Top police gun prone to accidental firing

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Aug 1, 2003
Top police gun prone to accidental firing
The Detroit News ^ | December 15, 2003 | Melvin Claxton

Top police gun prone to accidental firing

But Glock gags those who have settled suits

By Melvin Claxton / The Detroit News

When police Officer Randall Smith was accidentally shot in the head by a fellow officer with a Glock semiautomatic pistol in 1995, he sued the gun maker, claiming the weapon was defectively designed and unnecessarily dangerous.

Glock settled the lawsuit. But for the rest of his life, Smith, whose injuries left him permanently brain damaged and cost him his police job in Birmingham, Ala., is barred from talking about the case or revealing any details he learned about Glock before the settlement. His lawyer also is barred from talking, restricted by a confidentiality agreement that is a standard policy for Glock when settling lawsuits.

Glock’s and other gun manufacturers’ insistence on confidentiality agreements is common in product liability settlements. The agreements have kept critical information about the safety record of the gun from the public and are a prime example of how the gun industry actively conceals information about injuries and fatalities connected with its products. The industry has done so with the help of Congress and the powerful National Rifle Association lobby.

Like other gun makers, Glock is not required to report complaints and injuries to any federal or state agency. And Glock cannot be compelled to inform gun buyers of problems others have had with its weapons.

The News documented more than 50 lawsuits against Glock in the past eight years. In those with confirmed settlements, Glock insisted on confidentiality agreements.

Despite the agreements, Glock pistols, the weapon of choice for more than half the nation’s police departments, have earned a reputation among some gun experts as a firearm with too few safety features and that is too quick to fire. Its reputation is directly linked to its design, which ignores important safety features.

The no-frills, lightweight polymer-frame semiautomatic pistol forces the user to handle the gun with extreme caution. The Glock will fire if the trigger is moved less than a half an inch, compared to twice that distance for most other police guns.

And some Glocks will shoot with as little as 3 1/2 pounds of pressure on the trigger — light enough for a 5-year-old to fire the gun. Glock started offering optional trigger pulls of up to 12 pounds in the mid-1990s after the New York City Police Department — plagued by a string of police shootings — demanded a heavier trigger.

The gun has no manual safety to prevent it from firing if the trigger is accidentally pulled. In fact, the gun’s safety features — extremely effective in preventing discharges if the gun is dropped or hit — automatically are turned off every time the trigger is depressed.

In addition, most Glocks have no indicator that shows the guns are loaded and no magazine safety to prevent them from firing when the ammunition clip is removed. And unlike many other guns, the Glock is always semicocked and ready to shoot. This inner tension in its firing mechanism increases the likelihood of discharge if the trigger is accidentally moved, some gun experts say.

"What you have is a gun that is almost too eager to fire," said Carter Lord, a national firearms and ballistics consultant. "I think it may be an appropriate weapon for highly trained paramilitary officers in a SWAT team, but not for most police officers and certainly not for civilians."

Gun’s sensitive trigger endangers police officers

With so few Glock victims able to talk freely, details of injuries must often be obtained from police reports, eyewitness statements and court documents that haven’t been sealed. These sources paint a picture of a gun that has severely injured police officers.

In many instances, the injuries are devastating and permanent.

Take the case of Jimmy Pope. The former Jackson, Miss., police officer was shot in the face when a Glock being cleaned in another room by his roommate and fellow officer, Von Ware, accidentally discharged. The bullet went through Pope’s bedroom wall and the headboard of his bed before hitting him.

Pope lost an eye in the 1993 shooting and suffered extensive facial injuries.

Detroit police have had their share of Glock injuries, although police officials insist there have been very few instances of unintentional discharges with the gun.

Within two years of switching to the Glocks in 1992, two officers shot themselves in their legs and another was shot in the buttocks. And in July, Detroit Officer Michael Allen, 22, was shot in the leg, the bullet hitting the bone. His Glock accidentally fired as he tried to put it under the seat after his car was pulled over by customs inspectors on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge.

Police shooting themselves in their legs with Glocks is so prevalent, said firearms consultant and former Guns and Ammo editor Whit Collins, that gun experts describe the phenomenon as "Glock leg."

The list of Glock victims includes veteran police and experienced gun handlers — people like former U.S. Border Patrol agent Michael Roth, 66, a small-town sheriff and marksman with extensive gun training.

In March 1996, Roth was tightening his belt in a mall restroom in Buffalo, N.Y., when the Glock tucked in his waistband accidentally discharged, striking him in the leg.

Investigators believed the gun’s trigger caught in his clothing, causing the gun to fire. Roth sued Glock, blaming the gun’s light, short trigger pull and lack of a manual safety for the shooting.

Glock settled the case, but again killed any publicity by demanding Roth and his attorney sign a strict confidentiality agreement barring them from talking about the shooting.

For some police officers like Terry Turner of Beaumont, Texas, such shootings prove career-ending. Turner had his leg amputated last year after he was shot in the thigh when his Glock accidentally discharged as he placed it in his holster.

Accidental firings hurt suspects, bystanders

It isn’t just police officers who are getting hurt in accidental Glock shootings. Suspects, innocent bystanders and even spouses sometimes are caught in the line of fire.

That was the case in August when Woonsocket, R.I., police Lt. Walter Warot accidentally shot himself in the buttocks and slightly wounded the person sitting next to him.

Warot, who was sitting on a granite bench outside Providence Superior Court at the time, was adjusting a Glock tucked in his waistband when it discharged. An employee of the attorney general’s office sitting next to him was nicked by flying fragments of granite from the shot’s impact.

Other victims of Glock shootings have not been so lucky. Elroy Gonzalez was shot in the head and seriously injured in 1996 while being arrested by a Kentucky police officer for allegedly possessing a small amount of marijuana. The officer said he didn’t intend to fire his gun.

Ronnie Earl Kimbrell was shot in the back by a South Carolina state trooper in 1995 while being arrested for an alleged traffic violation. The trooper said he was trying to handcuff Kimbrell when he accidentally fired his gun.

James Lancaster was killed Aug. 8, 1996, after a sheriff’s deputy unintentionally shot him. At the time he was shot, Lancaster was being forced to the ground after a 20-mile car chase. The officer said he didn’t intend to fire the weapon.

Company holds gun users responsible for safety

One of the biggest safety criticisms leveled against Glock is the company’s refusal to put a manual safety on its guns. Glock developed a safety for its guns years ago, but never made it available to the public.

Glock built the safety for guns manufactured for the Finnish military, the gun maker’s general counsel and vice president Paul F. Jannuzzo revealed in a deposition. He said the company made 50 such pistols.

Like so many things about Glock, information about the manual safety remains shielded from the public. And despite the benefits many see in the feature, no agency has the power to compel the manufacturer to add it to its guns.

In 2002, Glock introduced an optional safety feature — a built-in safety lock — for some of its guns.

In announcing the locks, Glock acknowledged that gun manufacturers can design firearms with features that make them safer to keep in homes with children.

"The beauty of the Glock locking system is it is simple and safe," an article in last year’s Glocks Autopistols magazine stated. "It is the perfect system for someone without a strong background in firearms training and is dealing with the conflict of having young children in the home while feeling a great need for a tool that would enable them to maintain control when physically threatened with criminal intrusion."

But the gun maker’s Web site states the company’s philosophy that firearms safety is ultimately the responsibility of gun owners.

"Firearm safety is up to you, the end-user," Gaston Glock states in a message to customers on his company’s Web site. "The safe handling of firearms, like morality, cannot be legislated into existence. Only firearms users can make the safe use and storage of firearms a reality."

Weapon easily converted into full automatic mode

One of the Glock’s most frightening attributes is its ability to easily be converted into a full automatic weapon capable of firing at the rate of 1,000 rounds a minute.

Glock has issued no warnings and made no changes in its design that would prevent its weapons from being converted into submachine guns.

Experts say the problem can be corrected with minor changes in how Glock pistols are made.

A full automatic Glock will fire 33 bullets in seconds with one trigger pull. And the gun can be quickly converted to full automatic mode for as little as $10 with homemade parts. It is a well-documented danger known to law enforcement.

"In some regions of California, police are treating any Glock they encounter as a machine gun until proven otherwise," states an advisory on the Association of Forensic Firearm and Toolmark Examiners Web site that lists dangerous or defective guns.

"The conversion from standard to fully automatic is fast and simple, requiring no technical expertise. The conversion is accomplished merely by swapping one piece for the other. A ‘real pro’ can make the switch in 15 seconds."

The easy conversion is no surprise, experts say. Gaston Glock, who designed the gun that bears his name, relied heavily on the technology behind the German Heckler and Koch VP 70 submachine gun when creating his weapon, Glock’s 1990 U.S. patent shows.
Hmmm. no safeties? All you have to do is pull the trigger?

That's every bit as dangerous as a DA revolver!:what:
I would also bet that because there are alot of Glock pistols, carried by alot of diff't people & alot of diff't agenicies, your numbers will be slightly skewed. I would also bet that before Glock, a diff't company held the distinction of being most prone to AD's. I'm not a big fan of Glocks, but if used properly & carried responsibly, they shouldn't be any more prone to the AD than any other handgun.
The Glock is a fine firearm and one of the very few "Combat Pistols" available.
What is a "Combat Pistol"? It's one where all you have to do to put it into action is pull the trigger. Presented with a threat? Draw, aim, pull trigger, BANG.
That is all by design. Don't put your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot. As pointed out, that's been the same for revolvers for 100+ years.

My brief e-mail to Mr. Claxton (see below). While I am not a big fan of Glocks, I do own one, I do think it is incumbent upon us to "call out" such biased articles.

Dear Mr. Claxton:

I recently read your December 15, 2003 article regarding Glock handguns. I am disappointed that a major metropolitan newspaper would allow such a biased article to appear in any section other than the editorials.

First of all, I own a Glock handgun, among a number of guns that I own, it is far from my favorite but I am at least familiar with its operations. From your "reporting" it does not appear as if you have ever operated a Glock handgun.

Glock handguns do not "shoot with as little as 3 1/2 pounds of pressure on the trigger" unless modified by the end-user. They are not shipped from the factory that way.

Glock safeties "automatically are turned off every time the trigger is depressed." Isn't that the point. How is the gun supposed to fire if the safeties are operable when the trigger is depressed. Which brings up a key point, the gun will not fire unless the trigger is pulled, plain and simple. If you do not intend to fire do not pull the trigger.

A number of examples of accidental discharges cited in your article are more correctly negligent discharges. For instance, "when the Glock tucked in his waistband accidentally discharged." You should not be tucking a Glock in your waistband without a using a proper holster to secure and guard the trigger. There is no indication this person was using a holster. Another example, "when a Glock being cleaned in another room by his roommate and fellow officer, Von Ware, accidentally discharged." Number one rule, always assume a gun is loaded until you verify otherwise. This would be true regardless of whether there is a loaded chamber indicator or not. Mr. Von Ware violated this rule. Mr. Von Ware should have dropped the magazine from the gun and then racked the slide to check the chamber, at that point the round would have been ejected and the pistol ready for cleaning. Mr. Von Ware's failure to do so resulted in the discharge.

I could go on but I assume you get the point I am making.

Finally, as a practicing attorney that has handled numerous product liability cases, none firearm related, I must say that confidentiality clauses are the norm. This does not normally prevent other plaintiffs from obtaining information regarding other claims. It merely prevents plaintiffs from discussing the claims. It is generally an effort to ward off copy claims that may have no merit based on the mere fact the company settled a prior lawsuit.

I look forward to your reply.
Ummm . . . a firearm that will ONLY fire when the trigger is pulled is NOT inferior or defective, provided it does so reliably.

As for "Glock Leg" among police officers . . . it's my observation that when it comes to firearms skill, there are very few "average" officers. Virtually all I've encountered fall into the "pretty darn good" category or "godawfully bad" category . . . with the vast majority in the latter. Some veteran police firearms instructors I've met (at the range, of course!) have agreed.

If you took a random selection of, say, 100 cops, and put them through the ordinary IDPA classifier, it wouldn't surprise me at all to find two thirds (or more!) of them in the "novice" category.
Seems like that headline should read "Improperly trained police officers are prone to shooting themselves accidentally", no? But, that wouldn't sell papers :rolleyes:
Strange. My 18 yr. old Glock 17 has only discharged when I have placed my finger on the trigger and pulled it to the rear. Sounds like some folks trying to blame the manufacturer for their own violations of the 4 rules.
"In some regions of California, police are treating any Glock they encounter as a machine gun until proven otherwise," states an advisory on the Association of Forensic Firearm and Toolmark Examiners Web site that lists dangerous or defective guns.

Hmmm. I'm thinking of a term here, let's see now, what was it? Oh yeah:


I guess when I re-qual'd or my CCW earlier this month, I guess the Sheriff's Office didn't get the memo, and signed off on my 'machine gun' Glock 30.

Ok everybody, let's say it together:

FOUR RULES!! ALL THE TIME! Is that so hard to remember?
When the Washington Metro police adopted Glocks back in the early 1990s, it also coincided with a serious drop in funds available for training and an influx of substandard recruits brought onto the force under court orders.

The result was that the number of unintentional/accidental/negligent discharges skyrocketed, and stayed at very high levels for several years.

One of the training instructors (a friend of mine) shot himself in the hand during a demonstration and badly injured two fingers.

That's how bad things were -- that the instructors weren't properly instructed on how to teach the new weapon.
I want to know more about this mystery part that only takes seconds to switch out. What is it and where do I get it? For educational purposes only, of course.
QBG, all too often it is too hard for them to remember. Heck even here at THR people boast of their ignorance of the Four Rules.:(

Seems to be a lot of tucking in the waistband going on out there in po-po land.:rolleyes: Far too many gun rags being read by coppers apparently. I wonder how many of these 50 individuals stated those famous words, "it's all I need" when told by their more knowledgable co-workers to buy a holster???

Memo to police: 1. do not just stick the pistol in your waistband or pocket. There are these things called holsters, use them. 2. Learn the Four Rules and abide by them, especially #3.:D
In fact, the gun’s safety features..... automatically are turned off every time the trigger is depressed.
In other news, gravity causes stuff to fall.
El T: I remember when I took my NRA hunter safety course many many years ago. At the time as I recall, they had TEN rules for handling firearms. When I first became aware of the four rules, I was like WOOHOO! Smaller! Better! Faster!

There's a THR member (don't remember who, but props to him) that has a sig line that goes 'I'm not sure what to think about people that have handguns without holster wear.' I kind of like that.

When I was still in the business, it always amused me when a customer would drop $600 - $800 on a hi-end pistol and then balk at a paying $50 - $100 on a quality holster and belt.

I want to know more about this mystery part that only takes seconds to switch out. What is it and where do I get it? For educational purposes only, of course.

And is it something I can construct out of common household items?/MacGyver
For a department facing media and legal scrutiny, I would suspect that it's ALOT easier to label their equipment as unsafe rather than the offending officer. However, many departments do indeed T&E their pistols prior to making a selection, so why then would they knowingly adopt an "unsafe" design in the first place? Similar to this, is the department which would rather buy the latest greatest fad caliber after a failure to stop in the field, instead of actually training their officers how to shoot and possibly upgrading the issued ammunition. Unfortunately, it seems many departments are not afforded the budget or time needed to properly train their officer's to begin with, wether it be safety practices, weapons retention, or how to shoot and effectively place their shots.

It's quite simple to explain really. We live in a time when many folks simply do not want to take responsibility for their own negligent or irresponsible actions. From the individual who sue's McDonald's because their obese, to blaming a lifeless object for an officer's improper gunhandling practices or the departments failure to provide adequate training. We also live in a time when many companies or in this case departments, would rather save a buck than do a job properly, and with the required time and resources.

I wonder what or who gets the blame when a Glock is fitted with a NY1 (8-lb.) or NY2 (12-lb.) trigger as many LE versions are? I would wager it would still be the Glock. :rolleyes:

Bottom line.........NO firearm is safe, in unsafe/untrained hands!

Remember how the FIB blamed the nine after the Miami debacle? Politically driven cover @$$ tactic.
While I am no personal fan of Glock pistols, and laughed some during the reading of this article... I have to admit that this article is some patently pathetic journalism.

I've been shooting for decades, I've worn a badge and I've owned a Glock, and I know a lot of active police officers... and I have never heard the term "Glock Leg". Weatherby Eyebrow, yeah... Glock Leg? No.

The entire article is made to sound as if a Glock pistol is an accident waiting to happen, and puts all accidental shootings as a result of Glock's evil entent to hurt police officers and then they *Gasp* put gag orders on all settled cases! *shocked*

Questions for this jaded journalist:
1. Is it not common practice to put nondisclousure clauses in all settlements?
2. It is not a problem of training to teach officers to keep their damned fingers off the trigger until the copper is ready to bust the cap?
3. Have any of these accidents occured when the copper kept his finger off the trigger?
4. Is it not common practice to put blaim on something that can't defend it's self, like a gun, instead of admiting that one is a dumbass and shot himself in the leg?

I feel for the injured... and sympathize with the man with a limp that thought it cool to carry a 3.5 pound triggered Glock on duty and still didn't have the self control to keep his finger out of the trigger guard. I really do. Unfortunately this isn't an indictment on Glock, but an indictment on police officer's standards of training. If these cops are too dimm to handle a Glock, perhaps they are too dim to handle a gun with an external safety too. Perhaps even the classic old Double Action Revolver is too much for them as well. Perhaps - it is best that they not be working as police officers. Professional Darwinism at work.

I think this might also be an indication of poor highering practices by departments...
I've seen far too many chess club geeks who have never even held a real gun before get police jobs while guys that served in the military, been shooters all their lives and have never been further then 6 feet away from a gun since they were 15, get skipped over because the geek had 2 more years of college. Schooling is fine - higher education is a good thing - but personally I'd rather see the guy with the street smarts get the job rather than the guy with the book smarts.
"Remember how the FIB blamed the nine after the Miami debacle?"

No, the gun press blamed the 9mm. Lots of hooting and hollering and column inches.

The FBI decided that it needed to get A) something more effective in adverse conditions, and B) revamp its training protocols.

It tried to do A, it did do B.
Yeah police guns in general are prone to accidental firing. The problem with the Glock is a sympton of poor training. The Glock is often billed as a great gun for novices. It is not. A Glock will fire if you pull the trigger (the safety widget on the trigger is practically worthless) which means if someone screws up, someone can get hurt. Not only is it possible to pull the trigger holstering/drawing the gun (not that hard if you don't have a good holster), but you also can forget to clear the chamber when you pull the trigger to field strip it. Its time for LEOs to reform their training programs to higher standards to compensate for these issues.

As for the glock, its not for me. If I was going to buy a polymer nine it would probably be an XD9. The added redundancy of the grip safety is a nice and worthwhile feature to me when handling the gun. Plus the XD still has the same point and shoot functionality. But thats me not you. You make your choices and take your chances.
Run for your lives it's a GLOCK.......I'm so sick of hearing this crap....this is exactly what's wrong w/ people today..."it's not MY fault,it must be made wrong..." BS........learn how to use you freaking gun!!!!Now people are human,but when YOU make a mistake,be a man and admit it......"I had my finger on the trigger"....just once I'd love to hear someone be honest about these episodes.......ok I'll take my Meds now....................:banghead:
Remember fellas there is a reason Glock is carried by 129% of all LEO’s this side of Proxima Centauri…………… PRICE!

I’m in Law Enforcement and a lot of cops I know shoot Glocks, one because it’s what the department issues, two, it’s what most cops carry and ironically it’s what they can afford on a cops salary. Plus Glock will sell me a new G22 for three bills and some change with purchase order and letterhead request.

Personally I carry a Sig, I’m not the best shooter around hell I’m probably not even good by most standards of those self professed DELTA/SEAL/IPDA/CIA Snipers here, but I chose my sidearm because it’s safe, comfortable and it’s what I know price was the last issue, so I carry a SIG P226 Stainless with nitesights.

LE Agencies don’t do that, they look at price first and the lowest bidder wins, hence Glock.
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