A Guide to Recreational Firearms and Gun Safety

A guide to recreational firearms and gun safety, including handling of guns, cleaning guns and storing and securing your gun

| July/August 1988

Starting out right with recreational firearms, including gun safety, security and cleaning advice. 

A Guide to Recreational Firearms and Gun Safety

When guns and shooting are mentioned, certain images spring to mind. For many Americans, especially those who live away from the land-starved mega-messes we call cities, the images are of recreation, competition, personal challenges and family fun. Unseen and unreported by the mass media, millions of people enjoy guns and shoot billions of rounds of ammunition every year in complete safety. And they do it primarily for one reason—shooting is one heck of a lot of fun! Shooting is traditionally taught by fathers. Many women shoot, but it seems fair to say that in most cases the teaching is done by the menfolk. If your father didn't teach you to shoot, you might be frightened by the thought of learning by yourself. After all, you don't know anything about it and you might do something stupid, or worse. I mean, guns are dangerous, right?

Before you have an anxiety attack, though, take some time to consider just how dangerous guns are, or are not. Put a firearm on the table, don't let anyone touch it for 100 years, and I guarantee it will do nothing but slowly rust. Guns don't do anything by themselves. The plain fact is that firearms are not dangerous when handled and stored properly. Same as a car, right? You wouldn't presume to be able to drive a car safely if you had never been taught, so don't expect to be able to shoot well or handle a gun safely without instruction and practice.

Fortunately, help is nearby. No matter where you live, there are surely shooters in your area. And as is the case with people avid in any sport, most shooters like to bring others into the fold. Talk with your neighbors. If you live out of the city, you'll find that some of them have guns and like to shoot. Your best bet is a local shooting range or gun club. That's where you get quality instruction and a ready source of answers for all the questions you'll have.

No shooting range nearby? Call the police. Someone on the force or in the sheriffs department will be able to teach you. Even if it's not a formal class, just ask if anyone can spare enough time to show you the basics. It's pretty unlikely you'll strike out.

Perhaps you do have some experience with guns. Now you want to teach your family to shoot. How old should children be before you start them oft? Some are ready at six, and some still aren't ready at 16. Chances are you'll know when the time comes. First thing, a child must be ready to obey. Gun safety is not a matter to be approached democratically. Instructions must be followed exactly, and immediately. At about age six many children are able to handle the smallest air rifles (BB guns, if you will). Of course, they should not be allowed to shoot without direct adult supervision. That means an adult standing right beside them.

Tom Gresham
2/7/2008 3:12:48 PM

I just found this article. Actually, I think it was just posted on this site. For the record, I wrote this article about 20 years ago, but don't worry. It's still pretty darn accurate. Oh! One correction: I am no longer the editor of Rifle and Handloader magazines, but they are great magazines. I host a national radio talk show about guns ( and have created a web site full of short videos about learning to shoot, and you can watch them for free. It's or Interesting that this article would resurface right when we are posting 200+ videos on shooting instruction. The two go together well. Be sure to check out the gun safety videos there -- very important for anyone just starting in the shooting sports. The Mother Earth News is to be congratulated on posting an article about the safe and responsible use of firearms. -- Tom Gresham

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