“One of our guys shot himself in the foot this evening. He racked the slide with a finger on the trigger and cranked off a round through the dash of his truck and into his foot.
No, it wasn’t a Glock; it was Saint Browning’s design.
The wound isn’t serious.
His pride is in critical condition.”
-Lee Weems, Facebook Friend, posted Sept. 18, 2017
Negligent Discharge of a Firearm (ND) is the term many gun-nuts and rifle-looneys prefer to the old “Accidental Discharge”. I suppose I agree, for the most part. After all, having a firearm fire when you aren’t planning on it firing doesn’t just happen for no reason… there is always a factor of operator negligence at play. Hammers that have been sitting in a cocked and locked condition for 5 years don’t just suddenly drop on the firing pin for no reason. Loaded guns in safes or in holsters don’t “just go off” on their own.
That marvellous invention, the modern firearm, is one of the most clever inventions of all time. I truly mean that. Whether it’s a Glock autopistol, a Smith & Wesson revolver, a Browning Auto shotgun, or a WInchester rifle, the firearm as currently manufactured in the modern world is an incredibly effective and efficient device that does exactly what it’s supposed to, every time the operator uses it as it was intended.
Note: I wrote the phrase as it was intended very specifically. Because when used in a manner that was NOT intended by the designer and manufacturer, a firearm can become a deadly and dangerous thing. And that is apparently what happened in the incident described above. The operator put his booger hook on the bang-switch and then actuated the entire firing mechanism. BANG.
It happens that fast.
I was surprised to see how reasonable most of the responses to this incident were… at least the responses on Facebook. Having been on internet firearms forums for nearly 20 years, I’ve read just about every nasty, disrespectufl, and unsympathetic comment you can imagine when reports of a ND make the rounds. But most of the people responding to Lee’s post were basically nice about it. Maybe it’s because most of the respondents are experienced shooters, and they’ve had a ND themselves.
I am one of them. In fact, I’ve had three ND’s in my life.
And with a tally of three, I’m doing pretty well, statistically speaking. I’ve done some reading and research on this topic, and I’ve learned that several credible authorities say that the incidence of ND’s approaches 100% for every 50,000 rounds fired. Others put the number a bit higher, some a bit lower. But the actual number isn’t as important as the virtual certainty: the more you handle and shoot firearms, the more likely it is that you will have a Negligent Discharge.
“Impossible!” says the Self-Proclaimed Expert. “I’ve never had a Negligent Discharge in 40 years of shooting.”
Statistically speaking, that is extremely unlikely. Most people I’ve talked to who claim to never have had a ND fall into one of 3 categories:
1) They shoot very little. These are the guys who own or collect guns, but rarely go hunting or go to the range to shoot them. They are far more common than you might think. Having spent years as a range officer and very active shooter at a local gun club, I can cite dozens of cases. Guys I really liked, guys I like to hang out with, have a beer with in the clubhouse after a couple rounds of trap, who were always at the club, but somehow never got around to actually going out to the firing line and shooting. These guys haven’t had a ND because they simply haven’t come close to 50,000 rounds fired, so their statistical risk is low.
2) They have had ND’s, but they’ve “explained” them away. These guys are just as accident-prone as the rest of us, or maybe even moreso. But when their ND happens, they brush it off as being due to some factor outside of their control. “The sear on that gun was filed down too far,” or “My gloved finger caught the trigger,”, or some such. These “explanations” aren’t exactly lies, but they skirt the edge of falsehood. If the sear was filed too far, then get it fixed and don’t take a file to your guns again, let an expert gunsmith tune your triggers for you! If your glove caught the trigger, you need to fix the gun or your glove or your manual of arms to be damn sure it doesn’t happen again. But saying to yourself that it wasn’t a Negligent Discharge vastly increases the risk that you’ll just blow the whole thing off and not correct the causes, and it will happen again.
3) They’ve had ND’s, but they lie about it. There is no excuse for this. If you’ve had one, stop what you’re doing and own it. Learn from it. Admit it when asked. But denying it ever happened increases your risk of it happening again by an unknowable amount… you can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t acknowledge them!
My ND’s: How They Happened and What I Learned
My first ND happened when I was 12, and my total round count was about 500. I was out in a pasture, hunting gophers with my dad. I had my single-shot Anschutz .22 rifle, Dad had his Browning Challenger .22 pistol. We always had a great time shooting gophers together and those Saturday afternoon outings are cherished memories of time with my father. Well, somehow in those early days I got into the habit of testing the trigger of my rifle, for reasons that make no sense to me now. This amounted to just pressing it lightly as I walked along, my thumb on the safety latch to make sure it was forward, then pressing until I felt the secure and solid resistance of the safety blocking further movement of the trigger. I don’t recall how many times I did it, or even why I did it. Then one day as we were walking together across a field, the comforting solid resistance of the safety blocking the trigger’s travel wasn’t there, and a bullet slammed into the ground beside my right foot. Not close enough to even qualify as “close”, because I was always conscious of muzzle direction, but still it was a ND. My father was furious, and he decided that our day of shooting was done right then and there. I was chagrined, ashamed, and disappointed. But I learned a hugely valuable lesson, one that seared the Third Rule of Firearm Safety onto the surface of my cerebral cortex forever and ever amen: never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
My second ND happened when I was in my 40’s, in my early years in pistol competition. By this time I estimate I had over 100,000 rounds of ammunition fired: trap and sporting clays leagues, pistol league, hunting, and practice for all the above. By anyone’s accounting I was a pretty damn experienced shooter. I had been to our local gun club’s indoor range that dark winter evening to shoot a couple of rounds of National Match rimfire for our local Bullseye league. After the match rounds I fired 150-200 rounds of 9mm through my IDPA match gun, a Taurus PT92AF, and my daily carry pistol, a Kahr P9. The Kahr pistol company was new then, and their small but artful pistols were highly sought after. Still are, come to think of it!
Anyway: when I got home I went down to my basement workshop and cleaned both centerfire pistols, then my Ruger MkII target pistol. I was still feeling “gunny”, so I commenced to doing some dry-fire drills with my Kahr. I was pretty strict about dry-fire, having taken Massad Ayoob’s dry-fire rules to heart. I had locked away all my ammo, triple-checked my gun, and then commenced doing draw-and-fire drills on a B27 target I had hanging on the basement wall. The phone rang, and I picked it up, and entered into a lively conversation with a good friend that went on for 20 minutes or so. As we chatted, I haphazardly decided to end my dry-fire session and to load up “for the street”. I unlocked my ammo cupboard and took out a box of 9mm carry rounds, my Kahr magazines, and re-charged the mags, slapped a mag into the butt of my carry gun, racked the slide, and holstered it. The conversation ended and I went about tidying up my shop before going to bed. But the dry-fire mentality was still stuck in my head, as I hadn’t performed my usual session-end ritual. This ritual involves me saying OUT LOUD as I load and holster my weapon, “I am loading my weapon with live ammunition. All training is over.” This helps me focus on the transition from training to being ready for fighting. (I learned this concept from Ken Murray when I took his SIMUNITION school many years ago, and still practice it at all my classes today.) Somehow, distracted by the phone call and my to-do list, my mind was still engaged in the dry-fire drill. Without thinking about it, I turned to square up to my B27 target, yanked my pistol, and fired. WHAM. The sound of that 9mm round going off in the tight confines of my workshop was deafening.
I had violated my dry-fire rules. Dry-fire involves a conscious decision to ignore the First Rule of Gun Safety (All guns are always loaded), and by failing to turn off the dry-fire ritual in my conscious and subconscious mind, I had violated the First Rule. I was shocked, chagrined, and embarassed. My wife chewed my ass royally when she came downstairs to see what the noise was all about, and she was right to do so. The saving grace in this scenario was that I knew what my muzzle was pointing at, and I was conscious of both my target and the background (the Second and Fourth Rules), so no damage to anything but my pride and my practice B27 target and the stone wall behind it was done.
My third ND happened 7 years ago. By this time I had a grand total of somewhere north of 250,000 rounds of ammunition fired, lifetime. In addition to my routine summer and fall trap and sporting clays leagues, winter rimfire pistol league, and hunting activities, I had got involved in IDPA and Cowboy Action Shooting. I was shooting over 12,000 rounds of centerfire pistol ammunition for IDPA training and matches alone for more than 10 years. My pistol skills were as smooth as they could be. I had also started shooting 3-gun, and was shooting thousands of rounds of 5.56mm ammo every year as well, plus my usual shotgunning excesses. To give you some idea how ridiculous my shotgun habit was, I had worn out my old MEC reloading machine; I had had it overhauled so many times that the guy who did the work on it told me to take the one hour drive down to Mayville and buy a new one, which I did. I guess that speaks to the durability of modern firearms, too… I had fired all of those 12-gauge shotshells through only 3 shotguns: an Ithaca-SKB 200E side-by-side double, a Franchi O/U double, and a Remington 870 Wingmaster. All 3 of those shotguns are still working fine with nothing more than routine cleaning and oiling, unlike the MEC Grabber, which went on the scrap heap!
So it kind of makes sense that my ND this time didn’t involve any of the firearms I’d been handling so much over the preceding 45 years. This time it was a muzzleloading rifle. I know, it sounds impossible, but here is how it happened.
I had been going on a late-season muzzleloader hunt with the same dozen guys for years, out in the Driftless Area of western Wisconsin. Every day at the end of shooting light we would line up by the trucks at the side of the road, cap our rifles, and fire a volley into the ground to clear the barrels; in the damp and foggy weather of late season Wisconsin deer hunting, this was a necessity. Leaving powder in your barrel overnight could lead to soggy powder, and soggy powder won’t burn, and powder that won’t burn means a muzzleloader that won’t fire on command to kill a deer. The problem was that at the end of the last day of the 2009 season, it was foggy and had been raining so hard that my muzzleloader wouldn’t fire. The powder was damp, or there was water in the priming channel, or whatever… so I couldn’t clear it. And I had put my rifle away, uncapped but still loaded with powder and ball, and forgotten about it. Fast forward to the night before the first day of the 2010 muzzleloader season. I took my front-stuffer out of the safe, and as part of my usual preparation, I took out a tin of caps and placed one on the nipple. Firing a couple of caps before you load your rifle is smart: it clears out any dust or moisture that may have accumulated, and you can confirm that everything is clear by placing a small piece of paper on the floor just an inch or so from your muzzle. When you snap your cap, the paper will flutter away from the exhaust gases. I laid a piece of paper on the floor, capped the nipple, placed the muzzle near the paper, and snapped the trigger. BAWHOOM!! The 50-caliber round ball that had been sitting in the barrel on top of a full charge of now-dry black powder for almost a year smashed into the wooden floor of my workshop. My ears rang for days.
Again, I was chagrined, embarassed, and ashamed of my mistake. But I had no damage to myself, other than my pride. Strict adherence to the Second Rule had spared me from tragic consequences.
At 63 years of age I’m pushing close to 300,000 rounds of ammunition fired. I’ve had 3 ND’s, and I grimly own every one of them. I am not proud of them, but I refuse to blow them off or to lie about them, because they confirm the ironclad rules we all are bound by when we use firearms. I have learned from my three ND’s, and I hope there will never be a fourth. But if there is, I pray that I have the good fortune (or sense, or whatever) to only violate one of the Rules, and thereby avoid harming anyone or anything I care about.
The Four Rules of Firearm Safety
1. Handle all firearms as if they are loaded.
2. Never allow your muzzle to cross anything you are not prepared to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared to fire.
4. Be sure of your target and whatever is behind it.