We begin with the most-basic thing of all: We must always assume a gun is loaded until we have personally checked it. Here are the steps to properly unload semi-automatic pistols and revolvers.
1 Point the gun in a safe direction. Keep your finger off the trigger and completely out of the trigger guard as you do so. Also, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
2 Remove the source of the ammunition. In the case of a semi-automatic pistol, the source of ammunition is the magazine. Depress the magazine-release button and remove the magazine.
3 Pull back on the slide while pushing up on the slide-lock, and the slide will lock back. If there was a round in the chamber, it should eject as you pull back the slide. (Note: If you cannot safely manipulate the slide back and the slide-lock up at the same time, you may be able to put an empty magazine in and pull the slide back to its locking position. Be certain the magazine is completely unloaded before using it.)
4 With the slide locked back, visually and physically (stick your pinky finger in the barrel from the action end) confirm the pistol is unloaded.
Common defensive revolvers are a little easier to check.
1 Point the gun in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger and completely out of the trigger guard. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times.
2 Push or pull the cylinder release and swing the cylinder open to the left.
3 Tilt the barrel up slightly (continue to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction) and push down on the extractor rod to dump any ammunition from the cylinder’s chambers into your hand.
4 Look at and touch the chambers to make certain they are all empty. As an additional safety check, I like to count the cartridges to make sure I got them all out of the gun.
If you think about these steps–remove the ammunition source, then check the chamber(s)—you can also unload just about any other firearm, like a rifle or shotgun.
While the gun is unloaded, try some dry practice. I like to designate a dry-practice area in my home as the only place I will pull a trigger.
1 Set up a target on a surface that will stop a bullet without hurting anyone if you somehow managed to accidently fire the gun.
2 Check the gun—and then check it again—to make certain it’s unloaded. Keep all ammunition completely out of the dry-practice area.
3 Exercising all the safety rules and fundamentals needed for regular shooting practice (gripping with both hands, looking through the rear sight and focusing on the front sight, etc.), point the gun at your safe target and smoothly press the trigger.
4 When the gun “fires” (clicks), the front sight should not move or dip. Keep at it until you can do this correctly, with no dipping or other unnecessary movements. Do this about 25 times.
Running through this routine of unloading and inspecting the gun—followed by dry practice—several times a week will lay the foundation for safe shooting. Dry practice is recommended by many instructors as an inexpensive, but very effective, way to improve both familiarity with your gun and your shooting skills.