Over the last two years, an estimated 40 million guns were legally purchased in the United States. For many of these buyers, this was a first gun purchase.

New gun owners enjoy the same firearm pastimes as others — including hunting, target shooting and training for personal protection. Like all gun owners, new gun owners have a responsibility to ensure they stay safe with their guns.

These 10 safety tips for new gun owners are especially helpful for any new gun owner wanting to safely handle, store and care for their new firearm:

1. Read the instruction manual for your gun

Guns are complicated mechanisms, with each type having its own particular characteristics. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specifics of your own gun, including proper procedures for loading, unloading, carrying and handling. Be sure to read the instruction manual you receive with your gun. If you’ve misplaced the manual, contact the manufacturer to obtain a replacement.

2. Understand the gun’s safety mechanisms

A gun’s primary safety mechanism is your own proper handling, but most guns also come with one or more mechanical safety devices. As a new gun owner, it’s important to understand what these safety mechanisms can and can’t do. All safeties can malfunction, often at the worst moment, and a gun may be able to fire at any time. Your safety should remain on until you are ready to fire, but safe handling of a firearm is a must even with the safety on.

3. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction

The most important rule of new gun ownership is to always keep the muzzle of your gun pointed in a safe direction, meaning a direction in which a bullet cannot strike a person, either directly, through walls and ceilings or due to a ricochet. This direction is up on some occasions and down on others. Make it a habit to be aware of and in control of your muzzle direction at all times.

4. Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it

Once a gun fires, it’s no longer possible to control where a shot will go or what it will strike. Care has to be taken before you take a shot to be sure of your target and what may lie beyond it. Firing at noise or movement without identifying a target is unsafe. New gun owners also need to understand how far the slugs or bullets they are using can travel beyond the target, which could be more than a mile.

5. Use correct high-quality ammunition

Make sure to read and follow all warnings on proper ammunition usage. The wrong caliber or gauge could ruin your new gun and result in serious injury. Always check each cartridge as you load it. Avoid using damaged, handloaded and reloaded ammunition and ammunition that has been exposed to water, solvents, oil or excessive lubricants.

6. Handle jams and misfires with extra care

Though rare, any gun can jam and misfire, due to improper technique, excess dirt and grime, worn-out springs, bad ammunition or just needing to be broken in. When a stoppage happens, it’s important to handle your gun with extra care. Point the muzzle in a safe direction, keep your face away from the breech and carefully open the action to unload and dispose of the cartridge.

7. Wear eye and ear protection when shooting

Glasses and ear plugs are cheap compared to your sight and hearing. Get in the habit of wearing eye and ear protection every time you go shooting. Twigs, falling shot, clay chips, ruptured cases and firearm malfunctions can all cause eye injury. Firing high decibel shots can damage hearing. But these dangers can be minimized with proper protection.

8. Be sure the barrel stays clear of obstructions

A barrel obstructed with bits of mud, snow, lubricating oil or grease can be a danger to you and others. Excess pressure buildup can cause the barrel to bulge or burst on firing. Safely inspect the action before loading and anytime the sound or recoil of a shot seems off. Verify every cartridge is the correct gauge or caliber to avoid ammunition causing obstruction.

9. Unload your gun when it is not in use

There are times a new gun owner may keep their gun loaded causing unnecessary risk, such as when it’s in an unworn holster, a gun case, or slung over your shoulder as you’re crossing difficult terrain. When in doubt, unload your gun. It’s safest to only load a firearm when you are in the field, on the range or at the shooting area and you are ready to shoot. Store your gun and ammunition separately to prevent children and unauthorized adults from gaining access.

10. Take proper care of your new gun

Remember that a safe firearm is a well-maintained firearm. A gun is a mechanical device that needs routine maintenance and proper care to function at its best. Clean your gun regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Understand that making modifications to the safety or trigger mechanisms of your gun can be dangerous. Leave adjustments, alterations and servicing to a qualified professional.

More tips for new gun owners

Stay safe with your new gun. Consider gun insurance to protect you if something goes wrong. Firearm Insurance is available to old and new gun owners alike. It protects your investment if your gun is damaged, lost or stolen. Personal Firearm Liability Insurance is another option. It can protect you from claims made against you for hunting accidents, accidental discharges and more.

There’s always a lot to learn when you’re a new gun owner. Be sure to seek out new gun owner training opportunities in your area for more information.