Negligent Discharges: Preventable or Inevitable?

From a completely statistical standpoint you cannot deny that the more you handle firearms the greater the likelihood that one will go ‘bang’ when you didn’t want it to. That’s not an excuse to handle firearms recklessly. It’s simply a...


More than twenty years ago I recall one of my firearms instructors saying, “There are two kinds of shooters, those who’ve had an ND and those who will.”  At the time some of the other students scoffed and made comments about it not ever happening to them or only ‘untrained’ people having them.  From a completely statistical standpoint you cannot deny that the more you handle firearms the greater the likelihood that one will go ‘bang’ when you didn’t want it to. That’s not an excuse to handle firearms recklessly. It’s simply a statistical probability. 

It is also true that familiarity breeds contempt.  The more that people handle firearms the more comfortable they become even to the point of being blasé about how where they are pointed and handled. 

If we really start to split atoms you could legitimately say that Negligent Discharges can take the form of either simple negligence or reckless and gross negligence.  In the span of less than five days two of my acquaintances have had negligent discharges.  One resulted in the death of another person and the other simply ended up with a round in the berm down range.

Post-Incident Considerations

After a negligent discharge occurs the worst thing we can do is simply say “Sh*t happens” and move on.  That kind of attitude is in itself negligent.  Just as the Federal Aviation Administration investigates airplane crashes to determine the cause and try to prevent that cause in the future, so must we as responsible trainers and professional gun carriers coldly examine what led up to the ND in question.  Cops don’t refer to automobile collisions as “accidents” we call them “crashes” because rarely was it a true accident; 99 times out of 100 something could have been done to prevent the crash.

If the ND did not result in an injury the event is typically handled with departmental discipline and, of course, ribbing from one’s peers.  The responsible shooter is embarrassed like never before.  It’s only after an injury that serious post-shooting investigation takes place.  Any time a gun goes ‘bang’ when it wasn’t supposes to we should seriously examine the situation while being quietly relieved if someone wasn’t injured.  Calling the guy a “dumb ass” or similar derogatory term doesn’t prevent it from happening again.

Practicing to Fail?

As professional trainers and firearms carriers we need to consider whether our training and ingrained gun handling habits have led to or are likely to lead to a negligent discharge.  While it is true that there have been ND’s when the person had a gun in hand and was preparing to fire, but hadn’t yet made the decision, the majority of ND’s occur during “administrative” gun handling.

Think about it.  Do shooters have negligent discharges when they have a gun in hand and are planning to shoot?  The answer is; most likely not.  ND’s most often occur during the loading and unloading or ‘non-fighting’ related tasks.  If you are willing to accept the premise that the majority of unintentional discharges occur when people are simply “handling” the gun then you must ask yourself, how often do you want them to handle it? 

Institutionalized gun handling practices that require shooters to constantly load, then unload, and load their firearms, often multiple times in one day statistically force the chances of a negligent discharge. 

Consider the pistol.  Unless the gun is somehow mechanically defective it cannot go off when carried in a designated holster.  However, there are agencies, departments, and organizations that force shooters to remove safely carried, loaded pistols from the holster and ‘handle’ them to clear or unload them for benign reasons, such as entering a building.  No I’m not talking about jails or prisons.  Save your letters.

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