There is always sadness following a firearms accident, but that does not lessen the damage that was done. I am fed up and disgusted with the breadth of the accidents I have seen reported in the news during the past few months that could have been avoided with a little gun safety. Several children have died. A grandmother dropped a pistol from her purse. It fired and struck a toddler in the head. In a different incident, a child found his father’s gun and shot his sibling.
Another person was visiting a home and left his loaded gun on the couch with predictable results. A fellow who was aware of his wife’s severe mental problems — she had been in a psych ward for weeks — did not change the combination to the gun safe. The wife murdered her children.
Let me say it, for God’s sake, some people just don’t need guns! I am all for freedom and carrying handguns for protection, but there is responsibility and due diligence to be considered as well. Negligent homicide is what I call these incidents. I believe the persons involved should pay the price with legal charges.
After years of education, folks still have firearms accidents and morons still leave their children in running vehicles on a hot day, with predictable results. I am not certain a gun safety class would help them. They would probably sleep through it. I have lost count of the folks that cried and became angry when they failed my basic handgun course. Paying the fee isn’t a rubber stamp!
Sure, they were a small percentage — about three to four percent, but that is alarming. Let’s look hard at gun safety and think about why it happens to the ‘best of us.’ Professional gun handlers, like professional drivers, have problems and occasionally get careless. The problems must be addressed.
There are basic gun safety rules when handling firearms. Like many of with significant experience, I have stories to tell of those who mishandled a firearm. The results are sometimes embarrassing and often something is damaged — hopefully only property. But truly tragic events have occurred from poor gun handling.
I handle a lot of firearms, ammunition, and tools. I approach each with healthy respect. Some godawful incidents have occurred among some of the smartest people. As an example, one of the finest craftsmen I have known was making a knife on a grinder, as he had done hundreds of times.
He was moving gently and perhaps not holding the knife quite as rigidly as he could have. The knife was grabbed by the sander — perhaps the sander hit a rough spot — and it thrust upward. The knife was taken from his grasp, flew into the air, and came down point first. The blade took a run into his back, sticking. He trudged to his house (like many of us the workshop was behind his home), and had his wife pull the sticker out and render first aid.
With sufficient gauze taped to the wound, they rushed to the hospital. I cannot recall how many stitches were needed, but luckily, it was minimal. And his wife was asked a number of embarrassing questions by hospital security — the poor woman. This could have been much worse. While an extreme example to graphically make a point, injuries to the eyes and extremities are more common, and just as preventable.
Another example was a conscientious gunsmith who was working on a SIG P226 handgun. Somehow it escaped from his grasp. While he was certain the handgun wasn’t loaded, he did not wish an expensive handgun to land on the concrete floor of the shop area.
He caught the handgun on his foot. His foot was badly bruised through his tennis shoes. Perhaps, we should all wear steel-toed shoes for this reason. I know another ‘smith that slipped and let a rifle butt hit his big toe. He ended up losing the nail and it was pretty painful.
If something is falling, let it. Don’t try to grab the object, particularly when sharp edges are involved. The potential of an injury is likely, if not guaranteed. I understand that most grab out of instinct or habit, not a conscious decision, but the results are just as bad.
Children and Firearms
Once the basics are handled, we must consider children as well. Small children have no business around guns. My boys grew up with firearms in the house, and so did my daughter. They all learned common-sense gun safety very early.
Guns should be locked away at all times. While I have been guilty of leaving disassembled guns lying about the worktable, I try to do one project at a time. If I am waiting for parts, I lock the gun in the safe. This is especially important if children are in the home, and you work from home.
Ammunition should never be in the work area near a firearm. If I walk out of the house or go to lunch, the safe is locked. The loaded sidearms travel with me. I have taught the children — now 26–40 — to never to touch a gun or gun part.
As an aside, I once had a particularly rough Hi-Power clone I was working with. I could not convince the trigger to jump back into the gun. I left it on the living room coffee table and went for a walk. My son returned home from high school. He spotted the Hi-Power clone in pieces and put the gun back together for me.
While this was pretty cool, it was poor gun safety on my part. I should have locked the gun away even though it was in pieces. Matthew was a young man, not a child. Teaching children not to touch gun parts has a practical aspect besides the safety aspect.
We do not need to lose parts. We can misplace enough parts without anyone’s help. Children are not mature enough to exercise good judgment. We may not realize that children pick up on our safety and what we do. As an example, when my daughter was very young, she knew guns were in the house. I thought I was very safety conscious.
One day I was developing film, back in the days of 35mm, and I found a perfectly framed and backlighted shot of her water pistol. My four-year-old had copied my work. I did not know she had borrowed a very expensive camera. While not as dangerous as a firearm, it taught me a lesson. Children are very observant. If you think you have hidden it, it may not be. Hiding isn’t the same as secured.
Tip: I went through the Blue Book with my daughter when she became old enough to handle a firearm at the range. I pointed out that the value of a firearm went down with wear, scratches, or a damaged stock. Don’t drop the gun be careful. It is as valuable as mom’s jewelry — she gasped when she heard that. Sometimes you have to tailor the messaging to the audience.
When working with a gun, no matter what we did the previous day, it is time to check the firearm again. All guns are always loaded — that is the primary rule. Another rule is never to cover anything with the muzzle you do not wish to see destroyed.
Always clear the firearm and check for ammunition in the magazine, cylinder, and/or chamber. I think we all may be aware of the stuck cartridge in lever-action tube magazines and rimfire feed devices. A rimmed cartridge and a tubular magazine are not always a good combination.
A word on danger. Friends working security at gun shows tell me that they have never worked a show without at least one loaded gun coming into the booth to be checked and tagged. At most shows, it is several. Friends and people working the gun store all have similar stories. People often bring in loaded guns to trade or pawn.
Know how to clear every type of firearm — it is essential for gun safety. One shop I visited as a youth had a special clearing station at the far end of the shop just for this purpose. The firearm was pointed in a safe direction as the owner checked the unloaded the firearm.
My grandfather pointed out a bullet hole (pockmark) in the concrete wall of his country store from someone who thought they unloaded one of those ‘damn automatics.’ This made an even bigger impression on me as a child. A friend who runs a gun shop had a fellow fire a shot into the ground of his parking lot while unloading a firearm. It happens, but it shouldn’t.
An unfortunate incident was related to me. An individual of great experience was firing a lever-action rifle. The hammer fell and the rifle did not fire. He worked the lever forcefully. As the bolt ran forward, the rifle exploded! The first cartridge was not caught by the extractor. While chambered, it was protected from the firing pin. The shooter did not check the chamber and as he levered the second round. The point of the next bullet caught the cartridge already in the chamber causing the cartridge to discharge.
Lever-action rifle malfunctions are very rare. However, that was a big one. The shooter caught a storm of metal shards, Fortunately, there was no permanent damage.
Another fellow tragically lost the tip of his finger in an accident that occurred in a similar fashion. He was attempting to repair an older handgun that really should have been scrapped. It was junk. The first round failed to fire. He jacked the slide and pressed the trigger. The handgun exploded and took off a fingertip.
The fellow — an experienced shooter — had been firing .380 ACP in the 9×18 handgun. He had gotten by with it — until then. The smaller round was in the chamber but not under the extractor for the first shot or attempted first shot.
It remained in the chamber as the second cartridge, which caught under the extractor, was fed into the chamber. The .380 ACP round was forced forward. Many old handguns will fire out of battery as well. This was a painful, and somewhat expensive, lesson.
In case you were not aware, it is common to see idiotic information on the internet. As an example, there’s all types of advice as to firing a different caliber in a 7.5 Swiss, and more. One fellow discovered a 9mm Luger would fit in the chamber of his 9×18 but not feed through the magazine, so he carries a 9mm Luger round in the chamber. I would hate to gauge the pressure as the longer case struggles to open in that short chamber. You sir are a tragedy waiting to happen.
Common problems are ammunition-related. This may be a revolver with a squib load that has a stuck bullet in the forcing cone. The cylinder will not rotate and cannot be opened. Then there are rifles that have suffered a swollen case and the bolt will not open. Never assume the cartridge in the chamber isn’t a live round — even when you can see a dented primer!
These handguns and long guns should be handled carefully. As an example, one customer described a single-action semi-automatic pistol that had failed to chamber fully. The cartridge case was stuck in the chamber, and the slide would not close. (It was an off-spec handload.)
The hammer was cocked. I informed him that he traveled at his own risk with this firearm. If it was to be brought to the shop it should be locked in the trunk of the vehicle in a proper case that did not allow movement of the gun. When he arrived at the shop, I agreed to meet him at the vehicle and remove the firearm myself. That way, I could carefully take it to the work area. I have a fixture that handles such things.
While a dowel must often be placed in the barrel to exert pressure to the rear, I do so at an angle. That way, if the cartridge ignited, it would send the bullet toward a backstop. It has not happened, as I spray penetrating oil and WD 40 liberally in the chamber to kill the primer and powder, but it could happen.
The point is the firearm must be taken safely to the shop. I am experienced and was well paid for firearm repair at one time. Today, I no longer have the patience and there seems to be no end to fools with guns. A decade ago, a fool a week was average. I cannot take more than that. Understand, I do not say this as an indictment on the gun community, but merely to show that what many call ‘accidents’ are most often negligence that could have, and should have, been avoided.
Some folks manage to get hurt working on guns. Choose the right tool for the job. You might believe you’ll save time using the same tool for different tasks, but you could increase your chances of injury. It is common for a screwdriver to slip. You may mar a finish or gouge yourself. Scratches, gouges, and damage to the firearm aren’t as serious as getting shot, sure, but they may be avoided.
The rules of geometry tend to support the theory that anything that flies from the firearm will strike the eyes. Fluids, solvents, and oils are spilled or squirted out in many operations, and we tend to rack the slide or bolt at eye level — at least I do.
There is no shortage of Instagram reels and TikTok videos of idiots firing guns without safety glasses and without hearing protection. You occasionally see this in gun magazines. Not long ago I saw a fellow demonstrating self-defense tactics while pointing a real gun at a woman! Absolutely no mistake! I am certain it was a firearm and his carry gun.
I use fake guns, rubber guns, or plastic guns in training. They don’t cost much. A plastic Glock from the flea market is fine. I also use fake knives. I have a railroad track of stitches and knife scars and while most were inflicted by someone else there are some I managed to inflict.
My single gunshot scar was inflicted by someone else. Most who assault peace officers have poor aim but not all. I hope to keep the score down to the present level. That reminds me, always keep a first aid kit on hand.
A common and avoidable problem is discharging the firearm as you holster or draw. Keeping the finger off the trigger is simple enough. The stress of competition is real but nothing compared to a gunfight.
When you draw, keep the finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire — not when you think you are ready to fire. When holstering, be certain the holster’s mouth is open. A quality holster should not collapse after the handgun is drawn.
When holstering a service pistol, the trigger sometimes contacts a safety strap, and the pistol fires. More common is having the finger on the trigger as you holster. The trigger finger contacts the holster and is forced to the rear, firing the pistol. A leg shot is the usual result. If you carry appendix style the situation is even worse.
When you unload the pistol, do not follow the old school habit of unloading a pistol. The old school was to drop the magazine and place it in the lower fingers of the hand. The weak side hand racks the slide and the cartridge, formerly in the chamber, falls into the hand. While a neat and easy routine, I gave this up many years ago.
Several gun safety incidents occurred with a cartridge primer jamming into the ejector and the pistol fired. (An extended ejector is not a heaven-sent gift.) I slingshot the pistol. When the cartridge is ejected it may hit the floor. As a result, I try to unload the pistol over a shooting bench or table.
When I began writing, gun writers were actually vetted. Now, many are on the internet who have never broken an egg for real and have no qualifications. Some have just been to a lot of schools, others dub themselves ‘influencers’ and are looking for free stuff.
The point is, we have a world full of inept folks promoting dangerous practices and questioning the work of experienced authors with a long history in law enforcement, training, teaching, etc. This would not have washed years ago and does not wash as of this post.
Why do experienced shooters make mistakes?
Perhaps we forget. Our brains tend to delete older memories and information. We archive useful information every day, but we sometimes get sensory overload.
There is a lot of irrelevant information. A lot of the information we learn is voluntary, we strive to learn, and much is involuntary or muscle memory. All this is to say, we need to always practice safe gun handling. All guns are always loaded. Get this built into your muscle memory, and never forget.
Poor skills and poor preparation are the major causes of gun accidents. True mechanical failure is a one-in-a-million chance. I am not chastising the reader without reason. Nor am I setting myself above the victim and saying, “Well, Joe was stupid.”
I refuse to believe in the stupidity of trained and experienced people who make mistakes. Psychology certainly plays a factor in avoidable accidents. A split second is all that is involved. Perhaps we all need is to simply slow down and think about what we are doing before we do it.