It can be very difficult but wherever possible I attempt to ignore all my emotions and feelings and try to use the cool logic of the human brain to consider the problem at hand. Recently I was discussing with some other firearm instructors the topic of how much training can or should be required for gun owners to carry a firearm. That conversation is the topic of another article but as part of our chat we did talk about the fact that trained shooters and officers are just as likely to be found in news articles about negligent discharges as are novices and untrained gun owners.
I didn't do a deep dive research piece on the topic but I did review several news stories I could find around the country of a firearm going off on “accident” and I did my best to glean if that individual was a novice, intermediate shooter, or a professional. You may not be surprised to learn that based on my simple and fast research any shooter is just as likely as any other to negligently discharge a firearm.
If we were to interview an economist or statistician about this they wouldn't be surprised. Emotionally we want to believe that all the news stories of accidents out there are either from people with less training or people who are statistically stupid. Thinking that way makes ourselves feel better and our brain tends to be wired around how to make our own selves feel better.
So with that said, let me suggest the following as the real factors that lead to the negligent discharge of a firearm:
Hours of Use Creates Opportunity for Negligence
I believe that the single greatest factor is the number of hours in which we handle firearms but in the opposite way you may expect. Statistically, the more time you spend handling a firearm the greater your odds are of having a negligent discharge. Its a simple piece of logic even if it goes against everything we want to believe. The shooter who has spent 100 hours holding guns is far more likely to have experienced a discharge than the shooter who has spent 10 hours. There isn't any way around this.
Does this mean we should spend less time with our guns? No, but it does mean that we have to exercise great caution all the time. It also means that we shouldn't be led into a false sense of security just because we have experience. Which leads me to my next factor…
Complacency is when we justify doing things we know we shouldn't because we feel that our own level of skill or experience, based on the current circumstances, allow for it. Complacency is a natural bi-product of comfort and confidence. We have to be vigilant in watching out for self-justifications that we might tell ourselves to justify any ideas we may have about why it is ok to do something that goes against the safety rules.
Based on my limited research it would be unfair if I didn't concede that some negligent discharges, particularly those by young children, are due to a general lack of core gun knowledge. I'm not talking about a lack of training as we would generally reference in our industry, but a just outright lack of knowing about triggers, hammers, and core operations and functions of a firearm.
The single most common thread of the negligent discharges I hear about and those I researched was the environment. I couldn't really find any stories of negligent discharges at a gun range despite that being the place where guns are more often handled than any other location. Negligent discharges tend to take place when one or more of the following things are part of the environment:
- Being alone
- Late at night
- When driving
- When cleaning the firearm
- When boasting or showing off
In summary I would submit that if we want to avoid negligent discharges we should start by removing any thought from our mind about how our training or experience may protect us. Next, we need to ask ourselves if in any way we have become complacent. We need to make sure all those in our influence have the basic core knowledge of firearm operations. Lastly we need to avoid handling firearms in environments that we know to be dangerous and thus greatly decrease our changes of ending up in a news story.