1. All guns are always loaded. Put it another way: All guns are always loaded. That is, develop an extremely short-term memory. It doesn't matter if you checked it one second ago, maybe it magically loaded itself or a cartridge fell off an airplane and not only was it the right cartridge, but it landed just perfectly to fit into the cylinder. (You scoff, but most gun accidents involve extraordinarily unpredictable catastrophe chains.) Check it again. Get in the habit of checking it.BTW, I loaned my reader's copy of Night of Thunder to my pal Paul Erhardt...his one word book review?
2. Never let the muzzle point at anything you aren't willing to destroy. I see this one violated more than any other, as people, once they know the gun is unloaded, let their muzzle discipline go away. No, no, uh-uh. You can't have different behaviors with guns, one for loaded, one for unloaded. Tragedy lurks therein. Remember, all guns are always loaded. Always. That makes you responsible for it and the direction of its muzzle all the time.
I will admit to three accidental discharges in my 30 years shooting, and all were jokes rather than tragedies because, though I violated Rules 1, 3 and 4, I had trained myself to be very uncomfortable if the muzzle wandered toward something human.
3. Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. This is probably the hardest to obey, because the ergonomics of the gun make the trigger lure the finger onward, toward destruction, and it's so easy to forget. And the bullet once fired can never be recalled.
4. Know what's behind the target. In case you're a complete idiot, allow Dr. Guns to point out what you should already know: A firearm releases a hard, pointed object into the world at speeds over (usually) a thousand feet per second and up to 4,000 feet per second. People think they know so much about guns from TV and movies, but the media almost never communicate the power of the bullet and its ability to penetrate, bounce, do insane things that no Caltech grad student could predict, much less replicate in a lab. Thus you must be responsible in understanding the ultimate destination.
Since most shooting in this urban area takes place under controlled range circumstances, that's not a problem. But no gun should ever be discharged outdoors, upward, into darkness, at fields or trees or even traffic signs. (I put a coupla .25s through a "SLOW" sign on Waukegan Road in Glenview, Ill., in 1967, so I know the temptation to irresponsible young men.)