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Don’t Let an Unintentional Firearm Discharge Impact Your Life

By John Good

There’s nothing more fulfilling than having your firearm ready when you need it. But if your firearm discharges unintentionally, you may face a real dilemma. 

It’s more common than you think. It is estimated that 492 people unintentionally die by a firearm in an average year according to the Aftermath website.

In the case of a negligent discharge, the fault lies entirely with the person handling the gun and could have been prevented.  This is a timely lesson, if you are following the case against actor Alec Baldwin in the 2021 “Rust” movie set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. 

An unintended discharge may result due to an incompatibility behind the firearm design, such as the phenomenon of locking on a round in a closed bolt machine gun, a mechanical malfunction such as in the case of a slam fire in an automatic weapon or be user-induced due to training issues or negligence. This is often attributed to an activation of the trigger mechanism which results in an unplanned discharge, which is outside of the firearm’s prescribed use. differentiates between negligent discharge and accidental discharge. “Typically, the negligent nature of a discharge is caused by a failure to observe gun safety rules. 

Negligent discharges are differentiated from accidental discharges (AD). ADs are incidents where the gun fires involuntarily and unexpectedly, but the shooter is not directly responsible for the incident.” 

The Office of Environmental Protection and ES&H Reporting Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security,  proposes that there are four rules to follow to prevent an accidental discharge of a firearm. 

The four rules are: 

1. Assume all firearms are always loaded.  Even if you know the gun is unloaded, treat it with the same level of respect as you would a loaded gun.

2. Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. The only time your finger goes on the trigger is when you are pointed in at a target and prepared to shoot.

4. Be sure of your target. You must be certain that what you are about to shoot is a valid target, and there is nothing in front of or behind it that you are not willing to shoot.

According to  Donald Richetti, writing for RTS Triggershield, he noted the most common causes for unintentional discharge of a firearm.  

Alcohol And Drug Use

Alcohol and drug use should never be mixed with weapons of any kind, but especially guns. Alcohol and drugs can affect the user’s motor skills causing them to accidentally pull the trigger when they don’t mean to. 

Lack Of Knowledge Of Gun Safety

Lack of knowledge about guns and gun safety is one of the leading causes of unintentional discharge of firearms. When someone inexperienced picks up a gun, they are missing the necessary knowledge of the simplest things such as checking to see if the gun is loaded or not knowing how to use the safety. 

Unsupervised Minors Using Guns

Unsupervised minors have questionable decision-making skills due to their age and lack of experience in the world in general. Minors don’t typically know that triggers can be sensitive or that they should treat all guns as a loaded gun. Keep your guns away from children and teens until they can take a gun safety course taught by a professional, and they are mature enough to make good decisions regarding guns. 


Accidental gun discharge can be caused by general carelessness of the user. Even someone who has plenty of experience with guns can still make a mistake if they are not paying enough attention. Accidental discharge can happen to anyone, especially when someone becomes too comfortable around their weapon. 

Can an accidental firearm discharge occur even among trained police officers?  In my 37-year career with a North Shore, Illinois police department, an officer dropped his gun in the locker room, releasing a bullet that shattered the bottom of a mirror in the locker room.  No one was hurt, but it could have been fatal.

At least three other times during my career, guns discharged while they were  being prepared for cleaning on the range.  In this incident the round nearly struck the deputy chief who was seated next to the officer who discharged it. 

As we’ve discussed, with responsibility of owning a firearm comes with the responsibility of safely handling any firearm. 

About John Good: He is a retired 41-year veteran of a suburban Chicago police department, and the author of “Blood on the Badge.”

John Good

After 41 years in law enforcement, John Good applied his experiences as a police officer to author a book entitled “Blood on the Badge.” John gives his personal insights into the mental health challenges faced by police officers when one of their own falls in the line of duty. During his career, John served as a Patrol, Field Training Officer, Juvenile Officer, Honor Guard, Defense Driving Instructor, Bicycle Officer, Crime Scene Technician, and School Resource Officer. He is credited with creating the position of Officer Friendly / Crime Prevention Officer, which won him the highly prestigious Glenview Public Safety Award in 1986. John also shares his perspective with students as an Adjunct Faculty member at a Community College in the Chicago area. He also works as a law enforcement consultant for a major cable channel. A dynamic, engaging speaker, John captivates a crowd by teaching the importance of being safe in today’s crazy world. Whether he’s talking about how to prevent being pickpocketed, gun safety, how to foil a carjacker, mugger folly or keeping your house safe while you’re on the job or on the slopes, he’s sharing his knowledge with the world.

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