Negligent Discharges vs. Accidental Discharges

Unfortunately, the topic of “unwanted firearm discharges” comes up quite often online, either when a news story about such an incident is being discussed, or when a member of a firearm-related forum has an “insert word here” discharge.

The topic can be contentious and is riddled with half truths and misunderstandings. I’m not claiming to be the final source of information on the topic, but I do believe that I have a well-grounded opinion. Now, some people say that there’s no such thing as an accidental discharge, and others say there’s no such thing as a negligent discharge. I disagree with both camps.

In my opinion, an accidental discharge is the result of a mechanical malfunction. Something is physically wrong with the weapon, specifically, one or more of its internal components.

Also in my opinion, a negligent discharge is the result of a shooter malfunction. Either the person holding/carrying the weapon was not trained in the safe handling of firearms, or the person knowingly ignored said training for some reason. Any external influence that causes the firearm to discharge also falls under the category of negligent discharges. This includes, but is not limited to, allowing the thumb strap of certain holsters to enter the trigger guard of a pistol while reholstering.

The vast majority of “unwanted discharges” are negligent discharges. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “It was an accident, I didn’t mean for it to ‘go off'”. Intent has no bearing on this. Obviously, both accidental and negligent discharges are unwanted, hence me lumping them in together. Nobody wants for their weapon to have a dangerous malfunction, and nobody wants to “accidentally” shoot someone. Unfortunately, without an element of negligence, large or small, the latter case just doesn’t happen.

One other common phrase is “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” – that’s a sure sign of a negligent discharge. An accidental discharge can occur during the normal, safe handling of a loaded firearm, when all firearms safety rules are being carefully observed, although such incidents are exceedingly rare. An example would be the decocker on surplus CZ-52 pistols, which can cause the weapon to fire when engaged if certain components are worn, or certain weapons that will fire when dropped (it could certainly be argued that dropping a firearm is a form of negligence, however, it is nice to know whether your firearm will discharge or not in the unlikely event that it is dropped). These situations are generally known to the shooting world and appropriate precautions can be taken to mitigate risk. The vast majority of shooters will never encounter a true accidental discharge.

On the other hand, a negligent discharge occurs as a result of the violation of at least one and sometimes two or three safety rules. Every violation of a weapons safety rule is an occurrence of negligence. It doesn’t matter if you think the firearm is unloaded – you should always treat it as if it was loaded. This is basic stuff, but it is ignored way too often.

However, not all negligent discharges occur when the shooter chooses to ignore that first rule. As mentioned previously, another common cause is when a pistol is being reholstered. Sometimes, the trigger finger is caught by the holster, and other times, a retention strap can enter the trigger guard. Either case is not the result of a mechanical malfunction of the weapon, but of the negligence of the shooter in failing to ensure that nothing entered the trigger guard.

It can be a personal affront to the person whose negligence caused the discharge – and admitting fault in such a situation can be a hefty blow to a sometimes fragile ego – but identifying and acknowledging the situations by which a negligent discharge can occur will hopefully prevent them from happening again, if not in the first place.

17 thoughts on “Negligent Discharges vs. Accidental Discharges”

  1. Thanks for this.

    I had not thought of it in these terms before more along the lines of every “unwanted discharge” is negligent. I will begin using the phrase unwanted discharge going forward because it is more descriptive and I think helps setup the safety discussion better.

    Thanks Again

  2. One of my first days in an ER many, many years ago was an 8 yo girl shot by her 5 yo brother with a loaded handgun he found in a drawer in the bedroom. Lest I sound as if I am anti handgun, I am not…just a comment.

    A few months later we had a 60 something yo gentleman with a close range rifle gsw to the chest (sorry, don’t know which kind…it was too long ago and I was more concerned with the patient). He was working with his “unloaded” hunting rifle in preparation for the season up coming…you know, looking down the barrel and all to see if it was clean. At least that was the story.

    We cracked his chest, did all we could, but even tho’ he was sitting up and talking when he arrived in the ER he did not make it.

    Your points are well taken and I hope your readers take them to heart (no bad pun intended).

  3. Call it what you will.

    _I_ was the person who pulled the trigger on my Glock 21 without checking to see if it had a round chambered. Since a Glock needs the trigger pulled to take it apart it was a deliberate action on my part.

    It’s by far the dumbest thing I have ever done. It was only luck it only put a hole in the drywall.

    Before it happened I considered myself a meticulous gun handler and would have sworn it would never happen to me.

  4. I consider myself a “very meticulous gun handler,” and I have had a negligent discharge.

    My ND occurred at the end of the complete disassembly, cleaning and reassembly of a 1911 pistol.

    Somehow, at the end of the process, I inserted a loaded magazine into the pistol.

    I have reviewed the event over and over in my mind, and I have no idea how it happened.

    I have over 50 years of firearms experience, and I would have bet money this would never happen to me.

    Several of my very seasoned shooting mates have, in private, admitted to similar negligent discharges.

    Jeff Cooper, the “father of the modern technique of handgun shooting,” admits to a negligent discharge in his private office with a .44 Magnum revolver.

    It can happen to anyone, and, if you live and shoot long enough, it will happen to you.

  5. AD vs ND.

    26. An accident is an unintentional event. When a gun is discharged inadvertently it is an accidental discharge. The use of the term negligent discharge has become popular but in my opinion it is a bad idea. Yes, the vast majority of ADs involve negligence on the part of the operator but negligence is a legal term that assigns responsibility. Describing your unintentional discharge as negligent is admitting guilt to any cop or lawyer who happens to be listening. Until I am certain that I am not being charged with a crime or sued in civil court I prefer to not admit guilt.

    1. I think that the more we brush these things off as accidents, the more likely it is that someone at the periphery of gun ownership is likely to have a (negligent) discharge.

    2. No, no, no. An ‘accident’ is an unpreventable, unforeseen, unpredictable event over which one has no physical control. A negligent act is one that may very well be inadvertent and unintentional, but it is certainly not an accident.
      It is an ugly facet of the modern human that few are willing to accept responsibility for their own stupidity or neglect. This is not a question of legalities, but morality and ethics.
      I do not think that I would like to be your patient, Doctor.

      1. I guess you are negligent in using the dictionary.

        Accident defined:

        an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance
        an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap

        an event not intended by anyone but which has the result of injuring someone or damaging something

        An accident can encompass, no fault, negligence, or gross negligence. However as long as there was no intent it is defined as an accident.

        1. Your sources also advance the notion that magazine and clip are synonymous, the nuances of firearm related terminology apparently being lost on them.

          I would encourage you to go into a firearm training class and argue that a magazine and a clip are the same because the dictionary says so.

          Good luck, and please post video.

          1. 1. I just entered the definition of clip and magazine in both sources and got no such related terms. Please post the link with definition.

            2. Also It appears you do not understand the distinction between a synonym and a definition. A synonym is a closely related term. Related does not mean equal.

            I have taken numerous classes and respect a firearm instructor for their instruction. However, when they start dangerously misusing dictionary defined words, I question their ability to read the literature they are so called experts in.

          2. “Both” sources? You quoted three.

            1. Merriam-Webster (publisher of Webster’s dictionary, your first source) on the word clip:

            Definition of clip
            : any of various devices that grip, clasp, or hook
            : a device to hold cartridges for charging the magazines of some rifles; also : a magazine from which ammunition is fed into the chamber of a firearm

            Their first line in the bolded statement is what we would call a clip, but their second is what we would call a magazine.

            2. Merriam-Webster’s definition of synonym:

            “one of two or more words or expressions of the same language that have the same or nearly the same meaning in some or all senses”

            The sentences “synonym is a closely related term. related does not mean equal” appears only in your personal definition. In fact, “the same” quite literally indicates the opposite of what you said.

            You use dictionary definitions when they advance your argument, but substitute your own personal definitions when the dictionary definition is not quite suitable. How intellectually sound and indicative of the supreme intelligence you so desperately want everyone to think you possess. Feel free to continue your pedantic tilt at windmills; I will not respond.

  6. Pedantic? You are telling people they are wrong for using the correct word. So if I said AD you will literally say NO!!! It is an ND.

    Stick to guns and leave language to the experts. This is mind numbing but I will continue just to show people who read this that you are clueless.

    You state “the same” quite literally indicates the opposite of what you said”.

    Again NEARLY the same (what the definition said) is closely related which again is not equal/identical. A Clip and a Magazine are synonyms and I will show you below.

    First, let us see how dictionary definitions are created. Oxford creates definitions by “Using world-class technology, our dictionary programs constantly monitor the use of language so that our experts can identify and record the changes taking place. Before adding a word to one of our dictionaries we have to see evidence that it is widely used in print or online”.

    So you are saying that Webster’s is wrong. Okay, let us see if the NRA is wrong.

    A device for holding a group of cartridges. Semantic wars have been fought over the word, with some insisting it is not a synonym for “detachable magazine.” For 80 years, however, it has been so used by manufacturers and the military. There is no argument that it can also mean a separate device for holding and transferring a group of cartridges to a fixed or detachable magazine or as a device inserted with cartridges into the mechanism of a firearm becoming, in effect, part of that mechanism.

    or a similar definition here:

    So I guess the NRA and all the people that use clip in old and current periodicals are wrong. Yet no dictionary currently uses your meaning of accident which means they concluded that only a few uneducated people use it incorrectly.
    I can’t comprehend your ignorance. Language is about meaning and you think you can just make up your own words?

    What pompous online gun “experts” basically make a big deal of is that a magazine feeds firearms and clips feed magazines. OH WOW stop the presses; a spring and following parts. When you add an ammunition belt into it, we get even closer.

    People at the range are cool and educated but online “experts” blame, criticize and just look like idiots which threaten my Second Amendment rights.

    You think that by replacing accident with negligent somehow makes the person less sorry or liable? When you tell people, it was not AD it was an ND, laymen think somehow that it was purposeful because everyone knows an accident is unintentional.

    If I drop my firearm from a very high safe, higher than what the firearm was and it goes off, that is an accident. Negligence is normally not taking reasonable care. Trying to catch it makes it worse. A reasonable person drops things on occasions.

    You don’t have to respond. I just think many of you online experts do way more harm than good. FYI, I never had any AD/ND. But let’s just consider every error an ND and arrest them to the fullest extent of the law. Let the government chill the 2nd amendment away.

    1. Not sure why I could not reply and now awaiting moderation. P.S some basic WordPress skills can improve this website.

  7. I haven’t had the vocabulary toilet paper long enough to understand half the words you guys are using… shut up nerds!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *