Negligent discharges happen when firearm owners do not follow proper safety and handling protocols. Although some people use the terms "negligent discharge" and "accidental discharge" interchangeably, they are different. A negligent discharge is the firearm operator's fault, and an accidental discharge is the fault of the firearm or something else that interferes with it beyond the control of the user. Often times an accidental discharge of a firearm happens when there is a mechanical failure or interference.
Negligent discharges are due to operator error and not mechanical failure, thus we can study and train proper firearm handling practices to reduce the occurrence of negligent discharges. To avoid negligent discharge of a firearm, consider its four main causes and the safety tips to prevent them.
Cause 1: Improperly Drawing From Appendix
A waistband holster is one of the most popular types of carry devices. It comes with the advantages of being where the hand naturally rests and allowing for easy access in nearly any position. It also allows for easier concealment under a shirt. However, there are some avoidable risks.
Is appendix carry safe?
It can be, but drawing from an appendix holster can also be dangerous with improper handling procedures. Appendix carry accidents can lead to serious or deadly injuries, including shooting the groin or hitting the femoral artery in the leg.
Safety Rules for Appendix Carry and Draw
While it is important to practice drawing, it is good to conduct most practice draws with an empty firearm. Whenever it is loaded and carried for self-defense, do not touch the gun unless the need arises or when removing it for target practice. These are some important tips to follow when drawing the firearm:
Develop a draw stroke that points the firearm away from the body.
Push the hips forward before drawing your weapon to help angle the firearm away from your body.
When you grab the firearm, make sure to angle the muzzle forward while it is still holstered.
Always practice good trigger finger discipline
The draw stroke is the way that a person draws the gun, and there are many different strokes. It helps to learn about the different strokes, but the core point is that drawing so that the firearm is pointed away from the body reduces risks. Pushing the hips forward is part of a strategy to have a lower center of gravity for a potential attack, and it helps the firearm come out away from the body instead of having any part cover it.
Trigger finger discipline is a topic that can never be understated in terms of importance. It sounds easy, but making it a habit is much harder than many people would think. The idea, which is to keep the trigger finger off the trigger until ready to fire, is simple. However, the key to developing good trigger finger discipline is practice.
Practice reaching for the unloaded gun, and keep the trigger finger extended straight above and off the trigger. Making trigger finger discipline so habitual that it becomes second nature reduces the risk of grabbing the firearm in a panic and accidentally pulling the trigger. Never touch the trigger until the firearm is lined up with the target and the need arises to shoot.
Cause 2: Improper Reholstering
Reholstering a gun after a necessary draw is part of safe carrying. However, it can be easy to replace the gun improperly without first developing good reholstering habits.
One common danger is snagging the firearm on a belt, a strap, clothing or something else while attempting to reholster it. As it is with improper drawing, people may accidentally shoot the groin, foot or leg. Reholstering discharges sometimes happen because of accidental contact with a sensitive trigger.
Safety Rules for Reholstering
People often improperly handle firearms by reholstering them too hard or too fast. Also, there may be a combination of other risk factors that exist. To safely reholster a firearm, follow these tips:
Practice good trigger finger discipline until the firearm is completely reholstered.
Keep the hips forward when reholstering.
Angle the firearm away while reholstering.
Reholster the firearm carefully, deliberately, and slowly.
Good trigger finger discipline, which was covered in the previous section, is a must. Keeping the hips forward allows for smoother and more effective reholstering. By being deliberate, slow, and careful, it is easier to avoid reholstering too fast or hard. Again, practice reholstering while the firearm is empty. Repeat the process until it becomes a habit, and remember that it helps to practice periodically even after developing good habits.
To minimize other risks, such as a touchy trigger, consider a double-action system. In a double-action system, the trigger cocks and releases the hammer. Today, many semi-automatic pistols are only available with double-action systems. The main benefit is that there is a heavier trigger pull for the first shot, eliminating the risk of touching a light trigger too hard. Although it is still possible to negligently pull the trigger, shooting requires more deliberate and forceful action.
Cause 3: Improper Safety Check
Checking the chamber to see if there is a round in it is a common step that people take to ensure that the firearm is loaded before carrying it somewhere. However, checking the chamber is also a critical step when unloading in preparation to clean or store the firearm.
With improper chamber checks, the list of potential dangers and risks is long. People may accidentally shoot themselves, a family member, a pet, a valuable belonging or anything else.
Safety Check Rules
Being alert is important for this step. The reason is that sometimes negligent discharges tied to safety checks happen even when a gun owner knows there is a round in the chamber. Without good focus, it is possible to check the chamber and think in preparation mode instead. Also, a person can absentmindedly look into the chamber, see the round and not register that it is there. Some people may not look in far enough to see or may not see the round if there is poor lighting. These are some safety tips to follow:
Properly unholster the firearm.
Remove the magazine
Activate the safety if there is a safety device.
With proper trigger finger discipline, point the firearm away from the body or any others in the area while checking the chamber.
Reach into the chamber with the trigger finger to ensure that it is empty.
While performing a chamber check, do not put the gripping hand forward of the muzzle. If possible, perform the check in a well-lit area.
Cause 4: Improper Cleaning Practices
When people hear stories about the negligent discharge of a firearm, they often involve a gun firing while someone is cleaning it. This applies to rifles and pistols, and the key cleaning safety rule to prevent potential tragedies is the same for both types of firearms.
Many people focus too much on avoiding improper cleaning techniques that may damage a firearm, and they forget some of the most critical human safety principles. Improper cleaning practices can lead to a wide variety of dangers and damages. People have shot themselves, their children, their friends, their cars, and many other objects.
Safely Cleaning Firearms
What is the first step in cleaning a firearm? Remembering the first step rule is critical to avoid negligent discharge. The first step in cleaning a firearm is making sure there is no ammo anywhere in the room. It may sound a bit extreme, but it can save lives and prevent serious damage. To safely clean the firearm, follow the chamber check tips in the previous section and then remove ammo from your workspace and room before starting the cleaning process.
It helps to always keep the four universal rules of gun safety in mind when you develop these habits. To quickly review those, they are:
Treat all guns as if they are loaded.
Do not point the gun at anything that you do not want to destroy.
Until your target is lined up and you are ready to shoot, do not touch the trigger with your finger.
Always be aware of what is behind or around your target.
Some of those words are bolded because they are key words to remember. If it helps, connect them to "LDFT" as an acronym to make the words and rules easier to recall. Now you know how to avoid the potential dangers of reholstering, cleaning and appendix carry accidents.
Here is an excellent video by Paul Harrell where he discusses the difference between an accidental discharge and a negligent discharge. He also talks about dangers with some holster designs, as well as types of accidental discharges specific to revolvers, 1911s and other auto loading pistols.