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According an estimate from Small Arms Analytics, Americans acquired 2,583,238 firearms in March. That’s an increase of more than 85% from March 2019. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed 3,740,688, a single-month record that overwhelmed the system, forcing many buyers to wait days instead of minutes for an approval.

Not only did March set a record, first-quarter inquiries were on pace to set a record even before the pandemic.

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While there have already been attempts to down play the surge, a lot of dealers all across the U.S. have reported that the majority of customers were first-time gun buyers.

Lots of these new gun owners aren’t really new. They may have hunted in the past; served in the military; or been taught to shoot by a family member.

But newbie or old hand, it’s important to all of us who own guns to do our best to make sure that everyone who owns, or even holds, a gun knows how to do it safely.

Fatalities from accidental gunshots are at an all-time low. But injuries aren’t. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only has full-year, non-fatal injury data going back to 2001 and it’s all estimates with some rather large margins of error but the yearly figures are valuable for comparison.

In 2018, an estimated 18,921 people were treated for unintentional gunshot injuries in U.S. emergency rooms. Of those, 8,769 had wounds that required hospitalization or transfer to another facility. 458 Americans died from accidental gunshots. That’s slightly above average for the 2001 to 2018 period, but it’s down nearly 12% from its peak in 2016.

Before anyone gets hysterical, the same numbers for cutting/piercing accidents look like this: Number of people coming to emergency rooms with injuries 1,618,125; injuries requiring hospitalization totaled 47,452; and 147 people died from their injuries.

Whatever anyone wants to make of it, that’s too many. Especially when the vast majority of those injuries and deaths are caused by failing to adhere to the four basic rules of firearm safety.

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Unless they are dropped, firearms don’t “just go off.” This is especially true of modern handguns, which are designed not to go off even if they are dropped.

Due to the way that most rifles and shotguns are designed, certain types of drops could cause the firing pin to strike the primer, discharging the gun. The remedy to that is simple: don’t chamber a round until you are preparing to use the gun. I am not aware of any gun ever accidentally discharging if there was not a cartridge in the chamber.

As new gun owners, it’s important to all of us that you become safe gun owners. Not because of numbers, because of your own safety and happiness. You took a big step when you bought a firearm; the next step is to master it.

Sadly, none of the big names in gun control and gun rights are really stepping up to the plate. The terribly misnamed Everytown for Gun Safety doesn’t have any resources; I have never seen anything to indicate this group, or any of the Bloomberg groups, gives a rat’s ass about actual gun safety. The Giffords Law Center and the Brady Campaign offer some vague advice about storing your gun. Gun Owners of America, like the gun control advocacy groups, is too tied up with lobbying and its own agenda to have much of anything.

Then there’s the National Rifle Association. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the NRA does offer distance learning courses in the basic disciplines of safe gun handling. The drawback here is that the NRA charges for them: about $60 bucks for starters. With the flock of first-time gun buyers, one would think that somebody at NRA headquarters would have put two and two together and come up with something other than a revenue stream.

The one organization that has stepped up to the plate is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade and lobbying group. In 1999, the NSSF created Project ChildSafe, a program dedicated to firearms safety and focused on safely storing firearms in the home. Over more than two decades, Project ChildSafe has distributed more than 38 million free safety kits that include a gun lock through law enforcement agencies nationwide. The website has a feature that will allow you to find an agency in your area that offers the kits.

There is a another resource for you and it’s also free.

Your fellow gun owners. We can be your knowledge bank.

With the ongoing lockdowns and restrictions, you can’t go to the first place we would suggest: a gun store or gun range offering training. That’s something you will want to do once these restrictions are loosened but for now you still have resources.

RTFM: Read the f******* manual. It will give you lots of valuable information about your firearm including operation, disassembly, and cleaning. It will answer questions you didn’t even know you had.

Fortunately, the Internet is still up and running and it’s a virtual gold mine.

Google your gun. Or search it on your browser of preference. It’s almost certain that there are one or more videos on your firearm. Many of these videos will show you how to load and unload your gun, any particular quirks it might have, and comments about the gun. You can also find reviews of your gun by people who own it or have spent a reasonable amount of time shooting it.

You can also learn about ammunition including the best types for various purposes.

Google your topic. What do you want to know? Chances are very good that others have had the same question and there are some real pros who offer answers.

Hickok45 is the name used by a competitive shooter and former school teacher. He has a friendly, informative style and a great video for new shooters. Natalie Foster and Julie Golob have an entire series for women beginning with the first trip to the range. Military veteran Paul Harrell even has a video specifically for people who bought their first gun during the rush that kicked off last month. The Military Arms Channel offers an excellent orientation for new gun owners.

Yes, there are some political viewpoints in some videos, but there are enough that are fairly neutral to make it worthwhile.

Here’s a freebie for you: if your new gun is not chambered for a rimfire cartridge (.22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, .22 WRM), it’s perfectly fine to dry-fire it after you have learned to check if it’s loaded and have checked to see if it’s loaded. If the gun was out of your sight for even a moment, or if somebody else picked it up, verify there are no cartridges in the gun. This means opening the action, removing the magazine and making sure everything is clear.

[Note: Some rimfire guns, such as Ruger .22 handguns, are safe to dry-fire but others can be damaged by the practice.]

When someone hands me a gun, I check to see if it is loaded. When I hand a gun to a family member or a friend, the cylinder is open if it’s a revolver and the action is open if it’s anything else. If I retrieve a gun from my safe, I check to see if it is loaded — even if I was the one who put it in the safe. If that sounds obsessive, so be it: it’s a very healthy obsession and one that if every gun owner had it would lead to a reduction in accidents and injuries.

Here’s another freebie: “I didn’t know it was loaded” is never an excuse. Not to anyone: not to your family, not to the police, not to a judge or a jury. Be obsessed with safety and there will never be a reason to use it.

You can also get valuable information on how to keep a loaded gun secure. Since many of the new gun buyers took that big step to protect themselves and their families, loaded guns are an important consideration.

Yes, I know that certain people will have a, shall we say, negative reaction to the idea that anyone would ever have a loaded firearm, but an unloaded gun is just as useful as a knife without a blade, or an empty can of pepper spray in a critical situation.

The truth is that millions of Americans carry loaded guns every day. There are nearly 19 million people licensed to carry a concealed handgun. There are 16 states where a permit is not required to carry a concealed handgun; some of them are among the states with the lowest homicide rates in the U.S.

There are also ways to securely store a loaded gun while keeping it available for rapid retrieval if the need arises.

One last thing: The fact that you acquired a firearm doesn’t change anything about you. You don’t even need to tell anyone (other than your significant other*) that you have a gun. We won’t tell anyone, either, but we’re glad to have you as one of us, all the same.

*You should always discuss a firearm with your spouse, partner, or anyone else with whom you are in a committed relationship. If you won’t trust them to know about the gun, take it back to the store — please. Not only is it important to have their agreement and support, it’s also important that they know how to use the gun in case the need arises when you aren’t there.

Professional writer. Passionately interested in facts. Founder of onewordtexas.org

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