I've added some contact info for people who are willing to provide firearms instruction for beginners in their respective areas. So I thought it wouldn't hurt to go over some basic rules.
1. Always point the firearm in a safe direction.
This should be the most religiously followed rule there is. If you are constantly aware of where the muzzle is & make certain it is pointed in a direction where it'd do little or no harm if it were to discharge, then you dramatically decrease any chances of serious injury because of an accidental or negligent discharge. The other rules are important, but this is the one you should never neglect to follow.
2. Never point the firearm at anything you're not willing to destroy.
Not quite the same as No. 1. If you follow No. 1 religiously then following No. 2 might not be a problem. However some people get in the bad habit of aiming at things they do not intend to shoot, even though it is in no danger of injuring anyone. A good example of this is using a scope as if they were binoculars (i.e. seeing what's across the field by using the scope to look & subsequently pointing the rifle at the object). So unless you're absolutely certain that you want to put a hole in an object with a great amount of force, then do not point at it with a firearm.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
Despite what you see in movies, keep your finger off the trigger. In stress filled situations this is probably the number one cause of accidental discharges. It's really more of a negligent discharge than accidental, because there is very little reason to place your finger inside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot. Placing your finger on the trigger & pulling it takes a very small amount of time. Keeping your finger on the trigger is dangerous because you may slowly tense up, applying more & more pressure untill the gun seems to 'go off' when in fact it just operated as it should by firing when enough pressure was applied to the trigger. Conversely keeping you finger on the trigger can lead to discharge by a sudden tensing. Ever get startled so bad you jumped? Now imagine if you had your finger on the trigger when you jumped. The gun would probably fire. Also if you trip or bump into something it can cause an involuntary tensing which would fire the gun.
It's best to keep your finger along the outside of the trigger guard - even when you feel there is danger - until you are ready to shoot.
4. Assume that every firearm is loaded.
If you treat every firearm as if it were loaded then the chance of accidental (negligent) shootings goes down drastically. In fact treat a firearm that you know is unloaded as if it were loaded. No reason not to.
There are some situations which you would treat an unload firearm as if it were unloaded, such as crossing a fence with one or performing routine maintenance such as cleaning. But it is imperative that you check & double check to make sure the firearm actually is unloaded. & just because a firearm is unloaded is no reason to ignore any of the other rules.
5. Before firing make certain you have a safe backstop behind the target
Bullets can travel a very long distance. They can travel a very long distance after reaching their intended target. When you're out shooting always make sure that nothing lies behind your target that you wouldn't want a bullet to slam into. Never shoot on a relatively flat area unless you know for certain that nothing that could be damaged is within several miles of you. If you find an area with a hill or cliff stay far enough back so that you lesson the chances of a bullet hitting a rock & coming back at you. & never shoot over water, as the bullet can skip on the surface for quite a ways farther than you'd think.
6. Always use eye & ear protection.
Most firearms are safe to operate. Only a very small minority will ever cause any sort of injury to its user. But the chance does remain that something could go wrong. In that event wearing eye & ear protection won't seem like such a hassle - if you are wearing them.
Ear protection is essential. A firearm reaches a decibal level that will cause damage to your hearing. You won't notice it at first. maybe not that day. But soon. & for the rest of your life. Even .22 rimfire cartridges produce enough sound to damage your hearing. So always wear ear protection.
Eye protection will keep hot gasses & brass particles out of your eyes should a case head rupture, & they may keep larger chinks of unfriendly material out of your eyes should anything worse happen. If you value your eyesight, wear eye protection while shooting.
7. Make sure anyone around you is at least a few feet away from you & behind the muzzle of the firearm before you shoot.
This is to make sure that A: they don't wander in front of your muzzle just as you pull the trigger & B: they aren't hurt by empty cartridges flying from your firearm as you go for a new 3 shot record. Plus if anything does go wrong & your firearm decides to deconstruct itself, the person right beside you will probably be hurt worse than you are. Most firearms are designed to come apart a certain way with the protection of the shooter in mind. Someone standing forward or directly beside the shooter would not benefit from the designed protection. & there is that noise thing: someone standing beside you without the proper hearing protection will have their hearing damaged as you shoot. Best to keep spectators back.
8. Never carry a loaded gun across an obstacle, such as a fence.
This is because there is always the chance of you losing your balance. Not a good thing with a loaded gun. Also the trigger could get snagged on part of the obstacle as you cross which is also not good.
The only two exceptions are if you have a handgun properly & securely holstered & if whatever is motivating you to cross said obstacle will do more harm to you than your firearm would if it discharged while crossing (i.e. running from someone who's shooting at you.)
It seems a hassle but it only takes a minute & is much safer.
9. Read the owners manual (or similar instructions) for any firearm you have before you shoot it.
It is a good idea to understand how your firearm works & what the recommended instructions for operation & maintenance are for that particular firearm. Even if it is a copy of a firearm you are familiar with there may be something different that you should know about.
If you purchase your firearm used & no instruction manual is provided, you can write the company that made the firearm & they'll send you a copy of the owners manual usually (but not always) for free.
If the company is out of business then try looking for info on the web, or seek a brief tutorial from a qualified gunsmith. After all, if they can fix them they can probably exlain to you how it should be cleaned & what ammo to use.
If none of those methods work for you write to me & I'll try to help.
10. Only use the specific kind of ammo that is marked on the firearm you intend to shoot.
Some ammo can be used in firearms that are not marked for it. A .38 Special cartridge will work in a .357 Magnum revolver for example. Some will not work safely, such as a .308 Winchester in a .30-06 Springfield. Others will work safely a majority of the time but risk a catastrophic failure should the fates not smile upon you, such as using 7.62x51mm NATO ammo in a .308 Winchester.
(The gun nuts hate me for bringing that up as they tend to disagree, but the cartridges have a different headspace as do the respective chambers. I'll try to get to a more detailed post on that subject in the future.)
To be safe, it's best to use only the ammo that your gun says it will handle. Which can be confusing as some cartridges have different names.(for example .380 ACP, 9mm Kurtz, 9x17mm are all the same cartridge & are safe in any guns so marked). There will be a cartridge name stamped into the firearm someplace, usally on the barrel, but possibly on the receiver or the slide. Unless you know for certain that a different cartridge is the same as the one marked on your firearm, then only use cartridges named identically to whatever is marked upon your firearm.
11. Always make sure the bore is free of obstruction.
Water & most liquids are not compressible. A drop or two of oil or rainwater in your barrel can create a serious & dangerous situation should you decide to send a bullet through it. It's best to always use a cleaning rod & a dry patch to make sure the barrel is dry & free of any other obstructions. Snow, mud, dirt, etc.. can cause the barrel to blow up if it's lodged in there when you fire. Again, it may seem like a hassle at the time, but it only takes a second & is not as time consuming as replacing a barrel &/or your limbs.
12. If you experience anything abnormal with your firearm, stop shooting until the problem is identified & solved.
If the firearm fires before you pull the trigger, or if it fires more than one time when you pull the trigger, stop shooting, unload it & take it to a qualified gunsmith. It very likely indicates that something is not functioning as it should in your firearm & could become dangerous.
If you experience abnormal recoil, stop shooting untill you can diagnose the problem. If there's more recoil than normal, double check your ammo, then make sure the chamber & bore are clear of obstructions. Better yet, clean the chamber & bore as sometimes powder residue will cause internal dimensions to be tighter than they should.
Lighter than normal recoil could mean that you had a round with insufficient force to expel the bullet. Firing a gun with a bullet still in the bore is not a good thing. So check to make sure that the bore is clear of obstructions.
Never force anything. If firm gentle pressure won't operate the firearm then something is wrong & needs professional attention.
This is an incomplete list, as there is much to learn about firearms. But follow the rules listed above as they are the basics that all who own & use arms should follow.
Next time I'll try to go over the fundamentals of marksmanship.