Reflexively safe firearms handling is a martial skill unto itself.  It speaks volumes about the depth of your competence as a modern self-defense practitioner.  The following safety rules are offered as a guideline, and are a fusion of the work of Jeff Cooper and Andy Stanford:

1. Always handle every firearm with the same care you would exhibit if you knew the weapon was loaded and ready to fire. 

This rule is never suspended, including when the revolver’s cylinder is empty and swung out of the frame.  I hate to have to spell that out, but I have seen too many revolver shooters hauling around their handgun with their fingers through the window of the frame and carrying it by the top strap, lasering everyone and all the while thinking that they are carrying the gun safely.

2. Always control your muzzle. Never let it cross anything you are not prepared to kill, destroy or buy.

3. Always keep you finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the conscious decision to fire.

I get some resistance from this, but I believe there are times where you will have your sights on the target but it would be unreasonable at best and unsafe at worst to have your finger on the trigger.  Consider a compliant home intruder laid-out and face-down on the floor at gun point. You may well keep him under your sights while you are waiting for the police to arrive, but if he is compliant, is keeping you finger on the trigger the safest location? Only when the sights are on the target and you have made the decision to fire should your finger be on the trigger.

4. Always be sure of your target and all things around it.

First, you have to assume that there will be innocent people to the right, left, and rear of your attacker. Second, your own experience tells you that no one (even you) shoots 100% perfect on the range where you have complete control over distance, time, lighting, ground conditions and movement, to name only a few, and you must know you will have control over almost none of these things in a real assault.

So why are you shooting at an attacker you have to assume is surrounded by innocent men, women and children to his right, left and rear and under conditions where you had no control over the distance, time, lighting, ground conditions and movement? Will you tell the jury that their lives meant nothing compared to yours? 

I would rather say that I accept the presumption that there will be innocents to the right, left and rear of my attacker.  I also accept that there have to be innocent men, women and children to my right, left and rear.  Further, I will argue that unlike my attacker’s undisciplined, unpracticed and illegal gunfire, my disciplined, practiced and legal gunfire will come to an immediate halt once the threat is stopped. Unlike a criminal attacker, there is no risk of my “finishing him off,” or trying to murder the witnesses.  I, in fact, will be contacting the police and medical services for all the victims, including the attacker.  Consequently, that makes my gunfire less likely to cause unavoidable physical or moral harm to everyone, including to my attacker.

5. Whenever around any firearms, you always have both the authority and the responsibility of a safety officer.

Anytime you see careless gun handling, say something.  If a gentle word doesn’t work, leave the area and notify the range staff, the local police or both.  Not all poor gun handling should be dismissed as the mark of a shooting neophyte with poor gun safety fundamentals. History is replete with stories of violent individuals flashing firearms prior to tragic events.