Gun condom (courtesy ammoland.com)

John Farnam writes [via Ammoland.com]

My good friend and colleague, Dave Grossman of Grossman Training Academy, correctly points out that we unwittingly create the false expectation that all “bad outcomes” can be prevented when we globally use the term, “negligent discharge” (ND) to describe all gun accidents. “Negligence” is a legal term, and we blindly concede legal liability when we use it casually and automatically . . .

“Unintentional Discharge” (UD) is a better and more inclusive term. Many, probably most, UDs are ND. But not all, as this story demonstrates. As another sage friend and colleague, Skip Gochenour, points out:

“Safe” gun-handling is an imaginary concept and is probably is not possible, any more than is “safe” driving, “safe” downhill skiing, nor “safe” sex!

The term, “safe” implies a guarantee:

“Do it this way, and nothing bad will ever happen”

Sleazy, ambulance-chasing personal-injury attorneys insist that every “bad outcome” is the direct result of some fault on the part of the nearest deep-pocket. Sometimes, they’re right! But, “fault-finding,” particularly when the only real motivation is financial, generates unrealistic expectations.

The sage among us handle guns “carefully” and “correctly,” but we still handle guns! We also drive carefully and ski downhill as carefully as it can be done. I’m not even sure what “safe sex” is, but it sounds like a colossal bore!

I routinely advise students that my range is not a “safe” place, and that all who are under the impression that when they’re here, they’re in a super-safe environment where no one can possible get hurt, no matter how hard they try, labor under a delusion. Our goal is personal victory, accepting all inherent risks, and we go about it as safely as we reasonably can!

The notion that all “bad outcomes” are foreseeable and thus preventable is a false and destructive premise. As noted above, it leads to unrealistic expectations and ultimately suffocates all human progress.

/John

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit: www.defense-training.com

49 Responses to John Farnam: “Unintentional Discharge” Is Better Than “Negligent Discharge”

  1. Saying that safety, in all those examples given, isn’t possible just promotes a dangerous attitude, imo. “Well, condoms aren’t 100% effective so why bother?” It is even less true to me with guns. Assuming a properly functioning firearms, safe gun handling eliminates practically all (if not all) NDs. It may not be 100%, but pretending like it is makes me an even safer shooter.

    That being said, framing a “ND” and an “UD” may be a good idea from a legal standpoint, but socially, it shifts blame off the shooter. That is just semantics though. I can see both points of view.

    • From my point of view there are major differences between negligent and accidental events. If in never wear a condom and get a social disease, that is negligence. If I always practice safe sex and get a social disease, that is accidental.

      So putting that is context of guns, one time I was skeet shooting on a very cold day with a group of friends. In my hands was a friends’ Binelli, safely pointed down range, with a round in the chamber. I depressed the safety and the gun fired. Maybe it was a malfunction but more like I brushed the trigger.

      Since I was practicing safe gun handling nobody was hurt. So I consider that an accidentally discharge. Had I not been practicing safe gun handling and if the muzzle was not pointed down range that would have been negligent regardless of whether anyone was hurt.

  2. I agree with the OP. Saying “negligent” has become a rationalization that people use to pretend a UD could never happen to them. “Oh that guy was negligent, but I’m not!”

    I worked at the US Naval Safety Center. The Navy even moved away from the terminology of “accidents” because once you call something an accident, you stop looking for root causes. We used the term “mishaps.” That’s not to say you take personal responsibility out of it. After an thorough investigation, personal blame can still get assigned. But if you start with the idea of “accident” or “negligence” you’ve philosophically stopped even thinking about ways mishaps can be prevented.

    • It’s the other way around: saying unintentional allows negligent people to place the blame on nameless, faceless forces in the universe and excuse their own recklessness with “It could’ve happened to anyone.”

      Even the original poster concedes that most so-called UDs are actually NDs. Let’s not go around excusing the vast majority of these discharges that are reckless and preventable, by clinging to some obscure, rare freak occurrences and pretending they’re comparable.

      • Precisely. Why do we need an umbrella term to encompass all possible events, anyway? If it’s negligence, we can call it a negligent discharge. If it’s truly one of those one-in-a-million unicorn freak occurrences, we can call that one an accidental discharge. Why do we need a third phrase in the mix?

  3. If a firearm goes off unexpectedly, then someone was negligent, if not the operator, then the manufacturer of the firearm or ammo. This applies to all weapons, not just the ones with external safeties, because the biggest and most effective external safety is between your ears.

    Thus do I refute the entire premise of this article. With proper engineering and safety practices, there should never be any sort of unexpected, unintentional, negligent, or otherwise unpredictable discharge.

    • Your use of the word never is an absolute and not possible. It is literally not possible to build a mechanical device that cannot under some circumstances fail, it’s all a matter of probability.

      I’m not really defending Remington but their 700 walker trigger just had a larger failure rate than other designs. There are something like 7 million of them out there with the vast majority performing as designed. Not counting people messing with the sear engagement or trigger weight, it sounds like their failure rate goes up when they get dirty. But the vast majority won’t fail, even when dirty.

      Even the best Timney or Geissele has some failure rate, it just might be orders of magnitude lower than the Remington Walker design but it’s certainly not zero. If there is a screw that sets sear engagement that is set in the factory then there is some probability that some tired, angry or distracted employee sets it wrong and QC misses it. You can’t say a defect will “never” happen. This is the real world.

      So we are left with what failure rate do we call the manufacturer “negligent” and what is just the inherent risk of living and choosing to drive, shoot, hunt, etc. GM killed over a hundred people with their faulty ignition switch. Toyota had the stuck accelerator pedal. Again, most GM vehicles were fine as were the Toyota’s. So, then it becomes a judgment call as to what failure rate is negligence and what is with the acceptable sigma distribution of parts.

    • An unintended discharge can occur with or without negligence, while a negligent discharge is always unintended. So an ND is a subset of a UD.

      For example, I am rummaging around in my wife’s gargantuan purse for a breath mint, not knowing that there is a gun inside. My finger meets trigger and a UD results. The storage (loaded, un-holstered, let’s say) or supervision of her stupid husband might be negligent, but the discharge isn’t.

      • An unintended discharge, in the absence of negligence is a mechanical failure.

        In your scenario, you may have unintentionally discharged a weapon, but your wife was being negligent. Therefor, negligence resulted in a discharge – a negligent discharge. Unless completely ignorant of the repercussions, being negligent is an intentional act.

        • His wife is not negligent in any meaningful way for not taking into account someone else rummaging though her purse.

          As the article author correctly points out, noone but ambulance chasers are served by that kind of “at fault” nonsense. And those sleazebags have enough privileges as it is.

          As long as you demonstrate some semblance of common sense, you’re not “negligent.” Shit happens, mostly just because….

    • Correct. Somewhere along the chain, negligence occurred. That’s why the word “accident” should be removed on the same principle.

    • Any safety engineer will tell you that the human is the weakest link in the safety chain. Humans make mistakes all the time. From your pocket pistol to Chernobyl it is the human, not the mechanical system, that led to failure. So whenever I hear the claim that “the four rules” make me safe or that external safety is the space between your ears then I see an ND waiting to happen. All it takes is a momentary lapse and the “safest” operator has an oops. All elements of the safety system work together to minimize the probability of an ND.

  4. So the pendulum swings again.

    From Accidental Discharge to Negligent Discharge to Unintentional Discharge.

    Interesting, I think I like it. The only Unintentional Discharge I’ve had were slam-fires.

    One was caused by the firing pin safety on an IverJohsnon TP22. The firing pin safety itself set off the rimfire as I was charging the pistol.

    The other was a broken firing pin in an Ithaca pump. It broke on the first shot and was frozen forward so that it fired the next shell when it went into battery.

    Exciting in a bad way but nobody was injured in either event. Round went downrage or into the dirt.

  5. I’m having trouble visualizing this.
    A guy hands me a pistol, I grasp it by the grip as I take possession.

    His neck lanyard grabs the trigger and the gun goes boom as I pull it away from him, I can understand that, but how does something on him grabbing the trigger while I grab the grip cause the gun to point at me while I’m gripping it?

    I see the comments to that discharge mostly say that the negligent act was in passing around a loaded pistol. If they were both experienced trainers, the guy receiving the gun should have been capable of loading it himself.

  6. “Negligent” is generally the appropriate term, as unless there is a situation where the gun truly “just went off” (and I can’t recall ever hearing of such an incident, i.e., a gun in a holster or sitting on a table fired without any type of human intervention) somebody engaged in some behavior to “make” it go off that would be considered negligent.

  7. ““Unintentional Discharge” (UD) is a better and more inclusive term.”

    Sorry, the term “more inclusive” is a whistle-word for yet more crap-tacular ‘Social Justice’ bullsh!t.

    (Cool! I just got to add ‘crap-tacular’ to the spell-check’s dictionary!)

    The media’s fascination with the use of that term causes me to instantly suspect *whatever* they are trying to pitch and dismiss it outright…

    • “Cool! I just got to add ‘crap-tacular’ to the spell-check’s dictionary!”

      As well you should. It’s perfectly cromulent.

  8. I have seen accidental discharges with no fault on the part of the shooter. They are uncommon, but they do occur.

    As examples, blaming the shooter for every AD would excuse Caracal, Remington and Taurus for their defective safeties.

    I’ve seen pump shotguns go boom when they were racked, even though their triggers were not pressed.

    There are many ways an AD can occur that don’t involve shooter negligence. However, none of them excuse shooters who screw up.

    • I’d agree that the *discharge* is not negligent when it’s a mechanical failure.

      However, if the dumbfuck is pointing the gun at his dog, his buddy, or something else he doesn’t want destroyed, and it ends up with a hole in it, THAT is negligent even if the discharge itself were not.

    • There are still one, possibly two, forms of negligence taking place.

      The first is a failure on the part of the gun. Either the mfr failed to manufacture the part correctly or the owner failed to maintain it correctly. We continually harp on the idea that guns won’t go off if they are sitting there, without any human intervention. If this isn’t true, we may as well close up shop and let Shannon do her thing.

      Second, possibly, is the manipulation of the firearm. Harming others will be avoided if we never point it at a person, are aware of what is beyond our muzzled target, etc.

  9. Unintentional/accidental discharges = negligent discharges and should be catorgorized as such in order to own up to the responsibility of keeping a gun. Gun owners all want to bring up the point that guns dont shoot people, people shoot people. I agree, I am a gun owner. Even if there was an earthquake that jostled your gun and set it off, you loaded it and were negligent in protecting it against discharge by earthquake. There are intentional discharges and negligent discharges, that’s it. I know, i’ve had a couple n.d.’s myself, of course the gun was always pointed in a safe direction, so no one got hurt. Stand on your mistakes people.

    • “Even if there was an earthquake that jostled your gun and set it off, you loaded it and were negligent in protecting it against discharge by earthquake.”

      Probably not. I seriously doubt that anyone has a legal duty to ensure that his gun is “earthquake proof.” Part of the reason for this is that “negligence” means failure to use ordinary care. Ordinary care is just doing what a reasonably prudent person would have done under the same or similar circumstances. If you can convince a judge that an ordinary person should have foreseen the risk of an earthquake setting of a firearm, you’re good.

      What you’re describing is strict liability, a legal concept quite different from negligence.

  10. There is certainly room for both terms – English is a very inclusive and specific language. An unintentional discharge is not necessarily negligent even though a negligent discharge is almost always unintentional.

    As I posted once before my one and only unintentional discharge was under supervision at a range. The instructor was trying to show us how to bring the trigger forward to its reset point and then squeeze for the next shot in order to save (a little bit of) time for the next shot. My SR9c, with trigger safety, was so smooth that it was VERY difficult to feel the reset point and VERY easy to re-apply pressure and get the next round downrange. As a result my next round went into the ceiling as I was bringing the pistol back onto target. I no loner attempt such operator tactics and my shot splits do not seem to suffer because of this. At any rate, a quick shot into the ceiling/air is not the intent of the exercise.

    • Id say you neglected to handle your firearm safely and the result was an unintentional or negligent discharge. As long as you are owning your mistake its all good, no use arguing semantics at that point. However, when a cop shoots a cop, especially during training on a range i dont want to hear shit about accidental discharge and returning to the range the next day, they need some reprimands, someone got hurt for Christ’s sake. If it had just gone into a berm, o.k., but it went into someones belly and those dudes need to be held accountable. I like the term negligence because it owns up to the fact that a gun will never shoot a person all by itself.

  11. I’m going to have to disagree here. There are ND’s and then there are truly freak accidents like the one related in the story where the two people involved simply realized too late that there was a problem.

    The only thing I can think of in my life that comes close to this sort of thing was a few years ago I was carrying a Glock 30 in a Galco Jackass rig. I bent over to pick up something and the gun falls out of the holster and the gun is pointed directly at me. I watched the gun fall towards the ground in slow motion and thought “S&^t! I hope Glock’s safeties work as advertised…” (Of course the only part of that I actually thought before the gun hit the ground was the expletive!) As you might expect from Glock, gun did not go off just from impacting the ground, but it did scare the hell out of me.

    Now was that negligence on my part or a “freak accident”?

    It was outright negligence ON MY PART. Somehow or another I didn’t get the retention strap on that holster to snap shut and I didn’t notice my mistake. I failed to properly secure that pistol, that’s why this happened. There is no other mystical power at work here. I simply screwed up.

  12. I experienced an “unintentional discharge” once. Shotgun had a broken firing pin, unbeknown to me. I hit the button to close the action and it went bang. Since I was following safety rules and the gun was pointed downrange, no harm came from it. A firearm malfunction such as this is the only kind of unintentional discharge that is not negligent.

    If the trigger gets pulled on a loaded gun without the intent to fire it, negligence is involved.

    • Thats as close to an accidental discharge as i can agrre too. However one could argue you neglected to properly maintain or inspect your firearm and if it wasnt for your manipulation of said firearm, disçharge would not have occured. It didnt load itself.

  13. My first gun (Glock 23) going off into my parents’ wall when I was 23 was negligence due to my inexperience. But it was, nonetheless, negligence on my part.

    The hole is still there. And we made a point of pointing it out to my fiance when we first taught her how to shoot.

    Saying I had a negligent discharge feels like I’m owning my screwup. Unintentional discharge? Not so much.

    You don’t unintentionally run a stop sign… you either run it due to mechanical failure or your own negligence.

  14. negligent : adj.

    – failing to take proper care in doing something.

    synonyms: neglectful, remiss, careless, lax, irresponsible, inattentive, heedless, thoughtless, unmindful, forgetful.

    If you unintentionally discharge a weapon, how are you not being negligent?

    With regards to guns, the term “safe” does not imply a guarantee. It implies a mindset that you are either in (being safe), or not in (being unsafe…ie. negligent, as in neglecting the safety of you and anyone with you).

  15. If a gun fires when not suppose to, it’s negligence. Unintentional discharge is work speak like changing happy to glad. The point here is the state of mind. Worry that any discharge is wrong reinforces one to think about ones action. Think upstream, the moment, and downstream and take appropriate action is the only way to prevent ND’s

  16. Being some one who had face off with one most aggrieve district attorney in Arizona over negligence firearms charge in court room in Arizona I can tell not gone work. Reason is the state Arizona does not see difference between Negligent Discharges and Unintentional Discharges far law there go one same thing. If you have one with in city Phoenix or any where else in Arizona. You can be charge with Class four felony over matter. It reason distinct attorney Arizona so sure in my case even after judge in my case declare that my Negligent Discharge of my firearm was Unintentional Discharge district attorney press for class four felony over fact no one got injury . Only on very last second in my case did judge put enough pressure on him for me get plea bargain that turn in lowest class misdemeanor had. Witch my case judge gave lowest time allowed for such case 3 months probation witch only last one half month no jail time got all my firearms right back with warning never happen again permanent misdemeanor stay my record because Arizona does remove them. From what been told I got off lucky.

  17. Uh. No. There are Four Laws of Safe Firearms Handling. If you break one, the other three will still keep everyone safe 99.999999999999999999999999999999% of the time. If you are handling a gun and break two or more rules, you probably have no business handling a gun unsupervised.

    • My issue Ironhorse I bought used police trade in Glock 17 that been sold to me at local gun store with worn out slide stop release worn out magazines that no one fixed. Make matter worse it was second gen glock had only one roll pin through frame that meant was parts compatible with any new Glocks have two roll pins going through center frame. None slide stop on new Glocks or after market slide stops made for two center roll pin Glocks work any one pin earlier version of Glock. It seem Glock stop make those slide stop long time ago all most impossible to find them good luck if you can find one there none any gunshop where I live Glock well tell they do not make any more they do not stock them. Ever body told me oh did matter if my Glock 17 slide stop did work Glock did even need one. That where should sold that crappy Glock 17 bought new one but hey my trainer who train me in arm security school sold me on fact nothing ever goes wrong with used Glock 17. Well Ironhorse stay in local hotel unload my firearm drop full load magazine out of could lock slide back worn out because could kind find slide release replace worn out one so made first mistake most people do Glock I did check see round eject out of chamber let slide ram home think nothing in chamber because I did see hallow point eject from it good thing train me in arm security school where point my Glock 17 make sure did kill any when pull trigger and 9mm hallow point hit door frame. Later on Iroanhorse I found out in my case was first person bought used worn out defective police trade in Glock from gun store got from in Arizona. I do blame my self for what happen but it would happen at all if had been using defective firearm because ever one at time swore nothing ever goes bad with used Glock. That why I well never buy used handgun no matter how good deal they are only new firearms never Glocks.

      • Holy fucking wall of text. Paragraphs are a thing, guy.

        You also failed to PHYSICALLY inspect the chamber. So you make up for your guilt by claiming it’s the brand’s fault? Grow up, man up, and take responsibility for yourself. Stop making excuses. I’ve handled plenty of guns with worn slide stops. Worn slide stops do NOT cause discharges. Negligent people do.

  18. Disagree, 100%.

    And in what way was Person A allowing his whistle lanyard to enter the trigger guard (during the inherently unsafe practice of handing a loaded firearm from Person A to Person B), thereby causing the firearm to discharge, not an example of negligence on the part of Person A?

    100% of negligent discharges are preventable, and we should continue to hold one another accountable to following established safe gun-handling rules, in order to drive the number of such incidents as close as possible to zero.

    • I keep saying this:
      I don’t strive to be safe with firearms for the rest of my life. I ensure that I am safe each time I handle a firearm and repeat that process every time. Break it down to the moment and think in the moment. Forget your safe history. Don’t think about the long term. BE SAFE NOW!

    • To me it seems to boil down to this. Were the 4 rules followed?
      Yes – UD – Then nobody got shot and nobody was at risk of getting shot.
      No – ND – Then somebody got shot or somebody was at risk of getting shot.

      I have experienced a UD – I placed the safety of AK from fire to “safe” and the lever went past the safe indent and the weapon discharged. It scared the heck out of me. But the 4 rules were followed and the round impacted on target downrange.

  19. I don’t get that story. How hard did he have to yank the whistle to cause it to put 4-6 pounds of lateral pressure against the trigger and get the pistol to fire?

    “As the second officer grasped the pistol by the grip, the now-jammed whistle caused the pistol to suddenly redirect, and the lanyard somehow became wrapped around the trigger-guard and put sufficient pressure on the trigger to simultaneously cause the pistol to discharge.”

    Something about this story doesn’t add up to me.

  20. I 100% agree. Too many online arrogant SJW pricks who read more about guns than actually fire them. You never here this bs in person. Human error is imminent. I see People quote the 4 rules to people with a 99% safety rate like they just decided to mess up on purpose. People get lucky that their human error didn’t cause too much harm.

    Bet your ass that the people saying it’s “negligent” will be crying accident when they do it. Gun safety also means knowing the law. No lawyer will ever tell you to admit negligence. Changing a dictionary definition to makes you look worse to sound SJW on a gun forum fits the stereotypical dumb gun owner.

    I own up to my mistakes but only mine. If anyone or anything contributed to my accident, they need to also be held accountable. If the gun, holster, safe,range, another person or other factors was even partially to blame……

    Most laws use the reasonable standard and if I a reasonable man am already admitting negligence, they might think well maybe he was gross negligence or reckless.

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