7 ways to avoid becoming a victim of your own weapon handling
Negligent discharges result from involuntary muscular contraction of the hand and finger muscles caused by startle effect, balance disruption, and/or sympathetic response
In most firearms training facilities you will find a sign listing the Four Core Rules of Firearm Safety.
1.) Treat every weapon as if it is loaded with live ammunition
Most officers learn these rules in the academy and can recite them — in some form — throughout their careers. Most also abide by these rules while participating in firearms or tactics training. However, the ability to recite these tenants, and even to follow them during firearms training, does not automatically translate to their use on the street — particularly during critical incidents.
Why Proper Trigger Finger Placement is Critical
Negligent discharges result from involuntary muscular contraction of the hand and finger muscles. This involuntary muscular contraction is caused by one of the following three issues:
1.) Startle Effect: Tests have shown that the muscles of the hands and fingers can contract involuntarily if a sudden noise or occurrence startles the officer. If the startled officer is holding a firearm, and their finger is on the trigger, it is likely that they will discharge that weapon.
2.) Balance Disruption: An officer losing their balance will involuntarily clutch at anything nearby with their free hand. This can easily cause an officer holding a firearm to squeeze their trigger — if they have their trigger finger trigger at the moment they stumble or fall.
3.) Sympathetic Response: An officer exerting force with one hand — grabbing a suspect or pulling open a door - may experience the involuntary contraction of their other hand — the one holding their firearm. If their finger is on the trigger, this involuntary contraction will exert more than enough force to fire double-action and single action pistols, as well as shotguns and patrol rifles.
The following incidents include examples of all three types of unintentional firearms discharges. Keep in mind that this is only a partial list of the almost countless number of negligent discharges that occurred in law enforcement.
Example #1 — Sympathetic Response
Example #2 — Balance Disturbance
Example #3 — Startle Effect
Example # 4 —Balance Disturbance and Startle Effect
Example # 5 — Sympathetic Response
Example #6 — Startle Effect
Example #7 — Balance Disruption
Train for the Inevitable
Breaking one of these two rules is reckless — breaking both can result in tragedies like those listed above.
I encourage you to share these examples with your partners or, the officers that you have the responsibility to train. Develop empty gun practice around these and other incidents, and demand proper trigger finger placement — both on the range and on the street.
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