I just heard a story about a negligent discharge at a convention filled with police officers. I was in the room when a gun was fired into the floor of an NRA-sponsored consumer show. During an empty-hand defense class I was attending at Front Sight, a guy in one of the pistol classes shot himself in the leg during a draw drill. I also know of a pretty famous instructor who got shot in the leg by a student with a military pedigree (something that should instill confidence based on the color of the soldier’s hat).

There are lots of details surrounding negligent discharges, but really only one reason: complacency.

Be Honest

When was your last negligent discharge? I don’t know if I would rather hear you say you’ve never had one (you might be lying) or that you know the exact time and place of your last ND.

I certainly know where my last one was: three years ago at the SIG Academy while participating in the Semi-Automatic Pistol Instructor Course. We had been running some dry-fire drills on an outdoor range when we were called to the firing line to discuss something. I remember clearly pointing my gun in a safe direction, inserting a magazine, racking the slide and reholstering my pistol before rejoining the group. We talked about trigger control. We broke up to prepare for the next training sequence. For whatever reason, I approached a target stand, drew my pistol and decided to run through the Wall Drill one last time.

Imagine my surprise and horror when the gun got really loud and the muzzle blast destroyed the face of the target before me! Imagine the reactions of everyone nearby.

Punishment included the public humiliation of running to the nearest gong and hitting it 10 times with a hammer so everyone on the range would know I had made a mistake.

Prior to that, my last ND was in 1995, when I put a round from a Browning Hi-Power through the corner of a mattress in my bedroom.

You Can Never Be Too Familiar With Your Firearm

Each incident scared me so badly that it inspired a new awakening in me. But notice something. Both of those incidents resulted in minimal property damage and no unintended injury. That is because, even though I failed in knowing the status of my pistol while at SIG Academy and I failed in the area of trigger-finger discipline while in my bedroom, I had kept my muzzle in a safe direction at all times.

I’m not perfect. I own those rounds and take full responsibility for them.

Still, I will point out that one must break at least two of the firearms safety rules in order to inflict an injury as a result of a negligent discharge. That’s one of the reasons we have multiple gun safety rules. That is why we memorize them. That is why we endeavor to live by them and follow them every day. That is why we can never be too familiar — too cavalier — when handling our guns.

Nearly every negligent discharge occurs during the administrative handling of a firearm; when a person is calm and doing something he or she has done 100 times before. I imagine it is pretty common for a person to cause a negligent discharge right after saying something to the effect of, “I know what I’m doing.”

Even if you know what you are doing, never take firearms safety for granted. Control your muzzle. Maintain trigger-finger discipline. Know the status of your firearm at all times. There is no time to relax when handling a gun.