What’s Wrong with This Negligent Discharge Story?

 Bruce Holbert and friend (courtesy inlander.com)

The New York Times would have Americans believe that guns are too dangerous for civilians—unless those civilians are police officers. To that end, Joe Nocera’s been running a running tally of shootings in his recurring feature The Gun Report. Of course, propaganda by simple repetition isn’t enough. The Old Grey Lady needs to wave a bloody shirt; to provide anecdotal evidence of the inadvisability of exercising your Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. And so we get this “true story” of manslaughter by and from novelist Bruce Holbert. Something about his mea culpa, cultural condemnation and implied warning to JUST LEAVE THEM ALONE just doesn’t sound right . . .

It was the second week in August, a Friday the 13th, in fact, in 1982. I was with a group of college roommates who were getting ready to go to the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. Three of us piled into a red Vega parked outside a friend’s house in Okanogan, Wash., me in the back seat. The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.

My friend, Doug, slumped in the driver’s seat, dying, and another friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, raced into the house for the phone.

I blame society. Well, no, I don’t. But Holbert does.

Like many other young men, I mythologized guns and the ideas of manhood associated with them.

The gun lobby likes to say guns don’t kill people, people do. And they’re right, of course. I killed my friend; no one else did; no mechanism did. But this oversimplifies matters (as does the gun control advocates’ position that eliminating weapons will end violent crime).

My friend was killed by a man who misunderstood guns, who imagined that comfort with — and affection for — guns was a vital component of manhood. I did not recognize a gun for what it was: a machine constructed for a purpose, one in which I had no real interest. I treated a tool as an essential part of my identity, and the result is a dead man and a grieving family and a survivor numbed by guilt whose story lacks anything resembling a proper ending.

Perhaps the New York Times would consider publishing a defensive gun use from someone who owes their life to their ability to use guns safely and appropriately? Or describe a country where gun rights don’t exist, where criminals run rampant (e.g. Mexico)?

Or maybe just explain how they’re OK with Mr. Holbert owning a gun given that

Though the charges against me were eventually dropped, I have since been given diagnoses of a range of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and adult attention deficit disorders. The pharmacists fill the appropriate prescriptions, which temporarily salve my conscience, but serve neither my story nor the truth.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m OK with it. I just thought the Times would be a bit more consistent in these things. Silly me.



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.

68 Responses to What’s Wrong with This Negligent Discharge Story?

  1. avatarswampsniper says:

    Sounds like someone making stuff up without knowing enough to tell a good lie.

    • avatarSammy says:

      This guy caps a 50 and walks? In the famous words of Mr. Moto “Not Rikerey”

    • avatarCleophus says:

      swampsniper says:

      “Sounds like someone making stuff up without knowing enough to tell a good lie.”

      Nail on the head. +10

  2. avatarScott says:

    He pulled the hammer back to check the chamber was empty?

    I dunno about that. That’s what’s wrong with this story, IMO.

    • avatarDarth Mikey says:

      Twice, apparently. And dropped the hammer twice. (Apparently with a sloppy grip from Attempt One and the muzzle pointed directly at his friend’s back on Attempt Two.) A sad case of Darwinism-by-proxy. (And a LEO handed this lethally clueless idiot his own loaded weapon to play with behind his back?)

      Sorry, this guy fits the rule: “If I can’t trust you with a gun, you probably need a custodian.”

      • avatarSammy says:

        What bull. Sad part is there will be no shortage of believers to this fantasy yarn. at least it’s a recent tale.

        • avatarBruce B. says:

          Thought Jason Blair resigned. But this story has his style “written” all over it.

        • avatarRoscoe says:

          No shortage of believers because most of the readers DON’T HAVE A CLUE.

    • avatarPaul says:

      I’m with you Scott; he pulled the hammer back TWICE to check if the gun was empty?? Maybe its just me, but I’m calling BS here!

    • avatarRandy Drescher says:

      And turned the gun toward the drivers seat. See, thats the problem, “and” did it. Just more gun taking over brady crap, Randy

  3. avatarSCS says:

    Nothing like a 31 year old story to prove todays issues. This Jackass should be a statistician for King Barack Hussein. “90% of the population bought 40% of their guns with out a background check”.

  4. avatarProfShadow says:

    AND that’s why we have the Four Rules ….

    I’d say a couple were broken.

  5. avatargreat unknown says:

    See where this has been thoroughly ripped apart a dozen ways


    Shades of Jayson Blair

    Of course, the author admits using a pharmacopeia of psychoactive drugs, so have pity on him; he might actually believe this fantasy.

    • avatarWR2A says:

      I concur.

      We are a society, (thanks to instant social and viral media), that will hinge themselves upon the latest YouTube sensation, but we forget that drugs ARE the original YouTube experience.

    • avatarHammerSix says:

      Worse, he’s a high school English teacher.

  6. avatarWR2A says:

    I once saw a black rifle, you know, the ASSAULT kind like at Sandy Hook, jump off the shelf of a gun shop I was visiting, and shoot everyone inside, except for me because I am known for my ninja-like reflexes.

    Yep. True story. I ain’t lyin’. Yep.

    The police said I was nuts, but I know what I seen.

    • avatarSid says:

      I was the first officer on the scene. It was a bloodbath but WR2A was calm and collected. Although there was security camera footage, we felt that the responsible thing to do was support an unlikely recollection that fits a forced narrative. Hand to God.

      • avatarBruce B. says:

        Had the exact same thing happen to me, but unfortunately I’m an OFWG with no moves. I was only saved because I knew the AR personally. It took pity om me and only gave me one of those intentional TV flesh wounds.

        Well, better than dead, right? And it’s not like we were related.

  7. avatarGazzer says:

    So because he couldn’t handle a gun, none of us should. Got it!

  8. avatartangledthorns says:

    Wow, NY writers sure know how to make stuff up. This fool calls hi-cap magazines ‘multi-round magazines’ in his article.


    • avatarBill F says:

      My comment left to that tool at The New Yorker:
      What if? What if it hadn’t happened? What if a law-abiding citizen carrying a concealed weapon had been able to stop them? What if The New Yorker had seen your article for what it was and decided not to publish it?

      Sorry, Mr. Cassidy, that the facts of the event didn’t serve to further your agenda. Wishing it so won’t make it so.

  9. avatarrbm411 says:

    I always open the cylinder to make sure a revoler is empty.. Did I miss something?

  10. avatarjwm says:

    If this story is true, and my bs meter is pegging right now, what leo gives a loaded weapon to a citizen crowded into a car to examine?

  11. avatarSinkon says:

    In TTAG’s post “The Truth About Philly Po-Po’s Gun Room” on seeing the picture all i could see was mostly shotguns that the liberals advocate as an adequate home defense weapon but then where did the evil “Assault rifles” that criminals use go?and what are home defense guns doing where guns used for crimes must be kept?Is defending ones home a crime then?

    • avatarWill says:

      In THEIR opin, ANY use, or possession, of a firearm, should not only be a crime, but a felony punishable by death… oh yeah… but the death has to be calm and peaceful otherwise it is cruel. The shotty is just to appease you until they find a “good” reason to deprive you of that too.

  12. avatarEM says:

    If this story is true then the driver whose gun it was is partly to blame. Who in their right mind gives a loaded gun to someone who obviously had no idea how to handle a gun? Only a fool would do such a thing.

  13. avatarDavid W. says:

    Wait so an idiot who doesn’t know guns, is given a gun by an idiot who didn’t make sure the first idiot knew it was loaded, the first idiot proceeds to mess around with a loaded gun, shooting and killing the second idiot, while a third idiot who watched this whole thing without speaking up runs and calls 911.

    My god the gall of this man. It would be easier if we just ban idiots.

  14. avatarmp504 says:

    BULL-SH_T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was there and it didn’t happen that way. The jerk asked to handle the revolver, and then said and I quote, “Pull hammer back, yank trigger, making the muzzle move, and then I’ll get to know what it is like to accidently (unpurpose) to kill someone.” Well since it was an “…accident…” no one got hurt. Oh well yeah the driver died but it was no big deal, and so the doobie was passed and everyone took a toke, and had a big laugh. Well everyone but the driver, cause you know like, he was dead.

    Oh wait I wasn’t there after all. Oh man I have got to lay off the Mad Dag 20-20.

  15. avatarmike says:

    Holbert … Holvert? needs a quick correction.

  16. avatarcsmallo says:

    I wouldn’t trust him with car keys, a chainsaw or an angle grinder. Even a hammer would be pushing it.

  17. avatarprojectiledysfunction says:

    One time I borrowed a car from a friend. I didn’t really know how to drive but I decided to go 20 over the speed limit the wrong way on a one-way street and ran over someone’s kid. Take it from me- this proves that cars are always unsafe, people!

  18. avatarHighvoltage says:

    How does he associate an item that was just handed to him as part of his identity? I mean, it wasn’t even his….added to the disregard for all the safety rules, and I agree with the author’s only valid point(if this is even true) that HE killed his friend, no one else, just that simple.

  19. avatarBill F says:

    Sounds like one of those events that is preceded by a statement like, “Hey you guys–watch this!” As he twirls the loaded revolver around his trigger finger.

  20. avatarRuss Bixby says:

    Looks like it happened, although the level of stupidity involved is staggering.

    Using it as an argument against an armed populace is like agitating for the elimination of pencils because a vehicular homicide in ’82 was attributed in part to someone scribbling while driving, whereas had they a Sharpie they’d have scribbled on their hand instead of paper and thus been less distracted.

    From the morgue in the Okanogan Chronicle:

    Bruce Allen Holbert, 22, Kent, was booked for second-degree manslaughter then released on PR.

    Groomes, Holbert and a third unnamed man were sitting in a vehicle on Cemetery Road around 9:45 p.m. near Okanogan when Groomes was shot the back in what deputy prosecutor Mike Dempsey said was an accidental shooting.

    It was left to prosecutor Doug Boole to decide to charge. Boole was on vacation.

    Grooms was a student at Eastern Washington University studying criminology. He was spending the summer as a trainee with the Okanogan Police Department.

    • avatarprojectiledysfunction says:

      Except in this case the pencil was also obtained from a police officer, circumventing the ban on civilian possession of pencils regardless.

      I’m not sure what he’s trying to tell us anyway aside from “despite what I pretend I don’t know much about guns” and “also I’m a negligent moron”

  21. avatarRalph says:

    So an idiot who knows nothing about guns turns into an idiot who knows nothing about writing. I guess that’s progress.

  22. avatarBill F says:

    So the point of his convoluted tale is–wait a minute– What was his point? We should remove the back seats from red Vegas?

  23. avatarxer 21 says:

    The subheadline to the story is “I killed my friend.”

    That’s where this story should have ended. Maybe he could have added “I was an idiot.

  24. avatarbigskydoc says:

    It sounds like he is (or at least could be) describing a single action revolver where one would in fact pull the hammer part way back to the “loading notch” to free the cylinder to spin so that the individual chambers can be inspected to see if they are empty or loaded.

    He certainly mishandled the gun, and broke a couple of rules, but his story may be more correct than appears at first blush.


    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      Sounds about right. Methinks it to’ve been a personal weapon, though, rather than a “service revolver.”

      What a doofus.

  25. avatarDave S says:

    service revolver? pull hammer back? not in this reality!
    Most LEO would unload and pass to a friend for inspection
    swing cylinder out, unload, visually check cylinder, manually count ejected ammo
    then hand to friend with cylinder out

    most rugers and smiths (dont know colt) revolvers have a hammer block in the trigger
    mechanism so if the hammer drops w/o trigger pulled the firing pin will not hit the cartridge. IE you have to pull the trigger and drop the hammer.

  26. avatarscooter says:

    Moral of the story… If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t. So often the one who derps is not the one hurt by the derp, but his po-po pal derped in handing his piece to a novice noob without boomstick background like he was saying “Here… play with this!” Like he was handing a toddler a set of keys.

  27. avatarPaul53 says:

    Just a hypothesis here, but if this guy is as dumb as he wants us to believe, he would have been looking into the BARREL to see if the gun was loaded, and the story would have a more poetic Darwinian ending! But that’s just me.
    Another thought (2 in one day! Woohoo!). I had to take lessons to learn to fly. Lessons to drive. Lessons to parachute (stupid me). Went to school for years to learn to be a nurse. But I buy a gun, and they just hope I know which way to point it? Maybe a mandatory (flame on) one day course to first time gun buyers? Would that get all the liberals to STFU?

    • avatarDavis Thompson says:

      Nothing will get the libs to shut up.

    • avatarDoctorHog says:

      I won’t flame but I will point out that you can buy a drill press, chainsaw, riding lawn mower, acetylene torch, pneumatic nailer, a punch press and a dump truck without a license or training. You can use them all without permission or training too, as long as it is on your property and you harm no one else. The reason you need training and licensing to drive the car is because you are driving on the public’s roads. For the plane you require training because you are flying in the public’s airspace and, probably, in someone else’s plane, and for the skydiving because you are jumping out of someone’s plane and they have to pay the insurance premium. If you had a 500 foot cliff on your own property then you could take up base jumping with no one’s permission and with no instruction. That might be pretty stupid just like it is pretty stupid to hand a loaded gun to someone who doesn’t know how it works or to take a loaded gun in your hand if you don’t know how it works.

      No rule, regulation, background check or education is going to prevent people from doing dumb or evil things and, like it or not, those random things we call accidents will always happen. Want to limit them? Find thyself a teacher.

  28. avatarDavis Thompson says:

    So this asshat points a loaded gun at his friend and accidentally kills him, and that’s my fault?

    This is the Ben Hur (1959) of epic rationalizations.

    • avatarPaul53 says:

      Ironic isn’t it that after somebody commits a crime or does something really stupid, the government feels it must punish those who didn’t do it.

      • avatarRuss Bixby says:

        The two wings of the American Political scene believe we are either too stupid or too immoral to look after ourselves.

        What are we become, who were once a great people?

  29. avatarPaul53 says:

    Meant to add, took 40 hours to get a Private Pilot license. Drivers ed was 16 hours. Parachuting 3 hours. 2 to 4 years to become a Registered Nurse. Firearms training with The Department of Corrections is a 1 day thing, including, a few hours class time, shooting out in the desert, .38 revolver, shotgun, .308 scope mounted rifle and a target at least a time zone away, best of all, after that you get tear gassed. That was 1986 and I can still taste the gas. For civilians we might skip the tear gas. Or not.

  30. avatarTomC says:

    They had to go all the way back to 1982 for a story that fits their narrative.

  31. avatarRalph says:

    And Cain killed Abel, proving that nobody should have two sons.

  32. avatarDaveL says:

    My friend was killed by a man who misunderstood guns, who imagined that comfort with — and affection for — guns was a vital component of manhood. I did not recognize a gun for what it was: a machine constructed for a purpose, one in which I had no real interest. I treated a tool as an essential part of my identity, and the result is a dead man and a grieving family and a survivor numbed by guilt whose story lacks anything resembling a proper ending.

    No, numbnuts. Guns don’t go off because you idolize or mythologize them. You can make puppy dog eyes even a loaded gun all you want, and it won’t shoot anybody. You killed your friend because you were pointing the gun at him, loaded, while fiddle-f*cking with the hammer.

  33. avatarDr Duh says:

    So let me get this straight, retard shoots friend, blames gun.

    This is appallingly negligent.
    How do you raise your child in a room full of guns and not DRILL safe handling into him?
    Who hands someone with poor skills their loaded gun to ‘check it out’ in a car?
    Who ‘checks out’ someone’s gun by lifting the hammer?
    Which three college males attend a sporting event without drinking before hand?

  34. avatarTheSleeperHasAwakened says:

    …”pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty”

    WTF is this guy thinking??? It’s like putting a car in drive and punching the gas pedal to see if there’s any gas in the gas tank.

  35. avatarWill says:

    Ugh! If it wasn’t for the digging up of this as apparent fact (or at least based on it) I’d say it was a piece of fiction by a writer. For all we know, while based on a truth, it could still be a piece of historical fiction.

    His story: I knew jack about what I was doing, and I killed my pal. IF society didn’t idolize the things I’d have not been so stupid with it. Umm, that’s a stretch of logic that is weak and circumstantial.

  36. avatarginger holbert says:

    I am from Maryville Tn I want to know who is the guy in the picture because he looks just like my brother I know that is not him but the guy in the picture looks just like him they could be twins

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