Dennis Alexander, a teacher at Seaside High School in Seaside, California, as well as a city councilman and reserve police officer in nearby Sand City, California, made the news recently for causing a negligent discharge of his pistol in a classroom, injuring three students. Alexander was ostensibly demonstrating something related to firearm safety when the gun “went off.” It’s been reported that he was checking to see if the gun was loaded prior to demonstrating how to disarm someone.

Negligence like this is why we can’t have nice things. It also presents an opportune moment to brush up on the importance of good gun safety practices.

You probably already know Jeff Cooper’s four rules of gun safety:

  1. Every gun is always loaded.
  2. Never point a gun at something you’re not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re on target and ready to fire.
  4. Know your target and what’s beyond it.

You have to break at least two of them for something bad to happen. Perhaps this should be the fifth rule: don’t touch your gun unless you have a good reason to.

Granted, if you follow Col. Cooper’s rules fastidiously, you’ll never have a negligent/accidental/pick your adjective discharge. Still, the unofficial fifth rule bears mentioning. It’s kind of like driving; every minute you’re in a car, there’s a risk of an accident either due to driver error on your part, or on the part of others.

Similarly, the more you handle a gun, the greater the chance that something will go wrong. Murphy’s Law, after all, never takes a day off. Observing proper gun safety practices — and leaving your gat holstered until it’s actually needed — minimizes those risks.

If you read reports of some famous negligent discharge incidents over the years, one of the common threads is that someone was unnecessarily handling their gun, either to show it off or because they were carrying in an unsafe manner.

Remember this guy? The one who was the only one professional enough to handle a Glock 40?

Then there’s the case of Darryl Jouett, an off-duty officer captured on security camera shooting himself in the leg, which apparently occurred during a date night with his wife. He draws his pistol…for some reason…and tries to reholster, but fumbles it and ends up sending a round into his own leg.

Other examples abound, such as an October, 2015 incident in Kansas City, when the person carrying a gun was adjusting his it in his pocket and it “went off”, wounding him and ruining a viewing of Maze Runner: Scorch Trials.

Negligent discharges seem to be fairly common in movie theaters, as other incidents fitting the same description – fiddling with a holstered gun because they were uncomfortable – are easy to dig up. Such as one this past October, in Norwalk, Connecticut or a 2012 incident in Sonora, California. Worse still, the corrections officer in question was a grown man at a showing of “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2.”

The takeaway: keep your hands off your gun unless you have a good reason to touch it. As a corollary to that, make sure you’re carrying in style and with a holster that’s comfortable for you. That should eliminate any desire to to fiddle with or adjust your gun while out and about. Be careful out there.



  1. That was an easy way to catch a criminal with a gun, they rarely use holsters and if you watch them for a while they will adjust it giving you PC for a pat down based on your experience and training. I have carried a full size 1911 for over 24 hours straight and never had to touch it from the time I holstered it till the time I took it off. A good leather holster, a good belt and a comfortable position.
    I knew where I put it and I knew it would be there if I needed it, no need to check, fidget with it or show it off.

  2. The media needs to stop this gun “went off” nonsense. It removes responsibility from the individual and places it on the inaminate object.

    Loaded gun + pointed at someone + finger on trigger = went off?

    • I thoroughly agree with you. My shotgun has never got up from the corner and ran outside and shot someone. I think I would be impressed if it did. People don’t want to take responsibility any more. They want the right, but not the responsibility.

  3. Being law enforcement doesn’t make someone an expert shot, an expert at handling firearms or a good person. Like any profession, there are good cops and bad cops. But all cops are pretty much guaranteed to carry every day and of course the lazy/complacent ones are going to account for the bulk of negligent discharges nationwide.

  4. I guess one way to see if it is loaded is to pull the trigger a time or two. Probably some kind of super police training that I haven’t heard about.

  5. This is good advice but I have to wonder about caveats.

    One of the things that anti-smuggling people have noted, and which as been studied by other groups including the guys who put together the USMC Combat Hunter program, is that people tend to touch things that are important to them at regular intervals and, often, not know they’re doing it.

    People pat their wallet, cell phone, keys, gun and anything else of importance that they carry on them. It’s a natural and unconscious thing that we do. It requires enormous amounts of training to avoid doing. I didn’t know I did it with certain things, most notably my wallet, and when I was told of this unconscious and basically universal behavior my initial reaction was “Bullshit!”. That was until I caught myself actually doing it. Now, years later, I still do it but I’m aware of doing it immediately after I touch the item. It’s a damnably hard habit to break because it’s hardwired into us.

    Of course, if you just pat your gun to make sure it’s still there under your shirt or whatever, it’s not going to go off if you have a 1/10th of the way decent holster. These examples are of people who are playing with the damn thing. That said, I think we should be a bit careful with our language on things like this so that we don’t encourage people to overreact to non-threatening behavior that people really can’t help.

  6. I like the part about “You have to break at least two of them [rules] for something bad to happen.” In the example case some ceiling plaster got busted, if I understood the story correctly. Students got scratched by falling plaster? In some sense the rules worked because no people got plugged.

  7. I always say treat your carry firearm like a working dog. Don’t pet it. The gun goes in the holster when it goes on duty and only comes out if it is needed or when you go to unload it at the end of its shift. Otherwise, hands off!

  8. Good article. It’s similar to brakes and a horn on your ride. Drive in a manner that you won’t need to use them very often.

  9. I don’t think that it takes a negligent discharge to ruin a showing of Maze Runner: Scorch Trials. The choice of movie is enough.

  10. I live in a mostly gun friendly state (AZ) though some areas are less friendly than others and a lot of businesses post “No Guns” signs. One thing I’ve noticed among open carriers and those concealed carriers who show off their gear is that many tend to buy an expensive firearm, then put in the cheapest holster they can find and hang it on a narrow, flimsy belt. I’ve also read that this is common among plainclothes and off duty cops, but I haven’t observed enough officers to form an opinion. Regardless, carrying approximately 2 lbs. of dead weight in such a shoddy manner is guaranteed to be uncomfortable and lead to the urge to frequently adjust it in search of that elusive sweet spot that will be comfortable.


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