We’ve all heard it before, right? Borrowing from the series of classic lines from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, it is often said that there are two kinds of gun owners: those who have had a negligent discharge, and those who will. While this sounds defeatist on many levels, I believe that, if not a universal truth, it at least has some basis in truth.
Last week, Massad Ayoob, that paragon of firearms instructors, admitted in an article that he initiated a negligent discharge (ND) during one of his classes. To his credit, he published an article about what happened and how it came to happen. Subsequently, the host of the class, Paul Carlson, published his account, and John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, who was attending the class, may publish his own (edit: he now has, see here). Other instructors, some of whom may or may not be “rivals” of Ayoob, piled on, and Mas published a follow-up article addressing some of what was written in these various articles.
It is not my intent to rehash everything covered in those articles. The ND happened and, as is so often the case, there was not just one cause. In the end, I am quite sure that Mas is embarrassed as can be that this happened to him. Let the reader be put on alert status right now: if it can happen to him, it can happen to you.
Accordingly, I thought it might be a worthwhile learning experience for our readers to detail my own ND experience. As our blog exists primarily as a learning tool for those who choose to spend their time here, what better way to learn than by hopefully learning from our (my, in this case) mistakes?
Before I begin, let me just say that, like so many NDs, mine was the result of a combination of factors, which I will detail in turn at the end of the article. I am fortunate that no one was injured (though my pride took a pretty good hit!) and that the financial cost was not unbearable (you’re intrigued now, yes?). There was a certain “keystone cops” element that will hopefully make the story somewhat amusing, but the gravity of what happened was not lost upon me in the moment or in hindsight.
The incident involved me alone. Present in the house at the time were my wife and my two children.
I cannot point to a specific date that I experienced my ND. It was probably in 2012 or 2013. It occurred late one evening around 11 PM, and I seem to recall it being on a Monday night (definitely a worknight).
The incident took place in the basement of my house.
At some point after purchasing my third Glock, a Glock 26, I noticed that its trigger pull seemed noticeably smoother than the trigger on my Glock 19 or my Glock 17. Now granted, unlike the 19 or 17, I had purchased the 26 used with an unknown round count, so it could have just been well worn-in. Nevertheless, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the various trigger pulls. I started by making sure my the 26 was clear, as it was my most typical carry gun at the time. After clearing it, I did some dry trigger presses with it in order to get its “feel” ingrained in my mind. I then switched to my Glock 17 and did the same thing, making sure it was clear and then pressing the trigger a few times. I recall field stripping both and examining the trigger bars, connectors, etc., looking for any parts that might have been different between them (you never know what a previous owner may have done). Satisfied that all parts were the same and that the 26 was probably just a bit more worn-in, I reassembled both pistols and returned them to the safe. As I was about to close the safe, I said to myself, “Let me see how the 19 feels by comparison.” My 19 always stayed unloaded in the safe, so I did not bother to check to see if it was clear. I recall, as I picked it up and aimed it toward the wall a few feet from me, how the 19 felt just a little bit heavier-BANG! My ears were suddenly ringing, all sounds around me sounded muffled, I felt the continual spray of a liquid in my face, and dust from the basement was stirred up so that the entire workroom seemed to be engulfed in a sudden fog. I looked at the pistol in my hand and saw a stovepiped casing from a Speer Gold Dot 124 grain +P in the ejection port.
My biggest initial concern was figuring out why I was wet. I had aimed the pistol at what I later determined was not the best backstop (understatement?). Indeed, I had been dryfiring in my basement without much thought at all about where I was aiming. As long as no one else was down there with me, it didn’t seem to matter, right? So I had aimed at some pegboard that holds various tools and supplies. Of course, behind the pegboard, just by happenstance in the ONE spot I had aimed, ran the main water line for my house. The Gold Dot did its job, ripping through the pegboard and then the one-inch diameter line, punching through and then slightly cratering the concrete wall beyond. The liquid I felt from several feet away was the water from that main line spraying me and everything around me.
On this occasion, the ONLY bit of luck I had was that the round hit the line just above the main cut-off valve, so I was able to turn it off and keep my basement from completely flooding. Of course, we now had no water for our house, but that was a problem with a solution. In the meantime, I called up to my wife and told her to come downstairs. She thought the loud bang she heard from two floors up was me knocking over a shelf in the basement. I recall standing before her, hands on my knees almost panting, leading off with “I’m such a fucking idiot, honey, and if you want me to sell all my guns I will.” When she saw that all was okay, everyone was safe, and that we would just be out a few hundred dollars to a plumber (and wasn’t THAT a fun phone call I got to make!), she was actually pretty understanding. She saw how much I was beating myself up about it and how shook up I was, and felt like I’d never do something like that again.
The next morning, I called in to work and told them I was waiting for a plumber to effect some emergency repairs of an undisclosed nature. I called the plumber and explained to him how my idiotic (and non-existent!) “friend” had come over last night to show me his new gun and accidentally put a 9mm round through my main line.
Obviously, I committed numerous gaffs and was fortunate that the ND only cost me a few hundred dollars. Something much more serious in terms of a financial hit or an injury could have occurred. I was stupid. And lucky.
So what happened?
Well, clearly I broke at least two of the four rules of firearms safety. First, I did not “treat every gun as if it is loaded.” I made an assumption that, because the Glock 19 was always kept unloaded in the safe, it “must” be unloaded at that very moment. In doing so, I completely forgot that I had gone to the movies a few days before and had deliberately carried the 19 instead of my more usual 26 because I wanted more rounds on tap in case of a serious situation at the theater. When I returned the gun to the safe after my trip to the theater, I did not unload it to put it back into its more “usual” status.
Further evidence of my ignoring this first rule of firearms safety was my half-assed gun handling. Clearly, I was not treating dry-fire in any sort of realistic manner, as I did not have a legitimate grip on the pistol and limp-wristed it badly, resulting in the stovepipe.
I also was not consistently serious (that day and previous days) about where my guns pointed in my basement (do not point your firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy). There is a water heater down there, a television, washer and dryer, circuit breaker, and a main water line. Though the line was hidden for most of its length on that wall by the pegboard, pegboard does not stop bullets. Indeed, this brings up a third rule I broke: always know your target and what’s beyond it.
I must add that I was essentially running on fumes at that point in the day and had no business handling firearms, much less performing some sort of “test” on them to determine the characteristics of their trigger pulls.
For me, no incident like that I have described above can take place without some changes taking place afterwards. What have I done?
1. I now have a dedicated “target” for dry-practice (5 gallon bucket of sand).
2. I now use a system to identify which pistols in the safe are loaded (they are each in a holster with blue painters tape around the grip and holster body).
3. ALL firearms in the safe are, despite #2 above, assumed to ALWAYS be loaded and are checked using the method I borrowed from Paul Howe (checking visually once, then looking away, then checking again, and then also checking by feel).
4. No handling of firearms when overly tired. I force myself to shut this aspect of my life down, which is admittedly tough, as one of the only times of day I can clean, handle, or work on my firearms is after the kids are asleep. Nevertheless, the consequences of carelessness are far too serious.
I used to think that I would never have an ND, that NDs are for idiots who do not know what they are doing. Then I had one, and all I could do was pronounce myself just such an idiot. Now, after reading about Massad Ayoob’s recent ND, and at the risk of sounding defeatist or that it is somehow “acceptable” to have one, I do believe that a negligent discharge is a very likely event to happen to anyone who handles firearms.
So please, learn from my story. No one is by some natural law “immune” from negligent discharges, nor does experience really matter. It is only by STRICTLY adhering to the rules of firearms safety that the dreaded ND can be avoided. Do yourself, your family, and your friends a favor and do what you need to do to avoid….well, to avoid being me.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.