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Monthly Archives: May 2013

I would like to try to summarize some thoughts that I have about the term “accidental shooting” and why so many gun owners find it a clumsy and inaccurate phrasing.  A reporter whom I know and respect and with whom I occasionally chat about firearms posted a link on Twitter… Aurora police investigating “accidental shooting” at Rangeview High.  Almost immediately, I raised an eyebrow.  The term “accidental shooting” is one that I’ve never liked because it almost always involves either one or both of the two biggest errors people can make when thinking about gun safety…

  • That firearms have some agency or self-directing ability of their own
  • That an unintended discharge of a firearm is just an “oopsie” event

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What is a Shooting

Allow me to explain further and break things down a bit more.  Let’s look at the first term: shooting.  To many of us, a “shooting” is a very specific thing.  It is a deliberate act wherein one intentionally fires a round from a gun with the goal of striking a target (or in rare instances — like test firing — simply seeing how the gun operates).

shooting

Compare the word “shooting” with the word “discharge” … All shootings are a form of discharging a firearm, but I would put forth the notion that not all discharges are shootings.  It’s the deliberate, conscious decision to fire a gun intentionally that makes something a “shooting” in my view.  It takes a person to fire a gun; the metal device itself has no agency in this world and no means of acting in a deliberate manner all on its own.  In other oft-repeated terms, guns don’t just “go off,” they are “discharged” by the act of a person… usually because said person intended it to happen.

Of course, that is not to say that there aren’t other occasions when guns fire without anyone intending them to.  However, that brings us to the second half of this phrase which doesn’t sit well with me… “accidental”

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What is an Accident

I recognize that the term “accident” has broad meaning in our society.  A traffic collision is casually referred to as an “accident” whether it’s a small fender-bender or a five-car pile-up.  You may have to clean a spot on the floor if a puppy has an “accident” or you may have to hire an attorney if a stevedore at the helm of a gantry crane “accidentally” drops a shipping container onto some dock equipment.  It’s quite a wide spectrum of cases which can be called accidents.

But let’s look at how we are raised to think.  A child might spill something at the dinner table and become upset, and we would be inclined to comfort them by reassuringly saying, “Don’t worry, it was just an accident… let’s get some more napkins.”  This is the definition of “accident” for most people… a situation where they might have been a little careless, but that it’s no big deal and they shouldn’t feel bad for very long.  In other words, most of us come to learn that an accident is something from which you might learn a lesson, but you really shouldn’t lose sleep over it.

Contrast that with the notion of negligence.  This similar and very related term is often something quite different.  “He was a negligent father” has much darker connotations than “He had an accident with one of his kids the other day.”  Again, I’m attempting to codify very flexible words into specific definitions, and that’s never easy… but I believe that most people would think someone who is “negligent” is an order of magnitude beyond someone who merely “had an accident.”  There’s an aspect of habitual behavior wrapped up with the term “negligent” and the idea that such a person really shouldn’t simply shrug off their misdeeds.  Under the law, too, specific facts pertaining to someone’s casual disregard for safety and well-being can lead to a finding of negligence.

Thus, when discussion turns to situations wherein a firearm discharges and this was not someone’s intention, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of potential descriptor terms.   And, of course, there is no lack of strong feelings on the part of many writers when it comes to how to best word such a situation.  “There is no such thing as an ‘accidental discharge’,” some people will assert.  “It’s proper to call them what they are… ‘negligent’ discharges,” they continue, “because being careless with a firearm is an incredibly bad thing and is often criminal!”

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What Constitutes Negligence

On the topic of “accidental” discharge versus “negligent” discharge, I actually believe there is some room for debate.  Yes, virtually all unintentional firings of guns involve some negligence.  Consider the following photo…

negligent

… there we see someone’s holster and pants which have been subject to serious powder burns and even what appears to be a bullet hole.  While I cannot speak to the specifics of this situation (this is a stock image I found on the internet) I would be willing to say that in all likelihood the operator of that gun was being negligent when it fired.  Chances are high that they had their finger on the trigger when drawing from their holster.

Of course, there remains the remote possibility that this holster was ill-designed.  Maybe the kydex was pressed in too firmly around the trigger area and it was the act of inserting the gun that caused it to discharge.  I would assert that this would be also still be negligence (what kind of person would have a gun loaded and chambered the very first time they attempt to place it in a brand new, untested holster??) but I think it would be to a lesser degree.

The truth is, there are some very remote situations wherein a gun can fire a round without anyone’s intention even while it is being operated according to all best practices.  Don’t believe me?  Consider something like a catastrophic extract malfunction and misfeed…

 accidental

… these are rare occurrences to begin with, and the possibility of one round’s tip banging into the rear of a previous shell casing is highly remote.  But I wouldn’t bet that it’s never ever happened throughout the course of history.  More feasible would be a firearm with a malfunctioning firing pin and/or trigger assembly which could spontaneously strike a round when the action is being slammed shut.  Old revolvers were known to sometimes have the muzzle flash from an intentionally-fired round cause powder of other rounds elsewhere in the cylinder to ignite.  Also, if a firearm is operating at a temperature range outside of what is anticipated, the propellant within a casing can “cook off” just by the act of the round being loaded into the hot metal of the chamber.  Particularly dated firearms without modern safety interlocks could discharge a round if dropped, too.

Now, in all such cases, the discharge might be accidental… but if proper handling practices are being followed the gun would be pointed in a safe direction at all times and everyone in the area would be treating the gun as if it were loaded no matter what, so it is unlikely that anyone could be harmed.  Thus, thankfully, we wouldn’t be talking about a situation of negligence.

Interestingly, I don’t know what I might call a scenario when a round discharged accidentally… but due to other factors of negligence someone was harmed.  I would likely still think of that as an “accidental discharge” but see it as coupled with “negligent use/handling of a firearm” and would still see the operator as liable.

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Negligent Hands

Thus, to me, all of these “accidental shootings” are really most likely what I would call “negligent discharges” because someone is not intentionally trying to fire the gun (a.k.a. they are not “shooting”) but they are in fact handling or operating the gun (and doing so unsafely… a.k.a. “negligent”).  And, indeed, if we read the text of the article linked at the top of this post, we see…

The [person who caused their vehicle passenger to be shot in the leg] has a second job as an armed security guard, and while moving his gun to the glove box, the weapon fired, police said.

… this is quite telling.  We see that the gun owner was actively handling their firearm — it wasn’t just sitting somewhere — but they were not (at least allegedly) attempting to shoot it.  The very final wording is also common in news reports: “the weapon fired” states the author, a phrase that imparts some degree of spontaneity and/or agency to the firearm itself.  I’ll admit, it would be quite prolix and cumbersome to say “while moving his gun to the glove box, he unintentionally caused a round to discharge,” but such news copy would make for more honest reporting, in my view.

The use of passive voice — the weapon fired – instead of active verbiage — he or she fired a round – contributes to the notion that guns are dangerous in and of themselves.  Of course, I recognize that this is a widely-held view embraced by many people.  However, to those of us who have grown up around firearms and see them simply as inert objects, such wording does sometimes generate frowns.

Here we see a photograph of some guns sitting on a countertop…

table

… with no one’s hands upon them, are they dangerous?  If no one were to reach out and touch them, would any of these handguns wind up in a news piece reporting that the weapon fired?  To a person who is deeply-immersed in gun culture, the answer would be a resounding ‘no’ and we would not think of any of these guns being involved in a story about an “accidental discharge.”

Well, if we wanted to be fully confident of that, it might be worth stating that leaving guns out in the open on a counter is not the wisest course of action a lot of the time.  We cannot see a wider view in the above photo, so it is not possible to tell if the owner is standing nearby, but perhaps I would be remiss if I didn’t include my own assertion that in most situations, leaving guns unattended and loaded would wind up back in the “negligent” side of the equation.  So perhaps it’s best to drop in a photo such as this…

safe

… yes, I recognize that there are legitimate situations wherein a defense gun is not kept locked-up, but for the most part the above image illustrates the best means of guarding against any kind of negligent discharge — not to mention theft — and I advocate the use of secure enclosures for most of your gun collection in almost all situations.

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Venn Diagram Time

The internet can be counted on to provide this type of diagram with some regularity, so I created one which is specific to the topic that I’m attempting to address…

discharge

… so here we see my views, in a nutshell.  All of the above situations represent some kind of discharging of a firearm.  But the sub-categories are quite separate from one another and feature virtually zero overlap.

  • Shooting is a deliberate act: one points a weapon in the direction intended and makes the decision to fire a round.  Whether you’re talking about a justified shooting or a criminal shooting or a careless firing into the air – please, never do that – these are all part of the green circle.
  • The purple circle would be the smallest part of this Venn diagram, were things drawn to scale.  Virtually no situation nowadays is an “accidental discharge.”  These are those very rare times when a mechanical malfunction happens and a round unexpectedly fires without fault or carelessness on the part of the operator.  Appropriate handling of the firearm and following of proper safety precautions would mean that no one would be injured, of course.
  • The red circle represents what are most commonly referred to as “accidental shootings” in the media, when in fact they are seldom mere “accidents” and I don’t think they typically qualify as “shootings” either.  However, I recognize that reporters are in a tight spot when attempting to describe such incidents in a manner that is palatable to their editors, their producers, and even their audience.

Even if the media is too entrenched in this parlance to change what name they use for such incidents, it would be at least slightly more helpful if news items were worded in a way that recognizes and identifies a person’s actions as the root cause … instead of reporting that the gun “just went off” to the shock of everyone involved, including the individual who was holding it in their own hands at the time.

 

 

 

Ugh.  I am generally a very open-minded person, but some things just make me cringe a little bit inside.  Lately, something that I’ve been noticing a lot more of has been the increasing creep of “tacticool” aesthetic into mainstream gun ownership.  There was a time when devotees of this wholly ridiculous sub-culture were such a minority among gun owners that they were openly chided.  Outfitting one’s rifle with a 37mm flare launcher styled to look like an M203 system or wearing a field-grade gear vest at the gun range used to elicit jokes about Mall Ninjas and the Delta Force catalog.

Something else that used to be consistent was that the world of “tacticool” gear was the exclusive domain of aftermarket parts suppliers. Firearms would come from the factory in a rational stock configuration, and then some particularly dedicated (and I would often say particularly silly) individuals would spend money on accessories and modifications that they felt looked badass when in fact they just appeared silly.

 

 

living room
Your typical “tacticool” guy… he has likely spent more on accessories than his original rifle cost, and yet virtually none of this would be considered “field ready” and capable of rough handling if said rifle were issued to someone in the armed forces.  The actual effectiveness of this weapons system is immaterial to a tacticool user, however.  It just has to “look badass”

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Often not content with merely making their personal firearms laden with accessories and backup gear, a true tacticool individual will ensure that their automobile, bike, or even work desk are outfitted with the most aggressive-looking gear items, in the event that “the shit hits the fan” one day.

 

Until recently, if someone wanted to add any of these rather unnecessary accessories to their guns, they would either perform the modifications themselves (thanks to the ever-growing number of aftermarket parts manufacturers who have adopted the picatinny rail standard) or enlist the help of a willing gunsmith.  This niece market has allowed for some gun shops to make a tidy sum by catering to the desires of some citizens who wish to own guns that look like something out of a Hollywood movie but who do not actually want to spend a lot of money or go through Title-II paperwork.

 

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The Red Jacket Firearms company, featured on the Discovery Channel show Sons of Guns, was a standout in the “tacticool” realm.  Here we see then-owner, Will Hayden, holding a gun that appears to only fire 9mm pistol ammo, in spite of the fact that it is based around a rifle receiver, features a high-magnification optic, and sports a suppressor (which may just be decorative).  Chances are high that this handgun/carbine hybrid is not capable of select-fire and is most likely not a Title-II NFA firearm.

 

This was the standard for a long time.  If you wanted a tacticool gun, you were creating it (or modifying it) yourself.  Mainstream firearm manufacturers (whose chief clientele are usually the police and the military) would never risk their reputation by creating hardware like this at the factory and putting their trade mark upon it.  Sadly, that trend may be changing.

Consider Mossberg & Sons.  This Swedish company has been making what are arguably the world’s finest shotguns for nearly a century.  They also produce rifles, however this is a small piece of their overall business when compared with their shotgun division.  Police officers and the US military have been relying on their products for ages now.

 

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A SWAT police officer with a Mossberg 590  series shotgun

 

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US Marines training with Mossberg 590A1 shotguns

 

Mossberg shotguns come in a variety of models.  They can be categorized into roughly three groups:

  • the 500-series are geared towards casual sports shooters and are often seen with cushioned stocks for comfort
  • the 590-series are geared towards police and usually have the ability to hold more shotshells
  • the 590A1 shotgun is designed for the military and features all-metal construction.  it is essentially a model 590 without any plastic parts

 

A “tacticool” person would historically choose to purchase model 590 shotguns by Mossberg.  Since there is no cosmetic difference between a 590 and a 590A1, and since the latter is more expensive and weighs considerably more, there is little “cool” factor to be gained for such an additional cost.  My first shotgun was a Mossberg 500.  When purchasing a second one for home defense, I happened across an auction for a model 590A1 with a very low starting price.  Back then, this military type shotgun didn’t command much attention and therefore the auction seller was seeing few bids.  I didn’t even know what the 590A1 was at the time, but after researching it I liked the idea of something with more rugged construction and chose to make an offer.  I won the auction without really trying and have been happy with the shotgun ever since.

I particularly like it when I introduce new shooters to 12 gauge pump guns.  Due to its heftier mass, the 590A1 soaks up a lot more of the recoil for each shot, making novices much more comfortable while firing it.

Unless one knows what details to look for (the heavier barrel appears slightly thicker than normal, for example) most people don’t notice anything distinct or different about my shotgun.  The original 590A1 guns from Mossberg have their model number on the left side of the receiver like all similar products, stamped in non-distinct and subdued letters.

 

original
Unless you’re looking right at it, most people don’t even notice the small “A1″ at the end of the model 590 designation, and would assume I have a standard law enforcement model shotgun.

 

Lately, however, it appears that Mossberg & Sons may be starting to seize upon the “tacticool” trend that ripples through some parts of American gun culture.  While browsing auction sites for another shotgun recently, I noticed something rather odd in specific photos that some sellers had uploaded…

 

tacticool
This appears to be the new way of marking the 590A1 shotgun

 

No longer content with using the nondescript, straight-line font with which they make a subdued imprint on their other shotgun receivers, Mossberg now appears to have adopted this bold “Stencil” style lettering (so popular when making artistic references to the military) and the “M590A1″ lettering has increased noticeably in size.  If that weren’t enough, the model number has been augmented with a subtitle, boldly revealing this to be the “U.S. SERVICE MODEL” should anyone cast a glance at the weapon.

Sigh.

Who exactly thinks this makes a firearm more desirable?  I don’t know, but chances are I wouldn’t want to hang out with them.  You don’t tend to see this in other cultures.  Consider motoring.  Most auto enthusiasts agree that the Ferarri logo is a thing of beauty.  Quiet, yet powerful… that company’s logo commands respect and portrays elegance much in the same way that their vehicles do…

 

ferarri01

 

… now what, I ask you, do you think the reaction of most people would be if Ferrari S.p.A. suddenly chose to start putting this logo on their automobiles instead…

 

ferarri02

 

Would that make you have more respect for these machines?  Would it make you more likely to buy one?

I don’t know your reaction, but I can state quite plainly that if I or anyone whom I know buys another Mossberg 590A1, it will be an older, used model without these new fancy-pants “tacticool” markings.

Heaven help us if these companies start equipping their firearms with unnecessary and flashy do-nothing accessories.  Then the Mall Ninjas will have really taken over.

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