an “S” when in one position and when moved will show a red dot or otherwise cover up the “S.” While the color red will always mean the safety is off and the firearm is ready to fire, on the slide type safety, seeing the “S” indicates the safety is on. It is very important to understand how a safety operates on a given firearm, as the above are not definitive rules.
There should be no question that a safety on a firearm is like a seat belt in a car. Both are intended to reduce the risk of harm, but neither is able to prevent injury. Each student in our class is provided the tools necessary to obtain knowledge, responsible behavior and awareness associated with handling and using a firearm. These traits and skills will reduce the risk of accident much more than any safety can, because the practice of safety in using firearms is much more effective than a mechanical device. No matter how it may be made, any mechanical device can malfunction or break, but by practicing firearms safety every time you pick up a rifle or shotgun, it becomes a habit and once you establish a habit, it is very hard to break or lose unless you intentionally want to get rid of it.
So what can you do to enhance the mechanical safety on a firearm? Simply put, by following all the rules of safe handling of firearms. Loading ammunition into your firearm at the proper time, and unloading it properly will greatly lessen the possibility of an unintended discharge of ammunition simply because there is no ammunition in the firearm. Many times it may be easier, or more convenient, to not unload a firearm when it should be unloaded. In which of the following scenarios is a firearm more likely to be unintentionally fired; unloaded and propped into a corner, or loaded with the safety on and propped into the same corner? Just remember and make it a habit, if your firearm is loaded and it will not be in your immediate control, unload.
The trigger is not someplace to rest your finger while carrying a firearm. If you keep your finger on the trigger, pressure is undoubtedly going to be placed on that mechanism. The safety works by restricting the movement of the trigger so that the trigger cannot activate the rest of the functions needed to slam the firing pin into the primer of the ammunition. There are many things that can move the safety from on to off without the shooter’s knowledge, things as simple as a piece of brush hitting against the firearm as you walk through the woods. Also, having your finger on the trigger places the rest of that hand in close proximity to the safety and a simple twist of the wrist could put enough pressure on the safety to put it into the fire position. Simply put, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
I have intentionally avoided using the phrase, “an accidental firing of a firearm.” An injury caused by the unintentional firing of a firearm is not a safety’s fault and it isn’t an accident, it is the result of poor personal judgment The only reason a loaded firearm can fire when the handler or shooter did not intend for it to fire is because the person in charge of the firearm was not practicing safe and responsible behavior. A safety is not able to reason or react; it has no control over what happens, but you do have the ability to reason and control a firearm. Make it a habit.