The Anatomy of a Negligent Discharge

The vast majority of gun owners are responsible and safety conscious. No gun owner wants to fire a round unintentionally. That's the reason it's called an unintentional discharge. However, when we look at any instance of an unintended discharge, we'll find avoidable errors. Such is the case with a story I saw posted on a gun forum.

I don't know the individual who posted this, so I'm unaware of this person's experience carrying and handling firearms. Here is the entire text, with only curse words redacted.

Terrible experience, first off thank God no one was injured except my pride and my confidence as a gun owner. I'm here to get my — chewed by the community because I deserve it for sure but I also would like any helpful tips as well, no matter how redundant. So my family and I were getting out of my vehicle, they clear the car and just as I'm about to shut my door, I can see the end of the magazine sticking out of a “beanie” on the console shelf that I tend to tuck it in at times but USUALLY on safe. This was literally that 1 out of 10 times that my .40 wasn't on safe, I grab the entire beanie to move it out of sight.. middle finger landed right in the trigger well through the outside of the beanie.. BANG!, heads turn immediately.. round through the console, mushrooms, stops inside the door just left of the speaker (Thank God). So ashamed and rattled, lost a lot of confidence in handling a firearm today. I know I —— up, should never grab for a weapon I can't entirely see for sure, any words for me CCW community?

First, the Bad —

It's almost hard to overstate how bad this is. By God's grace, all the terrible things that could have happened, didn't.

First, the man didn't know where his handgun was. For many reasons, the gun should always stay on your person. Many people use ‘car holsters' which I dislike. It's just too easy to forget and leave the gun inside the vehicle. Second, this man didn't use a car holster, instead he opted for a…beanie. I won't belabor the point here, but a handgun needs to be inside a proper holster.

So far, we've identified two practices that had a direct influence on the negligent discharge. And there is more.

We've already addressed the beanie, but gripping the gun blindly through something like the beanie is dangerous practice. The worst-case scenario happened when his finger entered the trigger guard area and he pressed the trigger. Compounding this error is one of the reasons I constantly try to get people to break free from the idea that “guns with an external safeties are safer“.

Another issue with grabbing the gun like he did in the beanie is that he has no control over where he is pointing the muzzle. This gun could have just as easily been pointing back at him, or his family member, or an uninvolved innocent third-party. Quite scary.

gun safety

Safe gun handling habits are not optional. There is no excuse for being an unsafe, irresponsible gun owner. Here is a free gun safety class if you've never had one, or if it's been years.

I don't know if this man would have gripped the gun differently had he not thought the safety was engaged. But, he mentioned that this was “literally that 1 out of 10 times that my .40 wasn't on safe.” We need to remember a manual external safety does not make the gun any safer than one without. The actions of the person with the gun are safe or unsafe. If you want a gun with a mechanical external safety, great, but don't let it take the place of safe gun handling.

All the points mentioned above are symptoms of a systemic problem. It doesn't appear as though this was the first time the man did something like this. Rather, it's just the first time everything converged in such a way that he fired off a round. In this case, the errors are quite obvious and a responsible gun owner would have corrected them.

However, it is possible to have a system issue that doesn't immediately result in a negligent discharge, and that you don't immediately recognize. For example, lax safety rules for dry fire practice may not result in am unintended discharge right away. But, that doesn't mean you're not susceptible to one.

I wrote a series of articles titles “When Dry Fire Isn't Dry“. The series of articles contained stories submitted by readers in which they had negligent discharges during dry fire practice.

The Good—

Reading what led up to the negligent discharge, we clearly see that it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. So to fix a problem, we have to identify the problem in need of fixing. Additionally, we need to take personal responsibility and not shift blame.

The man in this story seems to recognize he messed up, in a major way. No doubt this incident shook him, and rightfully so. He solicited feedback on how to correct his routine and practices to keep something like this from happening again.

Was he negligent? Absolutely.

Did he put people's lives at risk? You bet.

Does he need to change his systems and get some formal firearm training? Without a doubt.

Should he have known better? Of course.

Should he be barred from ever owning a gun like some suggest in comments to his post? I don't think so.

If he is genuine in wanting help to correct his processes, that is where I choose to focus. He's been given a second chance. Hopefully he uses it to be safer, more responsible and tell others about the importance of safe gun handling.

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. I produce the Concealed Carry Podcast and coordinate the Concealed Carry Instructor Network, and manage MJ Maruster Defense.

8 Comments

  1. The Fairfield Kid on January 10, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    First comment about the majority of gun owners being safe is a stretch. I work at a shooting facility, I know. 80% cannot recite Coopers 4 rules. 80% of those, break rule 3 constantly.

    Glad your ND did not result in an injury.

    • Matthew Maruster on January 10, 2023 at 2:32 pm

      Wasn’t my negligent discharge but I appreciate your comment.

  2. David Rodgers on January 10, 2023 at 4:20 pm

    There are two types of shooters: those who have had a negligent/unintentional discharge, and those who are going to have one. Guns are inherently dangerous. Like venomous snakes, if you handle them enough times, the odds are against you. You are likely to get bit. Cooper’s rule #2 is most important for minimizing the consequences.

    • Dave on January 11, 2023 at 6:41 am

      Safety is habitual, and if it is practiced consistently, it is almost automatic. I have always been a staunch opponent of storing firearms in anything that doesn’t protect the trigger. Another pet peeve is carrying them in pockets, or purses, or anywhere else where the trigger isn’t protected. Thank God no one was injured, that could had been a very tough lesson. I continually see violations of rules # 2 and 3 at public ranges. I think it would be a great idea to make it mandatory to have a safety class whenever a first-time firearm owner purchases a firearm. We don’t allow new drivers to simply get their license and drive, they have to be tested. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a person handed me a loaded firearm, i would remove the magazine, open the action, and bingo, a live round pops out. It’s very basic to drop the mag and lock the action open to clear it before handling, could save a tragedy from happening.

      • Matthew Maruster on January 11, 2023 at 8:24 am

        I agree with all you said except the mandatory safety class. I guess more specifically I wonder in such a scenario, what regulating body would make it mandatory, and how would it work? I agree with the idea that gun owners SHOULD be trained, it’s part of being responsible.Educating gun owners is something I do for a job. I just don’t agree that attending a training class makes anyone safe. If we are to use the driving test analogy, I think we can say that giving people a driving test and requiring classes before getting a license doesn’t ensure people drive safely. Every gun comes with an instruction manual that list firearm safety rules, so no one has an excuse to be completely unaware. Again, I agree with the heart of what you’re saying. I just don’t think that gun owners who only attend a safety class because they are forced will be any safer with a firearm than if they never attended one in the first place.

        • David W on January 11, 2023 at 1:32 pm

          Answering written questions or performing a few practiced maneuvers with a car or gun hardly indicates competence in my mind. I learned to drive and shoot with my dad beside me in a safe environment. I progressed to familiar roads and outdoor ranges, still with dad (or someone else) providing input. I was taught to make sure the car is in park before I get out and make sure the gun is clear before maintaining it. Step by step, I gained experience. I still remember the first time I drove to a friends house on my own and the first time I walked into a store with a concealed weapon on my belt. The plastic card in my pocket (DL or WCL) proves only that I paid the fee.

  3. Contender on January 10, 2023 at 4:45 pm

    Can you describe a beanie? The only type I know of is worn on the head.

    • Matthew Maruster on January 10, 2023 at 6:11 pm

      Yeah it’s that kind of beanie from what I understood from the story.

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