A gun is only as safe as its handler. When managed correctly it can be a valuable asset. Otherwise, it can contribute to your worst nightmare. Gun safety is not confusing or difficult. Nearly all firearm accidents can be prevented, as long as gun owners keep a few simple precautions in mind at all times. These tips cover general safety, storage, and transport of a firearm.

1. The firearm's muzzle must always be pointed in a safe direction

So, if an accidental discharge were to occur there would be no one in the line of fire that could be injured. This also means that you need to always be aware of your surroundings when handling your firearm. If you live in a residential area this includes making sure the gun is not pointed out a window where there could be children playing outside.

2. Talk to children about gun safety

Hiding the fact that you have a gun from a child old enough to understand what it is definitely is not a good idea. They should be educated, so they know how to respond if they find your gun or encounter one at a friend's house. It is imperative that they understand to not touch it and to tell an adult right away. An uneducated child is far more likely to pick it up and pull the trigger because they haven't been taught otherwise. Keep in mind that a 3-year-old child is strong enough to pull the trigger of a gun.

3. Be familiar with your gun

You can't safely own a firearm if you aren't going to take the time to learn everything about it. Read the manual thoroughly. This is not a smartphone or home theater system that you can just play around with until you figure it out. Know how to open and close your firearm and load and unload the ammunition.

4. Never place your finger on the gun trigger

Never hold the trigger unless you intend on firing your weapon. Always rest your finger outside the trigger guard, preferably on the side of the firearm.

5. Your firearm should always be unloaded, when it's not in use

 Therefore, it should be unloaded during transport and in storage. When you remove it from storage, treat it like a loaded weapon, even if you are sure you removed the ammunition the last time you had it out.

6. Keep your firearm stored in a locked gun safe or cabinet

Locks typically are available as key, combination, electronic, or biometric styles. Many have two variations. Key locks are convenient, but generally not viewed as the safest option. A combination lock is great as long as you aren't someone who will freeze and forget the combination in a crisis. Electronic styles often allow you to program numerous combinations according to users, and biometric locks read your fingerprints. Ammunition will ideally be stored in a separate safe. Fire safes are recommended because they'll keep the contents safe for a specified amount of time. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes or flash floods, you may want to consider a safe that's fire- and water-resistant.

7. Know the rules for transporting a firearm

Whether you are traveling to the range or a hunting site it needs to be unloaded and secure. Most are familiar with what happened to Marvin in "Pulp Fiction" when Vincent was holding a gun and Jules hit a bump. It may have been a comical and memorable scene of the movie, but it also teaches a very valuable lesson that accidents can happen in an instant.

8. Make sure your gun is out of view during transport

If you have to stop for gas or you get a flat tire, no one should be able to look in the window of your vehicle and see a firearm being transported.

9. Always be sure you are using the correct ammunition

For example, if you put 20-gauge shells in a 12-gauge gun these smaller shells will slip beyond the chamber and get lodged in the barrel. This can result in gun damage and serious personal injury. The gauge or caliber stamped on your gun's barrel must match what is stamped on the shell. If your barrel isn't stamped it is vital that you know what ammunition must be used.

10. Practice proper firearm maintenance

A gun needs to be cleaned to keep it running smoothly. They need to be checked regularly for lubrication and dirt buildup. Troubles with feeding, firing, and accuracy are generally corrected with a thorough cleaning.

11. When cleaning your weapon make sure you are in a well-ventilated area

 Products used to clean firearms are toxic, as are the chemical compounds you are cleaning away from it being fired. Gun cleaning products should be stored in a locked cabinet.

12. Don't rely on your gun's safety

Even if the safety is engaged, you must still take all other precautions already mentioned, such as keeping your finger off the trigger and not pointing it at a person or pet. The safety is merely a mechanical device that can become inoperable and contribute to a tragedy.

The debate over gun laws will never end. Firearms are dangerous, but when an educated owner practices proper safety methods at all times it can also be the most valuable tool you own.