We always teach our students that they must have a heightened level of awareness whenever they are around handguns.

Heightened awareness is easily achieved when you're at the gun range or when the "newness" of owning your first handgun has not yet worn off.

But, all too often, complacency sets in. Especially when we are at home and even more so if we live alone.

We become lax in our safety protocols. When this happens, it's gun cleaning time that becomes the most dangerous period for a handgun owner.

You should always treat any handgun as if it is loaded (no exceptions). Unfortunately, it's far too easy to become distracted when it's time to clean your handgun.

Usually, you're at home. This automatically translates into a lower level of awareness. Then you have the distractions that come with being at home. The dog that wants your attention, the huge play in the last minutes of the game, the phone call, the door bell or any number of other things.

Now let's talk about a critical mechanic of cleaning a handgun. Breaking it down. It's a fact that some handguns require you to pull the trigger in order to fully break them down.

We're not going to argue the different views on this. Suffice to say, if you own a handgun like this then you understand the risks that go along with it and you accept those risks as the owner of the handgun.

So, one of the first things we need to do is to unload the handgun. We never assume it's unloaded!

First, remove the magazine and set it out of reach. Next cycle the slide several times to eject the chambered cartridge. Look and feel inside the magazine well to ensure it's empty. Look at the chamber and touch it with your finger to ensure it's empty.

Set the handgun down, then collect the magazine and any ejected cartridges. Remove them from the cleaning area and place them in your gun safe or in another room.

Return to your handgun and repeat the inspection process.

Now, disassemble your handgun.

If at any point in this process you be come distracted by something, START OVER. Repeat the inspection process from the beginning.

Too many people suffer self-inflicted injuries because they fail to follow these simple steps.

Once your handgun is broken down, clean it per the owners manual (or how your experience) dictates.

Once it's clean, reassemble the handgun but do not load it.

Now clean up the mess and put everything away.

Once that is done, now you may load the handgun and return it to it's normal location.

Unloading the handgun is the FIRST thing you do and loading the handgun is the LAST thing you do.

Don't become a statistic!