Defense Principles

When It Goes “BANG”…But Not When You Wanted It To!

Half Cocked Hammer

The BANG We Never Want To Hear.

The term we often use when a firearm discharges unintentionally is “accidental discharge”.  In most cases, a more accurate term would be “negligent discharge” as a safety rule was neglected or forgotten or worse yet, ignored.  Those who are involved in firearms instruction and training hear stories about or witness discharges that were not intended.  In the courses I’m involved in, be they NRA, Utah CFP, Armed Officer or BSA, one principal is emphasized.  When the firearm discharges, (goes Bang) intentionally or not, usually a human is involved and at some point safety was bypassed.  An example I use is the “Ignorance and Carelessness” statements heard after a discharge occurs.  “I didn’t know it was loaded,” reflects the person’s lack of knowledge on how the firearm works and how to check if rounds are present and chambered.  “It went off by itself,” shows that most of the time the person pulled the trigger but was not conscious of the fact or they don’t want to own up to what they did; pull the trigger. On a few rare occasions, the “Bang”  is attributed to a mechanical failure that led to the discharge.

In observing new firearms handlers, their trigger finger automatically falls on the trigger.  That is due to the way the firearm is designed; the pointer or forefinger is aligned with the trigger and naturally goes to the face of the trigger.  The command to “Keep the finger straight” gets frequently repeated.  In working for the local Boy Scout Council at summer and short-term camps, I would remind the boys and others regularly to keep their finger off the trigger when not actually firing.  One time I said, “If you finger is on the trigger, you owe me a soda pop from the trading post!”  I gave up after a half hour as I would have had GALLONS to consume!  It did get the point across.

3 Incidents Where The BANG Could Have Been Avoided.

Here follows three recent incidents where there was a discharge (Bang) and what the cause was determined to be.

Case One:  A female employee of a local armed security company had contacted me to do her state law-mandated ongoing training, which her company, according to her statements, had not been doing.  I proceeded with the state required materials, classroom and then range qualification.  She was using a Smith and Wesson M&P semi-auto pistol.  Dry practice revealed little training had been received from her company.  This was one of the reasons she had requested the training from me.  Her fundamentals were fair, and with coac

hing, improved nicely.  In timed fire, she was a bit slow in presentation from the holster, but she was safe and met the state-required score.  Later she asked to attend another scheduled on-going training taught by my partner and me.  She was on my training partners side of the range and during a timed fire, drew and fired too fast.  My partner yelled for me to check him for holes as he was asking if she was all right.  No leaks were found, but a hole was discovered in his shirttail.  It shook the woman up so much that she left the range, very distressed about the “near wounding” of her instructor.  Later she apologized, in tears and still very upset.  We did not see her after that and do not know how she is fairing or if she still works in armed security. That is certainly a “bang” you don’t want to be a part of.
Cause of Discharge: Finger on the trigger in the holster during presentation.  I do not know if the stress of the timed string of fire, or the distractions of several people shooting caused her to move too fast.

Case Two:  An armored car guard was clearing his Smith &Wesson M&P semi-auto pistol in the company’s clearing barrel at his terminal.  Standard operating procedure (SOP) is to point the firearm in the clearing barrel during loading and unloading, be it a revolver or semi-auto.  He experienced what he described as a “slam-fire” as he released the slide after clearing the chambered round; meaning, as the slide returned to the forward position, he experienced the “Bang” you don’t want to experience.  The bullet was contained in the clearing barrel, no injury occurred, (thank heavens) but something was not right about the discharge.  How did a second cartridge get in firing position?  The company asked me to evaluate the handgun to see if it was in working condition and also to try to re-create the discharge.  Upon examination, the firearm was in factory-stock condition, worked as designed, and I

Bang Discharge Stationcould not get it to do what the employee claimed happened.  Upon further discussion, it was revealed  that he had not removed the magazine FIRST before clearing the chamber.  Company training procedure is to remove the ammunition source, then clear the chamber. (as it should be for anyone, or any company.)
Cause of Discharge: Failure to follow correct unloading sequence.
Lesson learned: Use the clearing barrel (Point it in a Safe Direction) and remove the magazine first.  As an aside to this, I’ve noted in many media portrayals of unloading semi-auto weapons, it is done backwards:  jack the slide to the rear and then drop the magazine.  The lesson from this is; to avoid this kind of “bang”  DON’T DO IT THE “HOLLYWOOD” WAY!

Case Three:  Back in November, a man and his son, whom I know, were at a local indoor range enjoying shooting Grandpa’s World War II 1911A1 pistol.  Their grandfather had passed away a few months before and the pistol was found as they wee cleaning his home.  The gun had been fired before with no problems.  As they were preparing to leave, the dad put the loaded .45 ACP into the bag they brought it in.  For some reason he had placed it on half-cock.  As he fastened the bag, the pistol discharged striking his son on the first joint of his right hand little finger, which deflected the factory hollow point bullet so that it entered his lower right abdomen and traveled around rather than through in a straight line, lodging in his lower back.  The bullet was extracted at the hospital shortly thereafter.  The boy is about 6 feet tall and well built, so the bullet hit nothing vital due to the deflection, as it struck the bone of his hand. The boy and father are people I know quite well.  The dad is a former police officer, had been to a class I taught and seemed to be familiar with firearms.  It was a traumatic experience for them and their family.  The father called his wife immediately and profusely apologized to her, he then apologized to the range owner and his son.  I spoke to him a few days later, to see how he and the boy were doing.  All were doing well and have come through a frightening experience surprisingly well, considering what the outcome could have been.
A thought provoking post-script to this, is what the young man told his dad shortly after he was shot.  He said, “Dad, I was supposed to be there when this happened.  Had I not been standing where I was, that bullet could have hit the two little girls who were standing behind us, and one of them could have been killed.”  I believe “Someone” was watching over all involved and a tragedy was prevented.  Definitely an interesting “bang” in this situation.

The firearm is, at this writing, still with the police.  When it is returned, I will have a chance to see if there is a mechanical reason for the discharge.  The half-cock mode of carry for a 1911 style handgun is not noted for being the safest way to transport it.  That half-cock notch is designed to catch the hammer and prevent it striking the firing pin should it slip from some one trying to let the hammer down on a loaded chamber or thumb-cocking it from a hammer down position.
I have read in several stories and in a series of well-known books about the practice of hammer down carry, but not half-cock carry.
Cause of Discharge: Weapon on half-cock with chamber loaded, not a designed method of transport.  Lesson learned: even in a near tragedy, good things may happen.

I hope these examples will assist you in your on-going striving to be safe and in teaching others to be safe.  Follow the safety rules, the first one being, “Always Point the Gun in a Safe Direction”.  Then if the unwanted BANG happens, no one will be harmed.  Until next time, stay safe and check SIX often.

Steven R. Beckstead

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