How to Avoid Negligent Discharges

by Drew Beatty

I've often heard it said in the firearms community that there are no accidental discharges, there are only negligent discharges. I tend to agree with this assessment. Negligence is legally defined as:

Conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances.

If you fire your gun without intending to do so, you have been negligent. If you do this anywhere besides the gun range while safely pointing the gun at a target where risk of injury or death is minimal or nonexistent, you have likely been criminally negligent. Guns are very serious business, and once a round is fired you can never get that bullet back.

A negligent discharge can result in anything from extremely good luck and a strong life lesson, to a charge for unlawful discharge of a weapon to reckless endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. For that reason, it is important to keep the gun in the holster or otherwise secured unless there is a business or administrative need to handle it.

This example of a negligent discharge came to my mind when preparing for this article. This incident set off a political firestorm in the state of Colorado over carrying firearms on a college campus. From the article, a woman in a college office setting was " … showing her coworkers her handgun, and trying to unjam it, when she accidentally fired a bullet that ricocheted and hit another woman." This is a clear failure of both firearms handling etiquette and safe behavior expected from a reasonable, prudent person. There is a time and place to show another person your firearm, and the office isn't it.

This second example of negligent discharge from Wichita, KS is a lesson in failing to adhere to the simplest of safe gun practices. This guy, who had a gun in his sock, was surrounded by a large crowd of people. He was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. A sock is not a proper holster. As reported in the story, the gun being negligently carried in his sock " … was uncomfortable for him. He went to adjust his sock, and the weapon went off …." The incredible negligence and lack of responsibility in this case speaks for itself. This man is very lucky he didn't kill anyone.

Of note is the reporting in these two stories and many negligent discharge stories. The gun didn't "go off." Guns never just go off. The trigger mechanism was depressed due to negligence. As stated above, there are no accidents when it comes to firearms; there is only negligence.

There are four rules for handling firearms that I've referenced in previous articles. These four rules are the common sense standard of behavior for handling any firearm:

  • Treat ALL firearms as if they were loaded.
  • Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  • Know your target and what is beyond it.

The solution to the problem of a negligent discharge is rigorously adhering to good, safe gun-handling practices. For example, have a good holster, and keep the gun in there. Don't take it out unless there is a genuine need to, and don't keep it in a sock or tucked holsterless in your waistband.

For direction on finding a good holster for your needs, I'd recommend going to a gun shop staffed by people you know and trust, or contacting an NRA certified instructor.

Know the four rules, and practice them until they are instinctive habit. Never deviate from them. Ever.

Seek competent training so that you know how to remedy malfunctions. Practice with dummy rounds until it is second nature to you.

Being a responsible gun owner is an intentional conscious act. It means having appropriate respect for the weapon and what it can do. It means being extraordinarily responsible and vigilant about safety. Make safety priority one at all times. Don't be the person who becomes a story in the newspaper.

Drew Beatty is a 50 year old husband and father, and a lifetime resident of the great state of Colorado. He is an NRA Life-Member, and a long-time firearms enthusiast, as well as a strong advocate for The Second Amendment.