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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

Appendix 29-3

USGS Minimum Firearms Training Standards for Contractors/Other Federal Agencies


These minimum standards for nongovernment Contractors and other Federal agencies are general guidelines for anyone instructing U.S. Geological Survey (USGS or Bureau) employees, volunteers, and those working under USGS funding/direction, in the safe handling and employment of firearms for defense against wild animals and specimen collection.

All firearms training conducted under the auspices of the USGS must meet or exceed these minimum standards and those stated in Chapter 37 of the USGS Occupational Hazards and Safety Procedures Handbook 445-2-H. However, anyone trained under the USGS Firearms Program must realize that firearms safety is an individual responsibility. The most reliable form of firearms safety is the correct mental attitude of the firearm user. Anyone trained in firearms safety is not only responsible for their own safety but is also responsible for the safety of fellow field partners and team members.

All questions concerning USGS Firearms Policy and Regulations should be addressed to the USGS Firearms Safety Committee. This committee, comprised of the Bureau Firearms Manager and representatives from each regional discipline and the Bureau Safety Office, has absolute authority over the Survey’s Firearms Program. Below is an outline of the various topics that must be discussed in any USGS Firearms Certification Course. Most of the training standards apply to both the Defense Against Wild Animals and Specimen Collection Programs but those restricted to one program are noted in parentheses.

Minimum Training Standards

1. General Firearms Safety.

a. Compulsive behavior in firearms safety and safe gun handling should always be stressed and encouraged.

b. Firearms safety is about being in control of the firearm at all times.

c. Proper firearms training emphasizes that firearms safety must be taught to be reflexive, that is, automatically reacting safely with a firearm without deliberate thought.

d. Teaching reflexive safe gun handling is particularly important for employees that carry firearms under potentially stressful field conditions.

e. Instructors need to continually demonstrate the principles of firearms safety and safe gun handling at every opportunity.

2. Four Rules of Firearms Safety.

Rule 1 - Treat all firearms as always loaded.

There are no exceptions to this rule. Assume that all firearms are loaded until you have verified otherwise.

Rule 2 - Never allow a firearm to point at anything you are not willing to destroy.

Experience has shown that this is the easiest rule to violate. More than half of the fatal firearms accidents are a result of neglecting safety rules 1 and 2.

Rule 3 - Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until your sights are on target.

This rule is conspicuously absent in many firearms training programs and is particularly important to staying safe while carrying a firearm under stress, while moving, etc.

Rule 4 - Be sure of your target and what lies beyond.

This rule is about target identification; you must identify the target and what is in front, beside, and in back of your target before firing.

These Four Rules of Firearms Safety should be repeated a number of times throughout the lectures and during range exercises. Teach your students that they are ultimately responsible for whatever happens when using a firearm. Therefore, it is imperative that the students fully understand the Four Rules of Firearms Safety and make them a part of their reflexive behavior.

3. Proper Use of Mechanical Safeties.

a. Mechanical safeties shall remain engaged until the decision to fire has been made.

b. The mechanical safety is a manufacturer's engineered safety device that was meant to be used and it provides an extra level of safety if the user breaks one or more of the safety rules.

c. Use of the mechanical safety is one of the key elements in the Field Ready Condition and its use provides consistency of training and increases familiarity with the firearm.

4. Firearms Safety in the Field. Much of the discussion concerning firearms safety in the field is common sense, but fatigue associated with field work can diminish common sense. Guns and alcohol/drugs (including certain prescription drugs), like drinking and driving, are bad combinations that could lead to serious injury or death. Employees should fully familiarize themselves with their firearm before going into the field.

a. Field and camp policies.

b. Transport of firearms and ammunition on commercial airlines.

c. Field aircraft (helicopter and fixed wing).

d. Watercraft.

e. Government vehicles.

f. Personal carry.

g. Hazards of terrain.

h. Extreme cold.

All employees must follow State and local laws concerning the personal carrying of firearms. State-issued concealed carry permits are not recognized by the USGS and do not apply as long as the employee, volunteer, etc., is on official duty.

5. USGS Regulations and Policies.

a. Employees required to carry a firearm as a part of their official duties must have their supervisor complete and sign a Certificate of Need.

b. It is the direct responsibility of the supervisor to both approve the Certificate of Need and have direct knowledge of the employee's current training in firearms safety.

c. Employees, volunteers, and those who work under USGS funding/direction or who use a firearm on official business must fill out a Qualification Inquiry self-certifying they have not been convicted of domestic violence crimes prior to approval of the Certificate of Need or participation in firearms training. 18 United States Code 992(g)(9) makes it a felony for anyone convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence to possess firearms or ammunition. A new Qualification Inquiry must be submitted for each new Certificate of Need or firearms training course.

d. Employees must ensure that all firearms used for official business are stored, handled, carried, and used to eliminate the possibility of an unintended discharge of the firearm. All firearms and ammunition will be stored in a secure area under lock and key. Additional requirements for storage and security of firearms/ammunition are found in the USGS Physical Security Handbook 440-2-H.

e. Firearms used by Survey employees should be under lock and key when not being used in the field according to the June 16, 1997, Department of Interior Memorandum entitled “Child Safety Locking Devices for Handguns.” The firearm should also be locked during transit or when not under the direct control of the cognizant person.

6. Responsibilities Associated with Firearms Training, Issuance, and Use.

a. Employee responsibilities.

b.Supervisor responsibilities.

c. The armed employee: how to act in the field.

d. Importance of being within scope of employment and the Federal Employee Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988.

7. Firearm Types, Parts, and their Function. Proper operation of the firearm type used in field operations must be taught and understood.

8. Effective Ammunition Types and Performance. Various types of ammunition, bullet construction, and their terminal ballistics for required field applications must be discussed.

9. Safe Firearms Manipulation.

a. Proper stance and presentation.

b. Safe loading, unloading, and reloading the firearm. Teaching how and when to reload a firearm under stressful field situations is an important element in safe firearms manipulation.

c. Elements of marksmanship.

d. Center of mass concept (defense against wild animals only).

e. Field ready condition: chamber empty, magazine full, safety on. The mechanical safety must be employed when the firearm is in the field ready condition.

f. Safe use of slings.

10. The Defensive Mindset/Mental Conditioning for Defense Against Wild Animals (Defense Against Wild Animals Only). Personal, moral, and ethical decisions concerning the use of lethal force on potentially dangerous wild animals must be discussed.

11. Collector Ethics (Specimen Collection Only).

12. Animal Habitat and Behavior and Methods of Avoidance (Defense Against Wild Animals Only).

Odds of avoiding a hostile encounter will increase the more the students know about the wild animals they could encounter in their field area. Always attempt to employ passive tactics before elevating to potential-lethal force.

a. General wild animal characteristics.

b. Animal signs.

c. Animal range and habitats.

d. Animal behavior (aggressive and nonaggressive).

e. Potential confrontations and proper responses.

f. Methods of avoidance.

g. Camp etiquette.

The needless killing of wild animals can only be avoided through a combination of safe firearms training, proper defensive mindset, and animal awareness and habitat/behavior training.

13. Nonlethal Deterrents (Defense Against Wild Animals Only).

a. Proper use of nonlethal deterrent.

b. Description of the various nonlethal deterrents.

c. Ranges, effectiveness, and limitations of common deterrents.

d. Safety and liability issues associated with nonlethal deterrents.

14. Firearms Maintenance. Proper methods of cleaning and maintaining firearms and ammunition must be discussed.

15. Appropriate range and field exercises to begin the development of firearms proficiency and to test skills in the application of the Four Rules of Firearms Safety.

a. Range exercises should stress the application of the Four Rules of Firearms Safety and the process of verifying and reverifying the condition of the firearm.

b. All range exercises should test the elements of marksmanship.

c. When on the firing line, always use range commands that are simple, explicit, and consistent from instructor to instructor.

d. Always follow a range progression that introduces and teaches no more than one new firearms handling technique at a time.

e. Both written exams and range qualifications should be given to test the student’s application of the Four Rules of Firearms Safety and safe gun handling principles.

f. Range qualifications must be scored and a score of 70 percent or higher attained with each firearm they are authorized to carry and use. A score of less than 70 percent shall be considered unsatisfactory for the purpose of firearms qualification and the employee may not perform duties which require the carry and use of a firearm.

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Last modification: 28-Aug-2002@17:05 (kk)