What is the safest gun to buy / what makes a gun “safe”?

This is question that is asked often by customers purchasing a gun for the first time. However, the question is much more complex than it at first appears…

Some firearms require more diligence in practicing firearms safety, and we feel that this is probably the intended meaning behind the question. You want a gun that is easy to use and difficult to hurt yourself with, said simply.

We have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that first, all firearms must meet a minimum safety standard per federal regulations in order to be sold in the United States. For example, all firearms must meet a minimum drop-safety standard, meaning that they are not extremely likely to go off if you accidentally drop them on the ground. Likewise, firearms sold in the United States are not likely to suffer a catastrophic malfunction due to manufacturer negligence.

The bad news is that in order for a firearm to be safe, it is entirely up to YOU to be safe. Let’s explain this by clearing up some myths:

1.  The manual safety switch — A manual safety on a firearm is typically a drop-safety mechanism. Meaning, it is not meant to keep you from pulling the trigger, it is meant to keep the gun from going off accidentally if you dropped it on the ground or got a piece of your clothing or equipment trapped inside the trigger guard. A firearm that does not have a manual safety switch means that it has passed a factory drop-test with flying colors and is not legally required to have the extra manual safety switch. So what keeps the gun from going off when it is in your hand? …you! Firearm Rule #3: Do not put your finger anywhere near the trigger or trigger guard unless you are on target and intend to shoot. As a final warning: a manual safety switch is NOT a child safety mechanism. It only takes two “clicks” for your child to accidentally fire the gun. We recommend storing your gun inside a clamshell one-gun safe inside your home for self defense. This will keep it safe from children and still give you time to access the gun quickly if needed. Furthermore, eaving a firearm exposed where underage individuals have access to it is a federal crime.
2.  Leaving the gun unloaded or un-chambered — This is not a barrier to children being able to load and then hurt themselves with the gun.  But it is a barrier to you being able to effectively defend yourself. Unless you practice your home defense plan on a weekly basis, and every time you do, you practice loading the gun when retrieving it from the safe or security container, you will inevitably forget to load and chamber the gun in the few seconds of crisis when someone is in your home trying to hurt you or your family.  We do not recommend you try the “practice makes perfect” method– in a fight for your life there are no guarantees that everything will go as planned…it is always best to be ready.
3.  “I want a gun that’s safe to leave on a table or throw in my purse” —  There is no such gun.  You should not be leaving a loaded gun on your nightstand.  First, if there is any possibility of children or prohibited possessors accessing your firearm, that is a crime. Second, you need to protect yourself from you: sleepy you, distracted you, drunk you, i-just-switched-medications you, angry you, and so on. Imagine taking a benadryl and going to sleep, being startled awake by a noise and reaching for your gun on the nightstand, only to accidentally shoot through the wall, across the street, and into the neighbor’s house? A firearm loaded at home should be locked in a clamshell safe with a keypad, thumbprint, RFID, or some other quick-release.  It should have extra magazines and essentials inside, and next to the safe should be a disposable cell phone that is charged (for calling 911) and a high-powered tactical flashlight. A firearm in any kind of bag should be in a holster in order to cover the trigger from negligent firing, and ideally any purse should have a built-in hoslter so that every time you reach for the gun it is in the same location and position.
4. “Maybe I should get a smaller gun / smaller caliber gun that’s easier to handle…” —  Due to physics, smaller/lighter guns deliver more recoil (they kick harder).  Kinetic energy is first absorbed by the mass of the frame of the gun before it travels into your wrist.  You’re better off with the biggest, heaviest gun you can comfortable hold.  Smaller calibers mean less stopping power.  Keep in mind that even with large calibers, in some cases, attackers can continue to take actions for up to 30 seconds after receiving a mortal wound.
5. “Ok, how about a shotgun so I don’t have to aim?” — This is a myth.  Shotguns do not spread into a wide cone like cartoons or the movies.  When imagining the spread of the shot inside of your home, try to picture a baseball-sized hole, not a basketball. Bottom line: you still have to aim and you still need to be somewhat proficient.
Let’s wrap this all up by stating the obvious:  In order for a gun to be safe, both you and your family need to attend firearms safety training.  It is important that you learn and practice the cardinal rules of firearms safety, learn how to safely handle your particular firearm, as well as practice and teach those rules and skills at home.
Guns Etc offers several options for learning all you need to know.  Peruse this knowledge base, and when you’re ready, see more information on training here: https://gunsetc.com/firearms-training/