Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Negligent Discharge Dissected

Back in October the Star Telegram reported on a negligent discharge that occurred in an insurance office. The article is already in the archives, so I do not have a workable link to it, but here are the significant portions:

Man's gun discharges in cubicle at work, injures him

By Alex Branch
An employee of a Lake Worth insurance company was shot in both legs Tuesday morning when a handgun he brought to work discharged as he sat in his cubicle, Police Chief Brett McGuire said.

There is no evidence that the 47-year-old man had intended to harm anyone with the weapon but rather "just felt the need to carry it," McGuire said.

"He wasn't having problems with his bosses or co-workers that we know of," McGuire said.

The incident occurred about 9:15 a.m. at Al Boenker Insurance, 6030 Lake Worth Blvd. After arriving at work, the man draped his jacket over the back of his chair, McGuire said. The .45-caliber automatic was in the left jacket pocket.

As the man got settled in his chair, the gun discharged, McGuire said.
McGuire also added:

The man was likely doing something to the weapon when it fired because "that particular weapon doesn't just sit there and go off," McGuire said.
Luckily, no bystanders were hurt.

The bullet passed through the man's left leg and then his right leg and through the corner of a bookcase before lodging in the wall of a cubicle occupied by a startled female co-worker, McGuire said.

The man was taken to a hospital, he said.

Lake Worth police have no record of the man being licensed to carry a concealed weapon, McGuire said. He also appears to have violated his company's policy against bringing guns to work -- licensed or not -- without company officials' permission.

Detectives will wait until the man has recovered from his injuries to determine whether to pursue charges, McGuire said.
With all of the recent firearm related news that are the hot topics of the blogosphere, why am I bringing up this old news about a negligent discharge? Well, because I met with the individual involved in this incident after work today over drinks at a local Starbucks.

The individual involved (JS) had emailed me with his version of the incident, and asked my opinion.

In explaining the incident, JS stated:

In Oct this particular morning it was cold as arrived at the office. I kept my Colt .45 in the left outside pocket of a heavy leather coat. I rarely ever wear this jacket and would not have put it on except it was a little cold that morning. I had had that gun in the pocket of that coat for over a month and just left it in the truck during work hours.

Anyway, the one time I wear this coat into the building it has the gun in the pocket which I don't even feel so I go into my cubicle, start to remove my jacket, swing it behind my back to hang it on my chair, bam it goes off. I look around very stunned, no one is hurt, I can't figure out what happened, I'm looking around then I notice blood pouring down my right leg, then I notice blood pouring down my left leg. The bullet entered about 6 inches below my knee going in at about a 45 degree angle and broke the tibia, went through both calves, struck the concrete floor. No one was hurt thank God. The gun was still in the coat pocket and the case was still in the barrel. I told them I never had my hand on the gun and am sure I hit the trigger on the edge of the chair arm. Yes I know there is a thumb safety, I could have dragged something over the coat pocket that pulled the that safety off, but I don't remember cocking the gun. I really just don't remember carrying it that way.
There are several items which need to be discussed here, and I will get to them later.

A portion of my reply:

When you mention that you were carrying a "Colt 45", and a thumb safety, I assume you are talking about a 1911 style pistol. I don't see someone with a CHL carrying a .45LC single action revolver in a coat pocket.

JS, I hope you do not mind my being frank with you. I carry a 1911 style pistol as my primary sidearm. 1911's weigh 2 pounds or so with a full magazine. In my personal experience, it is very hard not to notice a 2 pound weight in my coat pocket. There is also the fact that 1911 style pistols have a grip safety. The grip safety needs to be deactivated before the trigger can be pulled. The 1911 pretty much has to be held to be fired. Now I can imagine a scenario where the grip safety was depressed by the fabric of the coat, but if the fabric were that tight, how was the trigger pulled?
A couple more emails flew through AlGore's Web and we decided to meet for coffee.

JS is a gentleman who I would guess to be late 40's, and I could recognize him by his slight limp. We settled down in a quiet corner of the cafe and got to know each other a bit before we started talking about the discharge. One thing I learned that was wrong in the newspaper account was the fact that JS does in fact have a CHL. A large part of me is relieved that the paper got that fact wrong so as to not offer any fodder for the Antis to jump on.

JS is quite frank and upfront about the incident. He acted out what he was doing when the pistol discharged, and showed me the wounds. It turns out that the pistol was an early 70's Colt Commander with an aluminum frame, and he was using 230gr fmj ammunition. After looking at all four of his wounds, it is a very good thing he was not using HST's.

One thing that I was really interested in about this particular incident was finding out what, exactly, caused the pistol to discharge. As many of you know, a 1911 is a very safe firearm to carry. To discharge a 1911 style pistol you need to release the thumb safety, depress the grip safety, and pull the trigger. I just could not understand how the gun discharged without his hand being in the pocket. The location of the wounds pretty much shows that the gun was fired below his knees from an angle that he could not easily achieve while standing and removing his coat. I am pretty confident that he was not handling the pistol when it discharged. While we were talking through different possibilities I learned that the police found no pencil, pen or other object that could have pressed the trigger. While we were talking about firearm safety, JS mentioned how he safely got his pistol ready for carry. He always put his thumb on the face of the hammer while pulling the trigger to let the hammer down. That's when it hit me, he was carrying a 1911 with the hammer down on a live cartridge. His other pistols have a decock feature and he never thought that the 1911 did not. It is possible that he only lowered the hammer to the hammer stop, but in talking with him it appears that is not the case, the hammer was down on a live round. With spring pressure holding the hammer against the firing pin, it would not take much of a bump to cause a discharge. Even if the hammer was on the stop, that is a very dangerous means of carrying a 1911. The hammer stop is not a safety when it comes to methods of carry.

Update: Well, that's embarrassing. As George so tactfully reminded me in the comments section, hammer down on a 1911 is a routine condition of carry for quite a few folks. This condition of carry is commonly referred to as "Condition 2". I have been carrying "cocked and locked" (Condition 1) for so long that I guess this other means of carry slipped my mind. It appears that a bit more investigating is in order.

The purpose of commenting on this incident is to go over the lessons learned, not to beat up on JS. JS has lost his job, his health insurance and his ability to walk normally. He has been shot in both legs and has the possibility of being charged hanging over his head. He does not need me to be piling any more on that load, but there is a lot we can learn from this.

First, and probably foremost, is the fact that an individual needs to fully understand the operation of their firearm. JS had owned a sizable collection of firearms and seemed to know the operations of the ones we talked about. He did not know the operation of the firearm he had on that particular day. In our email conversation he mentioned that he may have fired that pistol 3 times in the last 10 years. That is not acceptable for a firearm that you are going to carry in public. One of the basics that I try to keep bringing up is the fact that if you are going to own a firearm, you are responsible for learning the safe and effective handling of that firearm. If you are going to carry that firearm in public, that responsibility is even greater.

Next is the method of carry. If you are going to carry a firearm in public, that firearm needs to be secure. A semi auto left in a coat pocket, in the back seat of a pickup truck, is not secure. As evidenced by four holes leaking blood, there are times when it is easy to be pointing that firearm where it should not be pointed.

There is more that can be pointed out, and I am sure that it will be in the comments, but this post is quite long enough. I just want to emphasize the fact that when we make the decision to carry a firearm in public, we accept the responsibility of safely carrying that firearm. The folks who interact with us as we go about our daily business should not be in any additional danger because we have a firearm concealed somewhere upon our body. Know your firearm, know it inside out and sideways, and carry it in a safe and effective manner.

One last comment from JS:
I'm not trying to get out of making a mistake but I'll never do it again in a million years. Well the one time I make a mistake I really did a good one. I'm so thankful no one else was hurt. If anyone out there needs a poster boy for what NOT to do I'm it.
It takes a bit of something good to stand up and admit you screwed up and be willing to learn from your mistake. When the smoke blows over from all this I'll be spending a good deal of time out at the range with JS filling in the gaps and working on safe and effective handgun operation.


GeorgeH said...

The 1911 has an inertia firing pin that is shorter than the distance from the hammer face to the breech face. It is held to the rear by a spring. It is no more dangerous to carry a 1911 with the hammer down than cocked and locked. In fact, the Detonics pistols are designed with a cut down rear slide specifically to make cocking easier when carrying this way.

Carrying on the 'half cock' notch however is asking for trouble.

none said...

From what I've read, certain 1911s can go off with the hammer down if it's dropped on the hammer. The series 70 design was supposed to have corrected this problem, but if it had been worked on by a gunsmith or if it was indeed on the half cock notch that would explain it.

John R said...

Thanks for correcting me George. I am sitting here wondering how the heck I could have forgotten that little fact. I know that the 1911's firing pin is inertia driven, that little bit of information just fell out of my brain last night.

Back to square 1.

Anonymous said...

I came up in the military using Government 1911's. We were unequivocally instructed that condition 2 carry was unsafe.

The spring loaded, inertia driven firing pin may be safer than direct contact, but I would think that it by no means makes it "safe". If the hammer were struck hard enough in condition 2 carry I would think that it would have enough force to overcome the spring and fire the round (think of "sending" a ball in can transfer quite a bit of energy from the mallet, through the stationary ball and launch the free ball quite a distance).

Swinging a coat around one's head with a two pound hunk of metal in the pocket, I would think would generate quite a bit of inertia...enough for a hammer strike to fire the weapon?

I'm no physicist or engineer so I could be wrong, I'm just basing this on my concept of how it works, but it seems to me that carrying in condition 2 with this style of 1911 and relying on the inertia driven firing pin to provide safety is a bit foolhardy.

AnarchAngel said...

Unless the 1911 in question has a positive acting firing pin safety that is deactivated by the trigger (some are deactivated by the grip safety), then condition two carry is unsafe.

A 1911 should always be carried either condition 1, or condition 3.

I write about that here:Why condition one?

John R said...

Hey Curt and Chris, thanks for stopping by. That is a good explination Chris, thanks.

Syd, of "Front Sight, Press", has another good explination of the conditions of carry and another good reason not to carry in Condition 2. The Conditions of Readiness

Anonymous said...

I have a 1911 that I keep as part of our home defense package.


Anonymous said...

Thumb cocking or uncocking a 1911 with a round in the chamber may result in needing a new thumb.

Anonymous said...

I really get tired of this 'safety' thing. Guns are dangerous tools no matter how well designed they are and that threat grows exponentially by a lack of knowledge of the tool in use. I get loads telling me that my Glocks are the safest carry pieces in the world... as long as you don't touch the trigger. DUH? Give me an HK P7 Squeeze Cocker any day and I will show you a gun that truly is SAFE for carry... especially concealed carry. Only issue is price. How much is a life worth? I carry mine concealed when able to do so with one in the chamber always. I squeeze the grip to cock as I draw and it is ready to go. No squeeze. No bang. Simple. My 1911's? Condition 1 only. Cocked and locked. And they MUST have a grip safety. Not quite as safe as the HK but I can live with it and the jumbo size. GOTTA be safe or the odds of being shot by your own hand is as great as that of being shot by a bad guy. Be careful out there.

Randy said...

I've been following this, as my choice of carry gun is a 1911. I however question the wisdom of anyone carrying something not securely attached to their person.

chris horton said...

Yeah,thanks for the info. I've been carrying an M1991A1 in condition 2 for a decade now. I never thought about it really, and always thought Condition 1 was unsafe, and I've fired 100's of rounds through it. It also is my Primary Carry Weapon of choice, at least in colder weather here in Pa. I'll just have to re-program my mind to carry #1. Thanks again!

Ride Fast said...

I'm a little late to this, but with condition 1 & 3 known and designed to be safe, what possible advantage is condition 2? None, I say.

Morgan Smith said...

I am fond of reading different wisdom of people drop by here just like me.And I really enjoyed a lot and I wonder why there are some person who are reckless and carefree enough in handling their pistol knowing that this can kill a person in an instant, I wonder what is on their mind?