Negligent Discharges: Are They Inevitable?


By Mike McDaniel. Republished with permission from

An “accidental discharge” is more accurately known as a negligent discharge (ND). One second you’re admiring a brilliantly designed and executed piece of wood (or plastic) and steel and the next, your ears are ringing, you’re blinking furiously, you’re surrounded by smoke and the unmistakable odor of gunpowder. Your first conscious thought: “Oh s**t!” If you’re fortunate, the only holes present are in furniture, walls and appliances rather than yourself or someone else. If it was a rifle round, there will tend to be rather more holes than if it were a handgun round. If you’re really fortunate, no one else was aware of your ND, somewhat minimizing the damage to your self-image . . .

Police officers are often thought to be experts in the handling of firearms. This is, as I explained in a recent article, not necessarily so. Police agencies are severely handicapped by being limited to recruiting solely from the human race, as these anecdotes reveal:

A Sweetwater, Fla., police officer was recovering Monday after his holstered gun discharged and hit him in the leg while he was chasing shoplifting suspects at Dolphin Mall.

The officer, Joel Bosque, was responding to a shoplifting report at the mall when he was injured. He was taken to the hospital and is “doing fine,” police spokesman Jorge Fernandez de Lara said.

Bosque, who has been with the department for a year, will likely be placed on administrative leave while Miami-Dade police investigate, the Miami Herald reports.

Ah yes; another of those mysterious cases of a holstered gun going off all by itself.

The Winchester (Va.) Police Department is taking a close look at its officers’ weapons holsters after an officer’s gun accidentally went off in a special needs school bus.

The incident occurred Monday morning when a middle school student reached for a police officer’s gun, reports TV3Winchester. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The officer had been dispatched to the bus to calm down the student. While the officer was sitting next to him, the student reached over and put his finger on the trigger of the weapon. The bullet went through the seat and hit the floor.

A close look at holsters? Good idea.

The veteran Lloyd (N.Y.) Police officer  who accidentally fired his service weapon in a high school hallway has resigned after an internal investigation faulted him for the incident.

Sean McCutcheon, a school resource officer at Highland High School, had been placed on leave following the March 5 incident.

A departmental investigation concluded that the discharge was unintentional and a result of “officer error,” reports the Daily Freeman.

In professional law enforcement agencies, there are consequences for NDs. Unfortunately, the consequences aren’t always so benign:

A Dallas Police Department officer fatally shot himself while cleaning his service weapon at home on Monday afternoon, the department announced.

Officer Christopher Pasley died as a result of an apparent accidental discharge.  Officer Pasley, a five-year veteran, was assigned to the Central Patrol Division.

“The department’s Employee Relations Team has been activated to coordinate assistance to the family during this traumatic time,” said Chief David Brown in a release. “I request the citizens of Dallas keep Officer Pasley and his family in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

This case is particularly painful:

Police released the identity of a pregnant woman accidentally shot to death Friday afternoon in Montgomery County, Pa., by her husband, a state trooper.

JoAnne Miller, who was 22 weeks pregnant, was taken to Mercy Suburban Hospital with a gunshot wound to the upper body. She died soon after she was admitted. Doctors performed an unsuccessful emergency cesarean. “The baby never had its own breathing or heartbeat,” Montgomery County coroner Walter Hofman told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The shooting in the home on the 3000 block of Stony Creek Road in East Norriton occurred around 2:30 p.m. Friday, police said. The officer pulled the trigger while taking apart his .45-caliber handgun for cleaning but did not realize the gun was loaded, police said.

“He’s been distraught, cooperative,” said Kevin Steele, Montgomery County first assistant district attorney.

I’m not picking, particularly, on police officers. Citizens have more than their fair share of NDs. However, when police officers make that mistake, there tends to be no hue and cry for citizen disarmament. Anti-liberty forces take maximum advantage of the NDs of citizens, citing them as clear evidence that Joe Average American is too untrustworthy to be allowed to keep and bear arms. Since a substantial part of the foundation of the anti-liberty argument is that guns should only be possessed by the police–the “experts”–they can hardly capitalize on police NDs, which tend to remind those paying attention that every one of us is all too human.

This raises the question at the heart of the issue: are NDs inevitable?

There is a venerable saying among those who carry guns every day, which goes something like this: “There are two kinds of gun owners: those that have had a ND and those that will admit to having had a ND.”

Full disclosure: mea culpa, but if you’re looking for true confessions, try Oprah or the Hallmark Channel. Most, if not all of us, can tell a ND story, or know of those of friends or acquaintances who’ve had one. Another way of phrasing the question is to ask if NDs are preventable.

Theoretically, of course, they are. Absent mechanical faults that virtually defy the laws of physics, a holstered handgun with its trigger and trigger guard completely covered by the material of the holster, as long as it remains holstered, is not going to “go off” by itself. A semiautomatic firearm with no seated magazine, with the chamber checked visually and physically, will not fire a bullet if the slide is closed and the trigger is pulled. Similarly, a revolver with all cartridges ejected, its cylinder carefully visually and manually checked, will not fire if the cylinder is closed and the trigger is pulled. Yet, supposedly cleared firearms somehow manage to shoot all the time.

Following the basic rules of firearm safety such as keeping one’s finger out of the trigger guard and off the trigger until a millisecond before firing, always keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, never pointing the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, physically and visually clearing any firearm before handling it, and doing the same before handing it to another, etc., will, if followed, absolutely prevent NDs. Yet they happen every day.

It’s human nature, of course. One of the first things I tell my students at the beginning of every school year is they must, from that moment, pay attention to paying attention. It’s a life-long pursuit. From the moment we’re born, we spend about 1/3 of our life asleep. If we live to 90, we’ll have slept 30 years. How much more of our lives are we willing to miss because we’re not able to be in the instant, we’re not able to focus solely and intently on what is right in front of us?

When what is in front of us is a potentially loaded firearm–and all firearms must always be handled as though loaded at all times–we cannot afford to become complacent. We cannot afford to give that firearm anything less than our full, intense, and focused attention. If we have a ND, and we follow every other gun safety rule, we may not shoot ourselves or anyone else, but we always shoot an enormous hole in our self-image, and hopefully, we fill that hole with a new resolve to pay attention to the basic safety rules, and to what is happening right in front of us.

That’s all it takes: a momentary lapse in attention, failing to do what we’ve done hundreds, even thousands of times, handling a gun when we’re tired, when we’re upset, when our minds are elsewhere, thinking about anything else but containing the enormous power we hold in our distracted hands. We–for the most part–know better. Yet we do it anyway.

When it occurs, our explanations are incredibly inadequate. A fellow SWAT troop who managed to shoot a hole in a locker room wall with his AR-15 could only say: “I thought it was unloaded.” A fellow detective who, while Elk hunting, shot a woman in the arm, said, with horror in his voice, “I thought she was an Elk.”

Isn’t this an argument for restricting gun ownership? If even highly trained and expert police officers have NDs and they kill themselves, their wives and children, aren’t guns just too dangerous? Such thinking ignores the enormous positive benefits of gun ownership and use, which benefits are easily discoverable by those willing to do a bit of honest research.

If acknowledging the failing of human nature were sufficient cause to deny technology, there would be no motor vehicles, for far more people are killed every year in motor vehicle accidents than by gunfire, accidental or intentional. In fact, considering that driving a car is the most complex thing most people ever do, we should be talking about banning cars far more often than banning guns. The margin for error, as illustrated by the numbers of injured and dead, is far greater.

The truth is, if we are to live in an advanced, technological society, we must accept some degree of risk. We must acknowledge that due to negligence, which is a part of human nature, some people will be injured and some will die. We must always do whatever we reasonably can to minimize such consequences, but they are inevitable.

It is when we turn over to government responsibility for our very lives that life becomes very dangerous indeed, and bad consequences for the individual become inevitable.

About the Author

Brandon is the founder of Concealed Nation and is an avid firearm enthusiast, with a particular interest in responsible concealed carry. His EDC is a Springfield Armory Hellcat OSP, with a Shield Sights RMSC Red Dot, that holds Hornady 165 gr FTX Critical Defense rounds, and rides comfortably in a Vedder Holsters ComfortTuck IWB holster.

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