Always be sure the firearm is safe to operate
Before engaging in any type of shooting activity, be sure the firearm is safe to operate. This is especially important if the firearm has been in storage or otherwise unused for an extended period of time.
When cleaning a firearm, be sure no ammunition is present
The most common response after an accidental discharge is, "I was cleaning the gun, and it went off!" When cleaning a firearm, be sure there is NO ammunition present. Keep the ammunition in another room until you have finished cleaning the weapon and are ready to reload.
Never accept a loaded firearm
If you are offered a loaded firearm, DO NOT ACCEPT IT! Have the person handing it to you either unload it or place it down for you to retrieve. Either of these actions will help prevent an accidental discharge, which could cause injury or death.
Never use alcohol or drugs before or while shooting
Even though this seems like a common sense rule, some people will not admit when they’re not in complete control of their actions. Just like when drinking and driving, your judgment and reflexes are impaired, and the likelihood of an accident increases greatly. We cannot stress this enough-JUST DON'T DO IT.
Always keep the firearm unloaded until you are ready to use it
This rule is primarily for gun storage. An unauthorized person getting hold of your firearm is always a bad situation, but it will be far less dangerous if the gun is unloaded.
A note about self defense
This is a variation on the "ready to use" rule. Obviously, an unloaded firearm is useless in a self defense situation. Therefore, when you carry a firearm for this purpose, it is loaded and considered "in use" whether or not you fire it. This underscores the need for proper, safe handling of your firearm.
These are only some of the many important safety rules for proper firearm handling, but they are among the most important basic guidelines. If you have further questions or concerns, consult your local firearms instructor, as well as the manual which came with your firearm.
You can also find firearm safety and training information at the National Rifle Association website.