“An accidental police gunshot into lobby carpet at Town Hall startled officials attending a Town Council workshop Thursday night,” dnj.com reports. “No one was injured after the weapon of Lt. Earl Barnes, the SWAT team commander, discharged after he tied his shoes in a chair in a lobby area.” Passive construction aside, how’d that happen? If your fingers are busy tying your operationally operational SWAT boot laces, how does the pistol’s trigger get depressed? Excess paunch infiltration (Lt. Barnes isn’t the most svelte SWAT guy I’ve ever seen)? Nope. First the damage . . .
The shot left a small hole in the lobby carpet under a coffee table and in front of a bust of the late Sam Ridley, who had served as mayor from 1947 through 1987. Photos of former mayors, current Mayor Mary Esther Reed and her fellow council members also decorate the lounge area with a large TV screen that typically is tuned into the government meeting, including one that had the sound of a gunshot.
“For an accidental discharge, it could not have gone into a better spot,” the chief said. “It went straight into the floor. The bullet itself mushroomed.”
Only about three small pieces of full-metal jacket that had contained the bullet spread on the floor beyond the hole in the carpet without harming Barnes or damaging property, Arnold said.
And now for the negligent discharge denouement . . .
[SWAT Commandeer Lt. Earl] Barnes made two mistakes, the chief said. One included Barnes failing to snap his holster to ensure the weapon would remain in place after he had used his pistol as part of a felony traffic stop to arrest a man accused of armed robbery of a gas station/convenience store at 33 N. Lowry.
“What we think happened is he didn’t snap it down enough in place,” Arnold said.
The other mistake came after Barnes sat down to tie his shoes and then reached for his gun when the pistol fell out of his holster.
The lieutenant and other Smyrna police are trained to let their falling guns land on the ground because the weapons are designed not to fire in such cases, the chief said.
The police department uses Glock Model 22 or 23 .40-caliber pistols.
“We train our officers several times a year in using these weapons,” said Arnold, adding that his officers are expected to be armed and ready to shoot. “Unfortunately, we’re in the line of work where we have to carry weapons.”
Arnold said Barnes did what would be human nature to reach for something that was falling and forgetting the training to let the gun drop to the ground.
“Unfortunately, he made the mistake, and we are held accountable for our actions,” the chief said. “I have accidentally dropped mine at home. I cringed. It didn’t go off.”
Human nature be damned. Barnes is Smyrna’s SWAT Commander, the man in charge of making sure that police officers don’t do something really dumb with a gun – consciously or subconsciously. He, of all people, should have control over his ballistic behavior.
Unfortunately, we’re in the line of work where we have to highlight irresponsible gun owners, so that we can all learn from their mistakes. Here’s hoping that Lt. Barnes shares our desire to spread the gospel of gun safety – highlighting his cringe-worthy experience – at the next City of Smyrna Gun Safety Seminar.