A few years ago I worked on and our company published a significant research study of 300 Negligent Discharges. We looked at publicly available news stories occurring over a 24-month period in which a gun went off unintentionally.
When we published the results of that survey we included information about injuries vs death, locations, children, and more.
Today I come back to that data as well as more recent data and answer an even more important question… how do we prevent Negligent Discharges?
There Are Some Important Patterns or Types of NDs
As I went back and re-read all 300 of the news stories in our original study and a few dozen more recent stories, I did so while asking myself the question; what specific behavior, habit, or best practice was ignored that led to this negligent discharge?
With that question in mind, I was surprised to find that 6 specific patterns emerged. Put differently 6 different failures led to a negligent discharge. So the goal of today's article is to identify the 6 behaviors or best practices that if followed would effectively eradicate all NDs.
Make This Personal
While it's easy to read an article like this and superimpose the lessons on others, it is far more valuable to apply the lessons to your own life.
Of course, dumb people, gangbangers, and irresponsible gun owners have negligent discharges but they would never happen to me because I'm responsible and educated.
If that is an accurate reflection of your sentiments then you are unfortunately neither responsible nor educated. A truly responsible and educated gun owner would know with 100% certainty that negligent discharges happen to all types of gun owners and that the only way to prevent them is to be hyper-vigilant about safety rules and safety-related best practices.
So, for the rest of this article read these 6 behaviors and ask yourself how diligent you are in following each of them.
1: Administrative Handling – Leave Holstered & Be Deliberate
A lot of Negligent Discharges happen during what is generally known as “Administrative Handling.” This is when you remove the gun from the holster to put it in the safe or vice versa. It is when you adjust your firearm/holster on your belt to increase comfort or concealment. This is when you chamber a round, swap magazines, load the magazine, confirm the safety is in the desired position, check if the red dot battery is good, or any number of other administrative tasks.
From my data set a good number of NDs happen during these activities. Picture the man who got his firearm out of the holster in the car to lock it up before going into the post office, the man who removed it inside the elevator to confirm if the safety was engaged, or the person who was using the restroom and removed the gun temporarily for that purpose.
Those are all actions that have led to NDs in my data set.
You prevent NDs during administrative handling by following some simple best practices.
First, if at all possible leave the gun in the holster. When you remove the firearm from the holster you greatly increase the risk of negligent discharge vs leaving the gun in the holster and removing the holster with gun from the body. As you will read further down in this article, the holster is a key safety tool and you do best when you leave the gun in the holster.
The vast majority of the time this can be done. You don't need to remove the gun from the holster to accomplish a great majority of administrative actions. If your holster doesn't allow you to remove the magazine or complete other tasks, you feel are important or need to be completed somewhat regularly you might consider a new holster that allows for those tasks.
In the situations in which you need to remove the firearm from the holster be deliberate. When you need to clean the gun, clear the gun, change holsters, or stage the gun in a safe outside of a holster you have no way around it. You have to remove the gun from the holster.
You are deliberate when you have established places in your home where you conduct these administrative tasks and habits that include going slow, using your eyes to confirm everything is safe, and only proceeding when your hands are free and your mind is free from distractions.
Simply put… Do NOT remove the gun from the holster for admin related tasks unless you are in a familiar environment and free from all distractions.
2: Render Gun Inert For Dry Fire & Maintenance
I have in my Negligent Discharge story collection pictures of holes in the wall, shot refrigerators, and other sad evidence of negligent discharges that happened when the gun owner was conducting dry fire or cleaning the gun.
I define Dry Fire or Dry Practice as any at-home manipulation of the gun. Generally, this is done in order to practice gun handling and build shooting and gun handling skills, and is a practice that is endorsed by every professional everywhere.
In the past we've written dedicated articles on the topic of being safe in dry fire and when cleaning the gun but the simple and best practice here is to deliberately render the gun inert before beginning the dry fire or firearm-related maintenance.
The simplest way to achieve this is with a BarrelBlok/MagBlok. BarrelBlok, which sells in a package along with 3 MagBloks, is a caliber-specific training device that quickly installs into your handgun or rifle and makes the gun inert; incapable of chambering or firing a round. It also protrudes from the muzzle of the gun giving you, and anyone else in the immediate area, a visual confirmation that the gun is safe.
When utilizing a LaserDot or other laser training tool in the gun you won't be able to use the BarrelBlok but you can load the MagBloks into your magazines and this will act as a secondary safety system preventing live ammunition from making its way into the gun.
Before you disassemble the gun to clean it or before you begin your dry fire just install the BarrelBlok and MagBloks. Proceed following the other safety rules and best practices. If I had my way every firearm sold in America would come with a BarrelBlok but since that isn't the case you will have to budget, save, and spend the big $15 to buy one.
3: Proper Storage In And Outside The Home
This is a large and encompassing category but an important one all the same. A LOT of the negligent discharges in our data set could have been prevented if the gun owner decided that firearms should be properly secured when not in the immediate control of a responsible human.
This seems to be a sensitive topic for our community as many feel that they shouldn't be required to lock guns up in safes. I agree that laws that require guns to be locked up in the home are an infringement on our constitutional rights. I also feel strongly that all guns not in the immediate control of a responsible human SHOULD be locked up in a safe.
This also includes when you are not in the home and specifically I feel responsible gun ownership means having the means to secure the firearm in your own vehicle.
Proper storage prevents the NDs we see with children accessing friends, parents, and grandparents' guns certainly but also protects you from adults who irresponsibly access your firearm when you aren't looking, prevent you from grabbing your gun in a half-awake state from your nightstand and accidentally shooting yourself in the leg, and prevents theft from criminals who are intent on hurting people and breaking the law.
4: Holster Rule #1 – Protect The Trigger
I'm quite sad by the number of Negligent Discharges in my research that are due to someone failing to use a holster or a quality holster and yes both happen regularly in the data. I have two NDs on my list in which a child discharged Mom's gun in the purse. One in which the gun owner “bumped” the trigger of his pocket gun, another in which a man shot himself when the zipper pull on his jacket entered the holster and applied reverse pressure against the trigger and fired the gun. I have plenty more examples.
As a company, we follow a set of 4 holster rules and you can become more familiar with all of them by clicking here but in short, the first and most important rule for a holster is that the holster:
Fully protect the trigger guard in such a way that nothing can access the trigger when the firearm is holstered.
There are 3 ways I see failures of Holster Rule #1 lead to negligent discharges in the incidents I've reviewed:
1: Plenty of people just don't use a holster at all. Often this is a gun in a pocket of the pants or in the purse or bag that is “concealed” inside something but not in an actual holster. NOT OK.
2: I see holsters that just don't fully cover the trigger guard. In fact, the pictures advertising holsters on various websites often show the trigger guard exposed which tells me a lot of holster makers don't know it's unacceptable. Things slip into the holster and actuate the trigger. Shirts and jackets tend to be common troublemakers.
3: If the holster is made from a soft material, soft enough to allow an object to penetrate through the material into the trigger guard, the holster sucks and shouldn't be used.
5: Holster Rule #2 – Proper Retention
Back to our 4 holster rules and specifically looking at rule #2 which is that:
The holster must retain the firearm in the holster during normal activities and prevent the gun from leaving the holster unless the user intends it to.
If the gun can fall out or come out of the holster unintentionally, then you are a very short step away from a negligent discharge. Ask the guy whose gun fell out of his shoulder holster while he was strapping his kid into the car seat. Oh, wait you can't ask him. He died when he went to catch the gun and shot himself.
I bet the FBI agent whose gun fell out of his holster at a nightclub in Denver and then proceeded to accidentally shoot a woman when trying to recover his gun from the floor is now pretty dedicated to holsters with proper retention.
Make absolutely certain that your holster retains your gun fully. Want to test it? BarrelBlok the gun, hold your holster upside down over your bed mattress, and give it some soft shakes. Does it come out? If so, that is a fail.
A lot of modern holsters have adjustable retention which is a great feature assuming the screws don't come out and loosen over time. Buy some threadlocker and apply it to your screws to guarantee they won't come loose over time exposing you to a major safety failure.
6: Finger Discipline
Last, but important is finger discipline. Honestly, most of the Negligent Discharges in my research that could have been prevented by good finger discipline involve law enforcement but not all.
NDs that happen when the firearm is OUT of the holster and being deployed for POTENTIAL use happen because the person with the gun was spooked, surprised, or just ultimately allowed the trigger to be pressed BEFORE they had made the decision to shoot.
For example, there is the officer who drew his gun while exiting his patrol vehicle in Minnesota with the intention of just “pointing it” at the suspect but was surprised when it discharged and the suspect was hit. Or the Uber driver in Florida who intended to retrieve his firearm because he thought he might need it in a potential encounter but then accidentally fired it and hit his passenger.
In these ND incidents, the person holding the gun had their finger on the trigger or over the trigger guard in such a way that a loud noise, bumping into an object, or grasping onto an object with the other hand led to the trigger finger tensing or constricting and due to poor trigger finger placement ultimately pressed the trigger unintentionally.
The gun safety rule you are familiar with which says something like “Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you are on target and prepared to shoot” is the key to preventing these incidents and often they occur when you are under pressure, stressed about a potentially life-threatening encounter and otherwise not able to think and focus on the gun handling.
For these reasons, it becomes critical that you have invested significant time into practicing good finger discipline. Keep your finger high above the trigger guard on the frame, grip module, or slide of the gun until you are ON TARGET and have made the decision to fire.
Negligent Discharges are horrible all the time and life-changing in a bad way sometimes. They often lead to preventable injuries and death. They also make our community look bad and endanger our rights.
As someone who has had a negligent discharge for which I'm greatly embarrassed, I strongly implore everyone reading this to abide by these 6 behaviors and take ND prevention seriously.