How to Avoid Negligent Discharges - Part 2

by Sean Maloney

In part 1, I shared the rules of safe gun handling and the first of three incidents demonstrating how following these rules can help you avoid negligent discharges, which can be legally perilous. In part 2, I'll go over the second two incidents.

Incident #2  
In the second case, I received a phone call on a Saturday afternoon. “Mr. Maloney, I may need your services.” Being a firearms instructor as well as Personal Defense Attorney, that could mean almost anything, so I asked for clarification.

“After I cleaned and reloaded my AR15, as I was sliding it into a soft sided case for storage, it went off. I accidentally had my finger on the trigger and the gun went off.” Then what happened?  “The bullet went through my wall, through the neighbor’s kitchen door, through a kitchen cabinet, and lodged in a back bedroom wall.”

Was anyone injured? “No, nobody was home, there were no injuries. I called the police and told them what I did, and they sent two officers right over to investigate.”
Because of the officers concern that someone inside the neighbor’s residence might have been injured, they entered the neighbor’s house through an opened window. They documented the path of the bullet fired by the gun owner and the resulting damage.

They completed their investigation, and left a note pinned to the neighbor's front door, explaining that they had entered their residence and why.

The caller also informed me that the officers prepared a detailed report and informed him that “we are going to turn this over to the County Prosecutor and let him decide what to do. He may decide to file charges, but that is his decision. Have a nice day! Someone will be in touch.”

The analysis is simple. If the gun owner would have followed the first two rules of safe gun handling - ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot - he would have not have been forced to hold a vigil, watching for his neighbors to return, to shamefully explain what occurred while they were gone, and would not be forced to wait for a call from the Prosecutor, or knock on the door.

Incident #3
The third case, once again, occurred immediately after cleaning and reloading a pistol. This time the negligent discharge occurred while the pistol was in the process of being returned to a “bedside quick access safe.”

Again, this phone call started out with the familiar “I think I need and Attorney.” After speaking with him, I’m inclined to think he does. While in the process of putting his pistol in the safe, on his nightstand, he negligently left his finger on the trigger, and negligently discharged his .40 caliber before he got it into the safe.

The bullet pierced his bedroom wall and lodged in his neighbors family room wall next door, dimpling the drywall above his neighbors couch. This time his neighbor was home, but there were no injuries.

The gun owner informed me that he immediately went outside to follow the path of his bullet.  He followed it into the side of his neighbors stucco exterior wall. Since it was a cool summer morning, windows were open in the neighborhood, and several of his neighbors were outside and heard the shot.

The gun owner said, “The neighbor whose house I shot came outside, and I pointed out the bullet hole I put in the exterior of his home. Then we went inside and you could see where it ‘dimpled’ the drywall of his family room, but did not go all the way through.”

I asked what his neighbor thought about the incident, at which time he responded that his neighbor was understanding but wanted to report the incident to the police for insurance purposes.

The gun owner continued, “Then after the police arrived, you know what my neighbor did? He tried to have me arrested, and was upset that the police were turning it over to the Prosecutor, so that he could decide what to do with me, instead of taking me straight to jail.”

ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

In each of these examples, the people handling the firearms new exactly why the negligent discharges occurred. They were all fully aware of the fundamentals of safe gun handling. However, they grew so accustomed to handling their firearms, that they overlooked the fact that safe gun handling doesn’t just happen.
The fundamentals of safe gun handling must always be conscious and deliberate.

In short, gun safety is no accident. It only occurs when we deliberately point the firearm in a safe direction and always consciously keep our finger off the trigger, until we are ready to shoot.