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5 Hazards Of Gun Use — And How To Prevent Them

There’s hazards to any activity in life. Whether it’s crossing a street or driving to the local gas station, there’s a chance something goes very wrong, very quickly. With guns, it’s no different. The good news is there are quite a few ways to avoid the vast majority of hazards associating with carrying and using firearms.

We’ve listed a few to highlight some great preventative measures to avoid getting hurt.

Negligent Discharge

The most commonly cited injury related to firearms is usually due to negligent discharge. A negligent discharge is when a gun goes off when it was not intended to. This can be a cleaning accident, a snag on a piece of clothing, or someone fiddling with the trigger of a loaded gun.

In the vast majority of cases, a negligent discharge is due to operator error. It could have been prevented by the person being aware of how he or she was treating the gun.

Preventative Measures

  • Always use a high retention holster molded to the specific gun.
  • Don’t put a gun into a holster molded for a different model of gun.
  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
    • Visually and manually inspect the chamber and magazine well to ensure a firearm is clear of ammunition or brass.
  • Don’t point your firearm at anything you do not intend to shoot.
    • That includes times you’re off the range. If your gun flags another person, here’s an article for you. Flagging can also include pointing a gun at someone else’s house or car or pet. You don’t need to point your gun at anyone or anyone’s property.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
    • Quite a few negligent discharges have occurred because someone put his finger on the trigger idly. Even if your trigger “has some give”, there’s no reason to put your finger on it until you are ready to shoot.
  • When re-holstering, make sure no clothing gets caught in the trigger well.
  • Lock up guns you’re not using.


A ricochet can occur any time a bullet hits a hard, jagged surface. The energy of the round is transferred to the surface unto which the bullet impacts. If the surface is harder or equal to the round and the surface area is greater or equal to the surface area of the bullet impacting it, there may be a ricochet.

Shooting at a target backed by jagged rocks can result in a ricochet.

Shooting at immobile steel targets can result in a ricochet.

Shooting at the ground can result in a ricochet.

Ricochets absolutely can hurt people and animals. It’s important, when at the range, to shoot with a soft backing — like sand — or into a snail trap.

Preventative Measures

  • Always shoot at surfaces with a soft backing — like soft sand or dirt.
  • Know what is in front of and directly behind your target (4th Rule of Firearm Safety)
  • Maintain an appropriate distance from your target.
  • Don’t shoot at steel targets from close range.
  • Don’t shoot at targets from less than 5 yards unless
  • If you feel the need to shoot targets from less than 5 yards, use frangible copper ammunition and abide by all previous preventative measures.

Lead Exposure

Lead can be slowly accumulated in the blood stream by ingestion, inhalation, and through open cuts and scrapes. The degree to which a person is exposed to lead as a result of shooting a gun correlates to their habits.

For instance, if a gun owner routinely shoots over a thousand rounds a day but takes preventative steps to keep from contamination, he would experience a far less degree of lead entering his blood stream than someone who shoots half as much but eats a sandwich right after.

Preventative Measures:

  • Wash your hands and face with soap designed to remove lead.
  • Wash your range clothes separately from your regular clothes.
  • If you have open wounds or scrapes on your hands, use gloves.
  • Don’t lick guns. It’s just weird and gross.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas that can be created by automobiles, gas generators, and, to a certain extent, the discharge of gun cartridges.

The amount of carbon monoxide and dioxide discharged by a single pistol cartridge is very low. However, if that gas has nowhere to escape, it can be retained indoors.

Preventative Measures:

  • Indoor ranges should have negative pressure. When you open the door, you should feel air entering the range. But that, in of itself, doesn’t mean the air inside the indoor range is being filtered.
  • Indoor ranges should have effective air filtration both inside and outside the range.
  • If a firing line is busy or air flow is stagnant, go out and get some fresh outdoor air.

A good range will have carbon monoxide monitors set up and a range safety officer should routinely check them.

There is no fool proof gun. It doesn’t exist. There is always an inherent danger when using or carrying firearms. That danger can be mitigated through preventative measures. Planning ahead, using some common sense, and following the four basic fundamental rules of firearm safety will stop the vast majority of these hazards from having an effect.

Catastrophic Gun Malfunction

A catastrophic gun malfunction is when a firearm blows apart. This is an absolute rarity. In the very rare situations this occurs, the following factors are likely at play — usually in some combination:

  • Double feed

A double feed occurs when the first round fails to exit the barrel and a second round is fired. The shooter may not realize the first round never exited before discharging the second. When this happens, the second round impacts the first. This can result in the barrel cracking or splitting.

  • Hand-load

People who hand-load rounds have to take great pains to not get sloppy. In the rush to produce hundreds of rounds at a fraction of the cost, some inexperienced (or bad actor) hand-loaders can either overcharge a round or severely undercharge it.

This can result in a round that either fails to exit the barrel (and may result in a double feed) or a round that has entirely too much pressure and breaks the gun apart.

Very few gun owners ever experience a massively undercharged or overcharged rounds that result catastrophic gun failure. Usually, if the round was inadequately hand-loaded, it either falls short of target or just kicks a lot more due to overcharge. Most gun owners may never notice their hand-loaded rounds are overcharged or undercharged until an internal component in the gun breaks.

  • Non-rated munition

When you purchased a gun, you got a manual. Inside that manual, it will explicitly tell you the type of ammunition your gun uses. If that includes overpressurized rounds (+P), you’re good to use +P. If it says 9x19mm Luger, don’t load a .38 Spc. If you insist on firing hot rounds through a gun that’s explicitly not rated to handle hot rounds, don’t be surprised if it breaks. It’s still extremely rare that the break will result in the pistol blowing apart.

  • Barrel stoppage

Just like the double feed issue, if there’s an obstruction inside the barrel, this can result in a failure for the round to fire. That energy is then transferred to the parts of the gun. If it’s a truly earth-shattering amount of energy diverted to a part not meant to handle that type of force, the results can be explosive.

  • Mismatched gun parts

In an age where everyone is trying to underbid the next guy, gun manufacturers aren’t immune. Sometimes people make junky gun parts. Sometimes a “budget conscious” gun owner will get a junky part and try to put it into a complex gun — like an AR-15 upper or lower receiver. The result can be that the individual parts are not rated the handle the wear and tear that the operator puts on them. In extreme cases, this can result in a catastrophic gun failure.

  • Mismatched ammunition to chamber

Now that we live in a world where .300 Blk is somewhat common, there can be serious issues for AR-15 users that don’t know the difference. If an AR-15 is rated to handle 5.56×39 NATO specifically, don’t load .300 Blk. If an AR-15 is rated specifically to fire .223, don’t load .300 Blk. The .300 Blk round will fit inside a conventional 5.56 AR-15 magazine. The mistakes are real. The results are less than pleasant.

This can also happen to pistol owners as well. Jamming in an overpressurized .38 Spc round into a chamber meant to accept 9mm can result in a very bad time. Don’t do it.

Preventative Measures:

  • Read your gun’s manual.
  • Use only ammunition that is rated to be fired through your gun.
  • Buy bullets only from reputable ammunition manufacturers.
  • Pay close attention to amounts when hand-loading your own bullets.
  • If you don’t see a round exit your chamber (squib), don’t shoot the next round.

The vast majority of gun-related injuries and hazards are completely avoidable. Just like motor vehicle accidents and diet-related health issues, it takes some attention to detail, a little planning, and some education to avoid these issues entirely.

Don’t let hazards get in the way of your gun owning experience. Carry concealed — using the right holster, the right round, and the right parts.

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