An accidental discharge of a firearm occurs when it happens to you.
A negligent discharge of a firearm occurs when it happens to somebody else. At least that seems to be the general consensus in the current Age of Endarkenment.
In actuality, while both invariably include some form of human involvement, accidents are sometimes unavoidable. Negligence, on the other hand, is totally unnecessary, caused purely and solely by pilot error.
While the latter can stem from a myriad of base causes, such as a momentary loss of concentration, mechanical ineptitude or simply crass stupidity, it always involves a human element. Accidents, on the other hand, can be caused by flawed or broken mechanical parts, bad ammunition or something as elemental as rainwater in a shotgun barrel.
This all leads to the seemingly increasingly negligent behavior of firearms operators on shooting ranges in the last couple of years, which actions, if allowed to continue by range staff, will manifest later in life when there is no third party to control it—often with disastrous results.
For the past 30 years, any reputable firearms training organization has had Colonel Cooper’s four basic safety rules boldly emblazoned in full view where it is unavoidable for trainees to see and mentally absorb them. And as Jeff was wont to say, “These four safety rules will suffice.” Unfortunately, as of about two years ago, probably no thanks to a kinder, gentler, dumbed-down society, they no longer suffice—at least for some heretics.
Apparently firearms safety rules—and they are cast-in-stone rules—don’t apply to some people simply because they are rich, poor, ugly, pretty, related to somebody in political office, or whatever else the excuse of the day is. But whatever the reason, they are “special,” and refuse to operate firearms within the safety parameters to which the rest of us lesser mortals accede—with the inevitable results. Heaven forbid one of these miscreants should be rebuked for unsafe behavior, because, after all, they can do whatever they want. They’re “special,” remember?
Here’s some breaking news, Your Highness: you’re a rude, inconsiderate, arrogant pig, caring not one whit for your fellow trainees’ safety—or your own, for that matter. So it would be appreciated by one and all if you would summon your chauffeur right now and depart the premises. And when you arrive back at your palace, you might want to take a long, hard look into your gold-framed mirror. You might see yourself for what you really are—a firearms-toting idiot who is nothing but an accident waiting to happen.
So unfortunately, because of this creeping disease that is permeating firing ranges in recent times, there is only one solution—to nip it in the bud before it becomes a plague. Range personnel have to immediately evict any trainee who commits any infraction of firearms safety regulations, no second chances. If this is politely clarified on Training Day One at the commencement of proceedings, we can all hopefully return to the safe training of days of yore.
Like simultaneously texting and driving, unsafe handling of firearms is unacceptable—period—and should not have to be tolerated by other members of society. So much for negligence.
Accidents, on the other hand, are not the same as negligence, even if the human element is involved, however remotely. Let’s call a spade a spade: guns don’t get out of bed one morning and decide to spit out bullets all on their own. Where accidents can occur, however, is when an operator becomes careless, as opposed to negligent, and wavers from his normal, practiced-by-rote ad nauseam manipulation techniques—or falls prey to Murphy’s Law.
Here are two recent examples of accidents involving two long-time, experienced performers:
1) A well-maintained pistol—but not fitted with a “drop test” hammer or firing pin blocking mechanism—falls to the ground. The weapon discharges, killing the operator.
2) An acquaintance decides to transport a bag of garbage to the trash can at the end of his driveway, so he slips a holstered “mouse gun” into the front pocket of his slacks just in case (which pocket also contains his house keys and some loose pocket change).
Returning from his short jaunt, he attempts to withdraw the house keys from his pocket, and triggers the holstered pistol. A projectile hits a quarter, deflects away from his thigh, and he is left with only embarrassment, a bent quarter, and a hole on the outboard side of his slacks.
Did both of the above cases have human involvement? Yes. Could they have been avoided with a little forethought? Yes. But they are a far cry from blatant negligent mishandling of firearms, whether on a firing range or at home, albeit with the same net results.
What idiot drops guns, you ask? The quarterback who has a winning touchdown intercepted in a Super Bowl, that’s who. It’s never the Monday morning quarterback. The trick is to study these types of incidents and not repeat them. Like history, if we don’t study the past, we are doomed to repeat it. And like history, we learn firearms safety at a school, whether it’s a five-day academy or a five-hour dissertation from your father.
So pay attention at school: that is the foundational learning place for all your future firearms handling and safety procedures. And if your father or instructor takes on a brusque tone of voice and/or dismisses you from the range, he’s probably correct and you have transgressed the bounds of safety. We will never be traffic-accident-free at rush hour in a large city, but that doesn’t mean you compound the problem by texting and driving. That’s morally and ethically negligent. And sooner or later, if you persist in that behavior, somebody will get hurt. As Richard Halvorsen said, “If a man is not great when it doesn’t matter, he will not be when it does.”
And once again, to quote Jeff Cooper quoting his Marine Corps commanding officer: “If you want to act stupid, go and do it in your quarters—don’t do it out here.”
Louis Awerbuck is Director of the internationally acclaimed Yavapai Firearms Academy. Course information and schedules are available at their website at http://www.yfainc.com