How Unintentional Discharges Happen

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by pax, Jun 14, 2007.

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  1. pax

    pax Member

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    How Unintentional Discharges Happen

    So today, I got interested in wandering through some old posts about negligent and accidental discharges that have been reported on THR and TFL. The links below are in not very organized, just listed in the order in which I came across them.

    Here's what I found.

    From 2005 on TFL, a thread where several people relate the stories of their accidental or negligent discharges: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=168305 -- Post #8 on that thread tells the story of a man who had spent a "long, chill & windy day at the range" getting up at 6 am and then visiting with his friend while cleaning guns until midnight. He'd gotten 4 1/2 hours of sleep the night before. Just after he finished cleaning and reloading his carry gun, he put his finger on the trigger and pulled the trigger. Causes: Distraction, handling guns while over-tired. Then there was thinking the gun was unloaded (rule 1), pointing it at something he wasn't willing to shoot (the ceiling -- rule 2), and putting his finger on the trigger while the gun was pointed in an unsafe direction (rules 3 and 4).

    From 2001 on TFL, http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=56979 -- Post #2 relates the story of two NDs caused by 'just one more syndrome.' The shooter had been dry-firing in his home, reloaded the gun, and then took just one more "dry fire" shot. Distraction played a role in both cases (he reloaded without fully realizing he had reloaded), and in both cases he had an unloaded gun (rule 1) that he pointed in an unsafe direction (rule 2) while pulling the trigger (rules 3 and 4). Dry-firing is good, but habitually breaking any one (let alone all four) of the safety rules while dry firing is not so good. If you're going to dry fire, have a safe backstop so that any unintentional shots cannot go out a window and into someone else's home.

    http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=56979 -- Post #8 tells the story of an unfortunate LEO who began loading his semi-automatic, got called over to talk to someone else, and then came back to his firearm which had a loaded chamber but no magazine in place. He picked up the gun and pulled the trigger, with predictable results. Causes? Distraction while handling guns. He picked up an unloaded gun (rule 1), pointed it in an unsafe direction (a flimsy interior wall -- rule 2), and pulled the trigger while the gun was pointed in an unsafe direction that wasn't a target (rules 3 and 4). Luckily the only real consequence was that the poor guy had to buy the beer for everyone on his shift, and (because the round discharged straight into the chief's "gun safety" poster) he became his boss' poster boy for departmental firearms safety.

    From 2002 on TFL: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=107961 The shooter had a new gun. He was handling the "unloaded" gun with the magazine out, and was showing his wife how the loaded chamber indicator worked. Apparently, it didn't, because he then proceeded to pull the trigger to decock the gun, and the gun fired. The round went into a doorframe. Causes: handling an unloaded gun (rule 1); and putting the finger on the trigger while the gun was pointed in an unsafe direction without a safe backstop (rules 2, 3, and 4).

    Another from 2002 on TFL: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=114982 The shooter was clearing a gun for dry fire. He dropped the magazine and racked the slide, failing to note that the round had not come out of the chamber. He then pointed the gun in a safe direction and pulled the trigger. One fresh hole in the wall later, his ears were ringing and he had a wall-repair job to do. Causes: an unloaded gun (rule 1 -- he did not double-check to be sure it was unloaded). No significant damage resulted because he deliberately had the gun pointed in a safe direction while dry firing.

    From 2005 on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=172445 -- Post #1 tells the main story, with post #25 providing some additional details. The shooter had carried his gun to a Christmas party with his wife, and had drunk 4 beers and a "mixed drink" over the course of roughly 3 1/2 hours. Upon returning home, he went to unload his carry gun while talking to a friend who'd been babysitting his son. He racked the slide (ejecting a live round but loading another round into the chamber at the same time), then dropped the slide and thought the gun was unloaded. Then he proceeded to "drop the hammer" (dry fire), with predictable results. The bullet traveled through an interior wall and lodged somewhere in the ductwork behind that wall. Causes: Distraction. Handling firearm while under the influence of alcohol. And more immediately, we have an unloaded gun (rule 1 -- he did not double-check that it really was unloaded). Tragedy was averted because the gun was pointed in a safe direction when he fired it, but it is unclear from the story whether that safe direction was an intentionally safe direction or merely a happy accident.

    Another from 2005 on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=165697 The shooter had his handgun out for dry fire. He emptied the chamber but did not remove the magazine. Later on, he loaded the chamber but immediately forgot he'd done so. Then he picked up the "unloaded" gun, cocked it, and pulled the trigger. Immediately after the shot went off, he removed the magazine, but left a live round in the chamber. A few minutes later he remembered to remove that round, too. The shot apparently lodged within the shooter's wood desk, as the desk was damaged but there was no exit hole on the far side. Causes: handling an unloaded gun (rule 1), finger on trigger when the gun wasn't pointed at a specific target (rule 3), not having a safe backstop (rule 4). Fortunately, the rule 3 & 4 violations amounted to nothing, as the shooter unintentionally did fire the gun in a safe direction. But from his report it was plain that the safe direction was happenstance, not deliberate.

    A negligent discharge with a revolver, posted in 2007 on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=253509 The shooter was working on a revolver, and thought he'd unloaded it before he began working. Apparently one round remained in one of the chambers, and that was the round which fired into the ceiling as he dry fired to check the feel of the trigger. Again, we have the combination of distraction (he was concentrating on the gunsmithing work) and an unloaded gun (rule 1 -- he did not double-check to be sure the gun really and truly was unloaded. No significant damage resulted because he had the gun pointed in a safe direction (at the ceiling in an otherwise empty house) when he pulled the trigger.

    From 2006 on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=200792 The shooter had unloaded and cleared his gun, and left it lying unloaded on the nightstand when he went to work in the morning. When he came home in the evening, he picked up the pistol, aimed it at the floor, and "dry-fired" it. The gun had been loaded by the shooter's father while the shooter was at work. Causes: handling an unloaded gun (rule 1). No tragedy resulted because the shooter deliberately followed the rest of the rules, deliberately aiming the gun in a safe direction (the floor) which would stop a bullet when he pulled the trigger.

    Here's a post about a negligent discharge that did not happen, from 2007 on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=279035 The shooter was in a gun store, and was drooling over a revolver. He'd been handling it for a moment already when he asked the owner for permission to dry fire. The owner agreed, and the shooter's finger was on the trigger when he realized he hadn't checked the gun to be sure it was unloaded. As the shooter swung open the cylinder to see if it was unloaded, he found six live rounds in the chambers. He commented: "You can usually tell when a revolver is loaded by looking at it from the side, but these buggers were well hidden. I've never handled a recessed revolver until today .... I was less than 2 seconds away from putting a .357 caliber hole in that man's display case." Analysis: embarrassment, financial cost, and possible tragedy were averted because the shooter habitually followed all of the four rules, even in a situation where he felt it was a bit silly of him to do so.

    Here's another fairly recent thread discussing the same topic, and asking how to avoid these mistakes: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=247025

    Here's one classic ND posted over on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=282404 The thread starter's father was taking down an unloaded gun, and someone handed him a loaded gun to take down as well. He was distracted, chatting with other people, and negligently pulled the trigger without first checking the chamber. That's a fairly common pattern: distraction when handling firearms can be a killer -- and that distraction, in this case, led the gun-handler to violate not one, but all four of the basic safety rules. He thought the gun was unloaded (rule 1), he pointed the gun at something he wasn't willing to shoot (rule 2), he put his finger on the trigger when the gun was not deliberately pointed at a target (rule 3), and he did not have a safe backstop which would safely contain a bullet -- even though he intended to put his finger on the trigger (rule 4).

    Here's another classic ND tale posted on TFL: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=151115 In this case, a highly-experienced but overconfident person shot herself in the leg while she was reholstering her gun. Ordinarily a right-handed shooter, she was practicing "as a lefty", with an unfamiliar left-handed holster during a class. Eyewitnesses said she "did a fast draw, in reverse" and jammed the gun into the holster quickly; her finger was on the trigger as the gun entered the holster, with predictable results. Although the bullet travelled down the entire length of her upper leg, the woman had no permanent injuries and she was back on the line the next day. In this case, fast re-holstering with the finger on or near the trigger (rule 3) was the common pattern that got her into trouble.

    Another common pattern from a post on THR: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=279956 In this one, an off-duty officer critically wounded his own teenage daughter, thinking she was an intruder in the home. Failing to identify the target before pulling the trigger (rule 4) caused this tragedy.

    Here's another one, tragic but utterly preventable: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=273366 In this case, some unsupervised young teenagers were drinking, smoking pot, and playing with an "unloaded" shotgun, with fatal results. This death happened why? Irresponsible people having access to firearms in the home and combining alcohol and drug use with firearms. Those were the root causes. The direct cause? Well, they thought the gun was unloaded (rule 1). One kid pointed the gun at something he didn't intend to shoot (rule 2) and put his finger on the trigger (rule 3) and "the gun fired." Result: one dead teenager, one ruined life as a result of being drunk, stoned, and irresponsible while handling guns.

    Here's one involving a shotgun, from back in 2002 on TFL: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=112882 The shooter noted that he "always keep my guns locked UNLOADED in a safe, to the point where I unload my CCW and place it in the safe every night" and then adds, "with the exception of the 870 [which] I keep loaded but locked upstairs." So he was handling the 870 with the expectation that it was unloaded (as he stored all his other guns unloaded). The TV was on. His girlfriend was in the room. He was studying the gun's manual, distracted by that, then he picked up the shotgun, shouldered it, and killed his TV. Causes? Distraction. Handling an "unloaded" gun (rule 1). Pointing the gun at something he didn't intend to shoot, and then pulling the trigger while the gun was pointed at something he didn't intend to shoot (rules 2, 3, and 4).

    Here's one from 2005 on TFL that still makes me sick to my stomach: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=190370 A young man was babysitting his 18-month-old niece. The girl's father came to pick her up, and uncle decided to take his handgun apart. As the uncle "was dismantling the gun, it fired." He told troopers he "didn't know the weapon was loaded." Again, we have distraction (multiple people in the room) and an unloaded gun (rule 1). We have pointing the gun at something the shooter was not willing to shoot (rule 2). We have putting his finger on the trigger while the gun was pointed at something he didn't intend to shoot (rules 3 and 4). And tragically, we have a dead baby girl that nothing will bring back to life again.

    Just before Christmas, 2005 on TFL: http://www.thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=191417 This time, a fellow was unloading his firearm for dry fire practice. The phone rang, distracting him. After he hung up the phone, he picked up the gun and "proceeded to dry fire it." A split second thereafter, the poor fellow had a fresh hole in his wall. What caused this one? Distraction. And an unloaded gun (rule 1). No further damage resulted because the gun was pointed in a safe direction when he fired it.

    I could go on, but by now we should be seeing the theme:

    "Accidental" (negligent) discharges are indirectly caused when people handle firearms while distracted, are irresponsible, or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They are directly caused by violating at least two of the four rules.

    Here are the four rules:

    1. All guns are always loaded (treat them so!)
    2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
    3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
    4. Be sure of your target (and what's beyond/behind it).

    The rules overlap and are redundant. Habitually following all of them, every time you handle a firearm, with no exceptions, vastly increases the chance that if you ever get distracted and break one of the rules, your butt will be saved by one or more of the other three rules.

    pax
     
  2. pdowg881

    pdowg881 Member

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    I think the one habit I have thats worked so far is visually expecting the chamber each time I pick up the gun or it changes hands. Even if I put it down for a minute, when I come back to it I check the chamber. Too many people just cycle the action and just think whatever was in there was ejected. If they inspected the chamber the fact that there is a loaded magazine in the gun would be apparent as you see a round getting chambered. Most seem to be breaking the rule that all firearms are loaded unless you have persoannly inspected the chamber. Not been told or assumed that it's unloaded even if your the only one that uses it and "knows" you didn't leave it loaded last time you handled it.
     
  3. helpless

    helpless Member

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    This one is mine.

    Pax,

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    I am sure many post will follow with, "I always blah blah blah." "I am super careful.." "I always follow the rules."

    Instead what everyone should take away from this, is that is can happen to everyone no matter how safe you think you are.

    Be safe people and be sure to teach the 4 rules to all new shooters.
     
  4. ConfuseUs

    ConfuseUs Member

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    Having an "unloaded" gun go off is one heck of an ugly surprise. I learned that lesson with a BB gun and a mirror when I was a kid. I hope I don't relearn the lesson with a bigger gun.
     
  5. ArfinGreebly

    ArfinGreebly Moderator Emeritus

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    Most Instructive

    Thanks for that.

    Quite sobering.
     
  6. Dionysusigma

    Dionysusigma Member

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    I chalk my ND of a couple years ago to "irresponsible." I wasn't tired, I hadn't been drinking (or other), but I was being stupid. My finger was on the trigger, and I had forgotten it was loaded. Fortunately, rule number 2 probably saved my life (if not the ceiling). :uhoh: Missed everything important between it and the roof, and filled in the hole with toothpaste. ;)

    The one time I sent a BB into my finger, I thought I had counted my shots correctly. I thought I had checked and cleared the pistol. My middle finger quickly showed me otherwise. :cuss: :(

    Since either of those two incidents, I'm a lot more safe, bordering on a healthy dose of OCD. :D Granted, I routinely drive 3,000 gallons of jet fuel around on a daily basis, and standing within 10' of a propellor blade is not uncommon, so the danger's a bit more apparent. :eek:

    I still have to yell at my Dad at the range whenever he forgets to take his finger off the trigger, though. I feel like the parent of an unruly 2-year-old at Kmart. :rolleyes::banghead:
     
  7. AStone

    AStone Member

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    I write this as a rock climber
    (where "rock climber" is defined as
    one who climbs above 12',
    and needs harness, rope and anchors
    to prevent injury or death upon falling).

    Handling a gun and climbing rocks have a LOT in common.

    When climbing on rock, an old adage repeated by living climbers
    (who learned from the accidents of nonliving climbers)
    says, "Before starting to climb, check your knots,
    then let your climbing partner check your knots,
    then check your knots again."

    That adage recognizes that:

    1) falling 50' off a rock wall will kill you (32 ft/sec/sec);
    2) human consciousness (attention span) is fallible.

    Based on that, and the fact that I survived
    climbing multiple times because I checked, double checked,
    and triple checked my knots - because I recognized that
    the human consciousness (attention span) is fallible -
    when handling a gun,
    I check, then double check, then triple check
    that it is unloaded.

    Even after that, I make sure that I'm not pointing it
    at anything I don't want to destroy.

    Otherwise, it's a long way down.
     
  8. esheato

    esheato Member

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    I was surprised to not see my story in there. I still have the cartridge case on my wall at home and remember the incident vividly. I doubt I will ever forget the feeling.

    Ed
     
  9. feedthehogs

    feedthehogs Member

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    I appreciate your effort to bring this point across. The last ND thread I was participating in got shut down because I refused to accept the excuse of "being human", "no one's perfect" by some to explain ND's.

    Yes it happens, you learn and go on. But ADs and NDs are 100% preventable unless there is a mechanical failure of the firearm.
     
  10. pax

    pax Member

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    Ed ~

    Post the link, please. I'll summarize & stick it in there.

    The threads I chose weren't really chosen for any particular reason and I'm sure you noticed they aren't really in anything approaching a sensible order. They were just the first ones that came up on a Google search (vBulletin's search feature sucks).

    pax
     
  11. esheato

    esheato Member

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    pax,

    Ahh, just realized it was pre-THR. Wow, it has been a long time.

    A lot of things have changed since that thread (it was six years ago). I still have the pics of the damage around here somewhere. I did some major thinking after this incident. I've since bought a safe and kept everything locked up and away if it wasn't on my person. It feels like it happened yesterday. In fact, I still feel bad when I think about it.

    Don't ask why I put it in the cupboard. That was probably the stupidest thing I could have ever done.

    Ed
     
  12. Kali Endgame

    Kali Endgame member

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    X2: Shot my Mom's new wood flooring and still get grief, to this day, about it. That was over ten years ago. After more that eight years of gun handling, both in the military and as a civilian, they still make me a little nervous. I'm the guy that checks twice, puts the gun is the case, removes the gun and checks it again. I hope I never have an ND.

    What is that saying about motorcycle riders:"There are those that have gone down, and those that will go down".
     
  13. Bwana John

    Bwana John Member

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    I receintly have had the pleasure of turning a very bright college kid on to firearms, it has been a joy!

    He WILL NOT dry fire firearms.

    I think his chances of having a NG went WAY down.

    Me, I cant resist snaping em- I had my NG 30 years ago.
     
  14. El Tejon

    El Tejon Member

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    This is why we learn The Four Rules until we can recite them backwards and we become The Four Rules.

    We will not always handle firearms under ideal circumstances. Only continual training will save you.
     
  15. tydephan

    tydephan Member

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    Thanks for collecting and summarizing these stories.

    They certainly serve as a great reminder that it happens to us. Not them.

    I appreciate the time you took to do this.
     
  16. bill larry

    bill larry Member

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    Thanks, Pax, for posting these. What a eye opener.

    The negligent discharge with a revolver posted earlier this year was my dad. One mistake in 50 years of gun handling in one too many! Always point that gun in a safe direction to dry fire. Make it an ingrained habit...it might keep you from really screwing up later, as it did with my pops.
     
  17. Henry Bowman

    Henry Bowman Senior Member

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    Pax, I think you forgot to include our friend "I'm the only person in this room professional enough, that I know of, to handle a Glock 40. BANG!"
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2007
  18. sonofodin

    sonofodin Member.

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    Henry, saved a hard copy to my other pc with no net access. Anyways, I had an ND once with a shotgun and a brenneke slug. What did I do? Get distracted and point it at something I did not want to obliterate (poor phone and bar stool). I learned from it, yes. I felt sick, yes. I thank the gods every time someone says something about this happened and nobody being hurt. Anyways, follow the rules.
     
  19. El Tejon

    El Tejon Member

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  20. sonofodin

    sonofodin Member.

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    Thanks for that video link, heh. It always tickles me pink. :barf:

    "listen to me, see how the accidents happen" um..yes..I sure did...now hand over your badge and gun...!
     
  21. Henry Bowman

    Henry Bowman Senior Member

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    Yes, Mr. Rasta Narc. As amusing as it is, it fits on Pax's list.

    - Distracted. (Nervous - passionate about the subject but not comfortable as a public speaker.)
    - Thought it was unloaded (apparently confirmed by someone who had no idea what they were looking at).
    - Treated it as unloaded.
    - Not pointed in a safe direction (thankfully, only at his own leg and not at the room full of kids).
    - Finger not kept off trigger.
     
  22. GhostlyKarliion

    GhostlyKarliion Member

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    Excellent Pax, you ought to put something like that up on cornered cat? It would be an excellent page for new shooters, may prevent someone from getting hurt.

    Very good investigational work. +1
     
  23. pax

    pax Member

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    Bwana John ~

    Dry firing can be done safely. It takes an obsessive attention to safe behavior, however, and an inflexible adherence to all of the safety rules no matter how silly and redundant they might seem at any given time. Here's my routine: www.corneredcat.com/Practice/dryfire.aspx

    Make sure the kid knows that when he is handling a firearm, that is ALL he should be doing: handling the gun. One of the surprising things I found in reading through all these old threads was how very often the NDs involve distraction.

    Never talk on the phone while dry firing.

    Never watch TV while dry firing.

    If you absolutely positively have to read while dry firing (that would be reading the manual for a new gun, for example, or referring to written dry fire drills), check AGAIN that the gun is unloaded every time the gun gets picked up after you set it down -- even though you "know" it was unloaded when you set it down.

    If you have a friend in the room while dry firing, make sure your friend has the same committment to safety as you do yourself. Be aware of the increased potential for NDs as a result of his presence. Get all ammunition out of the room while dry firing -- your ammunition AND his ammunition. He does not get to keep a loaded gun in the room while yours is unloaded and you are handling firearms, because many NDs happen when people mix up loaded and unloaded guns. Any time your attention leaves the gun and then comes back to the gun, check again that the gun is still unloaded. Check again every time you set the gun down and pick it up. Check again every time the gun passes from your hand to your friend's hand.

    In my opinion, dry fire should never last more than five to ten minutes, which is about how long most people can keep their concentration at peak levels. It should be preceeded by locking the front door, taking the phone off the hook, and removing all ammunition from the room. The gun should be checked and double-checked that it is empty; if any ammunition is found inside the gun, the ammunition should be removed from the room before dry firing begins. The target should be something that WOULD stop a bullet if one were present (not simply "might" ... and it isn't good enough to opine that none is present). After dry firing, the target should be removed from the room before ammunition is reintroduced. When the gun is loaded, the shooter should SAY ALOUD, "This gun is loaded. This gun is loaded. This gun is loaded." Say it out loud so that your conscious mind hears the spoken words. Then get out of the room where you were dry firing, and stay out of that room for at least an hour or so.

    Stay safe!

    pax
     
  24. fiVe

    fiVe Member

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    pax,

    Thanks for taking the time to start this thread. Very sobering stuff here. May we all be ever diligent and thus, safe.
     
  25. General Geoff

    General Geoff Member

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