Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: NatGeo

NatGeo justifies its constant stream of freak shows by cloaking the weirdness in anthropological pretensions. Before Doomsday Preppers appeared, the narrator informed us that the series was part of the series called American Outliers. In other words, here are some Americans who are way the f’ out there but it’s OK to watch them bite the heads off of live chickens (or similar) because it’s educational. Except, of course, when it isn’t . . .

In last night’s episode of Doomsday Preppers (DP), Tim Ralston shot off part of his thumb. I have no problem with the fact that NatGeo showed a man shoot himself in the hand. It is what it is: a negligent discharge (ND). But I have real problems with the way this went down.

[Quick aside: I realize that NatGeo no more owns Ralston's guns than I do. Once again, I'm extending the "safety is everybody's responsibility" concept to conjure-up a new and entirely debatable definition of firearms ownership. Mea culpa.]

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the program’s production crew should’ve done something to prevent this happening. Let’s assume the crew didn’t perceive any safety violations prior to the incident and/or they didn’t know thing one about gun safety. As for the possibility that the cameras’ presence encouraged unsafe gun handling . . . meh.

Gun safety doesn’t stop when the cameras start. Ralston was shooting in the desert with his two boys. He had a responsibility to keep them safe no matter what. Not to mention not shooting the film crew. There’s no getting around it: Ralston is ultimately responsible for shooting his hand with a .22 rifle. Yes BUT—how did it happen?

The moment before Ralston does the deed, the screen goes dark. We hear the gunshot (enhanced for effect) and see the aftermath. Well, some of the aftermath: Ralston passing out in shock, a bit of bandaging—all PG rated stuff.  The prepper immediately and repeatedly blamed his injury on a misfire.

To be clear, a misfire is a cartridge that doesn’t discharge, or partially discharges, in a firearm. The danger is obvious: if bullet one is still in the barrel when you fire bullet two that’s a handful of not good. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen in this case. Equally important, there’s a safe procedure for clearing a gun after a misfire. Shooting your thumb off isn’t part of that process.

Which begs the question: was Ralston’s ND a misfire? I doubt it. The prepper may have thought he had a misfire and put his hand in front of the gun whilst checking the barrel. Or some such stupidity. Who knows? This much I do know: I would’ve liked to have seen it. And everyone else as well. Why the hell not?

While DP’s producers felt perfectly free to dismiss Ralston’s worries about an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) wiping out civilization—”Most experts agree that an EMP attack is unlikely”—they let the prepper’s statement on his ND stand. By not showing the actual event or at least explaining what happened, NatGeo left viewers with the impression that the gun was responsible for the ND.

And that’s irresponsible. It’s one thing to document a bunch of people who think that the end of the world is nigh. It’s another to reaffirm viewers’ anti-gun prejudices through the sin of omission. As NatGeo should know from its ongoing ambulance and weirdo chasing efforts, ignorance can kill.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

49 Responses to Irresponsible Gun Owner of the Day: NatGeo

  1. avatarready, fire,aim says:

    i laughed my ass off when i saw this last night….went right back to the hockey game…..GO WINGS !!!

  2. avatarWK says:

    I tried watching that show last night.Between that guy and the dude in NY planning for the Yellowstone Caldera I felt myself getting dumber by the minute

    For that I award myself no points and may God have mercy on my soul

    • avatarJwhite says:

      What no $200 – Pass Go?

      I cant watch this show. I recall an earlier version they did, and it was just ridiculous. They had people prepping for astroids hitting earth, 2012.. Literally, the end of the world, and all this other ridiculous stuff. I co-organized a “survivalism” group on meetup.com for a minute a year or so ago. The group no longer stands, but I have to say… There is always a tendency to over react, to constantly feed the paranoia, and spend lots of money on crap you probably dont need.

      A pantry, a couple firearms, a sturdy backpack, enough camping gear for you and your family, some fuel, a bunch of ammo, and water treatment kits, and maybe a generator. There you have it, you’re prepared for quite a bit of excitement my friends. That should be enough to keep you on the move and out of harms reach… Unless your blabbing on the interwebs about who, what, where, why, how (much) crap you have. Your setting your self up to be a target. Blah. I’m so over this doomsday crap. Wake me up when the end of the world comes, I have a job, bills, and a family to enjoy being with.

    • avatarJeffrey Hill says:

      Before I comment on the Yellowstone thing let me just say this: I did not watch the show. Ergo, I have no clue whether the person in NY actually expressed himself properly or even gave good information on the Yellowstone Caldera.

      Ok… The Yellowstone Caldera is a magma pocket in the Lithosphere that is close to the surface (or closer than we’d like). In the past, it had erupted (the last one was 640 Kya [Kya= thousands of years ago]) and the ejecta reached what would roughly be NY. This is correlate-able through the rock record and the ash layer laid down by the event. Scientists currently monitor the rise and fall of the land surrounding Yellowstone for any early warning indicators that a violent eruption may be brewing. Even still, it is NEARLY impossible to predict when the next eruption will occur and/or whether or not it has any sort of regular cycle. I only bring this up to point out that a little bit of research would have made you smarter and not dumber :)

      I am content to blame the person on the TV show for how you felt, but I can say (as a Geology major) that the Yellowstone Caldera is real and that the POSSIBILITY exists that it may erupt. Violently. However, the PROBABILITY is good that it will not.

  3. avatarMoonshine7102 says:

    “By not showing the actual event or at least explaining what happened, NatGeo left viewers with the impression that the gun was responsible for the ND.”
    —–
    Well of COURSE the gun is responsible. Can you imagine if word got out that individuals are responsible for the consequences of their own actions? Fire and brimstone! Dogs and cats cohabitating! Mass hysteria, I tell you!

    • avatarJwhite says:

      Maybe he was using an unloaded gun with a shoulder thing that goes up? Those are classified as unsafe-illegal here in Kalifornia. They banned those for our safety. Probably to prevent this kind of injury. For the children…

      *eye roll*

    • avatarJeff O. says:

      Up would be down! Left would be right! And Coke would be Pepsi EVEN IN THE DEEP SOUTH!

  4. avatarpair-o-dee says:

    Aliens done it (the space kind). They EMP’d the videocamera (they’re all digital these days) to black it out. Come to your senses, Sheeple!

  5. avatarbontai Joe says:

    My cable package does not include Nat Geo, and from the sounds of things that is money saved for me. As to the NG? Ask anyone at the Brady Center, guns are evil things, they can just go off spontainiously all by themselves. Add a 30 round magazine, and they can wipe out a town with no human interaction.

  6. avatarChas says:

    Even if it WAS a misfire, or hangfire, or something else, WHY was his hand in front of the muzzle?

    • avatarJake says:

      that is the *exact* comment I was going to leave!!

    • avatarEsemwy says:

      Do we know that he actually shot himself? Misfeeds on rimfire cartridges are problematic. I had a 17 Mach-2 semi-auto misfeed and go off when the cartridge got crimped. I only got slight burns and it stung like the dickens. There’s no telling where the bullet went, or could have gone. (BTW, this is why semi-auto rifles that fire that cartridge have been recalled). I’m still not sure how I feel about semi-auto rimfires.

      Looking at the photo, though, I can’t think of a malfunction that would injure a left thumb.

      But, yes, it would be nice (and honest) if they told us what went wrong and why.

  7. avatardan says:

    “Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the program’s production crew should’ve done something to prevent this happening. Let’s assume the crew didn’t perceive any safety violations prior to the incident and/or they didn’t know thing one about gun safety. As for the possibility that the cameras’ presence encouraged unsafe gun handling . . . meh.”

    so how does the rest of your argument hold water if the production crew doesn’t know the safety rules. shouldn’t it have been the subjects duty as the person inviting the camera crew in to their shooting excursion to ensure knowledge of fire arm safety of everyone present before the guns came out?

    secondly if the argument is that NatGeo should show some one as the moron they are then that only hurts NatGeo’s ability to get interviews and people to apear on screen, secondly they may know that people can be squeamish around blood and are thinking that they are doing people a favor by blanking it out.

    this article comes off as a way to blame NatGeo regardless, If NatGeo showed what happend im sure there would have been an article about how the Producers should have done something to prevent it.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      If NatGeo showed what happend im sure there would have been an article about how the Producers should have done something to prevent it.

      Not by me there wouldn’t. It looks as if Mr. Ralston was safe—right until he wasn’t. As for showing what happened, if you’re a documentarian, document. Or, at the least, make sure everything is in something roughly akin to a realistic context.

      As I said in the article, it’s a bit of a stretch to blame NatGeo for the ND. In fact, I don’t. I blame them for the coverup. Correct me if I’m wrong Ralph, but doesn’t that make NatGeo co-conspirators? You know, if this was a criminal offense. Which, uh, it isn’t . . .

      • avatarTaurus609 says:

        Actually Robert, I was more astounded by the improper gun handling of the couple from North Carolina. As they were showing off all of their weapons around the house, she more than him almost always had her hand in front of the muzzle.

      • avatarSomeway says:

        Pretty much looks like the man was going to let the lead fly. I think He hasn’t let loose with such a hangun in a while. Getting a little bold for the cameras? I blame him not National Geographic, geeessh.

  8. avatarShane from Kanuckistan says:

    A person who manages to shoot themselves in the thumb trying to clear a weapon has terrible survival instincts and isn’t likely going to last long once the SHTF.

  9. avatarBill McEwen says:

    Clearly the ND was a classic Hangfire of the Missfire-Hangfire-Squib fire trilogy.

    When a trigger is pulled with a round chambered AND all safety devises off AND it doesn’t immediately discharge one of the 3 is about to happen. A hang fire simply means there is an unexpected delay in cartridge detonation. NRA safety rules state in this event the barrel should remain pointed downrange for a minimum of 30 seconds (3 minutes if a muzzle loader). A Squib fire is a weak powered round that may or may not dispatch the bullet out of the barrel. Under no circumstances should the shooter fire again until the firearm has been properly cleared and inspected. Only after the 2 instances above have been ruled out is the failure to fire properly labeled a misfire (Dud round). Since the Prepper disregarded the 3 rules of safety after the “no bang” event he is very lucky that the only damage that occurred was the development of a mini digit. Hope this helps.

    • avatarJEC says:

      I vote hangfire and then hand over muzzle, or something even dumber (maybe he put the gun butt first onto the ground while holding the barrel military-drill-style and she dun gone off all by hesself).

      Last time I thought I had a hangfire I stayed in position, keeping my reticle on target, while I watched my wristwatch out of the corner of my eye tick off 30 seconds. Then I half-cycled the bolt (rimfire bolt action) to cock the hammer again, and pulled the trigger again to see if it was a light strike. Another 30 seconds. Then I opened the chamber… To discover I hadn’t chambered a round at all, I hadn’t inserted the magazine fully. Ha. Better safe than have a round blow up in my face or on the shooting bench.

      • avatarTom says:

        I have done something similar with my .22lr. Helps if you chamber a round. Duh!

      • avatarTom says:

        Happens to the best of us. Been there, done that.

        • avatarTTACer says:

          Hand over muzzle happens to the best of us? Then I guess our best isn’t good enough, to borrow a phrase.

        • avatarTX Gun Gal says:

          And I was beating myself up for being the only person in the world to a have FTF due not properly seating the magazine on my .22 pistol. Racked the slide, drop mag, gave a good smack reinserting, and snappy re-rack of slide = back in business
          I know the proper way since I shoot with a league twice a month, but was on family ranch with my brother, sister-in-law and a cousin. Got distracted by my brother yammering at me while I was setting up, kept it in low ready the entire time. Note to self next time tell brother to STFU, go back to beginning and do it properly to actually chamber a round.

      • avatarMoonshine7102 says:

        “Better safe than have a round blow up in my face or on the shooting bench.”
        —–
        Or even worse, to fire another round in an obstructed barrel.

  10. avatarcaffeinated says:

    Aside from the ultimate aftermath, I’d gander a guess that NG may have encouraged him to do something to “show off” his skills or something of the like. It’s clear this show is more about editing footage to portray a “crazy prepper” freak show for the masses than to really portray the true prepping community.

    Ask yourself what is more likely:
    1)Prolonged power outage due to weather
    2)Loss of employment
    3)EMP attack

    Most preppers prepare for what is more likely. When you have those bases covered, feel free to move on to more catastrophic events. 100 years ago, the majority of Americans were “preppers.” If one wasn’t, they likely did not survive the first harsh winter.

    Portraying preppers honestly would be quite boring if they couldn’t find statistical outliers. The problem is that NG uses these exceptions to the rule as the norm with zero disclaimer.

    • avatarAnthony Meruelo says:

      I agree, what is that firefighter doing prepping for a supervolcano when London rioted this summer, the Greek state is burning down to the ground for a second time and his home town of NYC is next with Occupy Wall Street on his doorstep, knocking on his glass-covered door and asking, “Gimme ur moniez, plox?” I admit, I felt sorry for him that he could not actually defend himself and didn’t have a place to bug out to. He should be storing a Jeep in that unit of his so he can haul ass out of there the second he can.

    • avatarBeninMA says:

      I thought NG’s own “expert” opinion was equally questionable. For example, they seemed to say that a naturally-caused, civilization-ending EMP was a real possibility, while completely discounting the possibility of an economic depression or hyperinflation.

  11. avatarAnthony Meruelo says:

    I see what happened there. You were posting from your phone and you got the error saying your comment wasn’t published. You slightly modified the comment thinking it would pass muster this time. But it didn’t either, huh? Happened to me a lot before I figured out that the first post went through fine and all you need to do is reload the page. RF, you guys need to take a look at the mobile version of the site.

    • avatarMadDawg J says:

      +1 on that. I do most of my work on my iPad nowadays and have experienced issues here a couple times too.

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Roger that. Happened to me more than once. Sorry about that .

      My man Malanshak’s tweaking the next gen wp template right now (ish). Hopefully, that will clear up a lot of issues. Realistically, it will create new ones. At least it will look even cleaner. Your patience is most appreciated.

  12. avatarMadDawg J says:

    It is of course just a guess on my part, but from the picture the firearm the older kid has in the photo here has a very short barrel. Seems like someone (possibly hotdogging for the cameras) had his supporting hand (left hand for us righties) way to far forward and wrapped his thumb up on the muzzle. Pure conjecture on my part, the only info I have is what’s posted here, but lacking further evidence that would be my guess.

  13. avatarBeninMA says:

    They did show the older son reminding his dad that, by passing his hand in front of the barrel, he violated a basic rule of gun safety (the dad agreed with this). It was a missed opportunity for the omniscient voice to elaborate a bit.

  14. avatarcmd says:

    I’m sure Mr. Ralston was reminded of one of life’s most basic rules: If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough. It was fortunate the the situation wasn’t more serious.

    The show is a tad bit silly IMHO. I do find it interesting on how each prepper perceives their catastophe, devises a possible solution/plan and then implements it. Some works and some doesn’t but the creativity and innovation is still worth watching to me.

  15. avatarbontai Joe says:

    I;ve been thinking about this and got to wondering about the crew, especially the camera and sound guys. Thye are right on top of the “action” and with one firearms mishap, they gotta be just a little jumpy about now. I know I would be very apprehensive working around folks that just might accidently shoot me.

  16. IGOTD never ceases to amaze me with with it’s coverage. You guys do amazing work!

  17. avatarLeo Atrox says:

    I got the distinct impression that the incident was, in fact, caused by a barrel obstruction. It could have been caused by a hangfire in which he reached around with his left hand to clear the defective round and it went off while ejecting (making him lucky it hit his hand, since it could have gone anywhere) … But without specific evidence, my mind is set on this being a case of an obstructed barrel and resulting blown action.

    Hopefully we can get more information about the incident in the coming hours or days. A show and a “cast member” focusted on being prepared should also make an effort to educate others so they can prevent mishaps like this in the future.

  18. avatarUSMC RECON says:

    I think this guy suffers from a clear cut case of dumbassitis I also read on his web site that he claims to have been army SF( Special Forces) but then doesn’t know the first thing about basic gun safety yea right he was SF and i’m the commadant of the corps

  19. avatarLevi B says:

    Bottom line, the gun did not place his thumb in front of the muzzle. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be flustered if I were being filmed by a TV crew, but I would never agree to such a thing.

    I agree I would have liked to see the actual incident. My guess is that it shows him put his hand in front of the gun and pull the trigger, and showing it wouldn’t let them keep blame on the gun. Which bolsters their point that these prepper folks are outlier weirdos–look at him and his sons use guns that according to him are dangerous all on their own, and pledge to continue to after losing part of his thumb.

  20. avatarsoldtonorm says:

    Maybe it was all “Special Effects”.

  21. avatarRight! says:

    Were this man’s hands clearly shown to be uninjured in the earlier portion of the show? Was there any blood pouring from the wound on?
    I for one seriously doubt that there was any ND. A previous industrial accident is far more likely. The photo of the injury taken by the doctor for insurance purposes at that time.

  22. avatarBenjamin says:

    As a forenote, I’m a liberal who believes that most people practically should not own guns for the safety of others, but everyone should be educated in handling guns safely, shooting well, and properly taking care of them.

    I don’t think that Nat Geo is trying to pose this as a ‘guns are dangerous’ segment. Tim seems typecast as a wealthy inventor-prepper who is foolishly overconfident in his own abilities without thinking about practicality or safety, whether its chopping up hogs in his drive way or ‘storing 16 people’ in a container.

    It’s easy to imagine him stupidly taking a gun in his left hand (as he is a righty) from his sons by the barrel with his thumb over the muzzle and somehow triggering a round.

  23. avatarJoe says:

    I think everyone should chill out. Lets face it, it seems apparent the guy screwed up, but we weren’t there, so no one should judge. He will remember that day for the rest of his life and now, and I am sure, a greater respect for gun safety. Is there anyone out there that has never made a mistake?
    Give him a break.
    I agree Nat Geo hypes things up on all the prepper series, but answer me this.
    Did the San Francisco earthquake not happen? Did Mt. Saint Helen not erupt? Did the English government not confisgate its subjects guns? Did Katrina not kill a lot of people because they werent prepared. Did Hurricane Andrew cause all kinds of diasters, Just think if everyone had a simple little little generator, some gas and some food and water, and a transistor radio!
    I think doing some prepping is a good idea. You are prepared for the unknown. If you dont need it, you can still use the stuff and replenish it with fresh.

  24. Wow, so many assumptions! Like assuming his thumb was over the barrel. Or anywhere close to the barrel.

    I could tease you all and point out that before they cut, he was holding a revolver, and there’s the possibility that the cylinder lock malfunctioned and blew out on firing, taking out the middle of his thumb.(which based on his injuries, is a perfect match!) But im not saying that, but what actually happened / and the actual firearm may actually surprise you!

    Try: “new” to market version, (and a silent recall) a mechanical failure, and the manufacturer is working on an aggreeable settlement.

    Try: manufacturers arrangements stopping release of clip until settlement is over (probably ending in non disclosures of firearm used, what the mechanical failure was, etc…)

    As it is, ALL clips of the actual firearm involved were completely edited out.

    Its no different than the remington 700s with their self firing issues, and forcing remington to redesign the trigger pack, or the m16/ ar that will fire if even the slightest jolt/ bump.

    As for the firearm involved, Police departments have removed this particular firearm from service because it has repeatedly mechanically discharged on them.

    I have tested this firearm series myself, and have found that it will in fact discharge even with the safety on! Horrified and surprised as I personally own a couple from this series of firearms. I now use a whole new operating proceedure to prevent a duplicate incident, which requires slowing way down the loading process.
    (I wont be using this firearm on a 3-gun course, or a crisis situation, that’s for sure!)

    Before this incident, I speculated the possibility, but since this is such an old brand, pretty much a household name

    Hopefully the manufacturer will install a firing pin block incorporated into their safety. And figure out how to prevent the firearm from discharging while loading it.

    Before you judge Tim, and his skills, you should get to know him.

    • avatarBruce Lortz says:

      I stumbled across this thread from some sort of related link regarding “stray bullet” accidents (damn web-surfing undertow got me!).

      I’m fairly certain that the video people in this thread are talking about is not the video you are referring to. If this site accepts links, I “may” have the video you are talking about shown below.


      (if not, append watch?v=Qth1k962_9A to root youtube level)

      I’m not very knowledgeable about guns, but my initial thoughts upon watching the above video was that he attempted to fire a snub nosed revolver with his thumb too far forward using a two handed grip, and the blast from the cylinder gap tore through his thumb.

      It’s a shame that you feel you’re unable to disclose the make and model of the pistol. But I suppose there is some fear of legal fallout.

      As far as the man in the video is concerned, I only know him from the video and there is really not much to go on there. I’m sure he’s a fine guy.

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