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Firearms 101

An Online Preparatory Firearm Education Course

This Page Last Updated 12/31/2014


Not an NRA Member?  Shame on you!

We would not even be having this conversation on the topic of gun rights in America if it wasn't for the hard work and dedication of the National Rifle Association.  You say that you don't have the money???  An Associate Membership (no magazine) is just $10.00 per year, that's less than three cents (-$0.03) each day.  Before you do anything else, do your duty and support the NRA through your membership.  JOIN THE NRA TODAY.  You can save $10.00 on a regular annual membership by using the link I've just provided, making it just $25.00.  JOIN TODAY.


Easy to use book marked links:

* Takes you to another page.

Join The NRA      *

Gun Locks          *

Gun Safes          *


Safety First

Basic Gun Handling

The First Guns

Why Do We Own Guns?

What Is A Gun?

Firearm Types

Firearm Action Types



Classroom Practice

Ammunition Knowledge

Caliber and Gauge

Shotgun Shell

Firing Sequence

Shooting Basics

My Gun Is Jammed

Reloading Ammo

Cleaning Your Guns

Thank You

Recommended Reading

Did you know that you can give a loved one an NRA Membership as a gift?

Go to my "NRA Membership" page to learn more.
Or get out a credit card and go here to do it right now!!


Welcome to Firearms 101,  your, online Unofficial Basic Firearms Education Course.

Thank you for visiting my online firearm education course.  I am a retired Certified Firearm Instructor and have quite a few years of teaching and shooting experience.

Very soon, this page will contain all the information included in an actual Basic Firearm Education Course.  It will include digital photographs and digital video to help you grasp and retain the various concepts of basic firearm safety, knowledge, and operation.

The information I've provided for you is here to enhance your learning experience.  I only ask that you make a voluntary contribution to my efforts to keep this public service free for everyone.

This online, basic firearm education course is not intended to replace an actual in-person course that you might take at your local gun club, from a local police officer, law enforcement officer or through a Certified Firearm Instructor.

Rather, this online course should be considered as a preparatory, first look and rehearsal, to better equip you for your in-person course and the curriculum that you will find there.  This online course is designed and intended to precede an actual course and prepare you for what you might encounter there.

Most likely, the gun club, police officer and/or firearm instructor that conducts your course will require you to sign a waiver of responsibility before the course begins and this online preparatory course is no different in that respect.

In order to participate in this online exposition, I too require that you read and agree to my "Disclaimer" page, before you continue beyond this point.

Basic Firearm Education Preparatory Course



Proper firearm education is the single most important tool we can use to fight against gun control measures and to drastically bring down the incidence of accidental discharges while handling firearms.  

It is abundantly clear, simply by reading through gun control bills that are passed in Congress and in state legislatures around the United States, that those who stand against the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution are good people, who are trying to do something about violent crime.  But that they simply have no idea what they're doing.

I believe that if everyone was familiar with firearms, how to handle them and was acquainted with their capabilities and limitations, gun control would cease to exist as a public policy.  Accidental death rates involving firearms would drop so low, that they could not even be given a legitimate category.

Accidental firearm discharges are currently at or near their all-time lows, even though the number of firearms in the United States are at their all-time highs and increasing by about 4.5 million each year.  This is a HUGE success and this is GREAT NEWS.  As long as your not an hysterical anti-gun zealot who is clinging to an intrinsic and unreasonable fear of firearms, that is.

The unknown has always invoked a fearful response from human beings.  We have always had a fear of the unknown, it is a completely natural physical response.  I truly believe that most gun control legislation gets its support from this pervasive ignorance of both firearms and the honest men and women who own and carry them in public..

According to some historians, the first guns that used gun powder to send projectiles happened during the Siege of Seville in the year 1247.  At this writing it's the year 2010.  The first guns were used seven hundred sixty three (763) years ago.  When the gun was first used in Europe, the majority of earth's inhabitants would think the planet was flat as a pancake for another two hundred fifty (250) years.  It's well past time to get over our fear of firearms.

"It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears."
Justice Louis D. Brandeis  (1856-1941) US Supreme Court Justice
Source: Whitney v. California, 1927

It's no wonder that most non-gun owners have an irrational fear of firearms.  Too often in the entertainment industry, firearms and their capabilities are misrepresented.  For instance, a .38 Special revolver shot at a car will merely put a hole in the radiator and come to a stop once it hits the engine block.  This of course is not sensational enough for television.

However on television and in the movies you'll find the vehicle launches ten feet into the air and lands in a shower of glass, flame and twisted metal.  That is not a truthful portrayal of a firearm's capability.  This widespread misrepresentation of firearms and their capabilities is an unconscionable disservice to the general public.  It makes for good entertainment, but not good firearm education and gun safety training.

More often than not, if you look at movie posters and television programming advertisements you'll see the star of the movie or program posing with their finger on the trigger of a handgun.  Take a look through the latest magazine or television programming directory and I'll guarantee that you'll find a photo of someone posing with a handgun with their finger resting on the trigger.  People who know firearms and good gun safety techniques will never do that.

The widespread lack of knowledge concerning the origins, operations, capabilities and limitations of firearms, has led to a prevalent apprehensiveness and general fear of firearms.  Similar to the fear of sailing off the edge of the Earth, the general lack of knowledge concerning guns has likewise caused a degree of dismay among the people.  This fear of guns, inevitably leads to animosity and even hatred of firearms and those who use them, legitimately or otherwise.

I believe the anti-gunner begins with a total lack of knowledge about firearms, lawful gun owners and how felons obtain their illegal guns.  This lack of knowledge, fed by the misrepresentation of firearms in the entertainment industry feeds an irrational fear of guns.  This irrational fear of guns then leads into a hatred of guns and the law abiding gun owner.

Therefore, I believe that a full and proper education in firearms is an essential ingredient in guaranteeing that the Second Amendment will NEVER BE REPEALED.

On this page, I hope to show you the following:

  • Basic safe gun handling rules.
  • A little history about firearms.
  • The reasons why we own guns.
  • What a gun is and what it does.
  • The three basic types of firearms.
  • The various parts of those firearms.
  • How to load and unload them.
  • General firearm operation.
  • The six fundamentals of aiming and firing a gun.
  • General knowledge of ammunition and its components.
  • How to properly clean a firearm after using it.


As I have stated above, this Web page is NOT a complete firearm education course.  Although I am an NRA Certified Firearm Safety Instructor, nothing can replace the one on one attention and hands-on experience that you would receive from participating in an actual firearm safety and education course.

Your ability to ask questions and have personal instruction from a Certified Firearm Instructor or qualified Police Officer cannot be replaced by a textbook or even an interactive Web page.

This is not intended to be a replacement of an actual NRA Basic Firearm Safety and Education Course.

Rather than a replacement, this page is intended to be a sort of preparatory course taken in advance of an actual in-person course taught by an experienced and fully qualified NRA Certified Firearm Instructor.

The regular NRA Basic Firearm Education Courses can exceed one hundred dollars ($100.00) per course.

For this online preparatory course, I am providing it free of charge.  But I do gratefully accept contributions to keep me going.  See my "Contributions" page for details.

Please take a moment to review the Disclaimer page in the navigation bar to your left.  In order to continue with the Preparatory Basic Firearm Education Course, you are bound by the contents, guidelines and legal disclaimers set forth in my disclaimer statements.

On this page, I will tell you about different types of guns, their parts and generally how they work.  You will also learn how to shoot and about ammunition and how it works as well as a little about how to clean a gun when your finished.

More important than the mechanics of gun safety and handling is the proper attitude that is so necessary to a lifetime of safe firearm ownership.  A proper attitude toward gun safety is equally as important as knowing all the rules.

You can contact the National Rifle Association from this Web site or contact your local gun club for an actual gun safety and marksmanship course.  (Click on "Programs" and then "Firearm Training")

Safety First

Please take time to read my "Safety Rules" page.  Gun safety is my primary concern.  I started by teaching kids about gun safety when I was just 21 years old.  Please also find time to check out my "For Kids Only" page, which may be the best gun safety page for kids found anywhere on the Internet.

I will not recreate my "Safety Rules" page and my "For Kids Only" pages here.  It would take you hours upon hours to go through those two pages and this one too.  However, viewing or reviewing those pages is a very important aspect of this online course.  In order to consider this online course completed, one must review and absorb those two pages.

There are only two (2) primary causes of accidental discharges that may result in personal injury or death.

  • Lack of Knowledge-  A lack of knowledge simply means that the person handling the firearm is not aware of the three basic safe gun handling rules or of the other forty-six (46) rules I have listed on my "Safety Rules" page.


  • Carelessness-  Carelessness simply means that the person handling the gun has a general knowledge of gun handling rules and safety, but refuses to obey them for some bizarre reason.  Usually carelessness that results in needless injury or death is due to the VERY inadvisable use of alcohol and/or narcotics that alter the brain's functions.  A proper attitude toward gun safety is essential to overcome any degree of carelessness.


Basic Gun Handling Rules

There are only three (3) basic gun handling rules:  They are listed here in order of importance.


  • ALWAYS point the barrel of the gun in a safe direction.  A safe direction is defined as a direction where if the gun discharged, nobody would get hurt.  The best direction to point a gun is generally at the ground or floor and to the side.

    This is the Golden Rule Of Gun Safety.

    If everyone followed this one rule, it would bring an end to accidental firearm related deaths.

    Be aware that the "safe direction" may change as you change your location and environment.

  • ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.  There is a natural tendency to place the index finger inside the trigger guard.  This MUST be avoided.  Condition yourself to place your shooting hand index finger along the side of the frame.

    There is no reason whatsoever that your finger should be on the trigger unless you have safely and appropriately acquired your target and your sight picture and are ready for the trigger squeeze.


  • ALWAYS Keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to use it.  The action is the moving parts of the gun that allow loading, unloading, firing and extraction of the empty case or shell.  If you are not ready to use it, keep the action open and unloaded.

    With an open and unloaded action, the only injury that might occur, is if you drop the firearm on your foot.


A Proper Attitude

A proper attitude toward gun safety is just as important as applying the three basic rules of safe gun handling and obeying all of my listed gun safety rules.

A proper attitude toward gun safety is simply accepting the responsibility as a gun owner to act safely around firearms at all times and under all circumstances.

I know I am repeating myself, but the proper attitude cannot be overstressed.  If I was teaching you in person, I could better demonstrate a proper gun safety attitude, but here, it is difficult, so I have taken the liberty to repeat myself.

I have written a page of gun safety rules as well.  The page is called "Safety Rules" and it's one of the most comprehensive list of gun safety rules found anywhere in the world.  I encourage you to read that page thoroughly as well.

Establishing a proper gun safety attitude and engraving firearm handling rules and other gun safety rules into your mind and the minds of your family will ensure that you and your family can peacefully and safely coexist with firearms for the rest of your natural lives.

The First Guns

The first recorded recipes for making gunpowder came from China.  The first reference of gunpowder is possibly the passage of the Zhenyuan miaodao yaolüe, a Taoist text tentatively dated to the mid-800s.  Most historians agree that gunpowder first originated between the year 850 and 900.


A Chinese alchemical text dated 492 A.D. noted saltpeter burnt with a purple flame, providing a practical and reliable means of distinguishing it from other inorganic salts, thus enabling alchemists to evaluate and compare purification techniques.
Chase, Kenneth (2003), Firearms: A Global History to 1700, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521822742.

According to some historians, the first guns that used gun powder to send projectiles happened during the Siege of Seville in the year 1247.  At this writing it's the year 2010.  The first guns were used as early as seven hundred sixty three (763) years ago.

When the gun was first used in Europe, the majority of earth's inhabitants would think the planet was flat as a pancake for another two hundred fifty (250) years.  It's well past time to get over our irrational fear of firearms.

According to other historians, hand-cannons were first used at the Battle of Ain Jalut in the year 1260.  So whether it was the Siege of Seville in 1247 or Battle of Ain Jalut in the year 1260, the fact remains that guns are not new to the human race.

The Chinese were firing sticks and stones from bamboo poles with gunpowder, many years before the year 1200, so it is assumed that the Chinese were first to invent them.  These poles were called Fire Lances.  The fire lance was packed tightly with gunpowder and fired by a burning ember in the rear of the pole.  The fire lance was initially used to scare horses and men in battle.

Then they began to pack the fire lances with projectiles like stones and sticks and sometimes arrows.  They changed the recipe for gun powder by adding more nitrates to the mixture, making it burn quicker and more powerfully.  Then they shortened the fire lances and improved the projectiles and began using forged metallic balls and the firearm was born.

Fire lances were initially fired by three people, then two person teams and finally were able to be controlled by a single man.  They were still fired by burning embers or coals and then fuses.  The term 'firearm' came from the fact that one of the shooter's hands had the fire, while the other controlled the gun.  It was a variation of the term 'bow arm' that is used in archery to this day.

However, the first inventor was never recorded, or if it was, it has since been lost over the last 800+ years.  So we do not actually know the inventor of the gun.  We do not even know when the fire lance officially became the firearm.  But we can guess that it was likely in China between the years 1160 and 1240.

The first guns were called "hand cannons" and were fired by hot coals or burning embers.

This is an example of a "hand cannon" from the late 1300's.  This hand cannon was discovered buried near the Tongjimen area of Nanjing in China and was dated to the year 1373 by historians and markings.  They were not referred to as "handguns" until at least the year 1388.

These guns were fired basically the very same way that they operate today.  

A gunpowder charge was loaded into a tube, then on top of that was placed a projectile, like a stone or forged metal bullet.  The gunpowder was then ignited behind the projectile.  The quickly burning powder in a very small area, created a vast amount of expanding hot gas that pushed the projectile down the tube at high speed.

Today's modern guns fire in generally the same manner.  Of course the use of modern materials and manufacturing techniques have made the gun powder and projectile interaction, much more efficient and accurate.  Today's fastest bullets can go a mile in less than two seconds.

Why Do We Own Guns?

Why do we own firearms?  The majority of law-abiding gun owners own their guns for recreational target shooting and hunting.  Many people shoot competitively in local gun clubs.  Many clubs have shooting teams that compete with other gun clubs.

The ultimate in competitive shooting is the National Championships and of course to shoot with the United States Olympic Shooting Team.

The hobby of collecting firearms is also very popular.   Many people collect antique guns or guns owned by famous people.  Some collectable firearms have values that exceed $20,000 to $40,000 each.

Finally there is a large segment of the population that is concerned for their safety, the safety of their families and the protection of their businesses and livelihoods.  Personal protection is a basic human right.  It would be unconstitutional  to be denied the right of self protection.  Most gun owners in the United States acknowledge a willingness to utilize a firearm to protect their families from harm if necessary.

It has been reliably estimated that firearms are used for the protection of innocent people, families and businesses above two million times a year.  That is over 5000 times a day!!!  Over 90% of the time however, the gun is never fired and in many instances self defense uses of firearms go unreported.

I believe that the single most important aspect of the right to keep and bear arms is that private firearm ownership is a final check and balance on the scope of government power.  An armed citizenry will always keep tyranny and dictatorship at bay.  For a tyrannical power to take hold in any country, the people of that country must first be disarmed, this is common sense, and has been proven throughout history many times.

"A people armed and free forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition and is a bulwark for
the nation against foreign invasion and domestic oppression."

James Madison  (1751-1836), Father of the Constitution for the USA, 4th US President

The Founding Fathers did not include the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to protect the hunting tradition.  The Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms has nothing whatsoever to do with hunting at all.  Rather, the Second Amendment was intended to be a final and last resort to ward off tyranny.

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.... And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Thomas Jefferson, in letter to William S. Smith, 1787

What Is A Gun?

A gun is merely a mechanical device that is used to store, aim and discharge ammunition.  It allows the propelling of a small piece of metal, at a very high speed, in a generally straight line, minus gravity of course.  A gun cannot fire by itself without human interaction.  A gun is merely a tool in the hands of a user.  Firearms have no spirit, no will and are certainly not the evil menace that the media and the anti-gun Democrats and even some uninitiated Republicans have portrayed them to be.

Any firearm will ONLY do what the user makes it do.  There MUST be human interaction.

Millions of people have a fear of guns because they don't have a clue about how they work or what their capabilities and limitations are.

This fear of guns is the only thing that gun control activists have as a weapon on their side.

Placing blame on firearms for the uncivil, illegal and immoral actions of habitually violent criminals is inane, absurd and actually quite silly.  Bad people who should be in prison often, but not always choose firearms to commit crimes with.

99.8% of all firearms are not used in crime in any given year.  Likewise, 99.6% of handguns alone, are not used in crime in any given year.

Law abiding and honest gun owners do not commit any crimes.  But most gun control laws have to be obeyed by these decent and upstanding men and women.  That's unfair, unconstitutional and an extremely ineffective method at controlling acts of violent crime.

Firearm Types

There are hundreds of types of firearms that are available,  but there are only three major categories.

  • Shotguns
  • Rifles
  • Handguns

All firearms consist of three (3) major parts:

  1. Frame or Stock- The frame is the basic structure of the gun to which the other major parts are attached.  The stock is for rifles and shotguns.  Handguns don't have a stock, but rather what is called a grip.  Please do not call the grip a 'handle'.  :-)

  2. Barrel- The barrel is the long hollow tube through which the bullet travels on its way to the target.

  3. Action- The action of the gun consists of all the moving parts that facilitate the loading, firing, discharging of the empty case and unloading of the gun.



A shotgun is operated with two hands and is shot from the shoulder.  It is designed to shoot a shell which consists of pellets of various sizes.  The size of the pellet depends on what it is going to be used for.  Larger size pellets could be for hunting big game such as deer.  Smaller pellets are used mainly for  birds or rabbits.  A shotgun can also shoot a single large bullet called a slug which can weigh an ounce or more.  I speak more about shotgun ammunition a bit later.



A rifle is also operated with two hands and is shot from the shoulder.  It is designed to shoot a single bullet at a time.  The main difference between a shotgun and a rifle is the ammunition it shoots.  The shotgun ammunition is called a shell.  The rifle ammunition is called a cartridge.  Another difference between the two is that the inside of the rifle barrel has spiraled grooves cut into it that imparts a spin to the bullet before it exits the barrel, much like a quarterback will put a spin on a football to make it fly straight.  Some shotgun barrels that are  designed to shoot slugs are also cut with grooves  in it to make the slug spin in the air, stabilizing its flight path.



The term "handgun" was first used in the year 1388.  Before that, as we have already learned, they were called "handcannons".

A handgun can be operated with one hand, although in most target shooting and all self defense shooting, two hands should be used.

The inside of the handgun barrel is also cut with grooves.  These grooves are also called rifling.  Rifling is made up of lands and grooves in the surface of the barrel.  When caliber is measured on a rifled barrel, it is measured from land to land and not from inside the grooves.

Firearm Action Types

There are many, many different configurations, actions, safeties and calibers of firearms.  I will not discuss them all.  Instead I will simply highlight a few of the more popular ones.  If I went through every type of action, we'd be here all day.

(>>>Remember:  The action is all the moving parts of the firearm that allow the loading, firing and unloading of the ammunition.<<<)

Pump Shotgun-  This shotgun is very popular.  It chambers a shell with the cycling of the forearm of the gun in most models, and requires the shooter to "pump" the forearm to eject a used shell and chamber a fresh one.

Semi-Automatic Shotgun-  This shotgun is also very popular.  With this firearm the shooter fills a spring-loaded magazine of various type and  manually chambers a shell.  When the first shell is fired, some of the pressure created from the shell is used to cycle the action, thereby ejecting the used shell and chambering a fresh one automatically.  
The shooter must pull the trigger one time for firing every shell.

Bolt Action Rifle-  This rifle works very similar to the pump shotgun but it uses side mounted device to extract the used cartridge and chamber a fresh one.



Please take note of the following images and the different parts of the various firearms.  This information will help prepare you for your actual gun safety course.

Much of your classroom time will be learning the different parts of firearms, how they work, what they do and the loading and unloading procedures of each.

Please make certain that your Certified Firearm Instructor or Police Officer is using "dummy" ammunition for the loading and unloading procedures in the classroom.

If your classroom instructor is using live ammunition for this demonstration, he/she is violating the Instructor's Creed and he/she should be firmly rebuked for such action.

Live ammunition should not be used until all classroom activity has been completed and you are at the range for your required range work.



Please take note of the different parts and their names.  The rifle in this image has a bolt-action.

Bolt Action Rifle-  The above rifle is a bolt-action rifle.  The action is cycled through the use of the protruding handle on the top of the bolt in the image.


Semi-Automatic Rifle-  This type of rifle was invented in 1890.  It uses the same principle as the shotgun mentioned above and also needs human interaction for each and every shot.  The semi-automatic rifle requires a trigger pull for each shot.  This is not an "Assault Rifle".  Technically, an "Assault Rifle" is a fully automatic machine gun.

See this great video YouTube on the truth about semi-automatic firearms.


Machine Gun-  This firearm has been heavily restricted and taxed since the National Firearms Act of 1934.  The general public are for all intents and purposes not allowed to own this type of firearm without jumping through hoops and dodging miles of red tape, registration schemes, taxes and fees.  This firearm will fire and reload itself as long as the trigger is pulled and until the magazine is empty of cartridges.

See this video of a machine pistol.  A fully automatic handgun.


Revolver-  This type of handgun uses a round cylinder with holes punched in it that are designed to hold the cartridges.  The cylinder revolves to bring a fresh cartridge under the firing pin.


Please take note of the different parts and their names.

Semi-Automatic Pistol-  This type of handgun uses a magazine feeding device and will fire and eject a cartridge with each pull of the trigger by the user and was first invented in the year 1895.

Please take note of the different parts and their names.

Actions continued...

There are many types of actions.  The action is the moving parts of the gun that allow loading, firing and unloading of the gun.

In a single-action gun, the trigger performs a single action, the releasing of the hammer, which makes contact with the firing pin, which discharges the primer, which ignites the powder charge.

See this video to better understand the firing sequence.

In a double-action gun, the trigger can both cock the hammer and fire the cartridge, performing two actions.  There is also a "double-action only" type of action where the trigger both cocks the hammer and fires the cartridge with every pull.  In a double-action only handgun, there is usually no external hammer spur that the shooter can pull back to cock the gun.

In a semi-automatic pistol, single-action and double-action refer to the first shot only.  After the first shot, the recoiling slide cocks the hammer.  In a "double-action only" semi-automatic, the slide does not cock the hammer, the trigger performs this function.

There are many types of rifle and shotgun actions such as bolt-action, lever action, semi-automatic, full-automatic, top break (hinge), pump action, falling block  and rolling block.

If you are still confused about the actions in different types of guns, use the feedback form on the "Ask Marc" page and ask away.

Your Certified Firearm Instructor will fully explain these action issues.  It is essential that you are comfortable with this information.  If you have remaining questions, don't head out to the range until you completely understand what you will be asked to do.


Loading and unloading procedures can vary somewhat from model to model, however in general there are certain procedures that should be followed:

  • The first step is to point the barrel in a safe direction and keep it pointed in a safe direction throughout the whole loading or unloading process.


  • Secondly, keep your finger off the trigger and put any safeties on that might be present.  Remember that mechanical safeties are ONLY designed to reduce accidents and cannot completely be relied upon to make the gun inoperable.


  • The third step depends on the type of gun being used.  In a revolver, just flip out the cylinder with the cylinder release latch and using your middle finger and ring finger.  Then insert the cartridges into the cylinder to load.  To unload, dump the ammo or empty cases into your hand by tipping the gun up and pushing the ejector rod on the front of the cylinder.  Watch out for that muzzle, be aware of where you are pointing that barrel.  If the revolver is a single action revolver, there will be a loading/unloading port on the right side of the cylinder, through which the cartridges or cases and inserted or extracted.

It is important to note here that many accidental deaths have occurred because of faulty loading and unloading procedures.

  • In a semi-automatic pistol or rifle with a removable magazine, you must pull out the magazine first.

To unload the semi-automatic, remove the magazine first.  After removing the magazine, cycle the action by pulling back the slide and catch the ejected cartridge in your hand.


Keep that finger off the trigger throughout the entire process!!!

To load the semi-automatic, insert the cartridges into the magazine, insert the magazine into the grip of the handgun and then retract and release the slide to load the chamber.

The semi-automatic rifle with removable magazine loads the very same way.

With a rifle containing a non-removable magazine, you should hold the barrel in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, engage any safeties that are present and cycle the action until the firearm is empty to unload it.  Loading procedures can vary greatly between models.  Please make sure you follow the manual's instructions.

It is of paramount importance that you condition yourself to place your finger along the frame of the gun during loading and unloading.  There is a natural tendency to place the index finger inside the trigger guard.  This tendency MUST be avoided.

Classroom Practice

You should be given ample time to practice the loading and unloading procedures for different types of firearms while in the classroom, using inert dummy ammunition cartridges without primers or gunpowder.

It is very important that you are familiar with these procedures before you head to the range.  You DO NOT want to be learning how to load and unload firearms safely using REAL ammunition cartridges.

Don't allow your instructor to bring you out to the range with live ammunition until you are comfortable with the loading and unloading procedures that you will be asked to perform on the firing range.

Practicing loading and unloading procedures under close supervision, with inert or "dummy" ammunition is an important aspect of the classroom work.

You should make sure that you have ample opportunity to try out the loading and unloading procedures for each type of firearm that is present until you are comfortable that you can do it correctly with live ammunition on the range.

Ammunition Knowledge

Ammunition comes in countless varieties.  It can be either a shotgun shell, a rifle cartridge or a handgun cartridge.  Sometimes ammunition is erroneously called "bullets".  A bullet is just one of the components of a cartridge.  There are two types of cartridges, they can be either centerfire or rimfire.  This depends on the location of the primer.  In a centerfire cartridge, the primer is located in the center of the base.  In a rimfire cartridge, the primer is located in the rim around the base of the case.

There are four (4) components to a cartridge.

  1. The case is the major part of the cartridge and contains the other three and is mostly made from brass.  Some manufacturers use an aluminum alloy.

  2. The primer is located in the bottom of the cartridge and is used to ignite the powder.

  3. The powder is contained within the case.

  4. The bullet is seated in the mouth of the case.


cartridge-components.jpg (20886 bytes)

Click on this image above for a better look at ammunition components.

Caliber and Gauge

Caliber or gauge is a measurement of the projectile and barrel diameter.  Normally ammunition is intended for a specific caliber of firearm.  Firing ammunition of a different caliber or gauge in a firearm can be very dangerous and can cause serious injury or death.  There are some ammunition calibers that can be safely fired in other calibers, but you have to be very careful that they are compatible.  One instance that quickly comes to mind is that a .38 Special cartridge can be safely fired from a .357 Magnum revolver.

The caliber or gauge of a gun is usually stamped on the gun's barrel and on the bottom of the cartridge's case or shell.

Ammunition is designated as either caliber or gauge.  A cartridge's caliber is designated in hundredths of an inch, thousandths of an inch or in millimeters.  The caliber is measured across the bottom or base of the bullet.

Shotgun ammunition is designated in gauge.  Here is how the gauge designation works:

If one takes a full pound of lead and forms the lead into 12 perfectly round balls.  One of those balls is said to be 12 gauge and would fit into a 12 gauge barrel.  Another way to explain it is that the gauge of a shotgun is the number of spheres (balls) of lead, made to fit the barrel of the shotgun, that total one pound in weight.

Therefore, the higher the gauge designation is, the smaller in diameter the barrel is.  There is also a shotgun that is designated in thousandths of an inch and that is the .410 gauge shotgun.  The .410 gauge shotgun is the smallest shotgun available.

A 10 gauge shotgun shoots a very large projectile, because each round projectile would weigh 1/10th of a pound.  A 28 gauge shotgun is quite a bit smaller in diameter, because a round ball that just fits down the barrel is 1/28th of a pound.

Shotgun Shell

A shotgun shell consists of a plastic hull with a metallic bottom.  In the metallic bottom of the shell is a primer which is used to ignite the powder.  After the powder is a wad and after the wad is the pellets of lead or steel.

The shotgun shell consists of five (5) different parts:

  1. Case or Hull  The case is the plastic hull that contains all other components.

  2. Primer  The primer is in the metallic base of the shot shell and is designed to ignite the powder charge within the hull.

  3. Powder Charge  The gunpowder charge goes into the primed case first.  It is designed to burn up very, very quickly.

  4. Wad  The wad is usually plastic and it designed to protect the pellets until they leave the barrel and to ensure that the propellant forces the shot down the barrel efficiently.

  5. Shot Pellets or Slug  This of course is the lead or steel shot that is forced down and out the barrel at very high speed.


Firing Sequence

When a cartridge is fired, the firing pin from the firearm hits the primer with enough force to ignite it. 

 The flame created by the primer goes through the bottom of the case in a hole called the "flash hole". 

 The flame then ignites the powder within the case or hull. 

 The powder then burns almost instantly creating  a tremendous amount of pressure inside  the case.  The bullet then moves VERY quickly down the barrel.

See this video to better understand the firing sequence.

 The pressure within the case at this point can reach more than 20 tons per square inch.  This colossal amount of pressure forces the bullet out of the case and down the barrel at very high velocity.  Some bullets can travel a whole mile in less than two (2) seconds.  WOW!!

The bullet can then fly as much as five (5) miles away depending on the caliber, bullet and powder used in addition to the elevation at which the gun is fired.  WOW!!

It is important to note that the ammunition does not explode under normal circumstances.  The massive pressure that is created by the firing of the cartridge is used to propel the bullet.  Ammunition purchased at a retail outlet is normally very safe.

There is no explosion, only because the lead or steel projectile is moved down and out the barrel using the tremendous amount of pressure and hot gas.  If the bullet were to be welded into the case, or the bullet was immovable, the cartridge would then explode.


Shooting Basics

The actual shooting of a gun at a target seems like a very simple act in the movies or on television dramas.

However, in real target shooting, there are six (6) basic fundamentals to keep in mind during shooting.

  • Body Position

  • Grip

  • Sight Alignment

  • Breath Control

  • Trigger Squeeze

  • Follow Through


Body Position-  Body position is the first basic I will discuss.  Be sure to keep your feet about shoulder width apart for stability.  You may want to shift some of your weight to the balls of your feet and not your heels.  Choose whether you are going to try a one-hand position, two-hand position or a bench rest position.

Assume a comfortable and relaxed position.  Align your body with the target.  Many people think they should force the gun to the target, but it is much better to have your body in the proper position before taking aim.


Try this:

Take an empty gun and assume a firing position.  Align your gun with the target.  Then close your eyes for 30 seconds.  Now take a look at where your gun is on the target.  Chances are good that it moved.  Now adjust your body position back to the target, by moving your feet.  Now try it again until your body is pointing quite naturally at the target.


Grip-  Taking a proper grip and maintaining that same grip throughout your firing is an essential ingredient to consistency.  Place the handgun in your shooting hand with your non-shooting hand.  Push the gun into the V created by your thumb and index finger.  Keep the shooting hand as high on the backstrap as possible.  When cocking a hammer, use the non-shooting hand thumb, because it will disturb your grip otherwise.  Keep your non-shooting hand wrapped around your shooting hand and clamp your non-shooting thumb down on your shooting hand thumb.  Consistency is essential here because if you change your grip, your bullet placement will not be uniform.


Sight Alignment-  The central aspect of aiming is proper sight alignment.  Sight alignment is the relationship between four (4) things.  Your eyes, the rear sight, the front sight and your target.  Center the front sight into the notch of the rear sight and align the top of the front sight with the top of the rear sight.  Next, align the "sight picture" with your target.  Maintaining this sight alignment or "sight picture" while pulling the trigger is the key to a proper shot.

For a look at sight alignment, check out this page.


Breath Control-  Breath control seems like it won't matter that much.  And it really won't matter until you have a shooting contest with a buddy and he is three points ahead of you!!!

Controlling your breathing minimizes your body movement during sight alignment.  As you breathe, your body rises and falls with each breath.

You should take a normal breath, then exhale slowly, just as your lungs empty is the best time to take your shot.  Try to take your shot within 5 to 8 seconds.  Any longer than 8 seconds and more body tremors may be introduced due to oxygen deprivation.


Trigger Squeeze-  Trigger squeeze, trigger pull and trigger control essentially all mean the same thing.  It is the smooth and consistent pull on the trigger while maintaining proper sight alignment.  Nobody knows exactly when the trigger will "break" and make the hammer fall.  Even after years of practice with the same gun, it will still be a surprise, although after much practice, you can get a "feel" for when it might go.  If you feel that the sights are aligned on the target as you would like, then squeeze a bit harder.  However, if the sight alignment swings off the intended target, you should lighten up a bit on the trigger.  Nobody, no matter how good they think they are can maintain perfect sight alignment all the time.  It is not physically possible.  Practice, practice and practice.


Follow Through-  Follow through???  What is follow through???

Follow through can be compared to a bowler when throwing a ball down the alley, the bowler's arm continues through the throw.

Or to a pool player, when he strokes the cue ball, the tip of the cue goes right through where the cue ball used to be.

Follow through in shooting is somewhat similar.  In follow through, you want to maintain the proper body position, grip and sight alignment until after the shot has left the barrel.

This follow through helps to make sure that the trajectory of the bullet is not affected by any extra movement on your part which might affect the path of the bullet.

In pool, if the shooter stands up too quickly after taking his shot, it might affect where the tip hits the cue ball.  In pool, shooters maintain that post-stroke position for a moment until they make certain the cue ball is on its way.  It is precisely the same principle for shooting a gun.

Help, My Gun Is Jammed!!

Inevitably, everyone who regularly fires a gun will run into a jam or malfunction at some point.

Many, many accidents occur while attempting to clear a jammed firearm.

It is essential to review and follow all three (3) safe gun handling rules first.

ALWAYS point the barrel of the gun in a safe direction. A safe direction is defined as a direction where if the gun discharged, nobody would get hurt.  The best direction to point a gun is generally at the ground and to the side. This is the Golden Rule of Gun Safety.  If everyone followed this one rule, it would bring an end to accidental firearm related deaths.


ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.  There is a natural tendency to place the index finger inside the trigger guard.  This MUST be avoided.  Condition yourself to place your shooting hand index finger along the side of the frame.


ALWAYS keep the action open and the gun unloaded until you are ready to use it.  The action is the moving parts of the gun that allow loading, unloading, firing and extraction of the empty case or shell.  If you are not ready to use it, keep the action open and unloaded.

If the jam is in a semi-automatic pistol or rifle (which are most common), follow the above gun handling rules, put on the safety catch, button or lever, then remove the magazine if possible, now open the action and lock it open.  Now you can safely work on the jam from here.  The chances are good that removing the magazine and retracting the slide will fix the jam in most cases.

If you have a case that is seated too deeply in the chamber so that the extractor does not grab it, you should follow all the above procedures, then gently pry out the offending case with a miniature screwdriver or some such device being careful not to damage the loading ramp or the breech face.


Reloading ammunition is an enjoyable hobby.  It can really be rewarding too.  The money saved by reloading your own ammunition can be substantial. 

I will not even attempt to show the reader how to reload their own ammunition here.  But I will say a few things about it.

One can only reload centerfire ammunition.  The .22 caliber rimfire ammunition cannot safely be reloaded.

There are hundreds of different cases.  Each one has an identifying stamp on the bottom, with the caliber of the cartridge.  If there is no caliber stamped on the bottom of the case, that means that the case originated from the military or a foreign country.  Be careful when using cartridges with no caliber head stamp.

There are over a hundred different smokeless powders that are available to the reloader.  Each and every one will burn at a different rate.  Single base powders are made primarily from nitrocellulose.  Double base powders are made with both nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin.  There many types of powder also, such as tubular, ball and flake.

Powder and bullets are weighed using a measurement called grains.  There are 6985 grains in one pound.  Some people round this number off and say that there are 7000 grains to the pound.

Grains are used to measure the weight of both the powder charge and the bullet.

A normal powder charge can vary from two or three grains up to 50 or more.

Some pistol ammunition powder charges can be three (3) grains or maybe a bit less and rifle cartridges can use more than fifty (50) grains.

A normal bullet weight can vary from 40 grains  in a .22 Long Rifle to over 500 grains in a big game rifle.

There are also many different bullet styles and weights that one can use for each caliber.  For each different bullet weight, the amount of powder to use can change slightly.

There are more than a dozen different types of primers too!!

Make no mistake about this fact:

If a cartridge is loaded improperly, with the wrong case, powder, bullet, primer combination, instant death can occur.

It is absolutely essential that if you choose to reload your own cartridges, you follow the prescribed ammunition tables for weights and amounts.

Make sure that when you reload, you stay as organized as possible and tenaciously stick to the prescribed procedures.  Experimenting with reloads can be deadly if you don't know what you are doing.

Never allow yourself to become distracted or disoriented when reloading your own ammunition.

Cleaning Your Guns

Regular cleaning is important in order for your gun to operate correctly and safely.  Taking proper care of it will also maintain its value and extend its life.  Your gun should be cleaned after every outing.

A gun brought out of prolonged storage should also be cleaned before shooting.  Accumulated moisture and dirt, or solidified grease, burnt powder residue and oil, can prevent the gun from operating properly.

Before cleaning your gun, make absolutely sure that it is unloaded.

The gun's action should be open during the cleaning process. Also be sure that no ammunition is present.

There are many manufacturers of firearm cleaning kits and they are sold in most department stores and sporting goods stores.  Follow the directions for cleaning that are specific to your particular model of firearm and the directions from the cleaning kit that you have chosen.

If possible, clean the gun's barrel from the rear to prevent any damage to the muzzle end of the barrel.  Damage to the muzzle end of the barrel can affect accuracy.

Generally, the first step is to put cleaning solvent on a brush and plunge it in and out of the gun's barrel as many as 5 to 10 strokes.  Once all the stubborn fouling is out, follow up with a few cotton patches soaked in solvent until they begin to become noticeably less dirty.  Next, follow up with a clean patch, then an oiled patch.

After the barrel is cleaned and oiled, you should follow that with another solvent soaked patch on the surfaces of the firearm, cleaning up all the fouling around the breech or cylinder.  Follow that with a clean patch, then an oiled one.  You may use an oiled patch on the exterior of your firearm or you may choose a silicone impregnated cloth.

In a semi-automatic, it is important that the feeding ramp be kept clean, along with the extractor and bolt face.  Occasionally, you may want to take the firearm apart for a more thorough cleaning.  I think that taking your firearm apart for a proper cleaning should be done at least once a year. 

A mistake that many beginners make is that they try to take their gun apart too far.  If you disassemble the gun to clean it, make sure you follow the directions in the manual.  If you take the gun apart too far, only an expert may be able to reassemble it.

See this video for a quick once-over on cleaning a pistol.

Any questions?

Ask Marc

A Big Thank You

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for taking this Basic Firearm Safety and Education Course.

Remember, this course is only designed to help prepare you for an actual in-person course and is not designed to replace such a course.

An actual Basic Firearm Education Course is designed to take at least eight (8) hours to complete, including at least a few hours of actual "on the range" gun handling and actual target shooting.

Please consider sending me a quick note on how I can improve this page.

While you are mailing me a letter, why not include a few dollars to help me out?

If you are writing a check, please make it payable to Marc Richardson and not

mail to:

Marc H. Richardson
P.O. Box 424
Shapleigh, ME 04076-0424

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