Serious Gunowner Mistakes – Unintentional Discharges (Part I)

One of the categories of Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make http://seriousgunownermistakes.com is ‘Unintentional Discharges.’ A colleague texted me this question.

Would it be fair to say that most of the negligent shootings on ranges are when people are re‑holstering too quickly?

There are some definitional issues involved in answering the question. First, are we talking about ‘Shootings,’ i.e., an injury occurs, or ‘Discharges,’ where an unplanned discharge occurs that may or may not involve injury?

So far, I haven’t done a statistical analysis about Shootings, per se. However, my collection of images of extremity (hands and feet) injuries that are the result of self-inflicted gun shot wounds is many times larger than my collection of images relating to holster related injuries. It is worthy of note how gory the shotgun wounds through the foot are as a result of using those toe popper shoe attachments that are popular in the clay target sports. The injuries are similar to those caused by the M14 Toepopper Anti-Personnel Mine.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell in either case whether the injury occurred at the range or somewhere else. Whether the discharge occurred at the range or elsewhere may or may not be important, depending on your point of view.

My opinion is that, regardless of where they occur, holster related injuries are not the majority but they are the most publicized. The reasons are simple. First, they tend to be graphic injuries that lend themselves well to being posted and viralized on social media. Second, they are the most likely to occur where someone will capture an image or video. However, a video recently surfaced of a party in an underdeveloped part of the world at which an attendee shot himself in the hand. Nothing good comes of placing the muzzle of a pistol against the palm of your hand and pulling the trigger. His friend was very angry about the copious amount of blood that went all over his sandals.

Another definitional issue is the distinction between Unintentional Discharges (UD), Accidental Discharges (AD), and Negligent Discharges (ND). The Los Angeles Police Department Board of Police Commissioners https://www.lapdonline.org/police_commission draws a distinction between AD and ND as concerns LAPD Officers and considers each type to be a separate subset of UD. AD are caused by equipment failure, i.e., the mechanism of the firearm itself malfunctioned, which caused the Discharge. While this is rare, it does occur. By contrast, the BOPC defines ND as the result an operator error of a fully functional firearm. This distinction was made explicit in Categorical Use of Force Report 045-09 NON-TACTICAL UNINTENTIONAL DISCHARGE https://www.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/045-09_Outside%20City-NTUD.pdf. This report was in regard to an Unintentional Discharge by an officer while Outside the City.

A. Unintentional Discharge

The definitions for an Unintentional Discharge, both Accidental and Negligent, are as follows:

Accidental Discharge: The unintentional discharge of a firearm as a result of an accident such as a firearm malfunction or other mechanical failure, not the result of operator error.

Negligent Discharge: Finding where it was determined that the unintentional discharge of a firearm resulted from operator error, such as the violation of firearm safety rules.

LAPD Board of Police Commissioners

A third definitional issue has been raised by Marty Hayes, President of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network. https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/ He commented that the circumstances of most Unintentional Discharges do not fit the legal definition of ‘Negligent.’ Given the firearms community’s preoccupation with the distinction between ‘clip’ and ‘magazine,’ his comment is particularly cogent. The possibility exists that a ‘Negligent’ Discharge might have to be defined in the context of Intentional but Undesirable Discharges (resulting in a Negative Outcome) rather than Unintentional Discharges.

Getting back to the original question, it is easy to make a simple numerical contrast relating to ‘Discharges.’ Observe the number of bullet impacts on the ceiling and floor of an indoor range. Almost every one of those was a Discharge that was unplanned and went somewhere other than it was intended.

I say ‘almost,’ because I was once asked to give a private lesson to a lady who literally shot her revolver like Antonio Banderas in Desperado. Most likely several rounds of each cylinder hit the ceiling. While the shots were Planned, they did not impact anywhere near the target.

There are something like 4,000 shooting facilities in the US, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. https://www.nssf.org/shooting/where-to-shoot/ Given the number of unplanned impacts at Atlanta area ranges alone, it’s likely that Unplanned Discharges occur thousands of times daily throughout the US. However, almost all of those cause only property damage or no damage at all. So, while we can probably safely say that Unplanned Discharges are relatively common, Unplanned Shootings are relatively rare.

Part II of this series will explore the types of UDs in Serious Mistakes, discuss definitional issues further, and make some observations about preventing this undesirable phenomenon.

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Note that Serious Mistakes Gunowners Make is included with the purchase of any other book.

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