In the firearms training world, there are those who have fired a shot unintentionally and those who will. Another way to look at is play with fire long enough and you eventually get burn.

Words have meaning

The first thing we have to understand is defining an unintentional discharge. The way I explain an unintentional discharge is when the gun fires as a result of failing to follow the safety rules. Either through your carelessness, lack of attention or deliberate indifference the gun fired while in your possession. Modern semi-automatic firearms do not go off by themselves, they can only be fired through human intervention. As gun owners, students and practitioners of the art it is incumbent on us to be safe. If it is predictable, then it is preventable.

It’s not about belief

If we were to study many of the recent unintentional discharges the question you have to ask was where did things break down and thus resulted in the discharge. The majority of the events I have viewed all pointed to a single issue, the operator of the firearm believed the gun was unloaded. That right there is the major issue. Whether through operator error or deliberate indifference their actions lead to an undeniable conclusion. Safety rules and procedures did not materialize out of thin air. They came from the hard lessons we learn in life. It is when we fail to apply this lessons we move from accidental to negligence. It is one thing to discharge the firearm accidentally due to ignorance and a whole other matter when you know better.

The Golden Rule

Many who are reading this blog have been around firearms a long time. I’m confident many would agree the most important safety rule is “keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction”. Over the years I have come to appreciate this rule the most. While adherence to all rules is critical, the priority needs to be safe direction. Teaching new students a litany of rules they have never heard of before sets everyone up for failure. For one thing, they are not going to remember all of them. Second, even if they do remember, they still have to apply the knowledge or change their behavior. You can point the finger at the student and say it is their fault for not knowing. In truth, it is your fault for not recognizing the limitations of the students and acting accordingly.

Keep it Simple

For this reason, we brief three safety rules. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction so if you fail at all the others you hope to minimize property damage or injury. Keep your finger on home position until ready to fire. If you are not sure where your finger belongs then always go home, high along the frame and away from the trigger. Keep the gun unloaded until ready to fire. Once you get these three rules embedded into your students you can conduct live fire training with a reasonable level of safety. There are interpretations an instructor must adapt. One such interpretation is defining a safe direction and when it is safe to load. That is not to say there are other types of rules such as general rules or site-specific rules, but for a new student these three are the bare minimum.

Set the Example

As an instructor it is incumbent upon us to ensure the safest training environment possible. Unintentional discharges whether accidental or through negligence is the gravest of sins. As an instructor, the first thing you have to acknowledge is how this event could happen to you. Don’t think for a moment you are exempt. From there, you have to ask yourself where do I want the bullet to rest should it go off during a demonstration. Prior to a demonstration whether live fire or dry practice I confirm where the bullet will rest and ask whether safe then adjust accordingly. When I’m performing a demonstration do I ask a fellow instructor or student to confirm the condition of the firearm. No, I don’t and the reason I don’t is I have to set the example that I can be trusted to safely unload and handle a firearm. Most students will not have access to a second party when they are on their own to double check their work. We all need to develop the skill to complete this fundamental task on our own. Then hold this standard and others accountable.

Guns are dangerous, it is for this reason we rely on them for defensive use. There is no reason we cannot mitigate risk where necessary through education and training.

2 thoughts on “Unintentional Discharge

  1. Ben says:

    This article struck a chord with me after (another) frustrating trip to my local range this weekend.

    Here is the big problem I see. The majority of the population that goes to the range treats the experience as if they are going bowling. It’s entertainment to them. Particularly troubling is the group setting where 4 or more people show up to go “shooting.” Of course, they all crowd around each other, get lost in their conversations with each other and everyone “taking a turn” at shooting said gun(s) that someone brought. They don’t really learn anything other than, “here, let’s try out my friend’s guns this weekend.”

    Then, you have the typical idiots on the range. For instance, let’s shoot as fast as we can – who cares about where the bullets land. (I’ve heard one person tell their equally ignorant friend, “I annihilated that target!”) Yeah, you did – the target is an absolute mess.

    Let’s see who can shoot the loudest caliber of gun and gather a crowd of equally curious people behind them (I mean after all, the purpose of shooting is to make the walls shake, right? Ka-boom!)

    Let’s take selfie pictures while we are shooting. Let’s crack jokes and laugh unnecessarily loud while others are trying to actually practice for serious purposes. I don’t know what on earth is so funny about shooting guns, but every weekend, there’s a group of people who think shooting is hysterical.

    Most people don’t have an appreciation that they literally hold the difference between life and death in their hands. To them, going out shooting is simply something “fun” to do – like seeing a movie, but this time, they can be the action star rapid-firing and spraying shots like they see on the big screen. (Never mind holding yourself accountable for each shot).

    I see many people at the range who haven’t even shot before and they bring their equally ignorant (boy)/(girl) friend to look over their shoulder and “teach” them. I see people loading guns behind the firing line and walking back-and-forth from the back table to the firing line with guns in their hand. It never crosses their mind to go see a competent instructor first, since they are inexperienced with handling firearms.

    I talk to the employees at the range (mostly kids hired at low wages) who are too busy and distracted processing people to go on the range and they don’t see the multitude of safety infractions that go on. Plus, they don’t really care all that much. When it comes to your personal safety – you’re on your own!

    I see people walking into gun stores with guns in their hands (rifle or pistol) which are not in a case. I am amazed to see how long it takes an “employee” to recognize that a person is walking around with a gun and calls them over to check whether the gun is clear. How these people can afford to purchase a firearm and accompanying ammunition, but they refuse to buy a $20-30 case to put the firearm in, never ceases to amaze me. So they walk to and from the parking lot to the range with said gun(s) in their hands.

    I have to say, I am largely disappointed and frankly concerned about the lack of safety I see among the overall gun public. You might say, this is an opportunity to teach them! Unfortunately, many people have absolutely no interest in getting professional training. They either don’t want to spend the money or they don’t care. They are doing just fine in their minds.

    Then, you have the people who think they handle guns just fine and they don’t want to be told otherwise. Don’t tell them what to do, they say. Mind you’re own business, they say.

    So, unfortunately, unless the person has the desire and willingness to learn about proper gun handling, they are not going to. My main concern is that they might hurt/kill themselves or someone else before the lesson is learned. It’s unfortunate, but I see see poor gun handling all the time at ranges I visit and it’s a wonder that more people aren’t hurt by the negligence, sloppiness and carelessness that people approach with firearms. For many, their ego is too big to be told otherwise. Education and training requires time, money, personal interest and effort – and I unfortunately don’t see that in many people.

    • Jeff Gonzales says:

      I hear what you are saying, while there is much truth to your comments I would say the best course of action is to set the example and then engage in dialogue. The worse we can do is nothing. Stay safe. JG

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