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Negligent Discharge & Firearm Related Injuries: a Discussion Part One

Granite Law Group

This discussion is part one in a series that I am nicknaming “Monday are Gundays”. Over the next several Mondays, I will continue this discussion. We will discuss negligent discharge, firearm-related injuries and fatalities, firearms and children, and the laws regarding guns, especially in cases of negligent discharge, in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We encourage you to post comments. These articles are for informational purposes only and do not represent the views or opinions of the Granite Law Group, its staff, or its client.

Part One: What is Negligent Discharge and can it be Prevented?

In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings, President Obama has proposed changing our gun laws and lawmakers in various states are also putting forth ideas for stricter gun control in their respective states. This tragedy has spawned an open discussion of guns, gun laws, gun control, and the safety of our children. While most of the focus is on assault weapons, mental health and obtaining gun permits, there is very little discussion about actual gun safety – namely avoiding accidents, misfires, and negligent discharge.

What is Negligent Discharge?

There are several terms used for unintentional discharge of a weapon but they do not all have the same meaning. An “accident” is when the firearm goes off unexpectedly due to circumstances beyond the control of the participants. This is rare since the participant is likely holding or pointing the weapon. A “misfire” is when the firearm but the cartridge does not fire properly and can cause a hazardous condition. This is often caused by a defective cartridge of a defective firearm. “Negligent discharge” on the other hand, is when a firearm discharges because the user fails to follow proper safety guidelines and procedures or is reckless with the weapon.

Unintentional Firearm-Related Fatality Statistics

According to a publication by the National Shooting Sports Foundation Information Services in 2003, unintentional firearm related fatalities have been on the decline in the last few decades. Recorded data dating back to 1903 reveals that the highest level of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred during the years 1929 to 1930. During that period there were over 3,000 unintentional firearm related deaths. In 2000 there were 776 firearm related fatalities but that accounts for only 3% of all firearm-related deaths. When compared to the total of 98,000 accidental deaths in 2000, this seems to be a relatively small number. Motor vehicle accidents made up the highest group of accidental fatalities totaling 42,900.

An Officer’s Perspective on Negligent Discharge

While a national campaign for responsible gun ownership seems nice on the surface, it might not be effective enough to truly avoid unintentional firearm-related fatalities. In an article published on the, Mr. Markel, a former U.S. Marine and police officer, wrote an article about negligent discharge and discussed the inherent dangers of gun handling. He alleges that one of the main reasons why so many negligent discharges occur is because there are too many regulations governing when a gun has to be loaded and unloaded and unnecessarily handles. He alleges that the more you handle a gun, the more likely it is that your gun will negligently discharge. He bases this theory on the fact that the more a person handles a gun, the more they become comfortable with guns and the more likely they are to become blasé about gun handling thereby adhering less strictly to any proper guidelines or procedures for safe gun handling. There is some truth to this. Some of the articles below will show that negligent discharges occurred during gun handling.

Examples in the News Over the Last Six Months

Last week a Wal-Mart employee accidentally shot himself and injured his coworker after bringing a gun to work to show his coworker. The negligent discharge occurred when the men were examining the gun. Article Here

Two weeks ago, a tragedy struck in Florida. Alex Shaw, a teenager in Florida, had recently lost his mother to cancer and his father who was brutally murdered by arm gunmen in his presence. Alex obtained a handgun for his own personal safety after the incident. On January 9th, he was explaining to a friend about gun safety and stated that the only way to have a safe gun was to ensure there was no round in the chamber. Assuming there wasn’t, he put the gun to his head and fired. Unfortunately, the chamber was not empty and Alex died. Article Here

Also two weeks ago, an Arcadian man accidentally shot himself in the finger when his gun negligently discharged as he was cleaning it. Article Here.

Also two weeks ago, a Fort Wayne man accidentally shot his friend in the leg while unloading his pistol. Article Here.

Earlier this month, a Kansas man accidentlay shot his wife in the leg at a restaurant when he reached into his pocket and his concealed weapon discharged.

Also earlier this month, an off-duty police officer accidentally shot himself outside of a grocery store when his weapon unexpecetedly discharged. Article Here

Back in December, in Pennsylvania, a father accidentally shot and killed his seven year old son outside of a gun store. As he was getting back into his truck, the gun went discharged. Article Here

Also in December, a carpet cleaner shot himself whille dragging a hose from his van. His gun was just stuffed in his pants and not in a holster.

Back in November, an Oklahoma teen accidentally shot and killed his stepfather when they were unloading their guns after a day of hunting.

Also in November, a gun store employee in New Mexico shot a customer in the back when the gun he was unloading discharged. Article Here

In October, a University of Cinncinati student shot himself in the face while playing around with a gun.

Back in Augsut, a man shot himself in the buttock when his gun fell out of his pocket in a movie theater, hit the floor and discharged. Article Here

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